Half way to Ho Chi Minh City. 16.2.16

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Half way to HCMC. Hot.

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Great place for lunch. Only the best.

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We were expecting a ferry. Honestly.

Not much to say. Hot day. Long way. Highway 1 is not the most interesting road. Linda felt a tad overheated. Several times. Paul felt overheated. Slightly less often. Just.

We thought the road was a ferry over the river. Nice surprise to find a nice new bridge. Thank you Mr Chinese.

Now to sleep in our $15 hotel. Pooped.

To Phnom Penh. St Val’s day.

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They will not fall. Jolly painful.

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Driving a moped starts early in these parts.

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How deep is Tonle Sap?

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Water Hyacinths. Very invasive. Seems appropriate for the area, really.

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It’s not much, but it is home.

We’ve become unaccustomed to relying on other modes of transport.  Tuk tuk 30 mins later than booked.  Squeezing onto the back to join the 5 other travellers with all their gear we then had to hold onto our bikes hanging off the tailgate. Met Yann, a charming Frenchman now living in Hammersmith, travelling in south-east Asia for a few weeks between jobs.  Nice to chat while we waited for our driver, who disappeared after we broke down  two mins down the dusty road.  He  finally turned up  with a Jonnie Walker bottle of petrol.  No worries being late as the 7:30 am ferry was still piling on passengers at 8.30.

We settled ourselves onto the rather firm bench seats, very happy to have a seat and not to be perched on the rooftop, baking with the baggage. We had been told that the journey 4-5 takes hours, but were  prepared for a 5 to 6 hour trip with lots of water, bananas and pastries from breakfast.  The engine stops after 4 minutes, someone gets a saw out to chop something off the back off the boat. Repeat. Several times. 5 hours into the trip we pull over to the bank. It didn’t look like a port. Everyone piles off onto a rather sleeker looking vessel.  Paul is left to hoik our bikes and panniers onto the new boat while I scurry down below to try and grab a seat.

Very exciting for 10 mins when we accelerate to warp factor 6.  Sadly, it didn’t last. Engine stopped and someone tried a hammer this time. Sadly it didn’t work, so a serious engineer was called in. He had a very big hammer.  Which almost worked. We pootled down the river ploughing through the weeds for another weary, bone aching 4 hours.  Just made it to Phnom Penh before dark. Groan. More fun than a van, but gosh, so close.

Even Hanoi traffic wasn’t this bad.  We chose to cycle on the sidewalk avoiding the kids playing football, the aerobics class and the food vendors.  A manic cycle to find our hotel.  Thank you maps.me and Paul’s ability to cycle and brake one-handed.

Travelling by bike in Cambodia is fun. The fun is about to change as we try and actually cycle around Phnom Penh.

 

 

Day on Holiday Sat 13.2.16

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Our hotel’s pool. Jolly nice it is, too!

Our last day in Siem Reap, and just chilling in 35 degrees. Trying to work out a plan to go east, to Phnom Penh. Bus, cycle or boat? The bike ride to Phnom Penh will be the best part of 500km, as we would have to go around Tonle Sap, so about 4 days. Time is slightly running out (groan). Bus or boat? Bus is probably more comfortable but we have seen lots of countryside from the road. Boat it is! Although many reviews on the internet are not great, lets get there with an open mind, warm heart and see what happens!

06.30 pick up, with bikes. Hope to be in Phnom Penh by 3pm. We have been learning all about the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot in the 70’s.  Great book, First they killed my father. Not sure if we want to go to the ‘Killing fields’. It may have been turned into a tourist circus, rather than a serious subject for quiet contemplation. To think on.

We can’t help but think that the arrangements for tomorrow are, to say the least, flakey. We are concerned that a car for us, and a tuk-tuk for the bikes just might not be co-ordinated. Paul resolves to go with the bikes in a Tuk-tuk, if it turns up at all.

Another day. Another adventure.

Around Angkor Wat. Fri 12.2.16

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The big one, Angkor Wat.

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Sun up. Over Angkor Wat, sort of.

