Joined August 2017 Message
  • Day15

    And home again!

    July 15, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    I have to say I woke up on Sunday morning feeling pretty rough… I am not sure if it was the pepper and chilli from the previous evening’s meal, the STRONG cocktails, dehydration, heat stroke or food poisoning or some combination of all of the above. Suffice to say that I felt rather wretched … however a shower and some bread and butter and plenty of water meant I was vaguely human when we ventured out to the central market for a browse … it is a great place, hustle, bustle and selling everything from fresh produce, clothes, gold, technology and fresh cooked food. We purchased a bag each and then went to the local shopping centre for Deb to get a coffee and I had a fizzy drink. Amazingly when I ducked into the supermarket for my drink, I found the pepper grinder I had been searching for and was please to be able to buy it. Back at the hotel, I had a lie down, a shower and then got changed and finished packing.
    We were collected by Sam a little after 1100hrs and were driven to the airport in his Tuk-Tuk – as it was a Sunday the traffic was comparatively light and it only took us 45 minutes. We killed some time in the food court and then were able to check in and proceed through the gate where we browsed the shops for a bit before boarding the flight to Singapore.
    It only took 2 hours and was a fine flight … Singapore is a massive airport and the transit process was easy. We had time for a final celebratory beverage at a bar, and then it was time to board the next flight - about 7 hours to Melbourne the bulk of which we were both able to sleep through. The rain and freezing temperatures which greeted us were – to say the least – a shock, but we were sson on our way into town via the Skybus and then train – What a great trip with a wonderful traveling companion!
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  • Day13

    Penultimate day in Cambodia

    July 13, 2019 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    Bit of an ordinary night’s sleep and then up at 0600hrs to do the much neglected exercises which left me feeling much better. The café was packed and noisy when we went down and so we enjoyed of breakfast out on the balcony in company with the local stray cat (there are SO many in Phnom Penh and many seem to have short, stubby and/or deformed tails – apparently it is due to a recessive gene related to the “Japanese bobtail” breed and affects over 80% of cats in the city and is in fact common throughout the country and indeed all of southeast Asia.
    At 0800hrs we were picked up by Sam the Tuk-Tuk driver who took us through the totally insane traffic to The Killing Fields which are about 15km south of the city and were the site of more than 20,000 executions between 1975 and 1979. I won’t say that it was a “good” thing to do, but it felt necessary and was certainly worthwhile. Interestingly the audio commentary echoed my feelings in that the speaker said that Cambodian people appreciated the fact that visitors took the time to come and hear the stories and learn of the genocide atrocity. Although it was only one of many “killing fields” throughout Cambodia during the civil war, the site now stands as a permeant memorial for the 3 million or more Cambodians who were killed under Pol Pot. Known as Choeung Ek, the centre houses the remains of 8985 people murdered and buried in mass graves. When exhumed in 1980, many of the bodies were apparently still bound and blindfolded, there was evidence that most were bludgeoned to death to save money on bullets. Those who didn’t die immediately were drenched in DDT and then buried. Currently 43 of the communal graves have been left untouched and over time, fragments of human bone and clothing have risen, and are now clearly visible; a very obvious sign of the horrors which occurred – staff collect these items every few months. The most gruesome component of the killing fields was the killing tree, which was used to beat children and babies against before they were thrown into the mass graves, there theory being that the entire family must be killed so that there was no one left to seek revenge. In the middle of the Killing Fields is the Memorial Stupa which contains more than 8000 skulls arranged by sex and age. It is an horrific yet peaceful tribute and I felt move to light incense and make a small donation.
    Back in the Tuk-Tuk it was back to the city and off to the Russian Market… this was essentially a tourist trap and after a quick wander and an essentially fruitless search for the elusive metal pepper grinder I saw in Siem Reap we went back to the Tuk-Tuk. Sam helped use to buy a big bag of fruit (Cambodian prices - $2.25!) and then we went and checked out a pepper shop (again no luck). We were getting a bit hot and cranky by then and a little over Sam’s ranting about the evils of the Vietnamese (also it was hard to hear what he was saying in the Tuk-Tuk so I think I missed about every third word. Realising that we were in street 240 which is know for it’s social enterprise shops we asked him to pull over and let us have a wander… we also suggested that he might like to pop home to check on his son who he had expressed health concerns about (we sent some of our copious supply of banana’s with him. We wandered street 240 until we came across a Belgian Chocolatier and coffee shop (which had soy milk – happy dance for Deb). We took a table outside and ordered drinks and a chocolate each and then surreptitiously tucked into our fruit… Mangosteen, Longan and Bananas … yummo.
    After we had eaten, we browsed the rest of the shops and then were collected by Sam again at about 1300hrs. Next stop was Wat Phnom which is a Buddhist temple which was built in 1372, and which stands on an artificial hill some 27 metres above the ground. It is the tallest religious structure in the city and is considered the central point of Phnom Penh – we had a bit of a wander there, enjoying the quiet and the cooling breeze. Finally, we got Sam to drop us at the Royal Palace… the elaborate complex of buildings is the residence of the Royal Family and has strict rules for visiting including that the arms must be covered. Deb as wearing a sleeveless dress but had a scarf to cover herself – this was deemed insufficient and the suggestion seemed to be that she buy or hire an ugly cotton sack top. At this point we decided to give up on the whole idea and got a refund and headed off to have a massage. Sam had warned us to avoid the “casual” massage places which offered $3-$5 treatments on the basis that a) the staff didn’t know what they were doing and b) would steal your stuff while you were distracted. With this in mind we chose a place which looked a bit more reputable … however although they definitely didn’t pinch our stuff, I am not sure they were anymore skilled. My practitioner was a very large young lady and as the massage involved her sitting on me, I was rather concerned that something might get broken – i.e. me! The treatment which was supposed to be neck, shoulders and back seemed also to involve the arm, legs and feet (so possibly not the best grasp of anatomy) and also incorporated at lot of rather odd squeezing and poking … all rather odd really but we both seem undamaged and somewhat looser through the back and legs.
    It looked like it was going the thunder so we dashed off to the “5 Drunk Men” skybar overlooking the river to wait it out and to enjoy the 2 for 1 Papaya Margarita deal. The rain didn’t eventuate and as the bar only seemed to do unappealing western bar food we googled “Skybars Phnom Penh” and came up with “Eclipse” which was, as it turned out, worth the 3km cross town hike. Situaated on the 23rd floor of the Phnom Penh Tower, the bar is open air and boasts amazing 360 degrees views of the city. We arrived during “Happy Hour” and enjoyed a Singapore Sling each ($3 – generously sized and not watered down) and then a Mai Tai for Deb and a Sangria for me. We also ordered food which was surprisingly good – prawns and fried rice for Deb, seared squid and fresh Kampot peppers for me and spring rolls to share, followed up with the Dragon fruit we had bought at the market. We just chilled at the bar for a while before walking back to the hotel to get organised for departure day tomorrow!
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  • Day12

