Archive for the 'Cambodia' Category

Good Night Cambodia, Good Morning Vietnam!

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

We have arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam after two days of riding from Phnom Penh! All that whining I did in the last post must have paid off, because the day we left Phnom Penh we had our best weather yet in Cambodia. By “best”, I mean overcast with drizzling rains and a temperature below 90 degrees. Not suffering in the heat made the ride immensely better and we covered 128 kilometers – our longest day ever.

One thing we will remember about Cambodia is the crazy loads people carry on bicycles. Crops, crafts, animals, people, even massive amounts of kitchenware for sale. Their loads definitely make ours look tiny.

The scenery on the ride was again very rural with people tending their animals and working the fields.

The road surface was also the best we have experienced in Cambodia. The road was very wide and well-surfaced. It even had a bicycle/motorbike lane for us. One strange thing was that every couple of kilometers, the road had speed bumps on one side of the road in order to slow down traffic. This did not have the intended effect though. When drivers passed through these areas, they would switch to the oncoming traffic lane, speed up, and lay on their horn. Here is one of the offending drivers in action.

For some reason, on our last day of cycling in Cambodia we met more people on the road than all our other days combined. Maybe it was because it was cool enough that people were out and about instead of hiding from the heat. We met three students who wanted to practice their English with us and one extremely friendly teacher named Saman who rode with us for about 10k. Saman was a teacher of basic computer skills in Phnom Penh and was riding to his hometown near the border to visit his family. He was extremely excited to learn that we used to work for Microsoft and wanted to know our opinion on getting an MBA or a graduate degree in computers. He had decided he wanted to learn about computers several years ago and his father sold some of their farmland to purchase a new computer for him. He had studied for several months and gotten a job as a teacher in Phnom Penh with a salary of US$20 per month. After a while of more studying and teaching, he was able to increase his salary to $US400 per month – a very large amount by Cambodian standards. His family was very proud of him and he was now able to help support them. I think he and Sarah were discussing their favorite network routing algorithms in this shot.

Another observation we had about Cambodia is that the tuk-tuk drivers are a lot nicer than those in Thailand. They actually want to take you to your destination instead of a shopping trip. They are mostly very friendly too and when you say no once, they listen. In Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, the driver will always quote a price of $2 for wherever you want to go in the city. At first, Sarah and I would bargain with the guys. We would start with $1 and we usually got our ride for $1.50 in the end. However, once we were actually riding around with the guy we would always feel bad. Did we actually just bargain this friendly hardworking guy out of fifty-cents? We felt so bad knowing that fifty-cents meant a lot more to him than us. So after bargaining, we would end up just giving the guys $2 anyway. In the end, we gave up on bargaining. We just asked how much it was, and said “fine” when they told us $2. Sometimes it seemed like they were laughing with the other drivers that they got us to pay $2. It makes you feel a little weird but not quite as bad as bargaining with some poor guy trying to make a buck.

One thing we are not really going to miss is Khmer food. One day in Siem Reap we ate at a busy Khmer restaurant on the corner. It was filled with only Cambodians, so we figured it must be good. We got some fresh kaffir lemon juice and noticed a lot of black things floating in the water. Some of it was dirt (or something) and some of it was bugs. We were examining our glasses and the waitress noticed so she came over and we showed her the bugs. She took the glasses, and returned with some new lemon juice. These ones still had some black things floating in them (but not as much) and no visible bugs so we said “what the hell” and drank them. We figured the ice in the drinks was probably dirty. We ordered our food and when we got it, it too had black things floating in it. I got a soup and after I had eaten most of it we counted over 18 bugs that looked like small winged ants floating in it. The soup had some sort of leafy green in it so we figured the veggies were dirty. We thought about complaining, but we weren’t sure what the reaction would be. Would the waitress understand that we didn’t like bugs in our food? Our is that normal here and would we look like crazy foreigners. We decided to just keep our mouths shut and we quickly paid the bill and left. Khmer food in general has not been that great. Cambodia has been greatly influenced by other cultures, and it shows in the food. Khmer cuisine is similar to Thai, but with much milder flavors and with some Vietnamese and Chinese influence too. Almost every time we ordered noodles in Cambodia, it was just packaged ramen noodles! We ended up eating mostly Chinese food during our stay in Phnom Penh.

