Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Well, here I am in this chaotic tourist trap they call Ho Chi Minh City. Better known as Saigon. The traffic into town was not as bad as I was led to believe. A few trucks and buses, but mainly lots of motorcycles. But the four-wheel vehicles mainly stuck to the left hand lane and the two and three wheelers fought it out in the right hand lane (and shoulder). The only challenge being the traffic coming at you from the other way along the shoulder. Otherwise, you just keep pedalling and avoid making any sudden changes in direction. The traffic flows right around you quite nicely.

There are a few museums in town that I plan to visit whilst waiting for my Laos visa. I will also take a day tour out to the Cu Chi tunnels (it is too far to bike out to) and see what trap they have set there for us sejourners. Not much else to do here but peer at other travellers and dodge motos, postcard selling children, pickpockets, and the likes. Visiting the smaller towns is much more enjoyable and relaxing. You are less harassed and and the locals are much friendlier.

Note: there are no floods down here. I believe it is up in Central Vietnam (500+ miles up the road). I think there were some sprinkles today. Other then that I have seen a few sprinkles and a few brief downpours. But no real rain to speak of. At least the temps are getting down a little. Highs are around 90F. But you will be happy to here that I usually get my air con cranked up high enough that I need blankets to sleep.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

The Mekong (Pictures)

Sunrise on the Mekong

Plying the Waters

One Banana, Two Banana, Three Banana, Four


More Fruit For Sale

Can Tho

I've made it into Cantho, or as they say, Can Tho. The heart of the Mekong. I'll be taking a rest day here and going on a boat around the canals and visiting a couple of the floating markets. There is a lot of water around here, and it should be an interesting trip.

The riding is nice, as the roads are flat (except for the oft bridge over a canal) and in much better shape then in Cambodia. After facing a stiff head wind for several days I got a little help from the breeze today and made some of my fastest time down here. Just over 3 hours for 62 km, including a 20 minute break for sugar cane. Still get the occasional "hello" from schoolchildren, but not as much as in Cambodia. Not as many stares either - I actually took my break today without attracting a crowd.

One good thing about VN is that they use the Latin alphabet for writing everything, and even though I can't pronounce it (it's still a tonal language like Chinese) at least I can recognize words and have a chance to figure out what things mean in writing. Unlike Chinese and Japanese writing, which runs eveything together, they seperate things by syllable. Thus Vietnam is Viet Nam. Honda is Hon Da.

The difference between Cambodia and Viet Nam is quite stark. Where even Phnom Phen is shrouded in a cloud of darkness at night, the towns here are comparitively lit up like Times Square. There's even neon lights. A lot more bricks and mortar versus bamboo and thatch. A lot more motos, but fewer cars and overloaded pickup trucks (at least for now - once I get towards HCMC it might be different). Better roads (yeah). Women wearing pajamas. Many people wearing the traditional conical hat. A rash of small plastic chairs, fit for a child. VN also has a wider variety of consumer goods available - furniture stores, hardware stores, rows of cell phone stores, all sorts of things you don't see much of in Cambodia.

So tomorrow is my boat tour of the Mekong, then upto Mytho, which is about 100 km. Then 60 arduous kms into HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City). Traffic is suppose to be phenomenal, but they say there are bike lanes on the side. Not that lanes mean much around here, but it'd be better then Bangkok which makes you fight your way between the lanes of cars.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Into the Mekong

Well, after a long hard ride, I've made it into Viet Nam. It was my longest day to date - about 130 km. Moderate roads in Cambodia (by Cambodian standards), but they twisted and turned quite a bit, making navagational a little difficult. They were side roads, so pretty much no traffic. Which made weaving amongst the potholes possible. Fortunately, I didn't get lost much. Just had to ask for directions a lot and take them all with a grain of salt.

