Archive for the ‘Dahon Touring 2013’ Category

The daily sequences for ‘Dahon Touring 2013’ in Cambodia and Vietnam, are royally messed up. Or I haven’t discovered how to put them in sequence…yet.

They appear to start at Day 2. Then 1, 5, 8, 9, 7, 6, 4 and 3. Same crap happens even if you click on categories ie Dahon Touring 2013 at the end of peach post. So if you like reading sequentially from Days 1 – 9 that’s what you have to do. Scrolling right off from Day 2 here can drive one nuts. I’ll *ucking figure it out but not today.

Sunday Jan 13, 2013 90 kms.

Our dignified hotel has lots of room at the back to store 11 suitcases and boxes. We will need them on the flight home. This is a consideration that only people on bicycles will appreciate. That, and I’ve already seen a $50 knock off Samsonite at the market, which will swallow up a Bike Friday easily.After a long drawn breakfast spanning 90 minutes or so, we are on the move with the help of one of the orphans on his motorcycle. Being a Sunday, there should be less traffic. Right. It was easy for 11 cyclists to be strung out, but grid lock took care of that. So we stayed together till the edge of PP at an excruciating speed of 9 or 10kmp/h, bunched up at traffic lights with 120 second timers, enough time for photos and other tomfoolery.
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The 2 major highways (a very loose term here) heading south of PP toward Takeo, are numbered 2 and 3. The 50/50 odds are good as we can only be half wrong or right. We are told by our escort that their choice is better with less traffic and potholes, plus we get to stop at a couple of must see attractions, for couple of hours, resulting in a long first day’s journey.

We opted for Hwy # 2 upon the advice of locals on 2 wheels, Hwy 3 though larger and more popular, also had more fast moving traffic. I suppose if you ask someone in a Hummer or Escalade, any road would be good or fair game. The traffic did really thin out 15 to 20 kms out of PP, and I had my fun drafting a couple of tuk tuks that maxed out at 40 kmp/h.

Hwy 2 is also dead straight for some 60 kms. Not much steering required today, save for 5 drink stops, one flat and one really loud explosion from a Marathon. Lunch was quite a detour to a lakeside setting, along red laterite roads to Tonle (lake) Bati.

There were ‘reports’ from the back of slow leaks, people cramping up, overheating, missing cigarette stops, usual first day of cycling stuff, but we had to keep the train moving regardless.The other option would be a non existent lunch.

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 Lunch was a bit held up, when the last few riders missed a turn onto an ample dirt road, with a hugh archway. To cut a story short, they caught up with the rest at the edge of Lake Bati via another dusty route.

Meanwhile in between the fast and the lost, May whose always wearing a pink skort, and those close to her had quite a rude shock when her rear Schwalbe blew out, on her Dahon Speed TR, a victim of some sharp rocks lurking under all that bull dust.

It sounded like a gunshot, and the tyre split open, quiet a bit, like what they do to cobras here for it’s heart and bile from the liver. It’s sort of the manly thing to do here, cut out a cobra’s heart, and down it with some cobra blood and wine mixture, while the heart’s still beating.

I guess crushing a can of beer on one’s forehead is just too painful for these folk.

May’s inner tube was a goner too.

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A crowd gathers, some with very fast fingers !

During lunch, we had a hanger on eyeing our bikes in the shade but he had the initiative to hop on his motorbike to somewhere and return with a bike mechanic who assessed the situation, went back to his shop and came back with viola, a 20 inch tyre.

It had the name ‘Wanda King’ on the sidewall but almost had threads like a Schwalbe Marathon. Hanger on dude, he’s smart, taking $10 bucks from Roland, May’s husband, and then, split it 2 ways with the bike mech. What luck, we were really in the middle of nowhere, with 40 kms left to a homestay in Takeo.

Everyone wins and Roland and May’s appetite returned instantly.

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Still 10 ks to go

We get to the http://www.cambodianhomestay.com/ after cycling the final 10 dicey kms in pitch black darkness. They were kind enough to lead us in on a motorbike, through some rice fields from the main road. They had a small sign board (nailed to a tree) about the size of a magazine. Any bigger and the police will take an unhealthy interest in their business.

Sat. Jan 12, 2013. 5 kms

Compared to home, where the north east monsoon has been raging, any other place is going to be dusty or dustier. I took comfort in the fact that, at least the next 10 days will be blessed with clear blue skies and safe cycling.