    Final day on the bikes

    July 12, 2019 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    We had pre-ordered breakfast so we were packed and ready to eat by 630… the food was delicious (omelette, fantastic coffee and baguettes and fresh fruit) but the service was a bit haphazard – never mind, I really liked this hotel, the pool was great and the rooms were cool and comfortable.
    Heading out at about 0715hrs our first leg was 20km to the pepper farm “La Plantation”. The day seemed a little cooler although there was some wind. Initially we had sealed roads but then lest the bitumen and headed down some attractive unpaved roads through the country side, fantastic views of farms and salt fields as we made the gradual climb to La Plantation. The farm is a certified organic sustainable agritourism business – with a social conscious. Started less than a decade ago by a French couple, the farm aims to restore the Kampot pepper trade which was lost under the Khmer Rouge. The farm grows pepper, chillies, turmeric, lemongrass and has plantings of mango and bananas being established. The have water buffolos … which they use to manure the crops and make an organic pest control when combined with a local herb. We were given a tour of the farm and learned all about pepper growing and harvest. We also had a chance to taste and buy some pepper.
    Back on the bikes the second leg was another 20km… back tracking down the unsealed road the utility of the traditional Cambodian Khema cotton scarf. Woven in a checked pattern, the scarf has seen a lot of use while riding, sun protection, sweat band, head cooler, towel, wash cloth and today dust mask as we shared the dusty roads with a hoard of trucks. However we soon seemed to cut through on the back roads and emerged on the main sealed road to Kep. Kep is a coastal town which was founded in the early 190’s by the French as retreat from the heat of Phnom Penh. Today it is known for it’s beach and it’s crab market and it was the latter we headed for when we arrived at about 1200hrs. we wandered the bustling market which again had a very local feel (think cluttered, dirty, bustling and loud – it was ACE). Some of the groups were a little cautious but others were up for it … I tried squid sticks, prawns, fish pancake with pickle, coconut cake and a doughnut all washed down with local beer – delish!!!
    The final leg of the day was advertised as 20km (but was closer to 25… Liar liar.. pants on fire Brett… just kidding) we started on the bitumen and then followed a series of unsealed roads down the coast. The area was quite exposed and the wind a little stiff which was VERY annoying but by the same token at least it was cooling coming off the sea and the views were amazing. We continued until the road just stopped… it literally just stopped with no explanation. Then it was time for what Brett calls single track riding… through fields, paddies and salt pans on rutted tracks about 6inches wide before we emerged on a deserted stretch of beach were we could rest in the cool of a shelter for 10 minutes – it was just lovely. From there it was a little more of the same until we reached a scruffy little fishing village and then turned inland for a few kms before emerging on the main road… from this point it was about another 7km to the boarder with an “almost” tailwind – waa hooo!
    The Boarder marked the end of the ride for Deb and I and 2 other participants while Brett and 5 others were bid farewell and crossed the boarder into Vietnam. I felt sad to see them go – I don’t want to ”get off the bike”.. I wish now that I had signed up for the full trip to Saigon… ah well… I’ll just have to start saving for the next trip!
    We ducked into the Casino (Vietnamese money and “hostesses” in abundance there!) and I was amused when the security guard tried to make me go into the men’s toilet ….. hmmm clearly I have to work on my image… perhaps I should start wearing more pink!!. Then it was onto the bus for the 3 hour+ drive back to Phnom Penh and Mito Hotel… which turned out to be definitely more than 3 hours and a rather unpleasant experience with crazy traffic, a non-airconditioned, bus, cramped conditions and no “happy room” breaks… but thank heavens we made it at last!
    Arriving at Mito Hotel we were met by Sam, a Tik-tuk driver friend of Hoem’s who will take us for a tour tomorrow and who will also drive us to the airport on Sunday. Then check in quick shower and out to dinner.
    We decided to have another go at Palm Sugar (the Phnom Penh branch) the place was deserted and having got used to happy hour cocktails we couldn’t come at paying a whole $5 (with no rooftop ambience) so we had a glass of wine each (Australian merlot!) go with a delicious shared meal of shrimp cakes, green mango salad and Khmer fish curry. After our meal we headed off to the FCC for a cocktail at the rooftop bar accompanied by lime and pepper ice cream for me and mango and ginger for Deb. After one drink, and sick of the thumping from the bar across the road we went for a wander to Le Moon, where we had another cocktail (and a heap of water – I think we were both very dry!) while enjoying the roof top ambience and the great views of the river and then it was time to head back to the hotel and bed!
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  • Day11