Vietnamese food, on the other hand, has been excellent so far. As soon as we crossed the border we were starving so we decided to try some pho. We found a nice looking restaurant and attempted to say some Vietnamese words (pretty much impossible since the language has six different tones and a lot of sounds we can’t even make). We ended up with some amazing pork pho and iced coffee. The coffee is served in a tin cup with a filter at the bottom. The coffee brews at your table and then you pour it over a glass of ice. It is served very strong with a lot of sugar and tastes great on a hot day. I think we will be renewing our caffeine addiction here in Vietnam. Everything was so good I am planning to eat pho and coffee for every meal.

After crossing the border, we were only about 50 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, so we started to look for a bus to the city center. We found one going as far as Cu Chi and the ticket-taker told us to hurry up and get on. We stood there a little confused until we realized she wanted us to bring our bicycles and gear right onto the bus.

When we arrived at Cu Chi, we looked for another bus to HCMC, but none of them would take bicycles. Our only option was to start ride the remaining 30 kilometers to the city. On the outskirts, there was a divided motorcycle lane, so we were cut off from most of the traffic.

As we got into the city itself though, all hell broke loose. The amount of motorbikes was staggering and we couldn’t hear each other over the sound of the blaring horns. The scariest part by far was the roundabouts. These are pure mayhem. There is no such thing as yielding here, two seas of motorbikes approach each other and then individual motorbikes weave in between the others. Cars can do whatever they want, including blindsiding you, so you have to look in all directions as you make the your way through. It was extremely nerve-wracking and required a lot of concentration, but we both agreed it was also kind of fun.

They also carry crazy things on bicycles here in Vietnam. Check out this mobile pet store!

Tomb Raider Was Filmed Here

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

It was about 6am and Sarah and I were sitting on one of the many stone walls of Angkor Wat when I asked her, “Are we burned out?” Angkor Wat is supposed to be one of the highlights of Southeast Asia, but we were feeling tired and apathetic, rather than awestruck and inspired by the famous temple. It has been tough to get going again since we left Bangkok; it feels like our rhythm has been broken. We spent 21 days motionless in Bangkok and in Cambodia our cycling has been disrupted by boats, buses, and sightseeing.

Cycling here in Cambodia has definitely been a mixed-bag. Cambodia is probably the most interesting place we have visited so far, because it is so different from anything we have ever seen before. But it has also been the most difficult place for us to cycle. In the early mornings, it is pleasant because it is cool and there is a lot of activity with people going to work and kids going to school. By about 10 am though, you begin to notice the heat and then you are filled with a sense of dread. How far are we from our destination? Is there any cloud cover that will protect us today? How about wind? Are we going to be cycling through some stifling still air? All these questions run through your head as the sweat starts to flow. I also worry a lot about Sarah getting heat stroke. One steamy afternoon, we saw a Cambodian women walking down the street in some brown silk pajamas (they all wear pajamas here) with a brown cloth and basket on her head and Sarah thought the woman was dressed up in a bear costume. Was she delirious? While I’m worrying, Sarah spends her time getting mad at me because I’m not as uncomfortable as she is. She wants someone to share her misery. I think she may have turned a corner though, because instead of asking me when she will get used to the heat, she now tells me her Nordic heritage simply means she was not designed for this kind of weather and that’s all there is to it.

What makes matters worse is that when it really gets hot in the afternoon, there is nothing to take your mind off the heat. The roads are flat and straight and the scenery is endless fields with the occasional filthy village. There are no longer any people to look at because they are all sleeping somewhere in the shade. You only get passed by the occasional motorbike or mini-van. So you have to ride along, trying to adjust your position to keep your hands and butt from going numb, and counting down the miles to your destination. We rarely felt this way in New Zealand, where we could cycle along in the afternoon on quiet roads, chatting and where it felt so great just to be out riding that we would spontaneously break out into the occasional Disney song.

