Cycling Cambodia and Thailand Day 225 to 231

Day 225
Kaoh Kar to Sra Aem.
60 miles

We stayed in a room with only a fan to cool us down which meant it was a very hot sticky night. To combat this I had several beers and went to sleep early in the hope I would maximise the amount of sleep I could get. Gary chose to read until his eyes would not stay awake. Guess what we both woke at the same time only I felt refreshed whilst Gary had spent a restless night, too hot and still struggling with his iffy tummy. So rather unusually I woke bright and breezy whilst Gary struggled to get going.

We had breakfast in a local road side cafe, rice, omelette and some meat (which I didn’t eat) for the extortionate amount of £1.50.

It was an easy day on the bikes, the roads were in good condition and had some small bumps to break the monotony. The scenery was very green with lots of crops and waist high grass crops. I kept looking out for some wild life but other than two stoats crossing the road I didn’t see anything of interest.

The area over the passed two days has become much poorer, the houses resemble the houses in the North East as we came into Cambodia and we’ve lots of people including children walking around barefooted even though some of the roads are unpaved. There are small shops selling virtually nothing a handful of vegetables, some packet foods and drinks, it is hard to imagine how they make a living out of so little stock. Many of the households we passed were laying their crops out to dry by the side of the road, it looked very cloudy and we hoped for their sake that it didn’t rain.

We were passed in both directions by the long tractor vehicles that are used in abundance to transport people and goods. Every time they passed people would shout hello, wave and give us big beautiful smiles, Cambodians are lovely. We couldn’t hep reflect over dinner how different things are here, the Cambodians have every reason to distrust and dislike white people we could be American or any other nationality and yet they accept us and welcome us.

Gary was clearly still suffering from his tummy bug, he was left sweaty just eating breakfast but he persevered through the day.

We stopped at the 40 mile mark as we hadn’t seen anywhere to stop for lunch or drinks for at least 15 miles. Fortunately we still had some noodle packets left and tea and coffee. We found a well trodden clearing off the main road and made a little camp. Although not ideal the tea and noodles kept our energy levels up until the next stop which was a further 5 miles down the road.
Gary; we had to choose a trodden route as there is still a high possibility of undiscovered mines we are in the Khmer Rouge’s last strong hold area.

When we arrived at our destination we had several guest houses to choose from but having inspected 3 we returned to the first now as it looked cleaner than the others, had free wii and offered 24 hour air conditioning. The electricity supply in this part of Cambodia is intermittent and with out a back up generator it is possible to be without electricity for several hours, after a couple of uncomfortable nights we needed a cool room to get some rest.

We had dinner in a local restaurant fried rice again and a couple of beers for the grand sum of £2.00. Whilst we were eating dinner a large stag beetle flew down by Gary, under the table and landed behind me on the floor. Gary bravely took a photo of it (Gary, it wasn’t brave it’s the opposite of being girly scared of a bug) which gave a Chinese customer courage to get up and take a photo. One of the staff members a teenage girl was bemused by our attitude and came along picked up the beetle (which was huge) and squeezed him into a water bottle for one of the younger children to torture or eat??

Also of interest whilst eating our dinners we saw a woman openly breastfeeding her baby in a hammock, another walking around heavily pregnant in her nightdress and children looking after siblings, we could easily have been sitting in someone’s house having dinner.

Gary struggled to eat his dinner as he still wasn’t feeling 100% so I helped him out a little. Gary; She was supposed to write that as I was only half way through my meal and not enjoying it, she nicked the plate off me and swallowed it in one; oh how this lady has changed.

Day 226
stayed local and visited Preah Vihear Temple. 28 mile round trip

I had a troubled nights sleep whereas Gary slept like a baby, he woke feeling a lot better but not quite 100% whereas I felt a little weary.

We had breakfast locally, more fried rice but at only £1.60 for both of us we shouldn’t complain.

After spending a little time in the room (we wanted to book an extra night but couldn’t find anyone who spoke english in the end we left a note at reception) we cycled out to Preach Vihear temple. It was a hot day so although the road was flat and we only had 14 miles to do each way it was not very pleasant. We stopped just before the temple for a drink and was greeted by a girl who was about 7 years old. She had lost her top teeth and growing in their place were black teeth, poor child.

