Our border crossing from Ha’Tien Vietnam, to Kep Cambodia went smoothly – with a little corruption thrown in for good measure of course! We hired two motorbike taxis to take us through the border and into Kep, and our guide on the taxi helped us through the border control which was good.
As it is illegal to gamble in Vietnam, on the no-mans land between the two countries there were at least three casinos!
Our first foray into the corruption which is Cambodia in general was when we were getting out visas. We knew it should cost us $35 each, however the policeman dealing with our visas charged us $55 each. Then came the temperature test. We were charged $1 for our temperatures to be taken using a type of gun like device aimed at your head – funny that both our temperatures were the same….
God forbid we had a high temperature, what the hell would be done with us?!?
So, after the rigmarole of border control was done we were spreading through the Cambodian countryside on our way to Kep.
Kep is a small town on the coast of Cambodia, and was founded by the French as a colonial retreat in 1908 (the French are well presented here still including a rather lovely French bakery which we frequented). However it fell into ruin after Cambodia’s civil war, so it has quite an eerie feel to it in some parts as many of the once magnificent villas and surrounding gardens fell into ruin. It is like a ghost town in some areas.
We spent a couple of days here before we left to volunteer at a Marine Volunteer Programme on the Cambodian island of Koh Seh.
The temperature has increased even more – we only have to walk a few metres and we are already drenched in sweat! It is incredibly humid and dry.
We rented bicycles at our hostel and decided to visit a local butterfly farm. It seemed pretty close to us, so we thought we wouldn’t have to cycle for long in the heat of the day. How wrong we were! Typical English tourists who go out in the middle of the hottest part of the day!
Bare in mind we are also cycling with bikes which are very basic – no gears and dodgey brakes.
We cycled past some of the deserted villas on a decent tarmac road, which then turned into a dirt track. An angry dog took a disliking to us (the first of many), so we had to shout at it and hope for the best whilst peddling like crazy past him (oh no we weren’t panicking not at all). Once we were at a safe distance from the dog we stopped for a ‘let’s sort ourselves out’ break – drink, wipe sweat from foreheads, have a snack, and find a good stick for future protection.
The track winded uphill, on and on. We sweated some more, even pushed the bikes up one bit as we just didn’t have the energy to cycle.
We came across what we thought was the farm – a sign was attached outside the house. Yay! We parked up our bikes and walked into the garden, this lady is just looking at us and smiling. We ask if this is the farm? Oh no it’s further up – she didn’t seem too disturbed that two strangers had just walked through her garden and into her porch!
We finally reached the farm, and it was totally worth it!
A beautiful landscaped garden lead to a ‘nursery’ – full off tubs containing cocoons and catapillars.
Then we entered the main butterfly ‘pen’ – a huge netted area full of green plants, colourful flowers, and stunning butterflies. So many of them too! We spent a lot of time in here, watching these lovely insects doing their thing. We managed to get some good pictures, after many attempts!
Our next stop was ‘Gibbon Valley’ which was just up the road from the farm. Didn’t really know what to expect here – it is run by a lovely (but crazy) Aussie lady, who rescues random animals and also sells beer. Three goats, a massive boa constrictor, a couple of dogs, and two Macaque’s. Both of these monkeys have had a pretty crap past – one was caught in a trap and lost a leg, then was kept as a child’s ‘pet’, chained up outside their house. The other was a baby when her mum got killed by s pack of dogs.
Nikki, the crazy Aussie lady rescued both, and has given them a much better life. She has built them little tree houses, and wooden ramps leading through the trees (to help out the three legged one). They are chained up when she has people pop in for a drink as they are hitting teenage years and so can be a bit temperamental at times, but they have free rein when people aren’t around. It’s the lesser of two evils.
We did spot our first wild monkey when having dinner by Kep beach – a Macaque raiding a banana tree then sitting in the middle of the road to eat them.
On our cycle back to the hostel we came across another two crazy dogs. Literally jumped out of a bush at us and continued to pursue us up the road….Paul was shouting ‘cycle faster cycle faster!’ It was a little scary as they were right behind our back wheels, and it just gets exhausting being on high alert all the time for angry dogs. Obviously we need to carry sticks everywhere we go!
We got talking to an English lady who has lived out here for a year, and some of the corruption stories are just terrible. Out here if you are due to give birth, you must pay $200 to enter the hospital. This literally just pays for your space on the floor, nothing else. You must bring a relative who has experience in child birth with you, as you will receive no help. You must bring your own bedding, food, and water.
If you require medical assistance during childbirth you are required to pay another $200 for a nurse or doctor – whoever is around.
So to sum up, if you fall pregnant in Cambodia, you must be able to save $400 before the due date to ensure your space in hospital and a nurse or doctor to assist you if needed.
Also, the Russian Mafia have strongholds along the coast of Cambodia, and recently two Mafia related murders took place here. One of which was a murdered man discovered chopped up in a suitcase. Nope this is not a film plot this actually happened!
At Gibbon Valley we met a Russian guy there who claimed to have a pet crocodile living in his home…
In our short time here we have already come to a conclusion that Cambodia seems to be the place to go if you are a) hiding from your past, or b) have a dodgey habit that you can freely indulge in without the worry of the Police.
Our volunteering is with a charity who set up on Koh Seh to help rescue the terrible state of Cambodia’s marine life. Illegal trawling is a massive issue here – some nets are even electrified. The problem comes not just from Cambodian fishermen but also Vietnamese too. Trawling is an extremely destructive way to fish – a net gets dragged through the seabed, destroying all coral/seagrass habitats, and catching everything from the seabed to the surface. This includes all fish, seahorses, turtles and even dolphins.
The charity are promoting good fishing techniques, educating fishermen, rescuing the remaining coral reefs by cleaning up the rubbish, and planting new coral to help enhance coral growth. Seahorse surveys are also carried out on a daily basis, to collect data to give us an idea on their population status.