We decided to take a break from temple-viewing to discuss our situation over breakfast. Neither of us wants to go home. I never would have guessed it, but after six months on the road the thought of going home and getting a job does not sound appealing to me. We decided that we wanted a couple of things: to get on the road and make some progress again, to get out of this heat, and to see some natural beauty. So, we have decided to head for the Vietnamese highlands. According to the Rough Guide, the highlands have a “bracing” climate, mountain views, and a lack of tourist attractions to slow us down. It sounds like the ideal situation for us. Feeling better about our situation, we headed back to the temples for more exploration.

Every time there was a lull in the conversation during the temple viewing, I would say to Sarah, “Tomb Raider was filmed here.” This had the intended effect of driving Sarah nuts after about the third time. As we were about to leave the Ta Prohm temple one day, one of the security guards asked us where we where from and when we said “America”, he said “Tomb Raider 3 filmed here. Giant crocodile.” Yes! The Cambodians were now helping me annoy Sarah!

It might make us simpletons, but Sarah and I have both realized we are the most impressed by huge things. The 150 foot Reclining Buddha in Bangkok was the cultural highlight for us. The diminutive Emerald Buddha bored us. At Phnom Penh’s National Museum, the things that captured our attention most were the giant stone statues. It is the same here at Angkor Wat, we walked around the entire perimeter of Angkor Wat, studying the detailed bas-reliefs, while Sarah read the history behind them in our guidebook. They were beautiful, but we were both bored by the end. We had the most fun just wandering around alone in the deserted temples very early morning, listening to the jungle, looking at the giant stone blocks and wondering “How did they build these things?”

Our favorite temples were Ta Prohm (for the giant trees growing on the temple and despite the Disney World crowds), Bayon (for the giant stone faces), and Preah Khan (it was so deserted we were able to walk around the crumbling temple alone listening to the sounds of the jungle).

Bayon (Can you see all four faces?)

Preah Khan

Ta Prohm

You can see all of the many pictures we took of the temples on our Flickr Site.

We are back in Phnom Penh now. We took the bus to and from Siem Reap. For US$10 each, we got a seat on an air-conditioned, 28-seat bus with plenty of leg room. On the way to Siem Reap, we were literally the only customers on the bus (those are the ‘bus stewardesses’ in the background, below). We couldn’t figure out how they could afford to run the bus for only US$20.

The ride back today was the first time we have been really embarrassed by our appearance. When we got up this morning it was raining and we had to cycle about 3 kilometers to the bus terminal on the wet, sandy roads. My bike has no fenders because the SKS fenders I installed originally broke and the Zefal fenders I bought in Bangkok won’t fit with my 700x40c tires. So my entire back, up to the neck, was covered in wet, red sand when we arrived at the terminal. Sarah has fenders and was wearing a raincoat, but she was so dirty the busdriver said “no, no, no!” when she tried to board the pristine bus. She took off her raincoat and skulked on to the bus and I was able to sneak on after her. One of the workers gave us a couple of napkins to try to clean up with, but it was useless and we spent the five hour ride feeling gross and fantasizing about buying some new clean clothes. Our bikes are just as dirty as we are. My chain is so filled with grit, I can actually feel the crunching in the pedals.

We will spend tomorrow in Phnom Penh and then head for Vietnam.

Phnom Penh

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Feast your eyes on the rarest site in Southeast Asia: me under a blanket.

Despite the intense heat here, I somehow came down with a bad cold the day before we arrived in Phnom Penh. Head and body aches, fever, sore throat, cough; I had it all. My streak of no illnesses on the trip is over! At first I was worried I had caught something bad and was wondering if my liver was going to explode at any moment, but it only lasted a couple of days so I can’t complain too much. I fought it off with massive amounts of vitamin C. Phnom Penh has three very large markets and we bought large amounts of fruit every day. Even with our less than stellar bargaining skills, we bought this haul for $US7.