Once at the temple we were surprised to find that the fee had increased from $5 to $10 each along with a further $5 each for the motorbike ride to the top of the mountain. We paid the fee reluctantly and jumped on the back of the motorcycles. The first part of the road was a little bit steep but the road was paved and we both were beginning to regret paying for the ride up the mountain as we could have easily cycled it, but approx half way up the bikes turned off the nice surfaced road onto an off road section which was quickly followed by some very steep (almost vertical) climbs. Both drivers had stopped at the bottom of the mountain to take on additional water and it as the bikes struggled to climb the steep inclines it was clear to see why they needed it.

At the top we had a little walk to do before reaching the lower temples, there were 5 in total each slightly higher than the other, the whole site occupies 4.6 square km and straddles the border between Cambodia and Thailand. Given the fact the temples dated back to the 9th century their was quite a lot to see and the views were spectacular. It felt really tranquil and peaceful even though there were a number of armed soldiers guarding the temple. Thailand and Cambodia have fought over this site for years and even though the UN declared it belonged to Cambodia this has not stopped the skirmishes and a battles as recently as 2012 took place where at least three soldiers lost their lives.

At the top temple we got to watch some monkeys enjoying a splash around in a pool this was brilliant some of them climbed high to jump into the water it was hilarious to watch. Gary filmed it so hopefully we will be able to upload the video for you to watch.

On the way back down the mountain I saw a woman with her new born baby and I could not help wondering whether she’d given birth up the mountain. This prompted me to look up and compare the maternal mortality rate (deaths / 100,000 live births) between Cambodia and the UK and I was not surprised to find in 2014 in Cambodia the rate was 250 compared to 12 in the UK. So I went on to check the infant mortality rate deaths/1,000 live births (this counts the number of deaths in children under the age of 1 years of age) and again the figures are pretty telling in Cambodia the rate was 55 compared to 4 in the UK. Interestingly following the release of recent figures the UK has been criticised for having the 4th highest infant mortality rate in Western Countries.

Once back down the mountain I had more rice for lunch whilst Gary had noodle soup (I’m a bit wary of this dish as it is often served in a strong meat broth). A little boy took a liking to me so to amuse him I made him a paper aeroplane which he loved.

The ride back into town seemed a lot quicker probably because we knew a cold beer was waiting for us. As we approached the town the smell of rubbish was over powering and we weren’t surprised to see a rat run past us as we enjoyed our ice cold beer in a local cafe.

We spent the afternoon in the room, I tried to find a way to watch videos on the apple mac and downloaded the Thai currency and phrases we will need for Thailand whilst Gary had a little snooze.

In the evening we had dinner locally neither of us were that hungry which was just as well as Gary ate a bit of pineapple and some rice and I had a plate of rice. We had ordered a fish dish but it smelt very meaty and the pineapple had liver on it yucca. So for the passed two days I’ve had rice for 5 out of the 6 meals we’ve eaten and a pot noodle for the other meal, just as well they serve cheap beer and biscuits otherwise I might just fade away. Gary’s appetite has still not returned from his tummy bug but hopefully he’ll feel a lot better tomorrow.

After dinner we went in search of something sweet to eat and a new notebook for Gary, we managed to find a book with graph paper but no biscuits or sweets, fortunately when we returned to the room I remembered I had some mint toffee sweets in my top box.
Day 227
Sra Aem to Anlong Veng (Pol Pots last hideout)
52 miles

We had a leisurely start to the day and after checking out several restaurant/cafes ended up with noodles (I had to pick the beef out of mine) it was an expensive breakfast at £3.50 but at least it wasn’t rice.

On our way back to the hotel we saw about 10-15 western cyclists we stopped to say hello and it turned out they were from Sweden and Norway, one lady had lived in the UK for several years. They looked like they were on hired bikes and did not look like they would be travelling far.

We also bought a cap for me as i have broken my helmet, it is bright pink so I will be seen but I’m not sure it will offer much protection if I fall off my bike.

It was another hot flat day, with a few bumps, I wore a new pair of cycle shorts (Gary had bought them in Bali) but it was a mistake, I had far too much padding in the crutch area and got over heated and very sore.

