Part 14 (20 December – 2 March) South east asia Part 2 (Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore)



After visiting our family back home for the holidays, it was time to return to the far east and continue our adventures! Although our car was parked in Phnom Penh, we decided to fly to Bangkok, spend 2 days there and take a bus from Bangkok to Phnom Penh. This would save us a lot of money but the 19 euro bus ride would take 16 hours. But what the heck, we have the time and our trip is all about the journey. Turned our choice wasn’t so bad. In total it took us 18 hours to get to the car, where we convinced the guard to let us sleep in the car so we could get some rest, get organised and leave the next day.


It was our second time in Cambodia so we knew what to expect. We made a plan to explore the country, cleaned up the car and left for the coastal city of Sihanoukville.



Sihanoukville`s Otres beach was nice, but the beautiful Thai beaches had spoiled us. The restaurants were a great place to relax, eat and drink and get into the Cambodian rythm. The downside was that Cambodia doesn`t have very strict law enforcement and lots of people come here to get stoned and party all night. Let’s just say, Sihanoukville is no Koh Chang, but we enjoyed the laid back, hippy atmosphere and the white sand palm tree beach. Interestingly the beach next to Otres, which is mainly used for recreation by local people, closely resembled a…. garbage dump…. Sadly, just like in Iran, the local people have zero environmental awareness…

National Parks


After a couple of days relaxing we headed into the mountains. Cambodia has a couple of beautiful national parks, which charge little to no entrance fee. There are hardly any other visitors which gives room for wildlife and plenty of places to bush camp. During our 4 weeks in Cambodia we tried to spend as much time as possible in these national parks to enjoy nature to its fullest. We were warned though, that we shouldn`t stray off the beaten track because millions of landmines are littered across the countryside. See our previous blog post for more information on Cambodian landmines.

Cambodia`s road infrastructure used to be one of the worst in the world. Not surprising, since after decades of civil war the country is also one of the poorest in the world... But to our amazement, lots of roads were brand new and in very good shape!

We soon learned why… The Cambodians sold large swaths of lands and national parks to Chinese investors who cleared much of the forests to build luxurious vacation resorts along the coast and in the mountains. They also loaned huge amounts of money from the Chinese, which was all used to improve the Cambodian road infrastructure.

But we would be hypocritical if we said we were not loving these new roads. We took one of them into the Cardamom mountains and soon were all alone in a beautiful jungle, with big Hornbill birds flying overhead and monkeys calling in the distance. 

On the way back we tried an “old road”, and we soon understood the need for road improvements! It started out ok, a bit steep and narrow but nothing our car couldn’t handle. The conditions then quickly worsened, leaving us 4x4-ing across some very challenging terrain.

Soon the path became too narrow and made us come to a full stop because it was completely overgrown by dense bamboo forest. This road had beaten us, we had to turn back. We managed to get back on track and made a promise to each other not to experiment with these kind of tracks in Cambodia anymore!

Our experience with the Cambodians


The Cambodian people were really friendly to us. Because most Cambodians we met spoke very little English, they were a bit shy and getting into a nice conversation proved to be difficult. But what we loved about the Cambodians which we met is that they are laid back and respect other people’s privacy. We were never bothered when bush camping and only got friendly waves, smiles and thumbs up from the locals when we drove past.

What we really found funny was the typical Cambodian clothing, especially of the women. Adult women wear “Brigitte Jones like” pyjamas as daily street wear in all kinds of funny prints (incl. Sponge Bob!), sometimes combined with fluffy bunny flip flops! 


Motorbikes are used to transport everything. We have seen motorbikes as complete driving markets, or transporting living pigs and yes, even a cow... People on the back holding a door (of a house and of a car), front hood of a car, TV’s (the big ones), everything we transport in a car, the resourceful Cambodians find a way transport on their motorbike. Because of the low costs, the number of motorbikes outnumber the cars by 10 to 1.

They are also the means of transportation for the whole family. It is completely normal to see 3 or 4 people on 1 motorbike. Very often you see a 3 year old kid standing between the legs of daddy, while holding the steering wheel as balance, with mommy sitting on the back squeezing one or two children between her and daddy. Oh and of course all without helmets, barrelling down the pot-holed roads at speed up to 70kmph…

Car trouble!


Our car didn`t agree with Cambodia. We had our first flat tire, we broke our airconditioning and our fresh water pump, our auxilliary battery died and the clutch decided to lose pressure every once and a while... The tire and battery were easily replaced, the airco we could fix temporarily and having no running fresh water was annoying but we could manage without. However, the clutch issue was particularly nasty as it caused the car to suddenly start driving even with the clutch pedal depressed… Very scary, especially in busy city traffic with motorbikes zooming past us left and right!

We tried to fix this by pumping any air out of the system (bleeding) and refreshing the fluids. But this only made it worse. Jeroen figured out that we had to replace a vital part (master clutch cylinder) to fix this problem. Delivery time: 2 weeks...


Our Cambodia visa was going to expire in 5 days and the initial plan was to drive back to Laos, then through Thailand to reach Malaysia overland. With the car in this condition and a lot of uncertainty on getting a second permit to enter Thailand again, driving to Malaysia just wasn’t going to be an option.

