Cambodia, a fascinating country, recovering from many years of war and upset, is gradually making its way as a tourist destination.
Early on Wednesday morning we cycled off to the Cambodian border, hidden somewhere behind a massive local market. Border formalities were quite straight forward, and having been relieved of 20 US dollars for our Cambodian visa, we set off cycling again, looking for transport to Siem Reap, and the temples of Angkor.
Had a lucky break getting a lift, we were quoted about 4.50 pounds for a lift in the back of a pick up, and we were told there were no buses to Siem-Reap.
But as we were cycling down the road, an airconditioned bus pulled up and asked if we wanted to go to Siem-Reap for 10 dollars each. A little pricey by local standards, but an entire air-con bus to ourselves? He had dropped a coach load off at the border and was on his way back empty. What a lucky break. During the journey we saw what the road was like, it would have been a gruelling trip on a bike along a 100 mile dirt track, and the dust was attrocious!
Arrived in Siem Reap at 3:30pm, by 4pm we had found and checked into the Popular Hotel near the centre of town. At 5 dollars a night,
I know why its popular. En-suite too, but no hot water and no window that opens either. Its tough travelling but somebody's got to do it.
Wandered around the town in the evening, taking in the sights, and a few beers as well. Had our evening meal at our hotel rooftop restaurant. They have a system whereby everything you eat and drink in the restaurant is written in a \n exercise book that has our room number on it, and at the end of our stay we settle up. Not a procedure familiar to us in the cheap hotels we normally stay in, something akin to charging it to your room. I like to pay as we go, so we dont get any nasty surprises at the end!
Road to Siem Reap
3/2/05 (Paul writes...)
First day in the Angkor Temples. We've got a cycling guidebook with 4 different routes that cover most of the temples, so we plan to cycle them all over the next week, with a day or two off. Bought a 7 day pass whih gives us entry to all the temples as well as what are, allegedly, some of the finest public toilets in South East Asia. Today is the Taking in the Temple ride, about 25 miles. Quite hard going in the heat of the day, but we managed it without to much difficulty, taking in Angkor Thon, glimpsing Angkor wat from a distance (saving that up for later) and many other temples in the main temple area. Somebody was busy around the 10th to 12th centuries AD, very busy I'd say.
4/2/05 to 8/2/05 (Paul writes...)
Spent quite a bit of time trying to get our website up and running, gradually getting there, so please bear with us.
Did the other three rides in our guide book, getting used to the hot weather now, but we find it easier to start cycling early in the morning so we can try and finish by early afternoon. The cold shower is a blessing, although we found the water can be quite warm in the afternoon.
09/02/05 (Rita writes...)
So, though Paul didnt say which we visited I can tell you we are now very conversant with many of the Wats in the Angkor area including the great Angkor Wat and the smaller Bantreay Srei, not to mention mamy more for fear of boring you all to death. In addition to loads of pics of these we have some great photos of the rural life of villagers on the way to and from these Wats, the street vendors and the kids trying to flog us this that and the other, the countryside and the water buffalo and the many interesting stalls of basket work, fruits and veg, local hand made flutes and prepared coconuts for milk drinks, and of the many different forms of transport and accommodation used by the kampucheans. On one of our rural rides Paul forced me over a rickety bridge to a paddy field, when the locals complained, I had to go back over it - very scarey since I am about 8 stone heavier than any of the locals and the bridge(built many years ago) rocked under me above the murky, filthy river - oh he never mentioned that!!!
The majoritiy of the folk are employed on the land and work vey hard - young children included, and everywhere there are beggars and people who have lost arms, legs or both from the unexploded land mines, which are still all over Cambodia and no one has records of their whereabouts - a left over from the Khmer regime.
We have used every different combination of "Hello, Goodbye" to the kids who rush out as we cycle by including ecko and lobye, which I have personally never heard of but am open to suggestions. They like people on bikes - lots of them have bikes and the school playgrounds are filled with them in school hours.
We saved visiting angkor wat till the last but one day as a great sight it is. Weather scorching - we left around 7.30am to get there b4 it got too hot and we timne it nicely to avoid hoards of Japanese tourists who arrived by coach from the posh hotels just as we finished our tour around it. In shade of one of the restaurants there I sampled a famous local dish "Fish Amok" - very much like a green thai curry but served in and tasting more of coconut. Our final cycle in this area was a long one on goodish road to the most distant from the town centre - the bantray srei wat- a pretty littl wat with very detailed carvings of buddha, sivas and lakshmi.
Evening we spent packing up and getting ready for an early start from hotel to catch the fast boat from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh(probably spelt wrong)- We went to the Dead Fish Tower, Siem Reap for our last meal, an interesting place with crocodiles under the fllor boards by the toilets in a pit - so we didnt get drunk and fall in!!!!!!!!