    Salt fields and cooking class

    July 11, 2019 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    It was a lovely relaxed start to the day, after a rather good night’s sleep I was wide awake at 0600hrs and decided to get up and do the exercises I have been neglecting (owing to all the riding is my… not very good… excuse) and then swam a few laps of the pool. Breakfast was a leisurely affair and again delicious, we all enjoyed taking our time and chatting before being kitted out for our morning visit to another NGO – this time the Chumkriel Language School at the salt fields. It was a very pleasant and easy 5 km ride out of Kampot to the Chumkriel Language School (CLS) at the salt fields. The school, which started in 2005 in a small classroom, began by teaching English to 100 children. Today it has a dedicated school building, agricultural garden and sports field, and is teaching a comprehensive curriculum to the children of the local community, including teaching English to over 500 children. The philosophy of the organisation is of a hand-up rather than a hand-out, and at present they are able to offer; Daily classes in Khmer subjects, health & hygiene, and basic English for over 100 primary-age children. A library where reading skills are fostered. Computer classes for secondary students. English classes attended by over 500 children. A sports field for informal recreation and organized sports. A garden to teach children and their families how to grow their own vegetables. A Soup Kitchen providing daily lunch for 31 children. Free transport from the salt fields to the government school for up to 30 local children and scholarships for children to attend high school or university. We spent about an hour or so there learning about the work they do. The salt field workers have been hit very hard by climate change adding the difficulties of their lives. The altered whether patterns have meant rains in the wrong seasons and so very little salt has been able to be made from the fields and hence there is no wages for the workers.
    We rode back to town and then Deb and I headed off for another massage (a half hour foot reflexology treatment – divine) and then browsed a few shops before finding our way to Deva Café for lunch. This was way across the other side of the river but was worth the walk. It was a quirky place, the café was on the side of a busy road and looked like a kids tree house but the food was sensational – we enjoyed sangria and a banana flower salad and some stir-fried mushrooms and coconut ice-cream to finish. Described as a sanctuary for women. The Banteay Srey Project operates as a vocational training centre for Cambodian women, providing them with well-paid jobs and many ongoing training opportunities. The Project runs three social enterprises including a women’s spa, yoga studio, and a vegan café. The spa and cafe offer an ideal opportunity for Khmer girls coming from difficult circumstances to work and develop themselves in a peaceful, restorative environment. At the project, trainees are given step-by-step instruction to develop skills. Through providing high quality services to foreign guests and communicating in English, they develop confidence, cultivate a new sense of self-esteem and learn useful skills for future employment. They are given excellent working conditions, medical benefits, maternity care, and a fair salary.
    After lunch we had to leg it back to the hotel – halfway back Deb realised she had forgotten her drink bottle and had to grab a Tuk-Tuk to go back for it while I dashed back to the hotel while working out where we were going and letting Deb know. It all worked out as we all ended up at the Kampot Pepperpot and Seafood Restaurant at the designated time for our cooking class.
    First we had to decide what we wanted to cook and then we travelled by Tuk-Tuk to the local market were we purchased our ingredients. The market was very local with mud, cats, rats, holes in the roof and everything from gold jewellery to beef liver up for sale – I think some of the group were overwhelmed but it was GREAT, I wish I had more time to go back and explore and the confidence to purchase there.
    Back at the restaurant we got stuck in to making our meal. We did a baked egg custard (but with palm sugar and coconut cream and baked in a small pumpkin. We then prepared our starters – mine was an tiger prawn and eggplant warm salad and then it was Fish Amok for mains. Once we had done the cooking, which was great fun, we then did the eating, which was even more fun although way too much delicious food…mmm.
    Totally stodged full it was back to the hotel for some work, some wine and a swim, followed by more work and I have to admit more wine…… last day on tour tomorrow… so sad!
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  • Day10