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By the ‘Ladies pool’, Angkor Wat.

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The Gods, pulling a snake. No-one wins.

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Lotus flowers.

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Angkor Wat, home of the Gods.

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300 year old tree. And Paul.

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Angkor Wat, all the Pineapples.

Well, we have sort of finished a pilgrimage to get to Angkor Wat. We started in Wat Phu in Laos, peddled over 400Km along what was an ancient way connecting two of the most important Khmer temples together. We have also spent loads of time learning about the ancient Khmer religions and beliefs, looking at other temples and generally getting confused around the different myths surrounding these temples.

Our day started at 5am. A frantic bike ride to make sure we got to the temple before dawn. Dawn sort of happened about an hour after we arrived. Hey ho. We joined one or two others, looking at what is the biggest religious building in the world. So impressive. We could list superlatives at this point, but it’s really about the feeling, the soul of the place. All the myths and stories help put the stones into context, but it is so impressive. It stands in Cambodia, next to huge poverty, and a recent new story of unbelievable brutality and sadness at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. A story that is still unfolding with the legacy of thousands of mines, a whole generation of the country’s intelligent and sophisticated people murdered and a land that has been stripped of anything edible. Still the people smile.

Angkor Wat is the sort of place that we all maybe should see. But to fly in, view, and fly out would miss the point. It is a huge site, with over 50 world class temples, all over 1,000 years old. It is mainly Hindu, with a mix of Bhuddism. It’s also about politics and local kings trying to make a point about their lives. It makes one of the most interesting places that we have had the fun of exploring.

The cycling was grand!

 

To Banteay Srey. Thurs 11/2/16.

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To Banteay Srei temple. Angkorian. 967AD, ish.

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Banteay Srey. The pink one.

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Banteay Samre.

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Detail, Banteay Srei.

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More detail. Superb carving quality.

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Banteay Srey.

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Thanks USA, and others.

Another day, more temples.  Banteay Srei is superb. Great craftsmanship, and , as all of them, a story to tell. Hindu, now Buddhist. Thought to be built by women. Not sure how ‘they’ can tell. Banteay Semre, a slightly ‘out of the way’ temple, all building up to ‘The big one’ tomorrow – Angkor Wat. So far, all are a bit mind blowing, in lots of ways.

This is big industry for Siem Reap.  Lots of us tourists traipsing over the ruins listening to descriptions of Apsaras (celestial dancers) and tales of Hindu demons and gods.  For some it is a pilgrimage, for many of the Asian tourists, more selfies.  Most of these temples were only more recently uncovered by the French in the early 1900’s.  It is only in the last 10 or so years that the sites have been declared National Heritage sites and foreign aid is coming in from India and China to help restore the structures and to provide an infrastructure.

Stopped into the Cambodia Landmine museum en route to the temples.  The museum was  founded by a victim of the Khmer Rouge, Aki Ra. He became a boy soldier for the Khmer Rouge at the age of seven after his parents were killed by them.  He spent his boyhood fighting and laying landmines.  Laterally, he has devoted his life to de-activating them by the very unorthodox method of using a pair of pliers.  He has made safe thousands of devices, manufactured by the Americans, Russians and Chinese.  His charity has looked after child victims of the landmines by providing housing and an education.  Today there are many less victims per year, down to around one hundred or so rather than more than one thousand per year.

A little light relief was a wander around the butterfly centre.  Local farmers are being paid to drop in the caterpillars they find on their crops, rather than cooking / squishing them.  These are hatched in the centre and visitors can watch the emerging butterflies from their cocoons.  Daily they collect the eggs they find on the leaves and protect them in boxes until they hatch.  Lots of predators with the geckos and ants.

The evening was a bit of a treat, and very unexpected. Dinner about 10Km out of town, to a ‘cultural show’. Usually awful, and had we known about it we would probably have said no. We were just told to get in the van! Quite surprisingly, we did. However… food was great, and the dancing was very skilful and elegant. Very enjoyable to watch. Thank you Cambodia Cycling!

Tomorrow early start. 5am.