The last stretch out of Cambodia was along a levee amongst huge swaths of rice fields. After arriving in Viet Nam (and fending off a moto driver who somehow thought I needed a ride) the road became much more congested. Lots of motorcycles here. I finally arrive in Chau Doc just as the sun was setting. Interesting little town with a huge market area. Looks like lots of fresh vegetables and fruits - much more variety then Cambodia.

So now I work my way through the Mekong delta towards Ho Chi Minh City. Should be a four or five day trek and then a few days of rest.

On the bike front, my seat post (not the part attached to the seat, but the extension out of the bike that it fits into) cracked. I was able to get a jerry rigged fix up in Kampot, but it's now completely broken. At least my seat is still kind of working, albiet halphazardly. I also had a flat tire about five kms outside of Chau Doc, but only about 100 m from a road side tire repairman. He was able to get two punctures fixed in about 10 minutes. Didn't even charge me as I hadn't converted into dong yet, and they aren't suppose to take dollars.

In better news, I will soon be a millionaire. Converted $20 here into 300,000 dong, and my trip to the bank tomorrow will see me with over 3,000,000!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

bye bye, Cambodia

Haven't done too much the last few days. Laid on the beach in Sihounakville for a few days, and then journeyed back to Kampot. Yesterday, I went up to Bokor, which is a former mountain top resort that the French built. It's basically a bunch of deserted buildings, but quite interesting. The Khmer Rouge used Bokor as a prison, and you can see bullet holes all over one of the walls at the old hotel. The view from top was excellent, as the mountain just rises up out of the plains so it's like you're standing on top of the world. The "road" was, to say the least, a bit bumpy. Went up with a tour group, and in lieu of riding in the back of a cramped 4 wheel drive truck, I was in a Camry. Alas, I survived, and the 2 1/2 hour trek down.

Today, I'm off to Kep, which is a short 25 km jaunt. I'll probably just grab some lunch there - it's on the coast and famous for seafood. Kampong Trach is another 35 km down the road and that will be my stopping point. From there, it's just another day until I get to Vietnam, or, as they say, Viet Nam.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


I've made it down to the coast and am taking a few days of R&R here. Standard Cambodian tourist town. Cheap places to stay, expensive places to eat ($4 rooms. $4 meals is the norm here), lots of moto drivers, and of course plenty of beggars.

The ride from Kampot wasn't too bad. It's about 100 km, so I left early, around 6:30 am. 30 km or so into the ride, there's the "last chance for food and water" and a reported 20 km of uninhabited bad road. So I came upon this village with only meager provisions and thought this might be it. So I stopped by one stand and there was an older guy, maybe 70, who greeted me. "No anglais" he said, "francais." Ahh, he speaks French. "Je parle francais, un peu," I replied"(I speak French, a little). "Je cherche pour un petit de'jeuner" (I look for a breakfast). He doesn't understand a word I say. "Manger" (to eat), I profer. Nothing. Hmmm. He speaks to me, and I have a hard time figuring out what he's saying. Either my French is really bad or there's a big gap between French with an American accent and French with a Cambodian accent. Probably a bit of both. I try the breakfast bit again, and still, he doesn't understand. As I look around, half the village is gathered around staring at the barang (foreigner, which would be me). This unsettles me a bit, like trying to give a speech in front of a large crowd, in French. I can't think of anything. The old guy is starting to get unsettled as well, "Francais? Espagnola? Anglais?" I can make out. His hands are starting to wave around. I notice a machete in his lap. Realize of course that there aren't very many elderly people around (due to poverty, the war, and the Khmer Rouge), and I'm a little suspicious of anyone, especially a man, who has been lucky enough to have survived into his 70's. And this is southern Cambodia, one of the last hold outs of the Khmer Rouge. So all I can think of now is that it is time to move on, food or no food. "Pardon, pardon, merci, pardon" I say, as I back away. I race across the street and get a couple bottles of water and head on down the road.