    Bokor Mountain Challenge

    July 10, 2019 in Cambodia ⋅ 🌙 26 °C

    Up early for the pre-ordered breakfast which was a little slowing in coming but one of the nicest we’ve had in Cambodia, Baguettes and Jam, Fruit, lovely coffee and an omelette. By about 730 we were ready to head off to Bokor Mountain National Park for the “Hill Climb Challenge”.
    The first leg of the journey was down the main road for about 8km, the traffic was busy but nothing like leaving Phnom Penh and we were soon at the gateway despite the brisk headwind… then the REAL challenge began – a 20km stiff climb, up and up and up some 1300m steadily climbing to the “Big Buddha” (which is actually a famous Buddhist Nun). It was really rather a hard slog, but still beautiful riding up through the tropical vegetation with intermittent views to the coast and ocean below as well as the amazing sounds of birdlife. It was pretty warm (around 32 degree) and quite humid but there was a stiff breeze which was cooling (although unhelpful being head on!). My gears being basically… well stuffed… meant that the lowest I could go was 3:4, thank heavens I prefer to power rather than spin.
    I have to admit I was pretty pleased with myself not only to make it all the way up without having to resort to the van, to do it in under 2 hours and be first by more than 20 minutes! Deb did amazingly well to, again making it all the way and in around 2 and half hours. At the top (or as far as we were going) we had a decent break, and a visit to the Big Buddha Nun. Then it was time to descend…. Ok so I might be a good climber, but I am not good at going down and have the honour of being last (although I did stop for a few photos) … I have the peddle when most people can just roll and I tend to slow more on the corners. My average speed was about 40km/hrs so heaven only knows how fast some of the others were going down the very steep and windy road. Back at the gateway we regrouped and with a fantastic tailwind we had a nice quick sprint back to Kampot and Hotel Pippali.
    A swim was in order (the pool is rather lovely) and then showered and changed Deb and I had a walk down the road to café espresso where we enjoyed a late lunch and a coffee with 4 other riders (the food was western but tasty, I had a falafel salad and an affogato. Deb and I along with another rider (Carmen who is from South Africa via the UK and is a trainee GP from Bristol) then went into town for a massage, we came across seeing hands, a ramshackle place staffed by visually impaired massage people who provided a clothed, 1 hour, deep pressure massage for $6. It bloody hurt at the time as they seemed to find all my most tender bits, but boy was it effective. By the time it was done there was just time to make it back to the hotel for our 1720hrs meet up with Hoem. Just as we were about to head out the afternoon rain came pelting in – but then had a 15 minute break (most conveniently) to allow us to walk into town to the river boat he had arranged for us. The rain came again – even more robustly – for about the next 20minutes then stopped for the evening allowing us to enjoy a cruise up the river (hilariously clearing the bridges by mere inches – even more hilarious was the fact we were sitting on the roof of the boat at the time and anyone who wasn’t sitting on the floor would have been swiped off the boat!). Costing he princely sum of $5 – which included 2 cans of beer – the “point” of the trip was to see the sunset (the weather precluded that pretty much) and then see the fire flies. The latter we did see – a single tree’s worth but they were definitely fire flies. We were able to arrange food as well as beer and I enjoyed a green mango and prawn salad while Deb had some fried rice. Once the cruise was finished we walked up to the Night Market where I had a Nutella and banana crispy crepe thing and then we found a supermarket where Deb was able to get an salted caramel magnum. Then it was back to the hotel for bed.
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  • Day9