Coleen on the other hand is on her 2nd bike trip in 4 months, that’s quite a record, that will be broken again when we get to Taiwan this April. In any case I have 2 extra Buffs in my possession for her use, not that they’ll filter any dust from the road, but it’s the thought that counts, and they do make good sunscreen protectors, in addition to her massive hat and more than vogue sunglasses. She can be very particular against the damaging defects of UV, as I am with quick and crisp gear changes and wheels not going out of true by a millimeter or 2.

In the coming months when it gets even drier, I’m sure the air quality will get worse if one is in this town with it’s incessant traffic. We wont be here of course and I’m sure it’s dusty too in the provinces that we will ride through, hopefully a sort of purer dust that’s not heavy on carbon monoxide. Then again this whole thesis on bad air particles swirling around us is going to be nullified when the only member of our party decides to light up every chance he gets. Why do you think I have 3 Buffs in my luggage ?

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New PP is vertical

We wont be here of course and I’m sure it’s dusty too in the provinces that we will ride through, hopefully a sort of purer dust that’s not heavy on carbon monoxide. Then again this whole thesis on bad air particles swirling around us is going to be nullified when the only member of our party decides to light up every chance he gets. Why do you think I have 3 Buffs in my luggage ?Phnom Penh itself is a paradox, the number of luxury SUVs were a stark contrast to people pulling heavily laden donkey carts.

It’s crumbling old world French architecture, overshadowed by gleaming skyscrapers and huge government buildings on the 7 km drive from the airport into town. The place is just oozing money if you’re rich and oozing lots of sweat and grime if you’re a migrant from the villages.Traffic was crawling at noon on a weekday. I figured our hotel taxi did not go above 30 kmp/h at all, slow enough for us to spot a shop with Specialized and Giant banners. We were headed for Sisowath Quay, on the river front, where all the action, and even more gridlock was.

By 2 pm we were to meet with the rest of the gang who came in from Seam Reap, bikes and all on 2 inter city buses, 7 hours spent on a 300 km journey. Parts of the highway were pretty telling, bumpy roads engulfed in red dust, all over buildings, homes and trees.

I figured that Siam Reap and the Angkor temples deserved another trip in it’s own right, and shouldn’t be rushed in 1.5 days.

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New bike love

The late afternoon was spent assembling their bikes, some on the sidewalk. As per my general rule, bikes are best set up in an airconditioned room. I had ours done right after lunch and had a quick pootle around town. Don’t want, don’t need no surprises on tomorrow’s long ride.

Mind numbing questions will arise. Will my gorgeous bike survive such punishment on 3d world roads? What about clean water, dubious street food, high UV, unexploded ordinance and yes, dust ? Short answer is, they’ll all be there ! It’s a matter of evaluate, then adapt and ovecome, no?

Then there’s the navigation. While I rely mostly on the angle of the sun in relation to sky and horizon and my handlebar mounted compass which has a built in bell, there are some with GPSs on the handlebar or watch and/or smart phones, and in the not too distant future, in one’s cornea, to guide us thru potholes, dust, hell and high water.

All these instruments work very well, be they a $2 compass/bell combo or a $500 Garmin which the local kids like to poke and reset, if they’ve not ripped it off and scooted away with it. The thing with Cambodia is, you’ll see road markers at the start, say Takeo is 90 kms from PP, and after you ride 88 dusty kms, a sign tells you you have 2 kms left to go. In those 88 kms, such signs are scarce, probably taken out by a Land Cruiser, so you take your chances with Mr Cateye.

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Old PP

In all the first day’s excitement, I’ve left the best for last, and no it’s not my foray into Hooters. I’m afraid of owls, for that matter, birds that don’t sleep. It’s our trip instigator, I mean organiser and leader, the right honourable, Alvin Lee. He’s single handedly, with the help of a few computers, an ancient Nokia and runners on the ground, managed to stitch up our ride, day in, day out to the very last detail. I am talking, some flights, all hotel bookings, side trips and tours, meals, massages, shopping and a host of other stuff nothing to do with Hooters.

Not unlike a shepherd on a Bike Friday, his annual trips to Cambodia to volunteer at an orphanage, are coupled with some sort of bike trip in the region, with a few select friends, colleagues and neighbours to join in the fun of hundreds of kilometers of cycling in the dust. For such a privilege, most bike tour companies would ask, demand $200 a day per person tips excluded. After all was said and done, each of us plonked down only $200 for the whole 9 day trip.

