August 25, 2006

Cambodia Visit

rice farmers taking a break

The Wednesday night before leaving for Cambodia I kept busy working on my web page, packing and getting all of the last minute details ready for traveling. It kept getting later and by the time 3am rolled around I decided to just stay up the whole night. I don't usually start 38 hour trips by skipping a night of sleep although it did help me start off on the right time zone since Cambodia is 13 hours ahead of Chattanooga. I finally got a little sleep on the shuttle van which I caught to the Atlanta airport at 6am and then slept several more hours on the planes. After a layover and terminal change in Tokyo I got through customs in Bangkok around 11pm local time and found a quiet corner of the airport to sleep a few more hours before catching my early morning flight to Phnom Penh.

road to mondulkiri
Upon arrival in Phnom Penh Sabbath morning I picked up my luggage and then caught a tuk-tuk to the ADRA office where my sister has an apartment. Sarah wasn't due to arrive until the next day though so she had arranged for one of the guards to let me in to her apartment. I enjoyed a refreshing shower and then caught a moto (scooter taxi) over to Cambodia Adventist School where the Sabbath Graduation service was underway. After the service I visited with several friends who I knew from when I lived in Cambodia and then a bunch of us went to visit Ross & Kamrang in their room at a local maternity clinic. Everyone brought along their potluck food so we enjoyed a good meal while meeting the newly arrived baby Pollika. After visiting with people for much of the afternoon I headed back to Sarah's apartment to repack a bit and check my email. I think most everyone else took naps but I somehow stayed awake, mainly because I wanted to be ready to sleep that night. In the evening a few of us got together back at the clinic and played a game of settlers. I did finally doze off while waiting for the other players to arrive and then slept straight through the night, waking up bright and early Sunday morning to take a tuk-tuk to the Mondulkiri taxi stand.

freshly grated coconut & avacado sandwich
I decided to ride on the back of the 4 wheel drive pickup taxi since the view is better and the price of $5 is lower than if you ride in the cab. Another bonus of riding on the back is that you avoid listening to the Khmer (Cambodian) music which typically is blasted from the tape deck for the length of the trip. The first part of the drive was along the route which I often traveled for work when I lived in Cambodia so it was fun to see the familiar roadside landmarks along the way. Even after we departed from my familiar route I still recognized quite a bit since this was actually my third visit to the Mondulkiri province. The biggest change since my last visit was in the road conditions as much of the section that used to be a rough, potholed mess has now been paved. The last part of the road was
avacados growing in the back yard
still dirt with plenty of potholes but it had been improved greatly. As we got closer to the provincial capital we started to climb the hills and the rain started coming as well. Those of us in the back had ponchos to help us stay dry although the rain turned the red clay roads into a muddy mess. At one point we took a section of the old road as a detour around a particularly steep and slippery section of the new route. The old road is much narrower and was also very slippery. For a few particularly challenging sections all of the passengers got out and walked, and we also helped push the truck a couple of times when it was spinning out in four wheel drive trying to get up a particularly slippery section. I did finally make it to Braden and Johanna's house where Brenda was waiting for me after about 12 hours on the back of the pickup. It was of course very good to see Brenda again after having been apart for over two weeks. After a good home cooked supper of vegetable soup and some fresh avocados I took a much needed shower. At Braden and Johanna's house they do have running water but only for the bathroom sink, toilets and for filling up a large holding tank to use for scoop showers. To get hot water for a shower you have to fill a large kettle and then heat it on the stove. Showers are then taken
fruit & vegetable vendor
using a smaller scoop to pour water over yourself to get wet, soaping and shampooing and then using the scoop to pour more water over yourself to rinse. I got pretty used to this kind of shower when I lived in Cambodia but I had forgotten how much I take for granted our showers here in the States with practically unlimited running hot water. Anyway, the shower felt great and I was glad to be clean again after a long dusty day on the road. Before heading to bed we spent a little more time visiting and I unpacked the goodies which I had brought from the US for Braden, Johanna and baby Keenan.