    Rush hour traffic to rice paddies

    July 9, 2019 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    We were heading out from the hotel at about 0845 thus morning.. a slightly diminished group. 8 participants where finishing in Phnom Penh.. however we have been joined by 3 new ones so it was a party of 9 setting out into the morning rush hour. It was a bit crazy at times dodging and weaving amongst the bikes, motor bikes, cars and trucks. Mostly the riding was pretty easy being down main roads out of the city and so we didn't really take a break until the 27km mark when we turned off on a side road and enjoyed water and fruit at a small shop.
    Suitably refreshed and rested we continued on what was developing into a warm and windy day. We travelled on through villages .. the roads were quite variable.. sometimes smooth, other times quite rough with big rocks, occasionally muddy and once in a while sealed (bliss.. my butt was feeling it!). The next rest break was at 38km at another stall, where we had more fruit and drinks. Shortly after we stopped again to visit a family who weave silk. As we pulled up one of the new participants took a tumble .. coming down hard on knee and hip.. bruised and grazed.. and cross.. but fortunately nothing more serious.
    The process of silk weaving is intensely time consuming.. a sarong takes for than 10 days to weave working 5-6hrs a day. The family had some scarves to sell asking only $5 each for them. They would have been lucky to have received $2 for them and the they are sold on for $30 in the shops.
    We carried on riding through villages and rice paddies at one stage even taking single track paths through the rice paddies themselves. A brief water break the and it was off down some narrow tracks along a river and passing more fields and paddies.. it was a little hairy at times with potholes and ruts but we eventually emerged from the at my a ruined temple.. still used as evidenced by the offerings but essentially untended. We had a wander about for a bit before tackling the final few kms to lunch and the end of a 63km day.
    Lunch was cooked fresh at a "truck stop" type restaurant.. I very much enjoyed my stir fried veggies with an egg.
    After lunch we climbed the 420+ steps to visit Prasat Phnom Chisor which is an ancient Khmer temple, sometimes referred to just Phnom Chisor) located on top of the hill. The temple was built in the 11th century of laterite and bricks with carved sandstone lintels by the Khmer Empire king Suryavarman I, who practiced Brahmanism. It was dedicated to the Hindu divinities Shiva and Vishnu. On the east edge of the mountain, at the back of the temple, there you can see a vast plain of surrounding rice fields and countryside, looking down to the east could see an avenue that forms a straight line connecting to Sen Thmol Temple, the now heavily grown ruin we had visited earlier.
    We made our way back down the steps and then it was on to our bus for the tribe to Kampot.
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  • Day8

    Exploring Phnom Penh

    July 8, 2019 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    No riding today so we were able to have a relative sleep in… up at about 0645 for some yoga and then down to breakfast – not particularly elaborate but certainly adequate. At about 0800 we headed to Friends International where we had a detailed presentation about the work they do supporting children and their families. They work holistically with at risk children, putting in place strategies to keep kids at school or in vocational training … the spectrum of their work may include health care for children and their families as well as employment support for parents or care givers so that they don’t need to pull their kids from school. We then took part in an “amazing race” scenario via 4 tuk-tuks around the city and with the focus of the work of Friends. I really wasn’t my thing as it was hot, the traffic was insane and I was starting to feel sick by about half way through. We were finally done and returned to the Friends “complex” where they have a café, ethical store and training facilities.
    After briefly browsing the shop Jo, Mike, Deb and I headed off to the central market where we sampled some Bang Chow (which are just like the Vietnamese Banh Xeo) and doughnuts. The market was massive and rather overwhelming so once we had eaten we headed back to the hotel via a supermarket (unsuccessful quest for Sam’s beer and cigarettes).
    At 2pm it was time to head out again, this time it was to visit S21 which is the genocide museum in Phnom Penh, chronicling the Cambodian genocide. The site is a former secondary school which was used as Security Prison by the Khmer Rouge regime from its rise to power in 1975 to its fall in 1979. From 1976 to 1979, an estimated 20,000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng (the real number is unknown). Tuol Sleng was just one of at least 150 torture and execution centres established by the Khmer Rouge, though other sources put the figure at 196 prison centres. At any one time, the prison held between 1,000–1,500 prisoners. They were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured and killed. In the early months of S-21's existence, most of the victims were from the previous Lon Nol regime and included soldiers, government officials, as well as academics, doctors, teachers, students, factory workers, monks, engineers, etc. Later, the party leadership's paranoia turned on its own ranks and purges throughout the country saw thousands of party activists and their families brought to Tuol Sleng and murdered. Those arrested included some of the highest ranking communist politicians. Although the official reason for their arrest was "espionage", these men may have been viewed by Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot as potential leaders of a coup against him. Prisoners' families were sometimes brought en masse to be interrogated and later executed at the Choeung Ek extermination center. In 1979, the prison was uncovered by the invading Vietnamese army. In 1979/80, the prison was reopened by the government of the People's Republic of Kampuchea as a historical museum memorializing the actions of the Khmer Rouge regime. It really was rather confronting.
    After a couple of hours there (the audio guide was very informative) and the conclusion of the afternoon’s rain storm Deb and I headed back towards the river, passing the independence monument, a couple of temples and the royal palace. We ended up at “5 Drunk Men” Skybar. This was a funny place which was accessed via a secret door behind a giant been can. Up to the 3rd floor we sat and enjoyed some beverages while overlooking the river and watching Phnom Penh go by.
    We were so relaxed that we had to walk VERY briskly back to the hotel to be ready for the 7pm departure to the Khmer BBQ restaurant. This involved the food being cooked on a propane grill at the table … they did seafood and fish for us which was very nice. After tea Deb and I found the local ice cream shop (accessed via a chemist obviously!!) and enjoyed some Durian and Coconut and Durian and Mint Chip ice ream as we walked back to the hotel to pack for our 0700hr departure on a 65km ride.
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  • Day7

