Progress of my journey (Part 5 – The final)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Hue (bus, 9€) ⇒ Hoi An (with a stopover at Nha Trang, sleeper bus/another bus 15€) ⇒ Da Lat (a sleeper bus, 9€) ⇒ Saigon (Mekong Air, 25€ ) ⇒ Phu Quoc (speedboat, 9€) ⇒ Ha Tien (bus, 8€) ⇒ Kep, Cambodia (minivan, bus, 6€) -> Sihanoukville ⇒ Koh Rong (boat, 11€ for the roundtrip) ⇒ Sihanoukville (four buses/minivans and one boat, 20€)-> Koh Chang (boat, bus, 6€) ⇒ Bangkok (diesel train, 2nd class, 0.5€) ⇒ Ayuthaya (diesel train, 2nd class, 0.5€) ⇒ Bangkok (Air Berlin, via TGX, 346€) -> Helsinki

Total: 119€ + 346€ for the flight to Helsinki

One particular thing about traveling in Vietnam and Cambodia is that it is extremely slow. Distances that do not look that big on the map can easily take a whole day of traveling, as it for example happened on the route from Sihanoukville to Koh Chang. Phu Quoc to Kep transfer took a greater part of the day too. There is an option in Vietnam to buy a bus pass, which includes eight destinations. And the price is only 40 bucks. Extremely good value, if you do a bit of traveling around Vietnam. I learned about it only after spending some time in Vietnam, which made me very sad. But in the end I did not do enough traveling in Vietnam anyway. On the route from Saigon to Phu Quoc as it was almost the same price as the bus + boat combination and saved me a whole day of travelling. Boats are never cheap.

A quick recap of Epic Journey 2: The Orient Express

View Epic Journey 2: The Orient Express in a larger map

  • The total price of moving from one place to another is 1262€
  • 8/10/2010 – 02/06/2011. Almost eight months of travelling. I aimed for a 9 months travel to make the journey more symbolic, but had to come back when I had to come back.
  • 11 countries visited (Macau and Hong Kong included)
  • I flew only thrice. Hong Kong ⇒ Bangkok, Saigon ⇒ Phu Quoc and Bangkok ⇒ Helsinki
  • The longest stretch by land: Helsinki ⇒ Hong Kong.
  • The most comfortable way to travel is high-speed trains in China
  • The least comfortable is crappy buses everywhere. The bus from Ulan Ude to Ulan Bator probably takes the lead.
  • Summer began in December for me
  • I saw a little bit of snow in Siberia and Mongolia, though

The Secret of Monkey Island

Imagine an island with no infrastructure, no roads, no motorbikes, no electricity grid, no concrete buildings, no stuff and no garbage. Just one sleepy fishing village, a couple of pretty resorts, pristine beaches, fine white sand, clear turquoise water and impenetrable jungle. This is Koh Rong. Only a two hours boat ride from Sihounakville and you find yourself in the paradise island utopia. The island is sometimes dubbed Monkey Island (after the most popular resort there), but it is a made-up name. It is very clean and very undeveloped, just as the nature indented. There are several empty beaches that have absolutely nothing on them. A rare treat in these days of mass tourism. There is not much to do in terms of entertainment, but time flies fast. Days get filled with swimming, spear fishing, jungle hiking, watching sunrise, sunset and moon rise. Moon rise is particularly beautiful – the moment moon rises over the horizon it appears reddish and oversized. My personal adventure for Koh Rong involved swimming to the next island and back. It took me one hour each way and after making it back an unthinkable thing happened: I did not want to go near the sea for the next several days.

The proximity of the island to Sihonoukville leaves its imprint on the contingent of visitors. Namely too many British and too many men. The vibe is very laid-back and relaxed though, apart from one night that involved drunken Brits partying in the next bungalow. This incident and other signs pointed to the fact that I had to leave after three nights on the island. I would have loved to stay longer, but at this point of my travels I tend to follow my instinct.

All is not well in this little utopia, though. The island was sold to private investors several years ago and big plans are destined for the island. Apparently construction of an airport is in the works and a clearing in the jungle is already there. Mass-development will undoubtedly follow. While I was on the island a group of elite soldier troops (equipped machine guns and everything) landed on the island. The official explanation they are there to make sure no illegal logging took place. The less official, but more plausible explanation is to protect the interests of the owners and to keep villagers in check. It all looks like investors want villagers out from the island. On the other hand, considering this is Cambodia, it might be a long time before the change occurs. For example, Snake Island near Sihanoukville was bought by a Russian investor in 2007 and plans for constructing a 300 million dollars resorts were made. Shortly after the deal was sealed, the guy got charged with pedophilia, the deal was off, the whole case was swept under the rug and money was probably pocketed by the government. The whole drama sounds very fishy and makes you think if a guy has got money to buy an island, surely he has got money to bribe the courts in such a corrupted country as Cambodia. This little incident postponed the fate of the island by a couple of years and for the time being there is still nothing on Snake Island (apart from a spectacular bridge). So who knows, Koh Rong might get a similar treatment. Nonetheless it will most certainly eventually succumb to rampant development at some point, so if you want to experience a semi-deserted island with unspoiled nature, the time to visit is NOW.