On Monday Brenda and I went to the market where we bought lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. I especially had fun picking out some tropical fruit, most of which
4th of July picnic
I hadn't had since I left Cambodia. During our stay we enjoyed several kilos of mangosteens, rambutans, lychees, dragon fruit, pineapple, coconuts, custard apples, pomegranates, longans, pomelo and a couple of other fruits that I don't know the names for. We also bought and carried back to the house carrots, potatoes, onions and tomatoes. The produce availability in Mondulkiri is pretty unpredictable and varies from day to day as almost everything is hauled by truck from Phnom Penh, Vietnam or Thailand. Although we found a good variety on Monday, when we went back a couple of days later to get more fruit the selection was not nearly as good. We still got whatever we could find each time we went to the market and thoroughly enjoyed all the tropical fruit. We pretty much spent the rest of Monday visiting, playing with Keenan and getting a few things ready for a fourth of July picnic which we were planning for Tuesday.


On Tuesday we watched a movie on Braden & Johanna's laptop and then loaded up their truck and drove to a nearby pine forest for our picnic. The menu included potato salad, veggie pigs in the blanket, Pringles potato chips and homemade chocolate chip cookies. In the evening we lit off some sparklers and a few small fireworks which we were able to purchase in the local market.

Wednesday Braden, Brenda and I rode out to a Pnong village on two motorbikes to make arrangements for Brenda and I to ride an elephant on Thursday. We had a beautiful ride out to the village over the rolling green hills as the sun shined down through the scattered clouds. In the village we sat around while Braden visited with some of the villagers and made arrangements for our elephant ride. After a while we went to a nearby field hut where we watched some of Braden's friends doing blacksmith work. They used a hand
working the bellows
operated bellows device to heat the coals so that they could slowly shape and sharpen the tool they were making. While visiting the field hut we also watched as an older lady shaved her freshly harvested tobacco leaves into small pieces before setting them out to dry in the sun. We also enjoyed watching puppies, chickens and a cat play and politely turned down a chance to sample some dried water buffalo meat. While we were visiting it started to rain and continued raining off and on. We kept hoping it would stop and finally headed back to our bikes when it did let up briefly. Unfortunately for us it had rained enough to turn the red dirt roads into a slippery mess. The type of dirt on the roads is kind of like clay so when it gets wet it is very much like trying to drive in the snow. The initial hill on the road leaving the village was probably the worst part of the road and we dropped the bikes several times. Brenda was riding behind me at first but she walked up the worst parts of the hill. Shortly after we made it up the initial hill it started to rain. It rained for pretty much the rest of our ride back making the roads very slippery. We fell a couple more times and the last time my leg came in contact with the hot exhaust pipe and I got a pretty bad burn. At the time it hurt a little but I didn't realize how
making a tool
bad it was until later. Meanwhile Brenda was getting lots of bruises from the falls so we decided to have her ride with Braden instead to see if it would be any better. Unfortunately Braden & Brenda then fell before long so we finally decided to let Brenda ride the smaller bike on her own. She still fell several more times but when you are the one driving you can usually avoid getting banged up as much, especially when traveling slowly like we were. I continued driving the larger bike with Braden riding on the back and thankfully we didn't fall down again although we came very close many times. By the time we finally got back to the house we were all glad to get cleaned up and eat the delicious supper that Johanna had prepared. Part of the cleanup process was the painful task of scrubbing and disinfecting my burned leg. It wasn't any fun at all but I was thankful for some good medical advice from a doctor and a nurse via cell
shaving tobacco leaves
phone. Braden & Johanna were also a very big help. Braden rode his bike across town to pick up some medicine and supplies and then Johanna helped bandage and wrap my leg. At first we weren't sure about our plans to ride elephants the next day although we knew that there was no way to cancel the arrangements we had made since we had no way of contacting the people in the village. I decided to get a good nights sleep and see how my leg felt in the morning.