    69km, rain & tarantulas for tea

    July 7, 2019 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    It was a bit confusing waking up this morning and a couple of the team noted that they weren’t sure what city they were in as we really didn’t spend much time in either Battambang and Pursat and the hotels were both much alike, large, generic and noisy – although the pool and the breakfast were better at the latter one. An omelette with chilli tofu, tapioca pumpkin porridge and a pastry with water melon Jam and of course good strong coffee was a perfect start to the day.
    We were in the bus just after 7 for the approx. 3 hour drive to the starting point. Buntrey, who is from Phnom Penn, told us a little about the city which will be our home for the next 2 nights (Hotel Mito here we come) and which has a population of 3 million. It is becoming a modern city with skyscrapers (Chinese and Vietnamese money) and is seen as being very exciting to the young people
    Buntrey, who grew up in a rural background, also told us about growing rice. Before the wet season starts the chaff from the previous crop is burned and the field is manured, then when the rains come the soil is broken up. The paddies are pumped dry and the seed sown. After about 6 weeks the field is flooded for 2 days then the rice is thinned and the seedlings are transplanted into a semi-flooded paddy (approx. 30 cm apart). The crops are watched for pests (snails and rice crabs), spray is avoided where possible as it is believed to be not good for health. Short term rice takes 3 months, medium term rice takes 5 months and then long-term rices takes more than 6 months, the sort term rice is mostly for wine and the other 2 are eaten. The harvested rice is then dried and generally half is sold and half is kept for the year’s food. Jasmine rice is the favourite variety as sells for about $1 a kilo.
    We had a coffee and “happy room” break along the way and then finally met up with Hoem, Brett and the bikes at a little before 1100hrs. Quickly organised we set off on what was a very sunny, humid day of about 32-35degrees. We were traveling on fine gravel roads and were soon riding along the bank of a large river, passing through a number of villages – it was interesting in that some were relatively clean and well maintained and the roads weren’t bad, others seemed messy, rubbish filled with scruffy looking houses and the roads were generally quite rutted at this point. We rode for just over an hour (say about 17km) before we met up with the van again and enjoyed jack fruit, bananas and some nice cold water by the river bank. A local shop provided a “happy room” for the ladies but the blokes had to use the bushes as there were snakes around apparently.
    We continued on following the river and intermittently enjoying sections of lovely smooth concrete road… at about the 27km mark we arrived at a kind of “truck stop” café cross between a mini-mart and car repairer where were served a basic rice and curry type number with the option of a fried egg on top….and could also access various drinks and a toilet. At about 1315hrs we headed back out. From here the track was a bit rough, mostly unsealed and at times marred by mud and pot holes, other times unsealed but with numerous fist sized rocks which shook the bum and rattled the wrists .. we also had to take our bikes through the middle of a wedding reception which was in the process of being set up across the road in a marquee… apparently blocking the road so as to hold weddings, religious ceremonies or death rites (celebrated at days7, 30 and 100) is quite common.
    Finally we hit the sealed road and continues on to some random street corner where Hoem met us with the van and water and we were able to sample fried banana and sugar care juice from the vendor also located nearby. By this point we were at the 50km mark and had another approx. 20km to go … refuelled it was back on the bikes and off down some back roads heading into the city – the first 8 or 9kms was gravel and via some villages but after that we were heading into the city and were riding some pretty major roads for the final 15km into the centre of Phnom Penh, it also started to get quite windy with intermittent rain but it was a tailwind and that combined with the smooth concrete surface meant we were able to complete the 15km leg at a pretty fast clip ending up at the ferry port in short order.
    The crossing of the Mekong took less than 15 minutes and we were soon off loaded. However this seemed to be the signal for a storm to enliven our afternoon. It wasn’t cold, but the term “monsoon downpour” seems inadequate to describe the volumes of water that was cascading down out of the sky onto us as we rode the final 4km to the hotel.
    Soggy is an understatement .. but suffice to say we were pretty damn wet when we finally arrived at Mito Hotel in Phnom Penh is so much of an understatement … water was pouring out of my shoes with every step and basically the term “drowned rats” could have been applied to any of us with accuracy. We checked in and headed up to our room to organise, shower, change and unpack before heading back down to the bar (which incidentally can’t cope with a request for cocktails or even a glass for the beer you have just bought). We chatted and had a drink while waiting for the whole team to arrive… including a couple of newbies who are doing the Phnom Penh to Siagon leg.
    At about 1900hrs we headed off the Romdang Restaurant another NGO training venue … Romdeng celebrates the good things in life – family, food and tradition. Plating up truly traditional recipes to creative Cambodian cuisine, the restaurant is located not far from the hotel in a beautiful colonial building surrounded by a lush garden and swimming pool,
    We had SO much delicious food… OMG!! The evening stared with a chance to handle live Tarantuala… sadly however they were then taken away and deep fried and returned with chilli sauce for dipping (eww … I couldn’t come at that) and then it was crickets and frogs legs fried as a crispy “beer” snake. Then various salads, stir frys and curry’s including an amazing tofu Amok… mmmm so so full
    Deciding we needed to kick on for a bit we to a tuk tuk to the Foreign Correspondants club for discount cocktails “happy hour” and chatted on the rooftop bar over looking the river for a while before Deb and I took the 1.4km (as per google maps) walk back to the hotel… we’re not riding tomorrow so it will be a tad more relaxed……!
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  • Day6

