26 May -
Thailand - Cambodia - 56km
up images of famine and mass killings and I was eager to see
what it would hold for us – hopefully none of the above. After a
lazy start, we cycled to the border via the border market. The
market is a large area with over 3000 shops selling everything
imaginable. Most of the goods seem to come from Cambodia in a
steady stream through the border post, being pushed or pulled on
numerous heavily loaded hand-drawn carts.
First, we had to
get a visa, which involved filling in a form and providing a
photo, and then it was the “swine flu” checkpoint where our ears
were probed again and our temperatures recorded.
Once in Cambodia
we knew straight away that we were out of the well organized
“Thailand. Thing”, where it’s a bit more chaotic (more what I’d
become used to in recent times), They also drive on the right
hand side of the road (the first time since Iran - a new thing
to get used to). The Cambodians also seem very friendly and
calls of “hello” could be heard from behind the banana trees as
we cycled past.
Once we reached
the first town, we settled for a room in order to sass out our
new environment, change money, and get a new sim card. We found
a room on stilts for $2 - a bit rickety, and one could see right
through the floor boards, but it was a roof over our heads.
Things also appeared cheaper than in Thailand. The Cambodian
Riel is not very strong and R1 = about 500 riel. Alternatively,
1$ = 4 160 riel. Credit cards get you dollars at the ATM (which
can be changed in the bank or on the street for Riel). At the
markets, interesting enough, they quoted in Thai Bhat, dollars
Here, like in
Thailand, everything comes with a straw, even a tin of beer!
27 May -
Sisophon - Siem Reap - 108km
I love being in a
new country, everything is different, the food, language,
culture and countryside. They seem to grow a lot of rice in
this region and cows have a more worried expression than in
India (they’re not that holy here).
The road between
the border and Siem Reap is brand new (in fact they were still
busy painting the lines) so we peddled along quite happily, past
wooden houses on stilts, temples and rice paddies. We were
passed by motorcycles with up to 3 pigs tied on the back,
children on bicycles and motorbikes with trailers piled high
Once again, we
were lucky to escape the rain and were safely in our room at
Mommy’s Guest House before the rain came down. There we also
met a long-term cycling couple from the UK who have been on the
road from London for about a year.
28 May - Siem
Reap - Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat, now a
UNESCO World heritage site, with its 1000 year old temples, was
a pleasant surprise to me. I spent the entire day cycling
around the ruins and feasting my eyes on these magnificent
structures. Cambodia is a lush and wooded country and the
buildings are constantly under threat of being taken back by
nature. It was one of those days that I wished I had a good
29 May - Siem
Reap – Battambang - By boat
I decided to take
the boat (bike and all) across the lake to Battambang and Ernest
decided to remain on that side of the lake and take the road
down to Phnom Penh (the capital). I would then proceed along
the road on the opposite side of the lake. I left at 6h00 to
get the boat at the floating village of Chong Kneas (about 13km)
south of Siem Reap at 7h00. These villages move as the lake
rises or recedes depending on the dry or wet season. The trip
took 8 hours and although fascinating, I was pleased to reach
These villages are
complete floating towns with schools, restaurants and police
posts. Some are built on barges, some on rafts and some on
stilts. Needless to say, the only means of transport is a
dugout canoe, and every household seems to have two or more.
One can see small children rowing to school, women rowing along
selling their fruit and veg from house to house and barges going
to the market laden with coconuts and bananas. What a colorful
site it was. I found a room at the Royal Hotel for 3$.
30 May -
Battambang – Pursat - App - 110km
Cambodia, so far,
has been fairly flat and a great place to cycle. Once again, I
escaped the rain, although I could see it from time to time -
sometimes on my left, sometimes on my right and sometimes dead
in front. I shared the road with monks on foot, other cyclists,
ox drawn carts and plenty of motorcycles loaded with the entire
Cambodia is by far
the country that has surprised me the most. Mostly because I
knew nothing of the country and secondly because I never
expected the cities to be so developed. The cities have all the
modern cons, fancy hotels and well-developed tourist
infrastructures. The countryside is however still very rural
with very primitive ways of farming.
31 May - Pursat
– Kampong Chnang - 95km
great day. Shortly after I left town I turned off the highway
and found the famed Bamboo train. - more a trolley than a train.
With loads of locals and their goods, we sped off bobbing and
swaying down the warped tracks and over rickety bridges, in a
southerly direction. It’s a slow process, as once another
trolley comes from the front, we all had to get off and the
trolley lifted off the tracks to allow the other one to pass.
