Kratie – sight seeing
We had breakfast at a local cafe, I had seen Heinz baked beans advertised on the menu the previous day and was keen to have something different to omelettes, rice or noodles. They were OK but I think you need to be in the UK to really enjoy beans on toast, that way you can add mature cheddar, possibly marmite or brown sauce instead I had processed cheese and tinned mushrooms.
We booked a Tuk Tuk to take us to a small village to see the Irrawaddy Dolphins, the ride out was very bumpy, the roads outside of the main towns seem to be very poor, but the road users are really relaxed and simply use their horns to let each other know that they’re passing each other.
Once we arrived at the village we paid for a boat to take us out to the dolphins. The Mekong River was very quiet with very little traffic but that soon changed and within about 1/2 hour there were a further 4 boats on the water. It didn’t seem to affect the dolphins they seemed happy to swim close to the boat but unlike bottlenose dolphins they simply swim and turn in the water they don’t jump or make a lot of noise. It was really calming and beautiful to be out there with them, we both really enjoyed the experience.
Gary; A little disappointed by the Shawadawady Dolphins, they didn’t even sing three steps to heaven.
Before getting back in our Tuk Tuk we wandered around some of the stalls that were selling souvenir goods. The workmanship was amazing, there were lots and lots of wood statutes in all shapes and sizes. The majority incorporated the Irrawaddy Dolphin we were a little disappointed that because of the bikes all we could purchase was two dolphins for the Christmas Tree.
Once back in Kratie we made our way back to the room for a bit of a rest and to edit the photos. The dolphins had been a little elusive rising and then dipping back under again so it was difficult to get a good shot. I think I took in excess of 100 shots for 2 or 3 that we have kept.
In the afternoon we took our bikes over to an island opposite Kratie, to get across we had to take the bikes down some very steep steps and put them onto a small ferry. I say we I mean Gary I happily took a few pictures. More surprisingly some local lads took their motorbikes down the stairs unfortunately one of them caught his mudguard and a bit broke off but they seemed chilled about it and as we’re finding with Cambodians simply laughed it off.
The island had two contrasting sides to the right it had a lovely path used by motorbikes and bicycles with fruit trees either side. It even had a very posh restaurant with it’s only pool, we stopped here for lunch and spoke to a local lad who was practicing his English we cheekily got him to teach us some Cambodian. To the left of the ferry port was the poor side of the island, no path, bamboo had been laid down where the path was particularly bad and there were a couple of small cabins selling drinks. There was a floating village on the island but I think we must have been on the island at the wrong tide time as we did not see this. The island was much cleaner than other parts of Cambodia we’ve visited and felt like a tropical island.
In the evening we went out for dinner and was surprised to pass several open buildings in between shops and restaurants with hospital beds complete with patients. That probably explained why we had seen people walking around and riding bikes with IV drips still attached. We had a pizza as neither of us was hungry and we were aware that we probably wouldn’t get any western food for awhile it was OK but laid heavy on our tums, we’re not used to eating processed food.
We were keen to get back to the room as we had arranged a skye call with Tracy (Gary’s sister) who had gone to support Hayley in her marathon attempt. Phil, and Gary’s mum and Richard also travelled down to offer support. We didn’t have to wait long, Tracy kindly sent us some photo’s when Hayley finished the race and called so that we could speak to Hayley. We couldn’t get the picture element to work but the sound was great, she didn’t sound like she’d just run a marathon at all she was so chilled. We are so proud of her, even though she fell at the start she kept going and completed it within 4 hours 19 minutes so she was very happy.
We also got to have a quick talk with James and Ann who had kindly gone along to offer Hayley support. It is amazing how small the world seems when you have such a clear connection. Unfortunately James had some bad news for us, a friend of ours from the local pub had sadly died of a blood clot on his lung, he was only 47. It gave me a kick up the bum, life is so short we really do need to take it by the horns and enjoy every minute of it.
Monday 26th October
Kratie to Snoul
We had breakfast this morning in the hotel instead of walking up the road to the Western style restaurants. This meant a limited menu so we had veggie rice and egg.