    A ride to a temple and then on to Pursat

    July 6, 2019 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    Not the most fantastic hotel with thin walls and a shower that flooded the bathroom every time it was used …. However that being said the bed was soft and the balcony provided a place to dry the washing. Breakfast was a self serve affair with a selection of hot foods, fruit and Cambodian cakes including a nice sticky rice with banana and some toffee doughnuts.
    Battambang (pronounced “Bong”) is a French colonial city and some people say it is the second largest city in Cambodia. Bang means rice and this region of Cambodia grows the most and the best rice in the country, as a consequence there was the highest “killing field” death rate as many city dwellers were worked to death in the rice paddies during the civil war because the Khmer Rouge wanted to grow lots of rice which was then sent to China in exchange for guns rather than feeding the people. We set off on the bikes for the 25km ride to the Banan Temple. On the way we crossed an interesting suspension bridge and then stopped for a rest and learned (as we could hear the music for a wedding) all about Cambodian dowries, and the cost of weddings (from $4,000 upwards with an upper class wedding up to $80,000 as they like to party. Weddings are an expectation, with eloping not acceptable to the community) as well as the fact that around 50% of marriages are arranged. The groom to be lives with the inlaws for two years but cannot so much as hold the girls hand. We rode on for a while before stopping at a road side stall where the ladies were making baked rice. The rice is mixed with coconut and red beans and then packed into bamboo, the ends of which are plugged with coconut husks and the result baked on a slow fire for about 3 hours, the bamboo is a natural preservative and the result lasts about 3 days – it was sweet, tasty and filling!
    About another 7 kms saw us at the temple, Phnom Banan was an Angkor era temple built around the end of the 11th Century. It has 5 towers (the central one with a men’s shrine) and is built at the top of a 400m mountain being reached by over 350 steep steps. Buntrey promised the first person to the top a beer… but has so far failed to deliver! The view from the top was somewhat restricted by trees but one could catch glimpses (maybe of Thailand mountains only 100 km away) and the breeze was lovely. Buntrey explained the process of how one gives a donation to the monks at the shrine and then has their fortune read by praying with some cards in one’s hands and then placing them over your head and poking them with a stick… Deb had a go at it and the outcome was that people were talking about her with jealousy and envy because of her job …. but because there was no monk involved it may not have actually been true. We also talked about the civil war, Phol Pot and the fear that freedom of speech is being eroded in Cambodia with recent media closures and an emerging fear of public criticism of the government.
    We walked back down to the bikes and then headed off back to the city with a stop on the way to view the fruit bats. We were riding at rather a fast clip (approx. 23-25km/hr) and I was starting to get sore, fortunately is was not alone in feeling the speed and the last section back to the hotel was done at a more modest and comfortable 18-20km/hr. Overall the roads were mostly sealed and the terrain pretty flat so it was a quick and easy ride even on the relatively heavy bikes.
    Back at the hotel for a shower and pack and down in the foyer by 1300hrs. We were then taken into the city centre for lunch – 12 of us got hustled into Soh’s favourite local where we enjoyed various noodle and stir fry dishes (I had morning glory with seafood, steamed rice and a soda for $4 USD) while Deb and Laura ended up on the upstairs balcony of the “White Rose” next door which was very nice too. Post lunch Soh took us to his favourite ice cream shop where a small cone with Belgian Chocolate ice cream was a $1 and a lovely end to the meal. Then it was back on the bus for the drive to Pursat.
    Just before the city we stopped to visit another NGO. Sustainable Cambodia works with families of rural villages to help them achieve sustainability and self-sufficiency through education of children and families and the provision of clean water via a program of water tanks and water filtration units at affordable prices … we were shown around including the library and the works were they make the water tanks and a demonstration of the water filters. They also run “girls days” were girls are taught all about menstruation and periods and provided with a reusable menstrual kit – I was impressed by the practical level at which they work.
    Then it was on to the hotel where we quickly took our stuff to the room before heading down to the pool for s very quick swim in the lovely warm and large pool. The back upstairs … super quick change and down to the foyer to meet with Jo to go for dinner. Buntrey had recommended a bar on the river (101 Restaurant and Bar) as having good Khmer food. It was certainly an interesting cultural experience. The menu was in English (well kind of) and very few of the staff had any English either (phone and “google translate” appeared at any request and mime was in abundance). Drinks were a struggle unless you wanted a large esky of beer and there was lots of mime going on with regard to the meals (clearly we would have done a lot better with one of the guides with us to translate). Interestingly the meals came out one at time with poor Jo having to wait until last. The also gave us each a dish of condiments with each plate that came out. I finally realised that the Cambodian culture is that all food is shared but individual condiments is clearly the go to allow for “double dipping”. Oh well it didn’t matter, we had a great evening and the food was pretty good too and at $18 for the 3 of us who can complain.
    Back to the hotel for a pre-mixed Mai Tai and a massage for Deb… and now I am thinking it must be bed time as we have a long (75km) day tomorrow… I had a chat with Brett re the kids fanging it and pushing the pace so hard and I think he has the matter in hand … fingers crossed.. it’s about enjoying the journey too!
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  • Day5

    A long day on a boat....

