T he economic stimulus pro- vided by the US lifting their trade embargo on
Vietnam is likely to lead to ever increasing volumes of traffic roaring down
Highway 1, the main route through Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh city.
While the majority of travelers taking the highway use it simply to get from
A to B, the route also has a lot to offer pleasure seekers. Much of the highway
is hedged by thick vegetation and dotted along it are delightful wooden
One way of exploring the highway from Phnom Penh is to catch a
shared taxi at Chba Ampou bridge at the southern junction of Monivong and
Norodom Boulevards. The taxis make the trip all the way to the Vietnamese border
though travellers can negotiate a fare for a portion of the
Drivers wait for six to eight people before heading off. If
there are too many travelling companions there is the option of buying up more
seats. I regularly pay for two seats and of course by doing so I also reduce the
time spent waiting for sufficient travellers to turn up.
interesting point of interest which is worth a stop off lies 16 km from the
bridge, the riverside resort village of Kean Svey. It is a popular weekend
getaway for richer city dwellers. Access to the resort is through a dusty lane,
which passes through Wat Kean Svey.
The main attraction of the resort are
the huts lining the river bank which are a great way to idle away a day. The
huts range up in price from 2,000 riel per day. Boats are also available for
hire for those wanting to be a little more energetic. They cost 4,000 riel an
hour. The drawback with the huts is the food and drink on offer is around double
normal prices and the quality is little better than meals for sale at
Nevertheless, a lazy day spent at the resort is a great way
of winding down and can especially be fun for small groups.
tranquility of the resort is not the only attraction for many of the Cambodians,
"hostesses" are also on offer as well as food and drink. But families should not
be put off as the girls keep a discreet low profile. Travellers who do not
intend going further than Kean Svey should consider hiring out a motorcyle for
the day to make the trip.
Further on there are many small side roads
leading off from the highway. Of course it is not practical to explore more than
one or two of these. As a rule those with a stone arch at their entrance lead to
a wat, and those without head to a village..
Many colorful temples, such
as Wat Slaket, can be seen from the road. The wat just three km down the road
from Kean Svey is one of the most distinctive and beautiful the country. Wats
are often sited near picturesque areas suitable for picnics.
east across the Mekong river is Neak Luong, a city flattened when an American
B-52 mistakenly dropped its load there instead of the border area with Vietnam.
Crossing the Mekong can take time, often there is a queue of vehicles
either side, especially during lunch times. I waited an hour to make the trip.
Once across, a left turn at a statue of two soldiers will take you to
Prey Veng. The right-hand fork is the continuation of Highway, heading into Svay
Prey Veng, is worth a visit, particularly to catch one of the
beautiful sunrises there. There's also a boat trip on the Tonle Toch river from
Peam Ro town, which lies seven km from Neak Luong towards Prey Veng. The trip
take a leisurely meander one through some classic Cambodian countryside where
king fishers are commonplace.
Three to four hours further up the same
river is the delightful village of Prek Chrey, where almost every family has a
loom and produces the most wonderful cotton and silk kramas, for less than a
dollar. A boat can be hired for about 20,000 riel for the trip.
Highway 1, about ten km towards Svay Rieng, lies is Ba Phnom mountain which
boasts ancient temples said to pre-date Angkor. The temples are six km up a side
Svay Rieng itself, just over an hour's drive from the Mekong
crossing, is typical of provincial Cambodia. With the departure of the UNTAC
personnel the town has had to re-adapt economically. Restaurants which used to
cater to the UN staff have turned into video parlors, and long-stay hotels into
For example, Chhann Mony used to rent out his home in the
centre of town to UN police officers but has now turned it into a pawn shop. He
has, however, found the pickings not so rich and ironically the two cars that
used to stand outside were themselves pawned recently.
There is a
Killing Fields monument, about five km outside town at Tanor village. A graphic
sign indicates the way.
The stretch of highway which leads Bavet, the
border town, a further 42 km has a distinct change of scenery running alongside
the road. The terrain is barren with few trees. Nui Ba Den (Black Lady) mountain
in Vietnam, looms to the north. The style of houses also changes, towards the
border. Here the Vietnamese influence shows through as they are made of mud and
When crossing into Cambodia from Moc Bai on the Vietnamese side,
there are no welcome signs, only a famous cigarette billboard that says
"smoothness above all else." Actually the last leg of the trip from Phnom Penh
to the border is also quite smooth as here the road is well constructed and is
comparable with the road the Thais constructed in Battambang province.
The border is now open either side to cyclists. Two New Yorkers, Deborah
Harse and Annie G., two native New Yorkers, who cycled from Vietnam, enjoyed the
two days it took them to cover 240 kilometers from Saigon to Phnom Penh. They
broke their journey in Svai Rieng where they put up at the Kyorl Chum Toes
Annie G., a playwrite, was so enthralled by the trip and "the
little kids who ran from the fields waving their hands and shouting hello," that
she proposes to include Cambodia in her next play.
Debenath Christian, a
French cyclist came the same the way $2000 heavier/richer after coming third in
a Vietnamese marathon. He said "The road was safe enough."
have had so many close calls in taxis and on hired motorbikes that I think of
the road as a scene out of a "Mad Max" movie. Dust flys and cars, I saw four
wrecks, get run off the road.
Khmers seem to me perfectly nice people
except behind steering wheels. Interestingly, pigs seem to command a high
respect among drivers; cars that come close to hitting people, swerve hard to
miss the four legged pedestrians.
I hope I have not explained the route
away. I doubt it, as everyone has a different Cambodian experience. Many
foreigners whose itineraries not disimilar to mine, said their trips were
fraught with danger. I suppose there is no accounting for stories.