From being almost a year on the road, we got accustomed to changing our plans. Then we heard that our China Crossing friends Ed and Sue were rejected to enter Thailand. Because of this, they were forced to ship their Landcruiser from Cambodia to Indonesia in a big container, which happened to have space for our car, so we decided to join them!

During the shipment we could have all the needed parts shipped to Nicolette’s friends Hjalmar and Nynke in Singapore and combine the pickup with a nice social call to them. We managed to cram both cars in the container and then we found ourselves to be homeless for the first time! We strapped on our backpacks and were on our way to Malaysia. 




We had two weeks before the parts would arrive in Singapore, which gave us ample time to explore Malaysia. First stop: Kuala Lumpur!, the very modern capital of Malaysia. A 3-day stay was enough to explore the city and we stayed in a nice backpackers guest house in China town, visiting the highlights of the city by foot, public transport and taxi. It had been a couple of years since we had been backpacking, we almost felt like normal people on holiday J


The next stop would be the Cameron Highlands in the Northern interior of Malaysia, a lush green mountainous area with some beautiful scenery. Bright green tea plantations are draped on gentle mountain slopes, surrounded by moss covered forests and low hanging clouds, very pretty!

We booked a tour with a group of youngsters :) for a hike through the so-called ‘Mossy Forest’, views of the tea plantations and a visit to the local tea factory. It was fascinating to see the whole production process from the tea plants to actual tea. We had an excellent guide who took us on a challenging hike through the cloud forests pointing out things we would have never seen or realized ourselves.


Some of the prettiest beaches in the world can be found on islands that lie just off the coast of Malaysia and now that we were car/homeless, we had an excellent opportunity to visit one of the nicest islands, Perhentian! Again a bus ride, which should take 5 hours but ended up lasting an annoying 11 hours because of a huge detour to collect more people from the middle of the country. But we were just in time to catch the last speedboat of the day to the island. This boat ride was rougher than we expected, but pretty spectacular, check out the video!

The snorkelling on Perhentian was absolutely epic and after 2 days of relaxing and enjoying the company of 2 lovely British backpackers, we left for Singapore. Again by bus because there is just no cheaper way to travel through Malaysia to Singapore. As usual in SE Asia the bus turned up 3 hours late and drove us in a 12 hour race-like ride to Singapore. As our British friend Rob commented; ‘Where else in the world is a public bus the fastest thing on the road’ J



Singapore is familiar territory for Nicolette as she has been there 12 times before. For Jeroen it was the first time, so Nicolette made a plan of all the things she wanted to show Jeroen and see again herself. Singapore is known for its modern high-rise but it also has a nicely preserved old city centre and botanical garden, and its Zoo and Bird park are rated amongst the most beautiful in the world. Singapore is also known to be a ‘fine city’, meaning that you can get fined for a lot of different things, most famously: using chewing gum and neglecting to flush the toilet!

We made a plan for 4 things we wanted/needed to do in Singapore: 

  1. Visit Nicolette’s old friend Hjalmar and his family who live an expat life in Singapore for the past 2,5 years
  2. Picking up our car parts
  3. Sightseeing
  4. Applying for a USA visa as we couldn’t apply for an ESTA because we have been in Iran

Visiting Hjalmar, Nynke and the kids was really nice but at the same time a bit of a culture shock for us. We have been living as nomads in a car while Hjalmar and Nynke live a very comfortable expat life with a full time helper in an amazing house with gym, pool and all the luxury one could imagine. Hjalmar has a challenging job at Shell and works long hours making multi-million dollar decisions on a daily basis. Nynke started her own company as a marketing consultant and managed to get away from the sometimes judgemental Dutch pressure of what an ambitious educated young woman should do with her life. We really admire how she has been able to look back on her life in Holland as being overly stressful and a drain on her energy levels.

Staying with them really was a welcome break from the hardcore travelling we have done in the past year and something we realized we shouldn’t get too used to as we knew that a couple of days later we were back to our basic nomad life in our car!

Sightseeing in Singapore was nice for both of us as the city has really changed since Nicolettes last visit. Singapore zoo is indeed the most beautiful in the world, mainly because Singapore was once a jungle and in order to create this zoo, the only thing they needed to do was groom the plants and trees, bring some animals into the place and build some paths and fences. Check out the video to get an idea what we are talking about!


USA Visa application


Applying for the USA visa in Singapore is not for the faint-hearted: First of all, in order to make an appointment we both had to fill in an online application form of about 30 pages. Then we had to make a $320 fee payment to the Singapore bank account of the US embassy, just to be able to schedule an appointment for an interview. Luckily, Hjalmar was able to make the transfer from his account and almost 1 week after we started this process we were allowed to schedule the appointment. We prepared all the paperwork we could need to support our story (pictures of our car, a print out of the route, copies of our bank statements). The interview lasted no more than 5 minutes and we needed every document we brought with us! The people at the embassy were all very friendly, our interviewer even told us he was a Land Cruiser fan and told us on the spot our visa was approved. 2 days later we could pick it up, everything went according to plan, yay! We booked our tickets to Indonesia for the 2nd of March, back to the nomad life!! 

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