For Alvin and myself, the satisfaction of a trip well executed, with very minor hitches, coupled with seeing bonds and friendships deepen, among such a diverse group of personalities, far surpasses any monetary gain. Heck, deep down inside, we wanted to ride too.

There were some skirmishes of course, like “Why did you use such a wimpy worn out tyre, you’re asking for few flats a day !”

How that turned out, it was a real blessing, on day 2. Then, on one night in Vietnam, after 103 kms, we arrived at a hotel, with the last 3 riders missing …….. all in a day’s work. Then there’s that trio of nubile, North Korean female spies/musicians.

See here’s the beauty of a retrospective journal. Sure, it’s not live, but I get to ride and observe more and journal less while on the road. Then, I get to write more, now at home without fear of bodily harm or sniper fire, from those multitasking nubile North Korean gals. They appear on day 8 or 9.

It helped a whole lot that everyone was more than self reliant, travel wise and bike touring wise, to the point that we instigators, sorry organisers, would welcome a few newbies into the fold. They flew in all the way from Perth, Western Australia. Fast tracked $160 visas for Vietnam and Cambodia. Ouch ! Yay fresh lambs to the slaughter ! Let the games begin !

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Cultural immersion and a much too expensive dinner at $24

Wednesday January 16, 2013, 70 km (43 miles) – Total so far: 315 km (196 miles)

It will be a shortish ride today, so we get to dilly dally, a skill some riders are born with. We also have more time for photo breaks, idle chit chat riding 3 abreast and looking for muddy short cuts toward the Vietnamese border.

I am also looking forward to some fine Vietnamese cuisine even though it’s just night market street stalls. Sorry to say, Cambodian food in the boondocks is way below par compared to Thailand. On the bright side my run in with the runs and lackluster food the past few days has resulted in some weight loss with no resulting loss in average speed or was everyone just ambling along today ?

Slow day at the windowless tourist office

Slow day at the windowless tourist office

Finally I got up early, and had an hour’s solitude riding alone before we checked out. Oftentimes on a group tour, we hit and run, I mean check in and out of a place and never get to see what’s around. Today I rode around Kampot, a much much small version of Phnom Penh, without the urban sprawl and traffic. It had one thing in common though and that was dust.

Apparently, life here is so laid back, urbanites from PP have a second home here. Lots of nice old houses in quiet neighbourhoods interrupted by the odd high rise hotel. They’ve spruced up the river front as they should with any riverside town, as well as the backpackers ghetto south of town. Pizza and pancakes abound if you tire of local food. They were all closed at the ungodly hour from 8 to 9 am when I rode.

I got back just in time for breakfast to everyone’s surprise. Well they had already polished off the first round and we waiting for seconds.

The ride out of Kampot was dicey. I wished I had my mountain bike today to make short work of some mud and many potholes on what was essentially one and a half lanes of ‘highway’ as the pictures show.

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School is out

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The real Cambodia

No matter, if you’re heading the same way as us, south west, it gets better after the white horse, as you’re closer to Kep, a small touristy seaside village by the Gulf of Thailand. Some of the hotels here even have pools, oh my.

After a 90 minute lunch and countless iced lemon teas with real slices of lemon, we dragged our butts out of Kep, with some vital advice from our restaurant owners (hey we spent $60 on crabs and other dishes) about a 15 km short cut to the border.

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The symbol of Kep

We did not see no red temple arch like Cambodia veteran Jan Houtermans, but I guess we must have detoured too early.

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This brought us straight into some extensive salt flats. The paths here are in a grid and we made many sharp turns which of course made this short cut into a long cut. The villagers were shell shocked to say the least when 11 loaded bicycles appeared right outside their shacks. We confirmed our directions with those who could speak a bit of English and weren’t fooling around with us.

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Don’t panic, we’re lost but not that lost …..

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Still not lost, just too close to the coast and tidal flats. Move on

Even with just 15 kms to go some of the flock were apprehensive and started to worry. Hmmm, as long as we didn’t ride into the sea and were generally following the coast south east, and not crossing some nearby mountains inland, I guess we’ll be hitting the highway inland sooner or later.

The last 10 ks to the border were hot and yes dusty, nothing but salt flats and mangroves. We got into a paceline, helped by nice tailwind and rode into more prosperity, nicer homes, shops and cars, that money can buy if you win big at the no man’s and casinos between these 2 countries.