We spent the rest of our time here sightseeing at the museums, markets, pagodas, and palaces.

National Museum:

Street Market:

Wat Phnom:

Tomorrow we are going to take the bus to Siem Reap. After visiting Angkor Wat, we’ll start riding back east through Cambodia to Vietnam.

Like Stepping Back in Time

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

It took us two days of riding to reach Phnom Penh from Kampot. Both days, on Highway 3, took place on extremely flat roads that took us through vast dry fields and rice paddies. In some places the scenery felt almost desert-like because we’re at the very end of the dry season here. Next month these empty dry fields will flood and turn green, but for now they are a dustbowl. There was almost no shade as we rode along past the dry fields and the sun was very intense. The best part of the ride was the fact that as we rode through all the small villages it felt like we’d stepped back in time 100 years.

The best part of the rides was in the early morning, when the roads were filled with men riding in carts pulled by a matched pair of cows. The carts were not very sturdy looking – they were usually made of old wood and the wooden wheels made a racket as they rolled along. Sometimes there’d be a big pile of grass or hay in the back of the cart with a little kid perched on top. We also passed a few carts pulled by matched pairs of little ponies, complete with jingle-bell harnesses! Those were my favorite.

We saw mopeds and trucks hauling all sorts of things. This guy has a big wooden crate packed full of baby chicks strapped to the back of his moped. You could hear the chicks peeping as he zoomed along past us.

Another popular thing to haul were pigs. People had woven pig-sized baskets especially for transporting these animals! The pig snout stuck out one end and there were ropes tying the other end closed over the pig’s rear end. This guy was transporting his (live) pigs upside down – maybe to keep the struggling down? Another time we saw a man with a pig shaped basket, but this one was crammed full of piglets. Their little legs were falling through the openings in the basket and they were squealing like crazy! Do not come to Cambodia if you are an animal rights activist.

Most of the traffic was on Highway 3 was mopeds and bicycles; trucks were fairly rare until we got closer to Phnom Penh, which was nice. People on old single-speed bicycles were carrying amazing loads. This guy had stacks and stacks of woven leaf thatching on the back of his bicycle.

That about sums up the best parts of our ride. We were pretty miserable during the afternoons when the heat became so intense we felt like we were cooking. Jamie had to convince me more than once that we shouldn’t hitch a ride in a pickup. The worst part by far though was the road. It was so lumpy and bumpy that it felt like cobblestone. It was very hard on the hands and the butt. My hands kept going numb from holding on so tight, but I couldn’t really loosen my grip due to the quality of the road. My butt was in pure agony. All that time off in Bangkok really softened up my money maker! Jamie switched to his padded mountain bike shorts on the 2nd day, but I was left wishing everything would just go numb. We often chose to ride on the dirt shoulder rather than the road because it was a much better ride.

Riding into Phnom Penh wasn’t bad at all. The traffic slowly increased, which lead to increasing honking and crankiness on our part, but as soon as we passed under the sign saying “Welcome to Phnom Penh” the road turned to a perfectly paved thing of beauty. We cruised at unheard of speeds of 25 km/hr, waved back at all the police men hanging out on the corners, and felt very happy that we’d made it. We were just a few blocks away from our guesthouse when Jamie’s front tire had a major blowout. It was so loud that I assumed it was a moped backfiring somewhere! We both groaned and pulled over to the sidewalk where Jamie inserted two 100 riel bills beneath the giant gash in the tire and pumped up a new tube so we could make it the rest of the way. This is the third Panaracer tire that has failed on us so far. One developed at gash at 30 kilometers, one developed a giant bulge at 2500 kilometers, and now this one failed at 3700 kilometers. We wanted to get a little more life out of the Panaracers, but we are now going to switch to the Schwalbe Marathons immediately. We had an audience of 10 (I counted) during the tire-fixing escapade and they were extremely entertained when Jamie put the money into his tire.