By morning I was feeling rested and ready to go so we loaded our day packs and headed out to the village after breakfast. This time we decided to take the truck though which also slides around when the road gets bad, but at least you can't fall over and you don't get wet and muddy when it rains. We parked the truck at the top of the hill above the village since the last steep hill can become impassible even for the truck when it rains.
After we walked down into the village we waited for a bit and then the elephant arrived. Our guides for the day strapped our seat onto the elephant and then provided a bamboo ladder for us to climb up onto the elephant. I found the weakest rung on my way up and it snapped, although I didn't fall so just
climbed the rest of the way up onto the elephant. Brenda and I had both
pnong widow and her children
been on elephant rides in this village before so we asked them to take us to some new places instead of the main waterfall that we had been to before. Braden had been planning to spend the day in the village but when he realized that one of our two guides was going to walk along behind the elephant he decided to come with us on foot. Our first stop was a waterfall surrounded by deep jungle and on the way to it I spotted a snake coiled up on top of the foliage. As soon as I tried to point it out though it dropped down to the ground and out of sight. This was of course great news to Braden who was walking along behind us, but I guess the snake went the other way because he didn't see it. I didn't see the snake's head so I'm not sure what type it was. At
riding motorbikes in the rain
the waterfall our guide gave the command and our elephant layed down on her side so that we could climb out of our seat and onto the ground. We explored the area below the waterfall some although it was hard to get a good view of the top since the jungle was so thick. It was still fun to climb around on the rocks below the falls. We then got back on the elephant and rode out to a second waterfall. On the way out I spotted the same snake again in the same spot but it again disappeared into the jungle before the others saw it. As we neared the second waterfall we climbed a steep hill covered in bright green grass and enjoyed a view of the entire valley and surrounding area on our way up. Our elephant just walked right up or down whatever route our guide chose without any trouble. At the next waterfall stop we first had our picnic lunch and then climbed down a steep bank through the jungle to the waterfall. The waterfall was pretty small but the main attraction at this site was a cave
first waterfall
right next to the waterfall. It was really more of a large overhang but it was fun to explore inside and we even saw some bats. The damp jungle around the cave and waterfall made for an ideal leech habitat but we were able to pick most of them off of feet and legs before they latched on. On the way back to the village we again enjoyed sweeping views of the rolling green hills. We also followed an overgrown trail part of the way and in one section our guide instructed the elephant to pull down some bamboo and tree branches that were in our way. He would give the elephant a command to go forward another step or two and then have her stop and pull down more branches and brambles that were in our way. We also forded a small river which was fun since the elephant could just walk right down the middle of it while we stayed dry on her back. It really is amazing how such a large animal can be so sure footed. They can easily go places that would be impassible for any four wheel drive jeep.

Back in the village we visited with a few of Braden's friends on our way back up to the truck. The drive back into town was uneventful. I guess we got our days backwards because we rode motorbikes on the wet and slippery day and then
riding the elephant
took the truck when it didn't rain much. It was nice though to have a relatively dry elephant ride. Friday evening several other foreigner families came over and we visited, sang some songs and just enjoyed fellowshipping together. It's nice that Braden and Johanna have some good friends in their area.

Sabbath morning we went to church at the global mission worker's house. The church group is pretty small as they are just getting started. It was even small enough that they talked me into "telling the story" for church service. Braden translated while I read a mission story from the Middle East and that was our sermon for the day. The 7 adults and 3 children (counting all of us) seemed to enjoy the story.
After church we had a potluck lunch where the Khmer people got to try
exploring the cave

American food and we got to try Khmer food. It was fun and I helped by making some vegetable patties using a recipe that I mostly made up as I went. I used several local vegetables that we grated including carrots, potatoes, onions and cabbage. We also put in some chopped cashews, peanut butter, spices, egg and a little flour. After forming and frying the patties we put about half of them in a casserole dish and topped them with mushroom soup. The rest of the patties we served plain and put some ketchup out for people to use. After lunch we visited a while and then in the evening we got packed up for our trip back to Phnom Penh the next day. We really enjoyed a good visit with Braden, Johanna and Keenan and it was hard to leave. It was great to spend time with them and especially to get out to a village where they have been working. We also got to meet some of their closest Pnong friends who they often write about in their letters home.