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Vegas baby !

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A couple of Aussies invade Vietnam at dusk

500m from our intended hotel and down town Ha Tien, I felt a slight wobble form my rear wheel that could only mean one thing, a slow leak. Damn all that broken chip seal and little sharp whatever the past day was taking it’s toll. I told Coleen that I was going to speed up to the nicest next hotel and wait for the rest. No point in, wobbling or walking a few hundred meters in to town. People might think I’m tired, when I’m actually hungry. It was good and fun that she sprinted too.

What luck, we quickly settled into the Du Hung, which had a huge secured garage for the bikes, but more importantly, I could fix my tube in air con comfort after dinner, and then go out to dinner again.

One stereotypical view of Vietnam is that, the tourist will surely be ripped off at least once in his trip. With the hotel rates plastered on the wall of the lobby @ 240,000 dong or $12, we were safe.

We did get to see the ‘suite’ which was twice the size of a standard room and still a good deal at $25, but being out back the rear of the hotel, where tents and a wedding party was sure to happen tonight, we kindly refused.

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Money changers. The bigger hotels will change US$ to Vietnamese dong for you, going rate being 20,000 dong to one US dollar. Most jewellery shops will have wads of cash to change too.

Our first report of dishonesty came from Roland, who has seen enough of the world to know he’s being shortchanged. Apparently he was given only half of the dong he exchanged for at the hotel reception. I think he’s retort to the clerk was that, he was not born yesterday, or something similar to that effect.

Sigh, Vietnam, yeah yeah we know you sort of won the war, do you still have to gouge us tourists ?

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Saturday January 19, 2013, 2 km (1 miles) – Total so far: 425 km (264 miles)

Today we leave Vietnam to re enter Cambodia again in as many days. The bikes and us will be on a boat ride up a tributary of the Mekong and then on the Mekong itself back to PP. I was wondering why this had to be so planned, but with a Singapore passport such minor diversions just to experience a cruise on one of Asia’a mightiest rivers was going to be worth it.

With a non Singapore passport, or at least a non ASEAN member country one, it got to be quite costly. Two in our party paid A$160 each or so for their pre paid visas.

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While on the cruise we got to meet a nice French girl Stefanie who also joined our dinner party tonight. She had about 5 months left on her passport’s validity and was going to have some trouble entering Cambodia, again. With our leader Alvin’s advice, that hiccup was easily solved with ‘forgetting to remove’ a dollar bill when she showed her passport at immigration.

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 The cruise was pretty uneventful, except at the start when we arrived with a dozen bicycles plus luggage. At times like these it’s fun to see the reactions of the locals manning the boat. These ranged from plain blase to jaw dropping shock. It’s also wise to go with the blase guys, as they’re quite used to people traveling with bikes and their quirks.

Then comes the quirks of the bike owners. Expensive bikes stacked and tied down tightly against one another on the roof of a bouncing boat make for very nervous tension. Some bikes had to repacked and shifted so that not much paint gouging was going to happen. Right.

The rear of our boat had an open seating area of about 6 seats and some rails. Under the steel floor boards was a huge cargo area where the larger back packs, Samsonites and panniers were stored. Very nice.

As I was too lazy to haul my bike up to the roof, but not lazy enough to bring it into the rear deck, it had the privilege of being folded and tucked into a corner of the rear seating area, free from any paint gouging and sprays of water from the Mekong. One thing that it was not spared from was the incessant 2nd hand smoke from a couple of German folk who indulged for 5 hours, like their lives depended on it.

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It seems also that bikes travel free on the roof or on the rear deck. And we had almost a dozen. After reading another journal that someone had paid 50% of the fare or US$12, for his bike, I can only conclude that the poor fellow had been had big time.

It’s also a good idea to pack some food for this early morning departure, if you haven’t had breakfast. There’s some overpriced snacks at Vietnamese immigration, which was mostly a floating barge. Our crew did not dish out some sandwiches and a drink till we cleared Cambodian customs and immigration even further upriver. That was a bunch of shacks in a nice shady village setting. Time check was close to noon.

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 Today we also technically left and arrived at different border crossings by boat, and not to be outdone by that we also rode 2 kms in 2 different countries. Such mind numbing thoughts drift through one’s head when cruising up the Mekong for a whole 5 hours. Don’t get me wrong the ride was better than expected and in glorious weather. There was even a spanking clean toilet on board but as I had no runs, I used it only once.