One thing about cycling in this place is that you give way to everything in front of you and may the devil take the hind road. That is the rule and a little tolerance by all ensures there are not too many accidents, however, I did have a little one outside our hotel as I was undercut by a speedy scooter when turning left into the entrance. apparently I did a splendid roll and was uninjured bar a scratch but the young girl had a bent faring on the scooter. however, all who witnessed it were in support of me so that was fortunate - hotel boss came out to oversee the communications - the young girl was rebuked for her speeedy driving - summary justice!!!
10/2/05 (Rita writes...)
We had last breakfat of fruit in the terrace restaurant in our hotel(there that sounds grand doesnt it?)and Paul decided to tip our two waitresses for the weeks work - bringing all those bottles of beer to us!! They earn only 35 dollars per month - and their keep and work from 7 - 10 daily - 1 day off per month and send of their pay - 30 dollars to family in the country still working the farms. Anybody want a job here? Just outside the hotel /guest house there are young girls working on a building site - another opportunity!!
We took our trip to the shore of the lake Tonle Sap by minibus - then boarded a boat - this was a scarey process as we were expecting a speed boat - this was more like a fishing boat - and was leaning heavily on our side. We struggled to pull away from the shore as it was packed with other boats trying to do the same - some great pics here - eventually our ships captain in flip flops and soggy jeans succeeded and we were off down the river to the floating island, past the school on the banks, which many children were sailing to by boat for their lessons. After some time we reached a change over point to the speed boat - bear in mind we have our bikes with us!! This speedboat is now well overloaded and life rafts are not distributed - but we push off and travel away at speed down river to the Mekong and to Phnom Penh - 5 hours later we arrrive - unfold bikes and cycle off into the sunset - no no, i mean to a place we had chosen from the guide book which turned out to be great choice by Paul - large rooms, clean and excellent restaurant below - one slight prob - 4th floor no lift - we left bikes downstairs- 7 dollars- there are cheaper places if you need - remember the dollar isnt worth much these days.
PP is a lovely capital place very bustling and dusty and noisy at peak times of the day - but well worth a few days. The fabulous Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda with diamond encrusted buddha is just one of the attractions we visited on arrival.
11/2/05 (Rita writes...)
On our first full day we decided to cycle to the scene of the Khmer genocide, known as the killing fields - we eventuall got there after taking a wrong route and meeting a fellow traveller from Switzerland -also cycling in the countries which we have planned - He said we were the 31st and 32nd cyclists he had seen in 9 weeks - some more mad people around then!!
Tomorrow we set off on our bikes towards the Vietnam border, hoping to arrive in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in 3 days. Wish us luck.
12/02/05 (Paul writes...)
We like PP so much, we've decided to stay another day. It also means we get a day off without cycling before our 3 day ride to the border.
13/02/05 (Paul writes...)
Up at 5:30, packed down for breakfast of noodle soup at 6:15. On the road by 6:45.
First few kilometers not too bad, but the next few incorporating two roundabouts were horrendous. I will add a note about the rules of the road in South East Asia later when I have more time.
Quite hot going, although thankfully the road is flat. Stopped for a quick break at the halfway (32km) point, but got into a (limited) conversation with the girl running the drinks stall we had selected. We produced our phrase book, which also has the phrases written in Cambodian script, so she took it upon herself to give us a lesson in Cambodian pronunciation. Much appreciated, if a little late, we're leaving the country in a day or too. An hour or so late, we set off again, but by this time the sun was getting very hot.
Arrived at the Neak Loueng ferry across the Mekong after a total 4 hours in the saddle. They dont half pack the cars, trucks, bikes and people onto these ferries, we were stood with our bikes on the rear ramp. Luckily they only raised it a few feet so we weren't catapulted into melee in the middle of the boat.
Only one hotel in the town, so after careful consideration, we selected that one. $5 for en-suite with fan and resident cicada. Not many restaurants in Neak Loueng, but managed to get fed on rice and fried vegetables, washed down with a couple of Tiger beers, all for the handsome price of $5.
14/02/05 (Paul writes...)
Got an early start at 6am to try to beat the heat. 60km to go today. Long, straight and flat road, a bit boring at times. The heat got to me about 10km from the end. We had been drinking plenty of water, I think it was more the oppresive heat and maybe not enough food yesterday. Perked up a bit after a pit stop with fresh pineapple slice and some sugary sweets. I dont think it was dehydration, we had been drinking lots of water and the urine test (quantity/colour...sorry if thats too much detail) was okay.
Arrived in Svey Rieng at 12:30, checked into the first hotel we could find.
Lesson of the day: must make sure we eat and drink enough of the right stuff for cycling, eg carbs in the form of noodles, rice and bread, and keep the fluids up.
15/02/05 (Paul writes...)
Set off at 6:15, only 40km to the border. Road in good condition amd made fairly good time. Sun starting to get very hot again as we arrived at the border town at around 9.30am. Stopped off in a roadside bar for a last beer in Cambodia ( a little early, maybe, but we had been up for over 4 hours).
|Continued in Vietnam|