PS: Neither Le Chuck nor Guybrush Threepwood were spotted on the island.


Sihanoukville is a sinful, shady place. Prostitution, drugs and partying Vang Vieng style. I had heard so many negative things about the place that it made me reluctant to visit it at all. Then I learned that it was a chav capital of Cambodia akin to Had Rin on Ko Phangan or Vang Vieng in Laos and it made me want to see this bizarre place
I spent two nights in Sihanoukville, one night before and another night after Koh Rong, and it was not bad at all. I did not want to escape the city at any point and had a nice time. I did not bother to socialize with pretty much anyone or take part in the debauchery. Instead I slept a lot, ate a lot, walked around a lot and observed things around me. And surprisingly enough I found Sihanoukville rather enjoyable. Yes, there is nothing much to see, but there are some pretty beaches (as long as you walk away from Serendipity Beach), cheap food and the energy of the city is not that rotten at all. It is not as apocalyptic and overwhelming as Vang Vieng. Partying is concentrated around Serendipity Beach, red light district is limited to another area in Victory Hill and areas in-between are rather sleepy. Walk away a couple of kilometers from the party zone and it is undeveloped countryside with cows peacefully having a feast on grass. There are western style supermarkets all over the place, which is really surprising considering it is the developing poor Cambodia. I haven’t seen any supermarkets in Vietnam for example.

I paid a visit to Snakehouse – a restaurant specializing in Russian cuisine, a guesthouse, a snake house and a crocodile farm. All under one roof and all owned by a Russian man, Mikhail. One pissed-off cobra did not like me and immediately tried to attack me as I passed by its cage, but was stopped by a thick glass. We played a staring contest divided the glass for some minutes, but eventually I was attacked by mosquitoes and the cobra lost interest. It was a tie-game. A curious place. The strangest thing about Sihanoukville is a spectacular massive bridge connecting Snake Island with the mainland. A huge concrete bridge high enough to pass cargo ships under leading straight into the greenery of the island. There is nothing on the island apart from the jungle. Nothing at all. Without a doubt development will take place in the future, but for the time being it is just fascinating. I wanted to go to explore the island, but was stopped by a man with a machine gun. He promptly showed to turn around and go back. You do not argue with men armed with machine guns.

Kep kep kep

Kep is only 25km from Phu Quoc by sea, but there is no sea link between two places. It took me the whopping 8 hours to go from Phu Quoc to Kep with a stopover at Ha Tien. It was all good though, as I planned leaving Ha Tien by evening bus spending the day walking around Ha Tien. There was no evening bus, so I had to leave in the afternoon and made it to Kep earlier than planned despite all the delays. Fast travelling is certainly not one of the strong points of Vietnam or Cambodia.

Absolutely everything about Kep is just lovely. It is very Fengshui friendly – there is sea, there is a beach, there are mountains. There is sunset over the sea. It is quiet and far away from maddening crowds. Even the Birthday of the King and influx of local tourists did not break the tranquility of the place. It is very green and Kep National Park is most enjoyable, despite that Lonely Planet has to say about it. Buildings are pretty and architecture is a blend of French and Khmer styles. Abandoned buildings from the French era steadily get overtaken by the jungle and add charm to the overall prettiness of Kep. Back in the day Kep used to be a seaside resort for the French elite, but the civil war put an end to that. Now the grandeur of the past is slowly returning back and indeed many if not most of the visitors are French speaking expats. The atmosphere is laid-back and somewhat Pai like, even the names sound similar. Kep, Pai. Pai, Kep. The bungalow in Treetop is probably the nicest of all I have stayed in during my travels. A basic bamboo hut, but spacious and with a touch of style. Seven bucks a night with a bathroom next door. Located in the midst of a fruit garden and guarded by jungle laden mountains on one side. It is a mango season too. Five mangos for 25c from a market or free ones from the garden delivered by the force of gravity. I love Kep.

Apart from mangos in season, Kep is rather expensive. Especially when it comes to food and especially after Vietnam. A 6$ breakfast buffet at Veranda, a castle like luxurious resort, fully compensated high prices at other places, though. Shame that I went there only once. Kep’s very own specialty, green pepper crab is most excellent and worth the high price. There is even a grotesque statue of the crab in the center. On a similar note, there are weird statues all over Cambodia. Giant crabs and chicken, nagas and multi-handed gods carrying proletariat tools in each hand. Cambodia is different.

Kep has a magic shop selling beads run by Stefan, a very charming French man in his forties. Big life experience, no formal education, tons of different jobs and traveling. Plus irresistible charisma only the French are masters of. I was lured there by a flyer and ended up having three days of profound conversations and one self-made bead necklace. Who would have though that bead shops could be so much fun and excitement. He relayed me his life story and told that people tend to make radical changes, when they approach the decade change. Indeed, now looking back at my life, I moved out of my parents’ house and started independent life, when I was 18. Now I am 28 and I quit job to become a dharma bum. Maybe, the next dramatic change at the age of 38?