Cambodia is developing at quite a rapid pace too. Upon nearing the foreshore of PP, the amount of construction that greeted us seemed immense. As it was we already passed by a couple of multi span bridges across the Mekong, under construction out of town.

I was not looking forward to teeming traffic in PP, but the mention of having lunch at a Singaporean or Malaysian restaurant got most of us perky again. That and the promise of a long awaited North Korean experience at dinner.

We had a party of 15 for dinner. That meant multiple dishes spread out on a very long table. That also meant a convoy of cyclos that brought us down some very dark lanes till we saw the bright lights of the Pyongyang Koryo restaurant. It looked more like someone with really big bucks renovated a huge villa into a restaurant, with some luxurious townhouses at the rear. To complete the look there were a couple of high gloss black limos parked in the driveway. A Mercedes and a BMW.

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I get weary whenever a song and dance accompanies dinner. That’s when dinner or it’s quality can take a nose dive. In this place rumours that our wait staff were also highly trained assassins, were quite rife.

Nothing was further from the truth although one of them with deep set eyes elevated the term ‘killer looks’ to a whole new level. In a different time and place, she would be a dead ringer (pun intended) for a pre school teacher with very well behaved students, I bet.

The food was spicy but delicious, although we were not allowed to pour our own tea, as any of our outstretched hands would bring one of the girls scurrying to our table.

They were so attentive, clearing plates too fast, you can’t help thinking that you had to eat at a faster pace. Beads of sweat were also coming down some of their foreheads, and to add to the arctic like temps, one of the girls turned up the airconditioning to full blast, calling her friends to stand in front of it.

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Soon the reason for the rush became clear enough. As fast as the cutlery was cleared, the same girls appeared from the kitchen to do their song and dance routine northern style. Like a bad dessert, each performance lasted a few fleeting minutes, not that another extra few minutes were being looked forward to. They were just going through the motions for the privilege of being posted out of the north to some exotic locale like Cambodia.

While we looked in amusement, a bunch of Korean men, most likely from the north were getting a bit rowdy and kept cheering and jeering for more. It was like Madonna was in town for a private party.

We gathered from one of the girls who managed a smattering of English that they were out on a 2 year posting from the army, they rarely left the building and living quarters, and that they were definitely not assassins. Rumour also has it that one of the girls from a different batch, managed to ‘escape’ from the compound, leaving the rest in the lurch and sent back to North Korea with the requisite punishments.

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Before we left many photos were taken, some with smart phones, and I wondered if the girls were for real.

Things must have loosened up quite a bit. Cameras and phones had to be surrendered at the door some time back.

The smiles and cheers of glee upon seeing their images on a phone confirmed that what we take for granted, was still something of a novelty to them, answered my question. Then one of them became teary. It was as if her captured image would be leaving the compound, back to a hotel and then flying off, away from her prison.

We were even walked to the front door and waved goodbye like long lost friends, but only never to be seen again.

Sunday January 20, 2013

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By the Palace roads, nice

 

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Uh Huh

 

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Day 7. Chau Doc

Posted: April 2, 2015 in Dahon Touring 2013
Tags: ,

Friday January 18, 2013, 3 km (2 miles) – Total so far: 423 km (263 miles)

Today is a sort of rest day, in that there’s no cycling involved, but ‘rest’ is a misnomer. No cycling but when the body does nothing, it starts to shut down and get all ache-y here and there. Apart from doing nothing, we had the bikes thoroughly washed and dried, (2000 dong or 50 cents) followed by lunch, (on a boat) followed by a ‘cruise’ followed by a long afternoon tea, followed by dinner. (on another boat)

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Yes it was quite a taxing day off the bike. My leg muscles were actually confused, as the body called for a striding motion instead of a relaxed circular paddling one, much like ducks do.

As our bikes were hemmed up between a glass wall and the hotel lobby’s furniture, it was too much of a hassle to retrieve them, and so goes part of a day wasted not exploring Chau Doc on a bike, which I feel like doing right now ! I am losing my touch with this groupie bike touring thing …

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Thursday January 17, 2013, 105 km (65 miles) – Total so far: 420 km (261 miles)

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Come to Vietnam. There’s meat on them bones !