    July 5, 2019 in Cambodia ⋅ ☁️ 25 °C

    After a restless night it was up at about 0600hrs to get packed and ready to depart. Breakfasted … we were ready to go by about 0715hrs on a sunny and humid morning. We headed out of Siem Reap on some fairly busy roads to start with, sometimes sealed and sometimes not, intermittent roadworks and mud added to the challenges. We soon found ourselves travelling through the jungle and past small villages, at time quite boggy and muddy. After a while however the area opened out to rice fields being grazed by water buffalo.
    At about the 20km mark we had a toilet and water break before heading down the river for a few km. The track was relatively good at this point although muddy at times.
    I forgot to mention yesterday that when the sun came out in the late morning there must have been a mass butterfly hatching as we seemed to be riding through clouds of bright yellow, blue and black and white ones much of the day (until it rained). Today however it was dragonflies in abundance.
    After a few more km’s along the river we got to a village where although the road was no longer passable for the bus, the river wasn’t high enough yet for boats. We therefore had to get our stuff from the bus and rode the final few kms to the village where the small boats were located. The track was really quite rough and a bit slippery so care was needed and it was a bit of a slog (and we were quickly quite mud splattered).
    At the village we were allocated 4 boats, one exclusively for bikes and the other 3 for people AND bikes – a max of 6 – 7 people per boat. In these we traveled initially down canals and then down a larger river. We passed other crafts with locals coming back to their villages with produce or fish as well a couple of small settlements with fish traps and crocodile pens.
    The village with the big boat was much larger and had many floating homes built on bamboo rafts which can cope with the wet season floods where the water can ride by 5-6 metres. We were not going to Lake Tonal Sap (the largest lake in SE Asia as the water was still to low… apparently the water flows out of the lake in the dry season and into the Mekong, but interestingly the flow reverses in the wet season and the Mekong backflows and fills the lake. At the big boat village we had a chance to visit a small NGO shop, view some crocodiles in a pen and purchase a DELICIOUS iced coffee – then it was all onto a “big boat” .. which was quite literally just big enough for us all.. with the bikes on the roof .. for a long trip down the rivers towards Battambang. The river was fairly wide with thick beds of water hyacinth on each bank. The stems and flowers can be eaten and they are also used for weaving (as in the baskets at the NGO) … it was a bit of a long trip and there was time to read, snooze and have a bit of lunch….. and then…. and then… the wheels fell off and I no longer like water hyacinth which I see as the beginning of “the end” or should I say the start of the not so enjoyable bit of the day…
    We had been travelling for maybe an hour and a half when to a bit of a grotty village, it kind of smelled a bit off, stagnant and the water was dirty and there was lots of floating rubbish .. the reason for this soon became clear as the water really wasn’t flowing well due to the channel being totally blocked by the vigorous water plant. The “plucky captain” decided to try to ram his way through “a la icebreaker” and is the best tradition of the polar exploration wasn’t so much frozen as completely stuck in a thick tangled mass of floating vegetation. The stuff is so thick that even though the water was 2 metres deep the crew and 2 of the guides sank only up to their waists as they tried to free us from the tangle – nasty green snakes notwithstanding. I am not sure how long we were stuck there but there was lots of backwards and forwards ramming (as in the classic icebreaker move) and poking with long poles. The engine had the guts revved out of if so much so that the radiator cap shot off and water was splashing over the deck… finally however we were free and on our way. By this time however the sunshine had changed to icy winds and thumping down rain. We had a clear dilemma. The path was clearly going to be impassable to the van but equally difficult for bike riding as the mud was reported at being at least a foot deep in places. However despite the wet the river level was sufficiently low as to make the passage of the boat tricky. AND added to this Brett (the Aussie tour leader) clearly has the flu complete with chills and rigors and wasn’t really in a fit state. Soh took change brilliantly … we traveled onto the usual drop point where noodles and Oreos were accessed for those who needed them and then we continued on upstream albeit slowly and with one sandbar type incident.
    It really was a very long day on the boat and we were all very relieved when we met up with Hoem by the river bank. By then it was well after 6 and rapidly getting dark and with 22km still to go into Battambang and a 8pm dinner reservation we were into the van and back to the hotel. Quick shower and then off to Jaan Bai restaurant for the most delicious dinner. Another social enterprise venue, the name Jaan Bai, means “rice bowl” in Khmer. The restaurant is an initiative of CCT and the Feel Good Coffee Group. It provides skills development and employment for Cambodian youth, with a share of profits going towards CCT’s child protection and community development work. The food was superb.. although it did seem a little rushed .
    The back to the hotel as we have to be at breakfast by 0630hrs for a 0700 departure ……
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