Not long out of town and a girl passed us on her motorbike she stopped just ahead of us to throw a bag of rubbish into the ditch. I wanted to shout ‘who’s going to pick that up? or run after her and show her what the ditch would look like in 5 years time. We discussed this over dinner and Gary reminded me that we are not that different up until fairly recently all of our rubbish was collected and buried in landfill sites (a big percentage is still buried in landfill sites). I’m not sure our approach of out of sight out of mind is that much better, it was a refreshing conversation and reminded me not to be so sanctimonious as we all could all do more to reduce the amount of waste we produce.

We stopped for lunch at the 30 mile mark, nothing special rice, smoked fish, an offal dish and some raw veg, it came to approx £3.

We were both really thirsty today and stopped every 10 miles to take on fluids. At our first stop a baby cried the minute she saw me walk into the restaurant, her mum had to comfort her, which settled her until she looked up and saw my face at which point she’d start crying again. We must look very strange to some of the children we see in the rural villages.

We arrived at the hotel at 3.00pm which was pretty good going as we didn’t leave until 10.00 and we’d stopped lots. Gary was pushing the speed a bit as he said the extra pressure alleviated the pain he’s started to get in his knee, I hung on to his tail and went with the flow anything to stop riding early and change my pants lol.

Not long after showering Gary wanted to go and see the fair we had passed on our way into town, I wasn’t fussed so sent him out to explore. He’d not been gone 1/2 hour and he pounded up the stairs and ran into the room declaring the locals were having dragon boat races. Not to miss out I followed him down the stairs jumped on my bike and raced back to the site so that we could watch the final races of the day. The boats were a lot narrower than our dragon boats and the men (no ladies) were paddling with long thin sticks much smaller blades than the ones used in the UK. The back 4 or 6 stood up during race. It was a knock out competition with only two boats in each heat, we were sat near the finish line and it was interesting to watch the winning team cheering and waving their paddles in the air long before the line whilst the losing team stopped paddling. I got talking to a teenage girl who wanted to practice her english but it was very noisy, she informed me the competition was for 3 days but could not tell me if women would be racing. It was a fun event to watch as the sun went down.

Gary From the eye dotting ceremony to the final race the men stayed in the boats, when each race was done both teams went back to the start line to wait for the next heat. From a spectator point of view this is a good way to enjoy the racing, in the UK this event would take all day and the crews would leave the boats for warm up and warm downs and rest and even all stop for a dinner break.

After the final race we went in search of food and ended up in a very posh restaurant (by South East Asia Standards) with our own cubicle and waitress, although we only had fried rice with egg and a couple of beers the bill came to £8.00 which is much higher than we would have paid at the cafe across the road.
Day 228
Anlong Veng to Sangkhan in Thailand
42 miles

Slept really well, I was in bed and asleep by 8.30pm
Gary; I read for a while but with earplugs in a drum and base party was going on close by, Ginette slept through the noise.

Woke early at 6.00am feeling very refreshed, we had breakfast in a lovely modern cafe, I had rice and an omelette whilst Gary had an omelette with a baguette. Both were really good, non greasy meals but again a little on the expensive side for Cambodia.

The morning ride was at a leisurely pace as Gary had tummy cramps and we were in no rush as we only had 42 miles to do.
Gary; the 37 degrees temperature makes it hard work when your not feeling 100%.

We stopped at Ta Mok’s house, he was known as the butcher and committed many atrocities during the Kyhmer Rouge period we didn’t enter as there was a charge. It was a stark reminder that the village we were in was one of the last strongholds for the Khymer Rouge. As we looked at people our age and older as we were cycling along it was hard not to think about their experiences during Pol Pots time in power. We later stopped to take a photo of where Pol Pot had been cremated ironically his final resting place is opposite a large casino and posh hotel.
Gary; this area is still heavily land mined, on the road to Pol Pots house they found 200 mines (A factoid from the internet so not sure how true this statement is) I had hoped in a dark sort of way to see some sign posts but as this road looks fairly new I suspect all the local area has been cleared.

The people in this region of Cambodia are a lot more reserved than in other areas we had passed through. Children look at us but are not so forthcoming with their smiles or hellos, this may be because of the tragic history of the area.