The ride was supposed to be pretty flat but the map trace includes the 2000 feet climb we have coming up, so did not provide an accurate review of the day. The road was undulating and we climbed over 1250 feet so not quite flat. The road conditions were really good, the people were really friendly, we often find once we’re out of the main tourist towns that we become more of a novelty for the locals and they’re more interested in us. As in other towns the children were very excitable and ran to say hello. At one stop for drinks the local kids were poking their heads around the timber shacks, hoping to get a glance at us, at another they all ran off giggling when I got my camera.
An older gent was cycling the same way as us on a dilapiitated bike with a steel pot on the back, we played tortoise and hare for most of the afternoon. He would over take us as we stopped for drinks or a photo opportunity and we would overtake him once we were back on our bikes. Every time we passed him he gave us a toothy grin and shouted words in Cambodian we didn’t understand.
We stayed in a hotel which was quite posh and cost 20 dollars a night with breakfast – posh means fluffy towels, beds turned down, clean bathroom and toiletries we even had a kettle and air conditioning.
We had dinner in the attached restaurant nothing special but at least we didn’t have to walk far. We were slight bemused by the fact that several single girls were taking it in turns to cool down outside, they wore very western clothes (short skirts and shorts and low cut tops).
These girls were clearly prostitutes one even tried to join us when we were doing an internet search in the foyer (no internet in the room), although she could not speak English she made it quite clear that she was interested in the pair of us, she even stroked my leg! We made a quick exit as we didn’t want to offend.
Tuesday 27th Oct
We stocked up in the local supermarket before setting off for the day, we were fairly certain that we would be camping as there were no hotels listed on the maps.
we bought some treats for the children we see on route, the majority are really poor , they’re not in school, they’re dirty but very smiley. None of the children we see under the age of 3 wear underwear I can only imagine this is because they cannot afford nappies and have limited cleaning facilities.
Just outside Snoul we stopped to take some photos of a large monument of solders set in red mud grounds.
For most of the day we were cycling approx 10km from the south west border with Vietnam.
At our first morning break we stopped in a run down cafe, it was run by a lady who had 6 children, a bitch with 10 puppies, chicken and an elderly mother and we think we’ve got it hard.
we had read that many rural families still have very large families and this definitely seems to the case with the families we’ve seen. There also seems to be an expectation that the older ones will look after the younger ones. On more than one occasion we’ve seen girls as young as 7 or 8 carrying round a young sibling. It cost 150 riel a month to send a child to school (which is pence but with the added cost of uniforms, books and in some cases transport it is too much) so many do not attend
We Spotted several old style worksites today including a charcoal producer with 2 mud built small ovens, a blacksmith and in one town a little cottage industry where all the village seemed to be involved in chopping wood to make 12 inch sticks for sale.
The properties on route although still stick wood houses seem to be getting a bit more affluent, we spotted one with a solar panel and a satellite dish.
We cycled through Snoul wildlife sanctuary but it didn’t feel or look like a sanctuary it was simply a road that had been cleared and crops planted on either side.
We also cycled through a muslim community which was quite strange as through out Cambodia we have seen mainly Buddhist temples, but as we went through this village we heard the call for prayer.
Our one hope for finding accommodation was a place called O Am we cycled passed on run down guest house in the hope that there would be something better ahead, we were optimistic as the border crossing turning for Vietnam was ahead of us. But as we reached the end of the town we agreed that we would camp for the night.
Once we left O Am the terrain changed and became very hilly, we were surrounded by forests on either side and could hear and see monkeys flying from the trees. As the afternoon progressed it looked like there would be a thunder storm so we decided to camp in the first available spot. We had hoped to camp next to a village but there was nothing on the map and we didn’t want to risk getting wet. We found an area that had been cleared behind some bushes with loose stones on the ground which meant it was safe from any UXO’s (we have read that they are still a problem in this area).
as Gary put the tent up I took the bike to see if there was a village close by, although we had enough water we could have done with a bit more it would also have been nice to have a cold fizzy drink to end the day with. But I had no joy so returned to base camp empty handed.