Bokor Hill Station

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Today we visited the Bokor Hill Station – an elegant retreat built by the French in the 1920s to enjoy the cooler climate and beautiful views at 1000 meters above sea level. It was inaccessible to the public until 1998 when the area was finally secured against bandits!

For $10 each we got a full day tour which started out with a ride in the back of a pickup truck to the hill station. It was a 30km ride to the top on a road that you can just barely call a road. The Khmer Rouge deliberately destroyed the road in the 70s and they did a superb job of it. Eight of us were packed into the back of the pickup truck. There were two benches running along each side, four to a bench, and we all clung for dear life to a metal bar running down the center of the pickup bed. The road was so incredibly bumpy and bad that it felt almost like an amusement park ride, or one of those ‘virtual reality’ tours at Universal Studios where you sit in a fake car, watch a big movie screen, and get jerked all over the place in your seat. We’d regularly go over such huge bumps that the pickup truck felt like it was about to flip over sideways, and all the people on the low side involuntarily screamed and then looked at each other fearfully. We also got whipped in the face by vines and branches a few times. At one point we came to a downed tree blocking the narrow path. We crept along past the tree, looked down, and realized we were inches from a sheer drop to the bottom of the cliff. Later our tour guide told us that people regularly came to this hill in order to jump off and commit suicide – especially during the Khmer Rouge period! Just two years ago a man drove his moped off the side of the cliff because ‘he had a broken heart’.

At the top we saw the King’s former vacation residence, his concubines’ house, a Catholic church, and the French retreat. The buildings were old and crumbly but still beautiful. It seemed wrong to be allowed to traipse around anywhere we wanted in these beautiful old buildings. In the US this place would be completely locked down due to potential lawsuits from someone slipping and falling into the antique pit toilet. There was graffiti all over the walls, stupid things like “Harold and Tom from Yorkshire, 2006”. The views were spectacular!

Front of the main building:

View from the top:

Standing on the rooftop deck enjoying the cool breeze:

Maybe this was an open air restaurant:

Walking through the deserted halls:

Next we did a short trek through the jungle, during which our guide sang a few Backstreet Boys songs and talked non-stop about all the leeches that might be out and about waiting to crawl into our nooks and crannies. I spent the whole time trying to minimize wet leaves from brushing me, and made it out with no leeches.

After all this we had to ride 1.5 hours back down the hill, which wasn’t nearly as fun the 2nd time around. To wrap up the day we got a short tour in a longtail boat down the river, ending up back in Kampot.

Water taxi on the river. All the schoolkids loaded their bikes on for the trip home:

Fisherman on the river:

Close to sunset on the river:

Come Heat or High Wind

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

Today was probably our most difficult ride to date: 104 kilometers from Sihanoukville to Kampot. 104 kilometers doesn’t sound that bad, but our pedaling time was 7 hours, 10 minutes, and 55 seconds due to some intense heat coupled with a ferocious headwind that never let up for the entire ride. We were on the road for 10 hours and had to apply sunscreen every hour because of the blistering sun. The wind was so strong, we struggled to hit 12 km / hour for most of the ride even though it was pancake-flat and Sarah was feeling dizzy from the heat and exertion. To make matters worse, the Asian sunscreen we bought in Bangkok absolutely sucks. For some reason, it makes you sweat more than normal and the sweat doesn’t evaporate. You are just covered with a slimy layer that feels disgusting. Luckily, we bought two other bottles of a European brand that we will switch to once we use up this disgusting stuff.

We also got our first real taste of Cambodian drivers and roads today. At first we started out on National Highway 4, which was a nice and smooth asphalt surface with lane markers and a hard-packed dirt shoulder.

After about 50 kilometers, we switched to National Highway 3 which was a little worse. The road is extremely wide with no lane markings. The surface is chip-seal with a layer of loose gravel over the top. Most of the gravel had collected on the edges of the road so we road towards the center.