As we started the climb up to the border we stopped to take some pictures of the muddy track and we noticed a man walking down the hill dressed as a soldier holding a crutch. As he reached the bottom I stopped him to give him my Cambodian money it was only 75p but he was very grateful and tried to talk to us but he had no tongue and no English so it was difficult to understand what he was saying but he seemed grateful for the money we had given him, unfortunately it was all we had left of our Cambodia money. We don’t know how he damaged his foot or lost his tongue but having read some of the acts committed by the Khymer Rouge we wouldn’t be surprised if they had not been deliberate acts of cruelty. Reading about the ISIS attacks in Paris just makes you wonder if mankind will ever learn…history keeps repeating itself again and again.

Although at the bottom of the hill it looked like it was going to be a steep climb it was not that bad, although steep in places in was a mile or two long. The most difficult part was trying to cycle it in the heat, we were drenched when we stopped for a drink just before the brow of the hill.

The border crossing was really straight forward and free (yes free!). We had our papers checked for departing Cambodia, completed the forms for entering Thailand and was granted a free 30 day visa. We had hoped to pay for a 60 day visa but this didn’t seem possible at this border crossing so we will have to apply for an extension in Bangkok or an alternative option is to cross over to Mynamer for a couple of weeks and then drop back into Thailand on another 30 day visa. The guards were really friendly and even joked with us about which side of the road we should be cycling. For information we are now cycling on the left side of the road, whereas we have been cycling on the left the last time we did that we were in Bali.
Thailand seems a lot greener than Cambodia we think this is because the trees are much taller. The roads were in good condition but very undulating. We stopped for a drink after one climb and the owner kindly let us pay in US dollars as we didn’t have any Thailand Baht.

Our next stop was in a small town where we were able to access an ATM which charged us the equivalent of £3.60 to withdraw our money this is in addition to the payment our bank will make for us using our card. Apparently this charge has been imposed on all ATM’s in Thailand and you cannot access your money over the counter.

After we’d got our money out we stopped at a Lotus Tesco (yes I used the word Tesco, they’re all over Thailand) for a much needed cold drink and some snacks. It was lovely walking into an air conditioned store which was set out in a familiar format it even had bins outside for us to place our rubbish. Is it sad that I’m looking forward to finding another one so that I can buy some salt and vinegar crisps instead of seaweed or masala flavoured crisps and some proper cake?

Gary; This set of shops also had a 7 to 11 store. The noticeable difference was that the buildings were all brick built with pavements and kerbs.

With only a further 12 miles to cycle we set off at a fair pace and arrived at our destination at 2.00pm. We cycled right through the town without seeing a hotel or guest house and had just turned around when a woman on a tractor started to talk to us in Thai. We couldn’t understand her but asked for a hotel, she seemed to understand and indicated for us to follow her. As she turned off the main high street I started to have some reservations, but I needn’t have worried she directed us to a lovely motel type hotel which we would never have found left to own devices as theres no obvious signage and at the front of the hotel is a beauty parlour.

The women we have seen so far in Thailand have all been dressed in Western clothes, no pyjamas in sight and the girls all seem to have their hair cut in a short or medium length bob, which I presume is the fashion and not the only hair cut on offer in Thailand.

The room was OK it had air conditioning, a fridge, private bathroom and free wifi, all for £9.50 but it turned out to be very noisy and very bright which are not a great combination for a good nights sleep.

We went out for dinner it was a little early for the food markets and a little late for at least one of the cafes that insisted on sending us to the cafe next door, we didn’t understand why we were being turned away until we walked passed later and they were closed. Communicating when you can’t speak the local lingo is vey frustrating. The only thing we could order from the menu and guarantee it was veggie was Pad Thai, unfortunately it was one of the worse Pad Thai’s I’ve ever had. After dinner we took a walk around the local food market and Gary treated himself to a corn on the cob, which if the sound effects were anything to go by he thoroughly enjoyed.

As we walked through the town and the market it was hard not to notice that the people in this area of Thailand are much bigger than in Cambodia. This may be reflected throughout Thailand as outside most pharmacies and supermarkets were strategically placed weighing scales.

Once back at the hotel I watched a couple of ‘birds of a feather’ series on U Tube, whilst Gary tried to read his book. He gave up trying in the ending as my giggling kept interrupting him. Gary got to choose the next clip and of all things chose Albert and Costello, although mildly funny it was not laugh out loud funny. Whereas Mildred and George did cause us to chuckle. I think Birds of a Feather are in the lead for the most laugh out loud moments. We only have U Tube but any recommendations as to your favourite comedy series?
Day 229
Sangkhan to Surin
38 miles

We had a really short cycle ride so we took our time getting ready in the morning. We even looked up several words in Thai so that we could practice during the course of the day. Much to our amusement males and females end their sentences differently, females end sentences with Ka whereas males end them with Krup (which is pronounced Krap).