Then we all got back on again just to get off a little while
later. At around 11h00 I got off and decided to head back to
the main road again. This involved a 30km cycle along a rutted
and potholed dirt track.
Now I can truly
say, “they do eat snakes”, they were selling fried snakes at a
roadside stall. I did not try the snake but tried the bread
roll with ice cream and condensed milk with a touch of sugar
sprinkled on top! How’s that for a sugar fix!
On arrival at
Kampong Chnang, I found a guesthouse where I met John and Rosie
form New Zealand, whose son is currently working in Cambodia.
After a beer, we went to one of the local restaurants (a great
change from my normal instant noodles in my room).
1 June Kampong
Chnang – Phnom Penh (the capital) - 93km
I cycled past
small rural villages, rice paddies and sugar palm trees. The
countryside was dotted with stupas and temples. Along the
roadside, one could also see the famed Ondong Rossey pottery. I
passed ox carts laden with pottery, obviously heading for the
Again I shared the
road with merchants on bicycles, carting their wares to the
villages. Gone were the days of Thailand’s fancy petrol
stations (with 7-Eleven shops) along the road, but there were
plenty small stalls selling petrol by the liter (in coke
bottles), or in a big drum with a hand pump. Here one could
also get refreshments i.e. water and cold drinks.
Once in the city I
headed for “backpackerville”, an area with cheap guesthouses on
the lake. These rickety wooden structures are built on stilts
over the lake and not only provide a good sunset but also a cool
breeze coming of the lake.
There was no shortage of eateries
and one could pick and choose from Thai, Vietnamese, Italian and
India, although these are fairly expensive, I could not resist
the Indian restaurant and had my fill before retiring.
2 - 5 June 2009 - Phnom
In Phnom Penh I met up with
Ernest again. We did the usual thing i.e. laundry, internet etc.
I also made use of the time to explore the well known markets of
Phnom Penh. The markets are large and busy, selling anything
imaginable, from rolls of cloth, meat, jewelry, dry food and
veg. I was so inspired that I even bought some souvenirs for my
family and friends back home.
Sending the parcel was
however a whole mission in itself. The night before posting it,
Ernest (in true Ernest style) securely wrapped and taped up the
items in a box. The next morning at the post office they
insisted on reopening the parcel to check the contents (Ernest
volunteered to do the "opening" to ensure that it could be
sealed again). Another problem was that the postage cost was
many times that of the contents!
We also visited the Tuol
Sleng museum (a former school converted to a prison and torture
house by the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970’s). In these forlorn
looking school buildings thousands of people were detained and
tortured to death, or sent to the nearby killing fields and
buried there in mass graves. The visit left me in a dark and
depressed mood and I did the only known cure for such a mood, I
went shopping. I bought a brand new camera, as my existing one
got wet a long time ago and has never been the same since.
6 June - Phnom Penh -
Traeng Tratueng - 91km
Armed with my new camera we
set off down the road. I clicked away all day, the photos were
not all that good, but the quality unmistakable. What a small
word, we met the New Zealanders John and Rosie and their son
Dallas along the road, and stopped for a chat. The shoulder of
the road disappeared at about that point, and for the rest of
the day we cycled into the wind on the gravel next to the narrow
busy road, which made for a rather slow ride.
Once in Traeng Tratueng we
could not make up our minds whether to go to the nearby national
park. The 30km uphill ride and the fact that we would be
directly into the wind made up our minds for us, so we found a
room in the town.
7 June - Traeng Tratueng -
Veal Rinh - 97km
This day we cycled into the
wind again, and mostly on gravel next to the road. Luckily we
missed the rain, as a heavy storm passed so close that we could
smell the rain. Once in the junction town of Veal Rinh the taxi
drivers came running with $ signs in their eyes, all offering us
a lift to the coastal town of Sihanoukville. According to them
it was too far to cycle (about 50 k’s), and there was no
accommodation in town. We declined the offer of a taxi ride, and
amazingly found a cheap guest house on the main road a few
metres from where we were standing!
8 June - Veal Rinh -
Sihanoukville (a.k.a. Kampong Som) - 50km
What a coincidence, we
bumped into the New Zealanders again on their way in the
opposite direction. It was a short and scenic ride to
Sihanoukville, a large and touristy coastal town.
We arrived early and found
a cheap room in Markara Guest House right across the road from
Occheuteal Beach. Right on the beach there was a great
restaurant where one could get a draft beer for around R4, and
we sat there watching the sunset.