Dinner was 2 noodles packs, tuna and vegetables bought from a market earlier in the day.
Ginette – Very spicy, I could only eat half of mine just as well we had some sweets and biscuits to nibble on
The night was really noisy, the wild life was not a problem, it was all the cars and bikes stopping in our lay by for a wee stop. At one point in the middle of the night a car pulled all the way into the clearing, he soon buggered off when he saw our tent we think we may have nicked his nokkey hole.
We read most of the day, our reading choice could have been better, we were reading the same book about the ‘killing fields’ in Cambodia. It was really graphic in parts, not the sort of reading material to send you to sleep.
Just as we were relaxing in the tent I heard a scuffling noise and sent Gary out to investigate, it turned out to be a local stray dog. There are lots of them in Cambodia but they’re scared of their own shadows, they bark lots but run off soon as the bikes approach.
The tent was really hot all night and although we slept naked on top of the sheets we were still really hot, this was not helped by the fact that we had a limited supply of water.
I think the only way to camp when it is tropical temperatures is in a hammock with a mosquito net. The tent was really hot and although I was fairly certain we had no bugs in the room with us the sweat running down your body made you feel like there was bugs on you.
Wednesday 28th October
Jungle to Sen Monourom
Up at dawn, we had biscuits and a cup of coffee for breakfast.
We were on the road for 7.30 and it was already 26c, we were both still really thirsty but we had to cycle 15 miles uphill before we found a small stall by the roadside. We filled up on water and energy drinks and bought enough water to fill our water bottles. 5 miles later still thirsty and hungry we stopped for breakfast, we had pot noodles, coke and more water, as we left the cafe we noticed it was 9.30am and it was really hot 36c.
Although it was only a 30 mile ride we climbed from 800 feet to 2500 feet, lots of hills, unfortunately also lots of down hills so it was like taking 2 steps forward and 1 step back in the way of achievements. The terrain changed from being jungle like to really green countryside with sparse trees and planted fir trees, it seemed at odds with any countryside views we have seen so far in South East Asia. We’re used to seeing cultivated fields and paddy fields whereas the views were more like Salisbury Plain.
We reached Sen Monourom at 1pm and made for a cafe where we could have some food and a cold beer.
the ride was lovely, I really enjoyed riding up one hill and then racing down the opposite side, it was great fun. The fields were every shade of green, truly beautiful, I wish I could tell you what was in them but I haven’t got a clue.
A man greeted us at the cafe, he had passed us on the road and was interested in our route when we described our trip from Kratie he was most impressed, he kept saying you cycled 85 km in one day wow! I couldn’t do that.
Interestingly in a bar in Kratie one of the locals had exclaimed that you would never find a Cambodian travelling the world by bike because they’re too lazy. I don’t think that is a fair comment and I think times are changing.
Once we felt semi human we cycled back down to a guest house we’d seen advertised on trip adviser.
We had dinner in the same restaurant we’d had lunch but it was not as nice, Gary was knackered he found it a real struggle to stay awake so we were back at the hotel and in bed for 8.00pm.
sight seeing day
We booked a motorbike tour of the area, we had seen a tour we kind of liked in a brochure but asked if we could modify it slightly to meet our needs. The tour reps agreed so we met at 8.00am. I didn’t have high expectations, of the day but the alternative was visiting either doing a zip wire over a waterfall which was very expensive or visiting an elephant rescue centre.
I am pleased to report the day far exceeded my expectations, I rode pillion with our guide whilst Gary followed behind with his motorbike. Although our guide did not speak brilliant english he was able to inform us about the local crops. He had an excellent sense of humour but he didn’t always understand the questions we asked and would reply with something totally abstract. He also asked the same question several times during the course of the day which suggests he didn’t always understand our answers either. He did have me giggling along with him on several occasions as he would let me know if the bike was struggling by shouting ‘come on, come on’ in a really girly voice to the point I felt obliged to join in, he would also let me know if we were going over a big rut or hump by shouting back ‘big one’ and as we went over the obstacle he would giggle, his giggle was vey infectious so I would find myself laughing along, it made the ride memorable and fun.