We had fish and sticky rice for breakfast which was lovely, I wolfed mine down before Gary had even finished taking the meat of the fish.

The ride to Surin was easy especially as I thought we had 10 more miles to do than we actually did. Although we nearly had to call the whole adventure off after the first 10 miles as I couldn’t get my iPod to work, fortunately Gary came to my rescue with a cable clip, I don’t mind cycling for a few miles without any music or input but after that I get bored especially on flat roads. Although the ride was rather interesting, the houses in Thailand are solid structures and even have tiled roofs and gardens and there are actual roads with a hard shoulder which is just as well as there are lots of cars in Thailand especially when you compare it with the other South East Asian Countries we’ve cycled through.
Gary; For the amount of car traffic (and the lack of motorbikes) we could be on a B road in Europe, the constant horn blowing has also gone. the houses are better built and set back from the road and we are struggling to find roadside shacks to stop for drinks

We arrived in Surin in time for lunch so stopped at the Elephant Market and struggled to order a vegetation dish, fortunately I had downloaded an app to the laptop which enabled me to order vegetables and rice. We had realised aww days earlier whilst planning our trip in Thailand that our visit would coincide with an elephant festival in Surin. (The people of Surin are apparently renowned for their ability to catch and train elephants, both for domestic use and for in years gone passed for war). So we were really excited when we saw an elephant walking through the market whilst we were having our lunch. We didn’t know at the time that by the end of the day we would have seen lots of elephants walking through the market.

Once we’d eaten our dinners we went in search of our hotel and was pleasantly surprised to find someone who could speak english and the room was lovely, clean, big and modern, maybe a little too modern we were provided with 2 free condoms.

We quickly showered and headed back into town on our bikes (without the panniers), we had to stop a couple of times to avoid the rain, but we didn’t mind too much as this allowed us to share a beer.

We had been told that there would be an elephant reenactment the following day so we went in search of the start and the stadium where the battle would take place. Once satisfied we knew where to go we took a walk through the market, we still had our bikes with us and as we were walking though a man with an elephant approached us, as they do. The elephant had obviously been trained to search out food and to get peoples attention, the man asked for 20 baht (about 40p) and gave me a bag of sugar cane to feed the elephant. This happened really quickly and poor Gary was left trying desperately to get the camera to take a shot whilst I was left covered in mud and saliva. We needn’t have worried because about 15 minutes later Gary got accosted by two men who had elephants and I had the camera ready. Neither of us had fed elephants before so it was kind of sweet and the elephants looked relaxed, they seemed totally at ease with the whole process.

We had squid for dinner, Gary had purchased four baby squids on sticks but I had my eye on something much bigger. So whilst Gary ate his chewy offerings we went in search of some big calamari and found some at 60p each they were delicious. The lady cooked them in front of us, chopped them up and put them in a bag with some chilli sauce yum yum. Our lips were all tingly from the chilly and we fancied a beer but as the event was alcohol free we agreed to leave and get some cans to take back to the hotel from the local Lotus Tesco.

Gary; Today is has dawned on me that Ginette has been taken over by an alien life form (I am not sure what to call this new alien being so for now will still call her Ginette, referred to sometimes as “she” in this text), I did confront her earlier but she so far has denied this. I base my analysis on the following changes.
1, She now eats like a horse, as she says herself in this days diary she had wolfed down her breakfast while I was only just starting mine.
2. When she needs feeding, she needs feeding NOW.
3. She no longer eats any meat other than fish.
4. She will now eat a fish even if the head is on it and is still looking at her (Ginette would not have done this)
5. This version of Ginette enjoys hill climbing.
6. She needs input all the time, cycling she needs an I pod, in the rooms she cant be dragged away from the computer. (I will admit the original Ginette was like this as well but this one seems to have a greater input requirement)

Ginette

I personally think this is a double bluff, I should be asking what this strange curly haired man has done with Gary?

Day 230
rest day

We planned two days in Surin to see the elephant banquet and the elephant gathering so we had hoped to have a lovely lay in but unfortunately I was awake at 5.30 and made the mistake of waking the puppy.