Ha Tien is so close to the gulf of Thailand, I wondered what I was doing pussy footing all morning outside our hotel, instead of exploring the town. Ah well I shall blame it on cycling group inertia. That and I’ve got an excuse for another visit in this lifetime

As we were about to pull out after the umpteenth group photo, our ride accountant, Dr Josh had to fix a puncture. Now we couldn’t leave our ATM behind, could we?

Being the consumate human calculator that he is, he revealed that we were overcharged by $6.00 during out breakfast of grilled pork and rice and several bowls of pho and coffee and drinks. And this was after he bargained down the total bill as it was too high.

Well we did have a hanger on in the form of a tourist guide also tucking into his breakfast. That must be it, he had a cut, for his translation services.

I wasn’t too concerned, like I said before there’s meat to be had, in Vietnam.

We finally moved out at about 9.30 am and with 100 kms to ride, I made sure that our lights were handy.

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No buddy, I don’t have any treats. Buzz off !

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Ha Tien or rather Legoland

Leaving town, we crossed a newish looking bridge, heading south west before making a left on rte 955 which was basically a 100 km ride north east to Chau Doc. Row upon row of wind breaking trees to our left provided some false comfort, but the fact of the matter was that, it was going to be a long, hot slog today. Pffft.

 Seeing that one of the older riders, I shall not mention names to protect the innocent, or slow, was in trouble right from the get go, his excuse was headwinds, the rest of us formed a phalanx around him. He sort of felt the difference in that there was less wind resistance. That said the phalanx was now feeling more wind and we broke up that formation after a few minutes. Tough.
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Heaps of hammocks

Just like Laos, I gauge the prosperity of the Vietnamese to be significantly higher than neighbouring Cambodia. For one there’s less dust and there are actually fridges that have cold insides, fridges running on electricity, chok full of cold drinks for the thirsty cyclist.

Whereas Cambodia had shacks providing shade, at most there’ll be an orange cooler box sweltering under the sun. In those cooler boxes, would be some dubious canned drinks that are warm, or at most cool to the touch, depending on whether they had ice in it.

What Vietnam excels in are the many rest stops with hammocks. Even the most lowly shack with only 2 rotten coconuts will have a couple of hammocks for the passerby to vegetate in. Life on the road must be very tough, it seems, to warrant the number of hammocks we’ve seen today. At one particular drink stop we had to oblige.

Just shut out all thoughts of cycling the next 50 kms in the heat outside.

Weather imperfections aside, today’s scenery made up for all the monotonous straight line cycling. Green rice fields as far as the eyes could see, topped up with distant blue mountains on the horizon. We must have cycled about 50 kms with nothing else but that view, of an imaginary border somewhere in the fields.

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Riding into or away from a gorgeous sunset meant one thing, actually two, we have nice sunset pictures and with 15 kms to go, we will be in the dark again looking for our hotel.

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Good evening Vietnam

Unlike our last night ride into a very quiet Kampot, Chau Doc proved to be quite a challenge. You’ll need all your senses on overdrive, just to stay upright. Dim lights, heavy traffic, narrow roads into town are a recipe for disaster on two wheels. Yeah and we were all speeding too.

An impromptu U turn on a busy 2 way street prove that right, made worse when 11 bikes tried that manouvere. 8 of us managed to do it, while the last 3 were stuck and that’s when a cyclo hit his brakes hard and next thing I saw was that cyclo, it’s rider and his trailer overturned on the street.

In keeping with traffic flow the front 7 disappeared too quickly and I was in a dilemma to stay or catch up with the rest. Seeing that the last 3 managed to regroup and quickly reattach some dislodged panniers and riding up against traffic, with a none too happy cyclo rider and his growing number of ‘friends’ I managed to catch up with the blinking lights of the runaway group, down a side street, but in front of the hotel.

It took about 20 mins for the lost sheep to arrive, they had back tracked some kms, nicely escorted by our hotel receptionist on a scooter, who very smartly, went out in search of them.

It was a minor miracle that no one was hurt in that pile up. The last 3 were also our our biggest guys so I wasn’t too concerned about their safety, just that a large crowd forms very quickly when there are bits of bike gear on the road and especially that overturned cart, which I was told, was quickly righted by it’s owner and on it’s way soon after.

Now, where’s my dinner, both of them ?