We set off towards our first waterfall and unfortunately our guide got a puncture on some rough bumpy road. It wasn’t a problem I jumped on Gary’s bike and we followed our guide to the next village where his bike was repaired within 10 minutes of us arriving.
The waterfall was really pretty but was made memorable by the fact that Gary got to bathe with some buddhist monks and buddhist children. They were happy to see him take the plunge and surrounded him to shake his hand and get to know him. I stayed on the bank to take some photos. I’m not sure they would have been as welcoming if I’d stripped off although I did have cycle shorts on but there i a strict rule about women touching monks and it would have been difficult to get dry so I would have had to sit behind our guide wet on the bike. I didn’t mind I really enjoyed watching and taking pictures.
After the waterfall we stopped at some crops by the side of the road so that our guide (Onean) could tell us a little more about them. We now know how to identify, peanuts (monkey nuts), durian fruit, avocados, pineapple, cassava, passion fruit and jack fruit. This will make cycling along a little more interesting as there are lots of crops along side the roads.
Our next stop was a traditional Khymer village, where we got to see more plants and the inside of a traditional straw roof home. The family home we went to consisted of two huts, one for the two daughters and one for the mother and father. The inside of the main hut was bigger than we expected, it had bamboo beds down one side and cooking and drying facilities down the other side. The hut was circular with a straw roof, it had a light dangling from the ceiling but no running water. The toilet was the jungle. The huts were on a very large farm which apparently four families owned and worked. It was really interesting our guide seemed to be more interested in telling us about rice wine production than actual living conditions but perhaps that is because he did not find this interesting it may be his norm. Although I did try and ask a few questions I only got answers to unasked questions, a definite communication issue.
The rest of the day was spent visiting a coffee plantation, on route we saw a man crash into a baby water buffalo both survived but the man was a little shaken up, Gary and Onean helped pick the bike up. We also visited the sea forest (trees that looked like waves), a mountain (a very small mountain) and another waterfall. The exciting part of the afternoon was riding pillion on the motorbike and for Gary riding the bike as we did quite a bit of off roading.
Gary; I loved my interaction with the young moms at the waterfall its likely to be one of the highlights of my trip (spell check strikes again, I’m sure Gary means monks not young moms lol), the rest of the trip was also great fun made more exciting by the off roads track on the automatic moped, very dodgy.
At the last waterfall there was an Elephant that was used to take passenger for rides (though none while we were there) and some pet monkeys. The Elephant wandered over to us as we sat close by to within touching distance and on our way to the bikes one of the monkeys jumped onto Ginettes shoulders.
While admiring the view of the sea forest, our guide told us of the 8 Elephants that lived there (I am sure he must have the numbers wrong) and of the Tigers, he told us that the Tigers can smell a pregnant women and would attack and kill to eat the unborn baby, he also told us of a woodsman that had also been killed, we was only camping in this jungle 2 nights ago!
On our return to Sen Monoran we stopped for a beer (I know we do this a lot but at 65p a pint we can’t help ourselves) and talked to a dutch couple who had just arrived before heading to the ‘local bus’ station to book a bus for tomorrow as the private companies refuse to take the bikes.
The female of the couple had a very red splotchy face from the sun which matched my sunburnt nose. Since arriving in Cambodia I have been in disguise as a tomato head, perhaps I can convince everyone I’m a pumpkin on Saturday night.
In the evening we went out for a chinese meal but the only veggie options were fried vegetables in oyster sauce or morning glory (this is not what you think…it is a green vegetable), I opted for the latter.
Friday 30th October
San Monoran to Phnom Penh
Woke early to catch our 7.00am bus to Phnom Penh, the private tour companies wouldn’t take us which was a shame as the journey would have been a direct route and would have taken about 4 to 5 hours. Instead we were forced to use the public bus, which took 7 and half hours but was probably more of an eventful journey.
As the bus left the depot there were only 4 passengers on the bus, us and two girls one from Holland and one from Germany. We were all savvy enough to know that this luxury was not going to last long, we just hoped we didn’t have to share the bus with chickens or cows (we have heard of both sharing the journey with passengers).
