Hitting the Road Gets Easier

More than just a collection of maps, ‘Total Road and Tourism Atlas’….

A great deal has changed since 2003, when Alain Gascuel published Cambodia’s first updated road atlas since the 1960s.

At the time, the road from Siem Reap City to Poipet was virtually impassable in the rainy season, and many drivers bold enough to venture on it had to have their vehicles pulled out of the mud, he recalls. Moreover, major portions of country had yet to be demined.

In the Cambodia charted in his atlas’s fifth edition, landmines are no longer a concern for road travel, and the road between Siem Reap City and Poipet is up to international standards and probably the best in the country, he said.

But one aspect has not changed: “Still today, do not travel at night,” Mr Gascuel said in an interview. “Even a major road is dangerous. You have trucks with no light at the back, people on bicycles we can’t see, pedestrians…cows suddenly crossing.”

In the daytime, however, what would have been an expedition in years past can now be a pleasant ride as even country roads have greatly improved, he said.

Mr Gascuel, who first came to Cambodia in the early 1970s as a war correspondent, has been editor-in-chief of the monthly economics publication Cambodge Nouveau for 18 years in Phnom Penh.

His latest “Total Road and Tourism Atlas” is a 126-page, magazine-sized book. Richly illustrated, it is printed on sturdy paper meant for heavy use by people in cars or on motorcycles looking up information in a hurry, with itineraries spelled out and maps grouped in the last section.

Using cities as points of departure, the book describes the various directions one may take and all the points of interest one may come across.

For instance, heading south out of Kompong Cham City, the book reads: “At the far end of town there’s a curious bridge entirely made out of bamboo and submerged during half of the year. It’s rebuilt each time and helps to keep the picturesque link…with the sandy island of Koh Soutin, where inhabitants are entirely Cham. Tobacco farming is done here.” Below is a section on Cham communities with a color photo of a mosque, and on the following page brief information and photos on tobacco farming in Kompong Cham province.

The atlas even alerts the reader where he can get petrol and supplies in the countryside, board ferries at rivers or find guesthouses in isolated areas.

Road conditions at various times of the year are also spelled out. Heading north toward Kratie City from Chhlong, a “bridge spans across the very deep valley of Preak Chhlong and it’s 33 km along a small dirt road, beautiful but of mediocre quality…through hamlets,” the book explains.

Westward, one would encounter 2 km of good road turning into a “bad trail depending on the weather,” perfect for adventurous people on motorcycles or dirt bikes, the text says.

As the wealth of details demonstrates, Mr Gascuel has obviously traveled each of those roads repeatedly.

As he compiled the information, the author concentrated on three main themes: archaeological sites, monuments and pagodas; the scenery and ecological features; and rural economy.

There is a section on paddy fields and another on fisheries.

Mr Gascuel provides information for those planning to climb Phnom Aural, Cambodia’s highest peak, standing 1,833 meters high, and on the Khone waterfalls, which thwarted the French’s efforts to set up a navigable route from Vietnam to Vientiane on the Mekong River a century ago.

While he covers the better-known historical sites such as the Angkorian temple of Banteay Chhmar in Banteay Meanchey province, he also highlights smaller and intriguing ones, including Kompong Cham province’s brick sanctuary of Kuk Thom.

Filled with data and answering the various questions that might come to mind when touring an area, this atlas should prove of interest to both expatriates and visitors.

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