Of course, the real "last stop" was another kilometer or two down the road, where I stopped and picked up a bunch of bananas (25 cents) and a pineapple (25 cents). They didn't peel the pineapple for me, so I still have that sitting in my hotel room, as well as half a bunch of bananas. The road in town was the bad dirt / rock that I feared. But soon after clearing town, the road had been repaved and was nice and smooth. And very little traffic, as the Phnom Phen traffic travels down route 4 and I was on route 3 still. I was pretty much able to just cruise down the middle of the highway, as any approaching cars can be identified for some distance, as the Cambodians generally drive with their horns constantly honking. After joining route 4, the traffic got a bit heavier and there wasn't an adequate shoulder to bike on. But as long as you keep an eye out for passing cars and trucks in your lane, the vehicles from behind will keep you informed of their proximity. It's the deeper more frantic honking that signals you to get off the road, whereas the higher pitched beeping is just motos passing buy. Oh, and there were hills as well. Nothing big, but the first noticeable changes in altitude I've encountered. It's just that they come after 80 some kms and the sun is blazing down that causes some consternation. At least they'll be early on as I head back to Kampot later this week.

The bike was also experiencing some minor problems. One spoke had come out and my back wheel was getting warped. Maybe in part because of this, my tire was also getting frayed along the side. So I'm sure this hindered my efficiency somewhat. But I found a bike shop here and the guy fixed the spoke, balanced my wheel (quite nicely in fact) and changed my tire (or tyre as they'd say). Total cost, parts and labour - just under $6. I still need to adjust my derailleurs, but I figure I can fiddle with that sometime while I'm here.

In the meantime, I'm off to the beach. My arms and legs are nicely bronzed (and my hairs nicely bleached) from riding, but I've gotta get some sun on the rest of my body. Those sandal tan lines are particularly annoying.


- There are in fact a plethora of stop lights in Phnom Phen. I saw at least 5. And people actually heed them, in general. As far as I can tell, there is just the one in Siem Reap outside of Phnom Phen.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Scenes from the Boat

Loading up the boat

Fishing Village

Another Fishing Village - a little more rustic

Fishing Net

Can't Forget the Temple

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Ferry Ride

Ok, so here's the ferry ride I took from Siem Reap to Battambang...

The pickup truck came around right on schedule at about 5:30 am. I was the fifth person on board and they tied my bike to the back of the cab and loaded my bags. There were seats along the sides of the bed and our gear was stacked in the middle. We drove around picking up a couple people here, a couple people there. A couple more people. I believe about 15 total between the cab (extended) and bed. Plus all of our bags. By Cambodian standard we had it quite luxurious. Most Cambodians travel around in the back of pickups, 20-30 people crammed in. I've seen people riding on the hoods of trucks, standing on the running boards, sitting in the trunks of cars. The wealthier Cambodians have their own motorbikes, which can hold a family of five.

We then go along the road which turns into a one lane extension onto an embankment in the river / lake. It's the Siem Reap River, but the Tonle Sap (Lake) backs up in the wet season flooding the surrounding fields. So it's basically a narrow strip of land they call a road, with stilt houses and the occasional market lining the sides. We get dropped off when our pickup can't get an further along the road. So at this point, I have to load my bike up and push it along through a massive traffic jam consisting of a very large truck, lots of motos and bicycles, and hundreds of people. All seemingly going the exact opposite way that I'm going. After a good kilometer plus, I finally reach the "dock." Basically just a couple of boats tied up alongside the embankment.

We eventually get the boat loaded and head down the river / lake. Kind of like floating through a flooded forest. Submerged trees formed a channel for our boat as we winded are way down to the lake. Once we cleared the trees, our boat stalled and the waves on the lake began rocking us back and forth. At this point, I noticed that there were no life preservers on the roof of the boat, were I was sitting. Scanning the nearby "coastline" (just more submerged trees) I began calculating how far I'd have to swim if we started going down. Fortunately, I was able to hang on to the railings as we plunged back forth across the waves and the engine was soon restarted.