Cambodian drivers are very different from Thais. In Cambodia, drivers use their horns all the time. Some drivers honk once or twice as they approach to pass you. We can appreciate this. Others honk five to eight times as they approach. This is ridiculous and annoying. Still others simply lay on their horn as they drive down the road, letting up to give their hand a rest every once in awhile. This is the worst of all. There is absolutely constant honking on the roads, with no logic that we can discern. So much so that honking has has lost its meaning and people just pretty much ignore what’s going on behind their vehicle. We were a little nervous when we first experienced this, wondering if we were about to get run over, but then we realized that everybody just loves to honk. In Asia, right-of-way is based on vehicle size, so on bicycles we are only above pedestrians on the food chain. If traffic was coming from both directions, we would have to pull off the road onto the shoulder to let everyone pass. Traffic was light on both of these roads though, so we didn’t have to pull off very often.

From the very start of this ride, we were struck by how much more green and open it is here compared to Thailand. We actually felt like we were in the countryside again. We passed some beautiful rice paddies with farmers working the fields with water buffalos and hand plows.

This woman was kicking muddy water onto her yoked buffalo to cool them off. They seemed to enjoy it.

It seems like everywhere you look here, there is a sign for the ruling party, the Cambodian People’s Party. Here is one particularly large one in the middle of some rice paddies.

After about two hours of riding, we had only covered 30 kilometers and realized this was going to be a very long day. We decided to find some food, so we pulled off the main road onto a small dirt road leading to a tiny village. We found a woman selling some sticky-rice wrapped in banana leaves from the back of her bicycle, and we bought a couple of different kinds. Sarah got one large one filled with some kind of fruit which we have never tasted before. I got another large one filled with either bean-paste or egg; we couldn’t decide which it was. We also got a bunch of small ones filled with toasted coconut. These are by far our favorite. The total for everything was only 1000 Riel (US$0.25)!

Eating in general has been very difficult for us here in Cambodia. In a lot of these small villages, we attempt to speak Khmer but the Cambodians assume we are speaking English and can’t figure out what we are saying. When we say things like “fried noodles” or “prepared food” in Khmer, they just shake their heads and try to find someone who speaks English. We have even gone up to a lot of restaurants and said “Coca-Cola” and they look at us bewildered. Then an English-speaking Cambodia comes over and says the exact same thing and two cokes are produced. The other problem is cleanliness. In one village, we looked around for a restaurant and chose the place that seemed like it would be the best. It was large, looked clean, and was actually inside a building instead of a tent. However, our cokes were served with glasses covered in some sort of unidentifiable white slime and the bowl that the fried dough was served in was covered in a greasy later of grime. Check this out.

So we have pretty much given up on eating at village restaurants here. We usually just go to the markets where we can get fruit and point at the ready-made items like fried bananas and sticky rice that we want. We also stop at convenience stores often to rest in the shade and cool down with a cold drink. I usually go for coke and Sarah always drinks soy milk which seems to be a very popular drink here. Here is Sarah resting at one of these stores.

All these stores also sell gasoline. Here is a typical Cambodian gas station.

It doesn’t seem like these villages see many tourists because everyone seems so surprised to see us. Some people just stare and laugh, but most people yell “Hello” at us as we ride past. When you say “Hello” back, they say it back again and this continues until you can’t hear them anymore. Sometimes the kids are saying it so fast and so often they seem like they are hysterical. The other phrase people know is “What is your name?”, but when you answer them and ask theirs they just start laughing. When we were sitting at one convenience store, a child walking down the road stopped dead in his tracks when he saw us. He stared at us for a few seconds like he was frozen, and then when we smiled he took off running back in the direction he came from. He returned a few minutes later with his friends and they hid behind a wooden stand staring at us and laughing. They took turns pushing each other towards us, but no one got up the nerve to say anything.

We finally arrived, completely exhausted in Kampot around 4pm. We are going to rest here for a day and tour Bokor National Park before continuing on towards Pnomh Penh.