9 -10 June - Sihanoukville
We spent a couple of days
swimming and relaxing. I also took my laptop into town to have
it cleared of viruses again. (Boring!!). We also did some things
on the internet, but couldn’t seem to open our emails.
11 June - Sihanoukville -
Ream National Park - 30km
We were hardly on the bikes
before we reached Ream National Park. It was far too tempting to
pass by with only a glance. We found a basic room on stilts over
the river, and rented an old wooden canoe to explore the nearby
mangrove swamps for a couple of hours.
Our room had no running
water or electricity, and the plank floor had wide gaps with the
water below clearly visible (we had to be careful not to drop
anything). However the view from the front deck made up for all
that (the nearby local stilted huts, fisherman laying nets,
passing boats, and the surrounding mangroves). That night we
cooked our noodles while sitting on the deck watching the
12 June - Ream National
Park - Kampot - 81km
An extremely scenic ride
along the coast, past river mouths and stilted fishing villages.
On the outskirts of Kampot we headed straight for Bodi Villa, as
according to the guide book it was a real retreat on the river.
Our room consisted of a rather flimsy floating deck with woven
bamboo walls, but what a view! We could just dive out the open
river facing side of the room for a swim. Getting back on the
raft (or in the room) was however a bit more difficult. Ernest
complained of getting seasick, and as the place was booked up,
we only stayed the one night.
Every now and then the
strain of constantly being in each other’s company starts to
show through. Although Ernest and I have known each other for
more than 30 years, neither of us has previously lived
permanently with a partner, and sometimes the reasons for that
become very clear!
13 June - Kampot town -
After an early morning
swim, we packed up and cycled through Kampot town and were
seemingly on our way to Kep (a "misunderstanding" ~ see previous
paragraph). After some deliberation we returned to Kampot town
where we found a more conventional and cheaper room. We did some
laundry and relaxed, and for supper Ernest made himself some
duck egg omelettes (I settled for something from our guest house
14 June - Kampot
downside about Cambodia was the feeling that one got that you
were constantly being ripped off. It was not the same as in
Africa or the Middle East were bartering was a way of life. In
Cambodia you got the feeling that the price quoted was purely
because you were a foreigner. The assumption is that all
foreigners come loaded with bags of dollars. Patience and a
sense of humor (neither of which I have after a long day on the
bike) was thus needed when shopping for the smallest item.
there appeared to be less snakes than in Thailand, no doubt due
to their prominence on the local menus. Ants were a much bigger
problem and anywhere one stopped along the road, you normally
got attacked in no time.
15 June - Kampot to Kep - 25km
25 km along a
bumpy, statue filled road, brought us to the sleepy seaside
village of Kep. Most junctions were marked with a statue. So
directions were easy i.e. go straight on at the rhino and turn
left at the horse! On the way in we spotted a bakery and bought
a loaf of bread. Then the challenge was on to find something to
put on the bread (unsuccessful). The lack of shops meant that
supper would be instant noodles on bread.
There was not
much to see or do in Kep and after a stroll along the coast
around to the beach, I think we’d seen about everything. We
tried to do some shopping at the Crab Market, a long row of
little restaurant/shops offering mainly grilled seafood (no good
to a vegetarian like me). It is however fantastic to think that
walking along a pitch dark road at night is totally safe.
16 June - Kep to Kampot - 25km
I tried to go
to the nearby island but the weather was getting really bad,
(the rainy season had definitely arrived) so I decided to give
it up and rather return to Kampot, were there were more
Kampot I visited the local market (just across the road) and ,
like all other markets its crowded, hot and cramped but again
the range is vast. This includes large quantities of MSG
(totally necessary on instant noodles).
came in and it bucketed down all day. Heavy rain, thunder and
lighting confined us to our room for the rest of the day.
water is also a big no no, but for Ernest it proved no problem
as he purified it by adding two parts of the cheap local Mekong
Rice Whisky to one part water!
17 June - Kampot
continued through the day, but I made use of an hour or two of
clear weather to visit the nearby cave temple on the back of a
moto. We slipped and slided through the mud past rice paddies
and small villages until we reached the cave. Once there, local
kids offered to act as tour guides (for a small fee of cause). A
stone staircase leads up the hill and down into the cave, where
the kids pointed out the shapes of various animal outlines on
the cave walls. Inside the cave there is a 7th century brick
built temple dedicated to Shiva. The view of the surrounding
countryside from up on the hill was also magical.
also the first country where I have encountered the Happy Herb
Pizza (pizza a la ganja) so if you not into smoking, just have a
19 June - Kampot - Takeo - 85km
Ernest and I
parted ways again, the weather looked clear so I set off towards
Takeo. It was once again a beautiful ride on a narrow bumpy road
with potholes the size of small cars. I arrived in Takeo around
lunch time, which gave me plenty of time to walk to the nearby
market. I found some fruit, corn on the cob and something that I
still don’t know what it was (it was good nevertheless). I also
found some not so edible food, dog!! I passed that by without as
much as a glance in its direction and decided to stick to
20 June - Takeo
stated that one could get a boat to Angkor Borei, at the canal.