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OOh so high tech

Tuesday January 15, 2013, 68 km (42 miles) – Total so far: 245 km (152 miles)

I woke up feeling much lighter in the head and in the bowels as I really have nothing left to excrete. As I also have no tummy cramps, this must be a very good sign. Nevertheless, during breakfast, our director of medical services, in his usual magnanimous manner sought to prescribe me some meds for the runs which I think and hope has runned away from my system.

Today will be a rest day for some and a mountain stage for some others. As it turns out no one wanted to miss out cycling up to the Bokor plateau, least of all me. It’s about a 1000 m climb 25 kms with the road flattening out after 20. The road out of town essentially still Hwy 3, leads to the park entrance, a nice 10 km warm up ride.

Again we were blessed with apt weather for the whole ride. What started out as dark gloomy skies, remained gloomy, but it didn’t really rain. A slight mist hung in the air and hillsides, as we climbed slowly along gentle gradients that didn’t strained our gears and legs too much.

It would have been much tougher if the sun was really out and blazing, as there was not much shade to speak of on Cambodia’s finest 25 kms of tarmac.

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 The climb turned out pretty well. I did not have to stop and find a stick to switch to a smaller front chain ring of 39T. I had modified the stock 53T, which was way too big for touring with a load, much less a hill climb, and downsized it to a 46T which was perfect.

Last night’s lack of sleep wasn’t a bother too, as if I was sleepy on a bike, I might as well stop and lie down in a quiet spot. The group was quite spread out, along the inclines and I was also alone for quite sometime, enveloped in cool air, with the screams of faraway gibbons in the trees.

This Bokor hill station, much preferred in the past by the French for it’s cool climate, is virtually a jungle clad plateau, which used to have an elephant and tiger population. The new road that we climbed on was only completed in November or December of 2011. Talk about our good timing.

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Aaahhhh ?? What? It’s been renovated !

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Originally mouldier and slimier

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Nice views if not cloudy

The French of course used it to build a casino of sorts as well as a Catholic Church. I wonder which building one should patronise first ? The old casino has since been abandoned as well as the church. There’s a new spanking sprawling casino now, some condominium housing, huge parking lots, and what looks like a convention center, but no new church. I guess the ‘god of gamblers’ won. That title also belongs to a very successful Hong Kong movie.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_of_Gamblers

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At the summit, with the new casino in yellow

At mid day we managed to get some take away lunch from an eatery near the uncompleted Buddha, there are some fruit and drink stalls there too as well as a a spanking new toilet which I gladly needed no use of. The new casino had a lunch buffet with varying prices from US$5 to $12 depending on who you asked !

After lingering at the top for too long, taking photos, cracking jokes, some even exchanging bikes, it was time to turn around. We had to anyway as near the old casino some men stood guard behind a gantry and said this is as far as we go. A luxurious villa in the distance with shiny new SUVs lined up outside got me thinking that some despot is still in control of this mountain and it’s goings on at least.

At least he was kind enough to let us play on his perfect mountain road for the $5.00 entry fee we paid at the entrance. And played we did on the downhill.

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What goes up WILL go down……

Monday January 14, 2013, 82 km (51 miles) – Total so far: 177 km (110 miles)

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It was not easy to leave the Meas family’s farm. A late wake up and slow delicious breakfast ensured that. Sleep was easy last night, even though I was not that tired out, still trying to get used to the small bike’s relatively short top tube, yesterday’s multiple stops and slower than average speeds.Takeo town is actually 12 kms east of where we are, on route 22 that straddles route 2 and 3. We would have not known the turnoff to the farm, more so in the dark last night. Their lodgings are simple and sufficient for me at least.As usual,when we enter a room, I would get down to seeing that the air conditioning and/or TV worked. Today, there were none. Coleen would deligently check for stains on the bed and the general whiteness/spotlessness of the bathroom, even if the tiles were brown or black. We would go bonkers if we had the same priorities. We got our own room in a newish concrete building behind their pond. 2 beds, a fan and a bathroom. I was a bit silly, in asking for wifi.
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In the older house. Reminds me of the digs in M*A*S*H* as these are our 2 doctors’ room

The rest were in the three older wooden buildings, built above concrete ones, where some of the family stayed. An open kitchen right in front of the main gate made for a nice gathering area and so did the dining tables under a thatched roof. I kept my eye on a red ice box, loaded with canned drinks. Take what you want and just sign into a book, and settle your bill when checking out.

We must have left at 9.30 am.

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Follow the crowd eh?