Culture Shock: Cambodia

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

Sarah and I arrived in Sihanoukville yesterday and realized we had taken zero pictures in Cambodia. We had been trying to get used to this new country and hadn’t been able to relax enough to break out the camera. We thought we would be ready for Cambodia after Thailand but it feels quite different here. The first difference we noticed after we crossed the border is that there is red dirt everywhere. Even on the paved roads, it is blown onto the shoulder and gets whipped around by cars and trucks. Our clothes and bicycles quickly became covered with red grit.

We have also seen many more beggars here in Cambodia. It is mostly children and the old or sick who come up to you and ask for money or just moan. There are signs all over the place asking you not to give them food or money because it makes it impossible for the Cambodian social workers to help them. We heard the Cambodians are very relaxed and honest, but so far we have felt like the people want to rip us off more here. On the boat from Koh Kong to Sihanoukville, one of the workers loaded our bicycles onto the boat and then demanded a tip from us afterwards. When we arrived at Sihanoukville, another dock worker unloaded our bikes and we gave him 100 baht (~US$3), which was the same that we paid in Koh Kong, but he said it wasn’t enough and demanded 150 baht. Today, we went to the beach and it was crawling with hawkers selling fruit, seafood, and jewelry.

This woman was selling grilled squid which looked good, so I said I wanted some. She cooked up some squid and when we attempted to pay, she held up six fingers which we assumed meant 6000 Riel (US$1.50). We gave her that, but she just stared at us and said something else in Khmer. We gave her some more Riel and again she just stared at us and chuckled. We ended up giving her 20,000 Riel (US$5.00) before she was satisfied which is a very large amount when you consider a meal in a restaurant costs between US$2 – US$3 here. Afterwards, we were annoyed but told ourselves it wasn’t that much money and we will have to get better at determining prices beforehand to avoid getting ripped off. After that incident, we decided not to buy anything else and just watched all the hawkers going by.

This afternoon we went to the town market to have a look around. Wow. Outside the market, the motorbikes were swarming like bees and it sounded like every single driver was using his horn at once.

Inside it was just as frantic. People were pushing, vendors were yelling at each other, and we were quite overwhelmed as we tried to make our way on the slippery, uneven floor. There was an open ditch full of sludge running down the middle of each aisle. Every kind of food was being sold inside. Live fish, chicken, frogs, and crabs and entire dead pigs were on display for purchase. We saw women skinning live frogs and cleaning out chicken intestines in buckets. We were cautious though and just bought some bananas, mangos, and longans.

It appears anything goes on the roads here. People drive and ride motorbikes in every lane, even the ones going in the opposite direction. No one yields when turning or doing anything else, everyone just honks and keeps going, hoping the other guy will stop. We have had a couple close calls but luckily no accidents yet. There are also cows on the roads here. Yesterday we saw one lying down for a nap in the middle of a lane while everyone swerved to avoid it. The one we saw today was better behaved. At least he is traveling near the shoulder on the correct side of the road!

We have already had a couple of warnings about thieves in Cambodia. One restaurant owner told us to sleep on top of anything valuable and that thieves had crawled through a tiny air-vent in the wall of his restaurant to rob him. After we checked into our guesthouse, one of the workers was watching me lube our chains outside and so we didn’t pay any attention when he was still outside when we left to walk around the city. When we returned two hours later he was still standing outside in the hot sun near our bikes and we couldn’t figure out what he was doing until we realized he was personally guarding our bikes! At night, our guesthouse has a guard outside so we think our bikes will be safe.

The final thing we have noticed is people seem a little more reserved here. In Thailand if you smiled and nodded at someone, you got the same back. Here we have been getting a lot of blank stares in return, especially from men. Maybe that is just Cambodia or perhaps its just part of touristy Sihanoukville.

Tomorrow we are on the road again, heading for Pnomh Penh. We should arrive there in about two days.