We were up and dressed by 7.00 although the banquet was not scheduled until 8.30 we decided to make our way into town to find the elephants and ensure we had a good spot to watch the activities. I’m so glad we did as this gave us plenty of time to follow the elephants to the start of their procession and to follow them to the banquet.

I’m not a lover of animals being used to entertain humans but these elephants genuinely seemed happy, they didn’t appear to be agitated or uncomfortable with people around they just wanted to be fed which is not unusual elephants as they need feeding constantly. The mahouts had prods to control the elephants but these were rarely used most instruction seemed to come from the mahouts feet.

The carnival atmosphere at the start was great all the children from the local schools were there to see the procession, they were so excited. There were lots of people dressed in various costumes and of course lots of elephants apparently 250 in total.

At the banquet we initially positioned ourselves behind the fruit counters which had been set out in the street. This gave us a great view of the elephants approaching and eating the food, but it soon became apparent that we would get a better view from the road and that we were hampering the locals from nicking the half decent fruit and veg.

It was a fantastic morning and if you ever get the opportunity to visit Surin in November we would recommend you see the elephants. Although there were a few westerners there were not many and we didn’t see anyone from the UK mainly americans and germans.

We also did our bit for the locals by filling in a never ending stream of surveys on the town and taking part in videos where the locals practiced their english by telling you about the local area. One young girl was so excited she hugged me after I’d helped her, this is an unusual act for a Thai girl.

In the afternoon we went to the National Museum which was a short cycle ride our of town but was free and all the displays were in Thai and English. Back in town I went in search of some new (practical) clothes and Gary went in search for a sim for his phone. I managed to buy some three quarter length trousers, some more leggings (my old ones are falling apart) and a couple of tops. I would have loved some new dresses and skirts but I haven’t really got the room and we have a budget to think about although the clothes I did buy were really cheap.

In the evening we ventured out to a bar called the Farang Connection (Farang being the word for foreigner). On the internet we’d found a write up which claimed they sold several English ales and ciders but the only beer they sold was Fullers London Pride and lagers. We’d hoped to speak to some ex pats but we found ourselves surrounded by old men (who looked grumpy) and couples where the male was white and the female Thai looking. We only stayed for one and went back to the hotel.

Day 231

I woke several times in the night, perhaps the lack of exercise the previous day or the excitement of the elephants who knows. To top having a restless night I was awake at 6.00am whilst curly locks slept through until 7.00am when I had to wake him.
Gary; Oh how the lady has changed, it used to be me waking her up, definitely been swapped by an alien life form.

Once dressed we went to the stadium to buy tickets for the elephant show, we had a choice of paying the equivalent of 80p to sit/stand on the grass at the side of the event, £6.00 for seats in the sun (no shade), £12 for seats in the shade but at one end or other of the event or £18 for central seats. We arrived quite late so rather than paying £6 for seats at the side and high up we chose the expensive seats, which were great we had front row seats but it was a little excessive because we could have easily had the same view from the £6 seats, but we didn’t know this until we entered the stadium. On a plus note we were informed the money went to protecting the elephants and I’m gullible to believe this. Before entering the stadium we went in search of breakfast and bumped into a Thai man on a cycle who taught english at a local school, he’d kindly stopped to see if he could help us and ended up ordering our meal for us.

The show was OK but not as good as the banquet the previous day. We really enjoyed the battle reenactment but some of the circus type acts seemed unnecessary. One baby elephant freaked out at a large popper going off and his Mahout gave him a big smack on the head, which we didn’t like watching. Morally it was harder to watch than the banquet, it was no different to a Zoo or circus in the UK or watching dogs or horses but some of the acts left us feeling uncomfortable.

Gary;We did debate this a little, the use of the elephants in this show didn’t seem cruel and the show is only on over 2 days and only twice a year. We compare this to the UK’s obsession with horses, these are trained to do equestrian, jumping and racing, the horses I am sure are well looked after as I am pretty sure are the elephants. Ginette pointed out that elephants are a wild animal but are horses not a wild animal too?

After the show we went for a beer and sorted out a sim for the mobiles on our way back we stopped at Surin’s Ciy Pillar Shrine to take a look around and take some more photos. The afternoon was spent writing the blog and planning our next couple of days in Thailand.