Hwy 3 south of Ang Ta Som was much smoother and wider than Hwy 2, thus allowing even more crazy driving from the locals. Huge fancy SUVs and overloaded minivans hurtling at 100 or 120kmp/h sounding their horns at anything and everything in sight. I doubt any of them could brake, much less stop if they had to in an emergency.

The constant tooting even when just passing us with lots of room was getting to be tiring after a while. I gave one of these nutcases a middle finger when he got too close, and he actually hit his brakes too hard and almost lost control. First time I’d seen a van ‘shimmying’ close up. Maybe he thought I wanted a lift.

It was pretty sunless and very cloudy all day, perfect for cycling, except for a couple of slow leaks from Barbara’s Tern. She had gotten it at a very good deal for AU$300 from a Brazilian guy in Perth. Maybe that’s why, good deals done outside a subway station. It was her first bike touring trip ever and she had been ‘practising’, along Perth’s fine bike paths for quite a while with 60 kms being her maximum recorded distance.

The wonderful thing about this trip was that, she’ll be breaking her personal best on each day of this trip !

If you’re just sitting down for a meal, you might want to skip reading this part. The fact that it might sound grimmer that it is really is, is a blessing for me and my bowels. For now, I am only trying to pinpoint the source of ‘the runs’ or loose stools and in Malay, ‘cherek berek’ quite a poetic term for such a malady.

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Someone is still hungry! Hence the $25 price tag

It could be in this village where we encountered ‘pigletmania’ Screaming mini pigs for sale, just $20 each for us tourists, right. We sat down on at an eatery, with mystery meat and weird coloured vegetables in a wooden display cabinet. She hard warm rice in a container, the locals were having a feast. In this part of Cambodia, food in a counter is I guess better than no food in the tummy. Reports from those who used their bathroom out back were that vegetables were on the same floor as the route to the toilet.

But i didn’t eat very much here, just the rice and some ginger from the ginger chicken dish which had parts of baby chicks in it. I pinpoint it to maybe the sweetened coffee that might not have been boiled enough. And some spicy fried noodles, and to round it off, the rim of a can of Coke which might have been shared with some flies. Yes that’s it. Not one single factor to be blamed upon, but a combination of all these, it’s happened before.

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Downtown Kampot

This room was so nice, and the large bathroom even nicer, so much so that I had to use it at 2.15 am and 4.15 am. I always count my lucky stars in moments like these, bent over double, looking at bathroom tiles, and their proper alignment, or not.

Speaking of alignment, has anyone ever wondered, in the greater scheme of things, why body parts are located in the weirdest of areas, of the human body ? I mean, think about it, you have the reproductive organs, just a hair’s breath away from where the crap comes out.

As I have more or less pinpointed the source of my runs, in the village of screaming baby pigs, it’s quite befuddling as to why did God put our amusement park so close to a waste disposal unit ??

I’d taken my Thai herbal remedy for the runs, a powdered concoction of herbs, with warm water. It tasted so vile and put a lingering hot sensation inside me that, I wondered what bacteria would even want to stay in me. It actually worked well for 6 hours, no more tummy aches, or maybe would work better in Thailand, seeing that these 2 countries don’t see eye to eye, on many things.

We were all quite impressed by the setting of the next 2 nights lodgings. Sure there was a bit of trash on the dirt road leading through before the entrance, but once inside it was another world of small bungalows and lush greenery. The other end faced the Kampong Bay river and the highlands of the Bokor plateau, a perfect place to unwind and kick back,and announce the next day’s climb of just over 1000 m in 25 kms. What ??

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 I think my dinner went down very well, at the Rusty Keyhole, since my callings to the toilet started only past midnight, and that Thai remedy, wow if i was still cycling, all that flatulence would have given me a higher than average speed.

The Rusty Keyhole, apart from having a huge Union Jack on the wall needs to fix it’s bathroom. The toilet bowl, is angled towards the user, and does not flush very well. Being angled, it’s cover WILL lean towards you if you do not hold it’s grimy surface with your hand while attempting to defecate.

Their solution is to tie a string to the cover, to a nail on the wall. Brilliant ! Might as well drop an A bomb on it. This glaring lack of maintenance was made up for by the nice ribs, char grilled on the sidewalk, with 3 diligent employees, local girls they must be. All 6 of their feet were shoeless.

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Kampot riverside and Bokor in the distance