 

Siem Reap and Tonle Sap. Tues/ Wed, 9th + 10th, Feb.

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To Tonle Sap. And Wat Prasat Bakong.

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Cruise on Tonle Sap. Our own boat.

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Spraying mud, amongst other things.

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No-one likes him. Or maybe the anchor didn’t work. Or he is trying to move neighbourhood. Or……

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Another handbag, or belt.

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At Wat Prasat Bakong.

A day to ourselves before our organised cycle tour around the area after a superb breakfast of fresh fruit platter, pastries and eggs.  Big treat.  Walked up to  Angkor National Museum.  After three hours of audio tour, we think we are a little wiser in understanding the history of the building of the Wats and their importance to the area.   Strong influence from India and a worship of Shiva.  The kings at the time attempted to replicate heaven on earth for the gods they worshipped.  Some pretty stunning sandstone and brick construction in the 8th to 14th centuries.

Siem Reap is quite a party town with many, many places to eat, drink, have a massage or the dead skin eaten off your feet on a street corner.  We opted for the soft option of happy hour cocktails to get in the flow on Pub Street.

Met our cycle guide 8:00 am Wednesday am for first day trip out to Tonle Sap.  Flat and hot out to the lake.  Boarded our boat which struggled to find a passage onto the lake.  The water is so low at this time of year but will be at its lowest in April.  Probably only a metre or so in depth.  Pretty shocked at the colour of the water, the rubbish littering the sides and the lack of vegetation or wildlife.  Ten years ago, we were told, this area was covered in mangrove trees.  The people ate all the birds, fed the snakes to the crocodiles, electrocuted the fish and now they are all struggling to make a living.  The fisherman used to be very wealthy, less so now.  Our guide believes the village will be gone in the  next ten years.  Tourism is keeping it going, for the moment. What happens when there isn’t much to see..?

Visited our first Wat and took lots of photos. Very stunning. A lot of the carvings have symbolic meaning in Hinduism, a small part of which we sort of get. However, it is an amazing space, and we can almost feel the spiritual flavour, although coach loads of other tourists can detract at times.

Our plan is to see Angkor Wat a bit before sunrise, hopefully less people! Although they probably will be there. Hey ho. It’s understandably a popular place.

Siem Reap, at last. Mon 8th Feb.

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Into Siem Reap. Red dirt road, but Yea!!

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Dust gets everywhere.

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Lake fish, hmmm. Not so sure.

Found a good dirt road detour en route to Siem Reap which avoided the very fast traffic on Highway 6. Much nicer cycling through the villages.  The villages have power yet, but on its way.  Wonder how long this way of life will last.

Approaching Siem Reap were very confused by the traffic lanes, apparently 2-way in each lane.  Thank goodness for maps.me and Paul’s ability to cycle, watch out for tuk tuk’s, mopeds and scooters coming from all directions and still follow the route which led us right to the hotel’s front door. Impressive.  Great coffee right next door and a laundry.  Happy days.

Almost at Siem Reap.

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Voted worst guest house so far. Just. Lots of competition.

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Thought it was a boiled egg for breakfast. Aagh! Chick, steamed.

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They look more comfy than most of the mattresses that we have slept on.

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Tried to tie it onto Linda’s bike. She noticed, and refused to pedal.

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Where the trees go. Charcoal.

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The water in the bucket was for our shower. Honest, really. Well done Linda, still smiling.

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Sunset. Svey Leu, this time.

Our first Cambodian coffee with breakfast.  Hopes were high but quickly dashed.  Thick, sticky, dark and horrid.

Unusually cool starting out at only low 20’s made cycling easy.  Rolling countryside demonstrating more slash and burn, more smouldering fires and disappearing forest.  Vast tracts of land are cleared of all but a handful of tall skeleton trees.  Depressing to see but understandable and no different to the path followed by the USA and Europe in its time.  Traffic is very light, the occasional large truck stacked high with sacks of cassava and  labourers pulling more teak logs or planks on their two-wheel tractors.  We do pass through some villages and the children do call out “hello” but it doesn’t sound as spontaneous or friendly as the “sabadees” in Laos.  We have seen our first overweight children and commonly more overweight adults than in Laos  There appears to be more affluence here than in many parts of Laos we cycled through, but also less charming.  Early days, and lots more to see.