At our first stop the driver and his mate unloaded our bikes and bags and put several very large pieces of wood in the boot, these were promptly covered and our bikes were placed over them. It did cross my mind that this might be a little illegal as there are strict rules around logging, but I didn’t have long to dwell on this as Gary and I was asked to move off our seat so that 4 Cambodians could sit in the back, the driver cheekily explained they were smaller than us. Gary then spent the rest of the journey in the front passenger seat whilst I sat with the 2 girls on the middle seats. We ended up waiting about 20 minutes for them to arrive
At another stop we picked up a child, he was thrown in the back, we didn’t hear a peep from him and about 20 miles down the road we stopped again and dropped him off. He seemed happy enough but it was hard to image this happening in the UK.
We had chosen to take the bus down to Phnom Penh because we had cycled half of the route going to Sen Monorom, the journey back along the route we had cycled took much longer than I thought it would and it was rewarding to see how hilly it was.
I spent most of the journey reading and listening to my iPod but when I did look up, the road and villages looked very similar to each other. I’m kind of glad we didn’t cycle this stretch.
We arrived in Phnom Penh at about 2.30pm once we’d assembled the bikes we cycled off to find a guest house. We stopped at a KFC so we could use the wifi system to be met by an officious security guard who was very pedantic about where we parked our bikes and insisted on stapling a ticket to them, a real jobs worth.
Once we had located the hotels and guest houses we set off to find one within our price range with A/C and somewhere to store our bikes. Gary had noticed that on route we would pass Christopher Howes street so we agreed to stop and take some photo’s. Christopher Howes was a friend of James (a close friend of ours in Nailsea) he was kidnapped and murdered by the Khymer Rouge whilst helping with bomb disposal in Cambodia, Christopher lived in Backwell, Bristol. We found the street it ran alongside a green park area with the Raffles Hotel on one side and a management university and the American Embassy on the other. We stopped to take some photos but needed to explain to the security that we were not taking photos of the guards or embassy but of the street name. The guard seemed slightly amused, I’m not sure he understood us but he allowed us to take the photos.
We stopped at the first guest house we had seen on the internet but rejected it because there was nowhere to store the bikes inside. We stopped for a much needed beer to cool down and to relook at our options, but Gary was getting a bit stroppy as the two guys on the opposite table were totally obnoxious, swearing lots and very loud and American. We cycled off and amazingly bumped into one of the guys we’d initially met in Savankaat and again in Pakse, talk about small world. He gave us some advise re where we could find a guest house unfortunately he was just leaving to catch a plane back to Australia but he gave us his number so we could meet up later in the month.
Once we had checked into a guest house we agreed to go and find some food and drink, on our way to the river where we’d seen lots of restaurants it started to rain so we stopped in a bar. As we sat there enjoying our beer it soon became apparent that we’d found ourselves in the Soho area of Phnom Penh, we were surrounded by lots of seedy bars with scantily dressed girls. It made for some interesting people watching whilst it was raining.
The rain didn’t last long so after a can of beer (all of which have the old pull can ring we used to have in the 80’s) we went in search of food and found a really tasty Indian restaurant that did excellent food. We took a walk along the river after dinner and did some more people watching. The city was really busy, it was full of tourists, lots of older men with much younger South East Asian Girls (yuk), lots of children selling an array of goods and begging, there was even a woman breastfeeding a naked child begging. We have been advised not to give money to street beggars because it keeps them on the streets but it is hard to walk passed without offering some support. We also saw a number of people with missing limbs, we had thought we would see more amputees through Vietnam and Laos but they seem to be more visible here in Cambodia, it may be because we have hit more tourist areas in this country.
Saturday 31st October
We took a motorbike tuk tuk to Prison 21 also known as the Genocide Museum and then onto the Killing Fields.
I could write loads but the 2 places take you on a dark journey of human beings ability for cruelty and you can read about these places on the internet. A very moving experience.
I agree with Gary it was a very moving day made more poignant by the books we’ve been reading on route.
Spent the afternoon writing up diaries, doing the blog, researching where we will go next week and purchasing bits and pieces we have run out of.