coming out of the river

Bright and early Sunday morning Braden and I went out to the back yard and picked enough avocados to fill one small box and one larger box to take to our friends in Phnom Penh. Although avocados are plentiful in Mondulkiri they are hard to find in Phnom Penh. Our taxi was right on time to pick us up and we loaded our stuff into the back of the pickup and then climbed into the cab for the long ride to Phnom Penh. We had arranged to share the entire cab with one other foreigner friend who was also going to Phnom Penh for $20 per person. It was still pretty cramped in the back of the cab for Brenda and I. The seats just had straight vertical backs and there wasn't much floor space for our legs but we managed to rotate through several different sitting positions along the way. The AC didn't work so by the time we got out of the truck in Phnom Penh around 9 hours later we were quite hot and dusty. At least the roads were relatively good and we didn't get rained on. Upon arrival in Phnom Penh we caught a
mangosteen fruit (you eat the white part)
tuk-tuk to Sarah's apartment at the ADRA office where we cooled off and got cleaned up. In the evening we went out to eat at Kiwi Bakery & Restaurant where most of us had pizza. In case you were wondering, the word kiwi in the business name refers to the founders who came from New Zealand, not to what is on the menu. A bunch of my friends from when I was in Cambodia came along so it was fun to catch up with everyone.

Monday I went to morning worship at the ADRA office where I saw more friends and then we went shopping at Central Market. We were a bit short on time but I was able to find a backpack, some pants and a couple of hammocks while Brenda found some nice clothes and a few souvenirs. After shopping we headed back to Sarah's apartment and then Sarah and I went to the fruit market where we got some fruit to share with the ADRA staff. By the time we got back to the office it was time to leave for the airport so we said goodbye to everyone and headed to the airport in a tuk-tuk to catch our flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Sarah and her friend Melinda joined us for the rest of the trip so it was a pretty tight squeeze with the four of us and all of our backpacks in the tuk-tuk. We made it though and got checked in for our flight with time to spare. Sarah and Melinda stopped by the only Dairy Queen in Cambodia before we went through security and found seats near our gate to wait for our flight.

Well, this update is getting pretty long so I think I'll stop for now and get this posted. I'll write about the rest of our trip through Malaysia and Thailand in the next update.

Bye for now,


More pictures are in the gallery. To learn more about Braden & Johanna and their work visit their AFM Page and their Collegedale Church page.

Posted by andrew on August 25, 2006

You lead an enchanted life. Very Excellent.

Posted by: Joel on August 25, 2006

Hey Andrew,

I always enjoy reading your updates, and this one was especially interesting :-). It sounds like you guys had a great trip, and it was good to hear about all the new babies! Good to hear you got some Settlers in there, too! I laughed when you mentioned Dairy Queen. I remember being all excited to go there when it first opened and then they were out of ice cream...:-). Anyhow, thanks for the trip down memory lane. Fantastic pictures, too!


Posted by: Angie Sowa on August 26, 2006

Hey Andrew... great to read about Cambodia again! Reminds me of some good times we had there together - I laughed when you mentioned playing settler!
Enjoy the rest of your trip!
Take care

Posted by: Sam on August 27, 2006

Aloha Andrew,

I was looking for travel information from Phnom Pehn to Nha Trang, and found your blog. Very exciting.

What is your suggestion for the above travel. I will be wrapping up a fellowship in Cambodia and want to visit friends in Vietnam. Of course I want to experience the journey, but honestly, I have only three days at most.

Thanks much for your input.


Posted by: Kayla on September 24, 2006


Honestly it will probably take about 2 days for the trip if you travel from PP to HCMC the first day and then on to Nha Trang the second day. You might be able to spend one night in the Mekong, one night in HCMC and then get to Nha Trang in time for the third night. You wouldn't really have any time in HCMC unless you did option #1 but with two nights in HCMC. For option #2 you can see my travel tips page about the route if you haven't already here:

Good luck!


Posted by: Andrew on October 23, 2006
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