Being unable to negotiate a reasonable fee, I decided to take a
moto instead. I soon discovered why a person is supposed to take
a boat. There was no road. On the back of the motorbike we flew
through rice paddies, potholes and along dirt tracks. I was
bouncing like a rag doll with arms and legs flying in all
directions, clinging for dear life to my camera bag. Once in
Angkor Borei there was little to see in this 5th century city.
What was once the capital of the area is now a poor village with
just a few houses on stilts. There was however a small museum
with artifacts found in the area.
Phnom Da was more interesting with an overgrown temple situated
on top of a hill accessed via 142 stairs. In addition to the
temple there is also a few man made caves. After I spotted a
bright green snake slithering down from the cave ceiling it was
time to retrace my steps to the motorbike, and back to Takeo
town. When I arrived I found Ernest who, by total coincidence,
had just arrived at the guest house where I was staying.
21 June - Takeo to Neak Luong - 131km
eventful day it was. Firstly, I was very grateful that I’d met
up with Ernest again. Halfway through the day my front luggage
rack broke again, and typical of Ernest, he has everything
except the kitchen sink in his panniers. After fixing the rack
with some rope we set off again. The road was in very poor
condition, very narrow and extremely busy which forced us to
cycle on the uneven gravel next to the road. We often had to do
some late swerving to avoid the loads of food stalls, selling
all kinds of nibbles including dried frogs.
The idea was
to cycle about 90km and then carry on again in the morning, but
somehow we missed the town we had in mind and had to carry on to
Neak Luong where there was reported to be accommodation. We were
hoping the reports were correct, as we were caught in the rain
and due to the earlier repairs to my bike we were eventually
cycling in the near darkness. Neak Luong is on the other side of
the mighty Mekong River and once in Kampon Phnum we took the car
ferry across the river. Fortunately the ferry seems to run 24/7
as it was already dark by the time we got there. Food vendors
operate on the ferry sell all kinds of unidentifiable items (and
again the ever present dried frogs).
In the town,
close to the ferry terminal, we found a nice big ground floor
room, and we were even able to take the bikes inside (good
thing, as things were wet from the rain and needed to be aired).
Ernest went shopping for food and (surprise surprise) returned.
22 June - Neak
Neak Luong is not a place
where you want to linger, but our visas for Vietnam were only
valid from the 25th and our bikes desperately needed
attention, so we stayed for another day. We found a place to
wash the bikes and Ernest gave it a thorough oiling.
As this is the place where
all the busses has stop to cross the river, there are plenty of
food stalls lining the road. The foodstuff will never fail to
amaze me, as nothing is sacred and one can buy small deep fried
birds, cooked turtles, crickets, you name it.
One interesting bit of
information about Neak Luong, (I read somewhere) was mistakenly
bombed by an American B52 in 1973. Many people (137) were
killed and 268 were wounded. The US government offered to $100
to the families in compensation for each person who died, and
fined the navigator of the aircraft $700.
23-24 June - Neak
Luong - Svay Rieng - 65 km
A short ride to Svay Rieng,
where we found a very comfortable hotel. We needed to spend the
next two days there as we could only enter Vietnam on the 25th.
We arrived early and took a walk to the local market to buy some
veg and fruit (mangosteen and rambutan). Ernest also found some
rice cooked in a banana leaf, with something inside (we could
not seem to figure out what it was (it was however very filling
and very sticky). There wasn’t really anything to do except to
walk down along the river promenade with its foodstalls.
The interesting thing about
rooms in Cambodia is that they mostly come with disposable
toothbrushes and a comb (not disposable and mostly pitch black).
Looking at the state of the combs they definably get used! Who
on earth would use a well used communal comb?
Being a vegetarian, I
always like to go into a restaurant and check what’s on the
menu, but normally I’m hardly inside or I’m seated with a glass
of ice in front of me. So, looking at the menu and pointing to
an item asking what it contains (and the cost) often results in
me having the prepared meal in front of me in no time at all.
This normally results in Ernest having to eat two meals.