Our big decision today was do we trust the map? It says there is one guest house in Svey Leu at 98 kms or bed down for the night in Xam Coong Thmay at  57 kms which allegedly has three, according to Paul’s iPhone based map. No internet so it isn’t reliable. With internet it’s not reliable, either. Doesn’t help our confidence that Xam Coong Thamy is now actually called Saamven. Found a roadside stand offering us fried rice at midday, which was rather tasty.  Didn’t really want to hang around the rest of the day so pressed on to Svey Leu.  Good decision as only 65 km tomorrow to Siem Reap.

Pedalled into Svey Leu and were promptly escorted through town by man with Police helmet accompanied by chap wearing combat fatigues on a moped, both carrying AK47’s.  Paul was asked where was he going?.  Helpfully, we were shown to the “guest house” – stalag 13, but the only bed in town.  Clean, ish, with a tap and a toilet, we are settled for the night for $8.  After a sluice down with the bucket and pail, happily managed to find a bread roll seller and some beers so supped on more banana sandwiches and watched the sun set.

Very excited to get to Siem Reap tomorrow, hopefully in time for some lunch.  We think we will have deserved something rather nice. Like a warm shower, in clear water.

 

Half way to Siem Reap.

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Half way to Siem Reap.

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Sunrise over Stung Treng.

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Lunch, but what is it? Actually, better not to know.

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Not sure if an ‘accident’ or on purpose

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Twas once a teak forest

This city wakes up early.  Loud music coming from across the street at 6:00am, accompanied us as we left Stung Treng, heading for Chhaeb some 85 kms west.  So much easier pedalling in the cool morning air.  Our Khmer is pretty rubbish -ie not a word – but with some hand signals we are, at least, able to stock up with water for the day from the roadside stalls.

Happy to see a few water buffalo and a couple of egrets then horrified to see a parked up pick up and a chap with his gun sights trained on the egret.  Linda screamed out “No”, but he didn’t even flinch.  We didn’t want to wait to see the outcome.  Beginning to understand why we see so little birdlife or, indeed, any wildlife.

So much “slash and burn” in this area as the forest is gradually being cleared to make way for other agriculture.  Passed a few teak sided houses on wooden stilts.  There is no electricity, just a car battery charged up elsewhere.  Water is collected in huge storage jars.  Many areas of the forest are smouldering and we passed through some areas of dense smoke where flames are eating up the dry scrubland.  We were astonished to see swallows diving in and out of the smoke until we realised they were scooping up the insects coming out of the flames.  At least some wildlife was reaping some benefit from all the destruction, if only for a day.

We reached Chhaeb by midday ready for alternative nutrition rather than more bananas and water.  Didn’t ever see a guest house but managed to find a street stall which appeared to have food.  Some more sign language and  minutes later we were dished up with a bowl of, something.  Without looking too closely, well we did, it was delicious.  Savoury and meaty so long as you discarded some more obvious tubes and offal.

Feeling refreshed, ish, we decided to continue for the day and make for Preah Vihear, a further 55 kms.  A long old day but relatively flat and not too hot, averaging mid 30’s.  Found the only hotel in town deciding to treat ourselves.  The princely cost of $12 but no electricity.  Power did come on an hour or so later but  we opted for the cold shower  before dark.  We were then very ready to try some more Cambodian beer and find some food.

No, we don’t like to see the cow trussed up on the back of a trailer,  the ducks flapping upside down from a motorbike nor the squealing pig tied up by its legs slung from a pole off to slaughter but we still like to eat our meat. We are seeing the cogs and wheels of daily food production, hidden from us at home, wrapped up in its sterile Waitrose packaging.  Had some surprisingly tasty fried vegetables with chicken and ginger and rice with beef.  Two more days we reckon to Siem Reap and a rest.  Can’t wait.