Entering the Third World

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

It was quite a shock to go back to waking up at 5:30am, which is what we had to do to catch our bus to the town of Trat. We rode 12 harrowing kilometers through the morning traffic and smog of Bangkok, found the Eastern Bus Terminal, and then spent a bit of time trying to buy tickets on an airconditioned bus. Here I am waiting for the bus:

The bus ride to Trat was uneventful. The only notable thing was the amazing hugeness of the Bangkok suburbs. The city sprawled and spread out for hours and hours, and it was not a beautiful thing. We were very glad to be on the bus, it looked like a hideous ride. In Trat we found a delightfully clean bungalow (what a shock after the wretched Vimol guesthouse) and ate our very last Thai dinner. It was delicious!

Another shocking alarm buzzer at 5:30am came the next morning. We packed up and headed out for our first day of cycling in three weeks. Our goal was 101km, across the Thai border, and into the first Cambodian town. The day was overcast and cool and the scenery quite rural which made for very nice cycling. We stopped for breakfast at only 20km and then felt very tired as soon as we got back on the bikes. That is, I felt very tired and my butt was hurting already. It is amazing how quickly you loose the built up tolerance for a bicycle seat! Jamie on the other hand was feeling queasy and sick. He doesn’t complain much so he just cycled along in silence while I talked about how tired I was.

The hills got steeper as we neared the Cambodian border. After awhile Jamie said I had officially reached a pace on my bicycle which he deemed “trudging”. Here I am in the middle of my trudging phase. The road looks very flat, but trust me, it wasn’t always like that!

We crossed the Thai exit point and Cambodian entry point with no trouble at all. We were glad we already had our visas – all the people buying visas at the border were griping about how they’d been ripped off. There were lots of Cambodian guys hanging around the entry station trying to figure out a way to help people and then demand a tip. We didn’t want them messing with our bikes so we handled all our gear ourselves. Then they tried to grab our customs forms, and offered to fill them out for us. We told them we were OK writing for ourselves. Then they hovered around and watched us fill out the forms while saying things like “passport number there!” pointing to the space clearly marked Passport Number. As we were leaving they asked for a tip, but we said no. They didn’t put up much of a fuss.

Now that we were officially in Cambodia we had to ride 10km more to reach our goal city – Koh Kong. We got to switch back to the right side of the road which felt very weird, even though that’s what we’ve been used to our whole lives. It strange to realize that 99% of my bicycling experience has been on the left side of the road! The road itself was in decent condition, but it suddenly felt totally different from Thailand. There were hardly any cars on the road at all, only a few mopeds. The ground was covered in bright red dirt and mud, and the houses and people looked much more poor.

We reached Koh Kong and followed some guy on a moped to his guesthouse. It was very nice with a good price, so we stayed there. The owner spoke English and spent all his spare time chatting with us and trying to convince us let him take us to change money. He tried and tried to convince us this was the best possible thing to do, but the fact that he was so incredibly overeager really put us off. He even knocked on our door at night with a can of insecticide to kill mosquitos, but then found a chance to bring up money changing again! He also wanted to sell us a boat ticket to Sihanoukville, which we ended up buying from him because he told us the road we’d wanted to take through the mountains was torn up with only 20% of construction completed. We later met two cyclists who were going to take the road, so we are pretty sure our little guesthouse owner lied to us in order to sell the boat ticket. It really feels like we’re going to have to be on guard here against getting ripped off. We’ve already heard stories about American guys hiring prostitutes but then being thrown into jail until they paid $500 bail to get out. So, looks like we won’t be hiring any prostitutes here in Cambodia – shoot!

For dinner we wandered around the muddy streets of Koh Kong looking for something tasty and Cambodian. We ended up settling on noodle soup at a street vendor. We just said we wanted soup and then sat down to see what we’d get. We watched with horror as the cook took actual chunks of a pig (skin, bristles, foot, etc – all still intact and in perfect form!) from a non-refrigerated case, chopped it into pieces, and plopped them on top of the noodle soup. A few little tubes of pig intestine were also added for an extra treat. Jamie really wanted to try some of the meat but we’ve both heard horrible stories about people getting sick from Cambodian meat so we didn’t touch it.

Tomorrow we ride the boat to Cambodia’s one resort town – Sihanoukville.