It was a short foray across the lake as we then entered the river / lake to Battambang. More submerged trees and numerous stilted and floating Vietnamese villages. They even have temples that are built on stilts. Lots of little children swimming in the river (which didn't look too enticing at first, but after 4 or 5 hours in that heat was quite tempting). After several hours of winding through this channel between tree limbs, we finally hit a much wider area of the river. Gradually, the shores of the river emerged and almost 7 hours after we left Siem Reap, we made it to Battambang.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Phnom Phen

Three brutal days in the saddle, but I've made it to Phnom Phen. Each leg was about 100 km. The first day wasn't too bad, as I was well rested. Day 2 was punishing. Couldn't get my legs going at all. Today I felt a bit better and made my best time yet. The heat is quite intense - 95F by 10am until 2 or 3pm. Kinda like crossing Kansas but with rice fields instead of wheat.

I've also crossed into some much untravelled countryside. Seems like every stop draws a crowd of onlookers. It's a bit disconcerting trying to relax with 20 people casting their eyes upon you. A lot less English is spoken as well, making the acquisition of pineapple much more difficult (they have these great little pineapples that cost 500 riel / 12.5 cents each). Water is no problem as you just need to pop open the cooler and grab one - 500 riel for the locally bottled stuff).

Near as I can tell, there is a total of one stop light in Cambodia - and that was back in Siem Reap. They're not too big on traffic control around here. Motos, cars, trucks, buses all coming at you from every direction. Usually honking thir horns nonstop the entire way.

So my plan is to stay here a few days before heading south to the coast and then back east into Vietnam

Tuesday, November 9, 2004


I had a nice update about my ferry ride from Siem Reap... but there was a foulup by the computer and I don't feel like retyping it. Suffice to say, it was an interesting ride. As they say "picturesque."

Battambang is a nice little town though. Cheaper and less touristy then Siem Reap. Took a ride down to a couple of the killing caves from the Khmer Rouge reign. The roads where typical Cambodian terrible, but it wasn't too far. Ended up with a tour guide who I gave a couple bucks to. He then led me back to his village where I met his grandparents and a slew of brothers/sisters/cousins. His grandfather even spoke French (but not English), so I was able to communicate with him a little (I knew those 4 years of French would pay off one day).

Headed out tomorrow morning to Pursat. There's a slew of bicyclists at the hotel who are headed the opposite direction as I am. Plus an older Dutch couple who are headed towards Saigon.

Sunday, November 7, 2004

Half Way Point

So I've now passed the half way point - at least for this trip. Four more years of travelling to look forward to after this is over.

Tomorrow I'm off to Battambang bright and early. I'm picked up at 5:30 and the ferry leaves at 7:00. One night there and then I head towards Phnom Phen, which will probably be 3 or 4 days of riding.

The Angkor complex is quite cool - Angkor Wat is just the centerpiece. I've been getting some nice rides in around to the various temples. Usually 20 - 30 km a day.

Not much else new to report.

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Siem Reap

As bad as Poipet is, the rest of Cambodia has been great. Very friendly locals - especially the children - and, lots of English spoken.

The road from Poipet to about 20 km outside Siem Reap is as bad or worse then advertised. Bad asphalt the first day, dirt / rock the next day and a half. I managed to get a flat tire, but luckily just outside a town I was stopping at anyways. Been doing just 50-60 km a day to avoid too much jarring to my body. Which is a nice pace, as I get into my stops around 1 or 2 pm and am able to check the town out a bit. Not too much to these places, but they have an interesting wild west quality - dusty roads, cows roaming the streets, chickens abounding, and a very half hazard, lawless feel. I'll probably be getting up to around 100 km / day after I get out of here, as the road to Phnom Phen is supposed to be a lot better.

All along the "highway" the children wave and call out "hello" "goodbye". Almost had several wrecks waving back at them. At most of my drink / food stops there's someone who speaks English, and I usual end up spending 10-15 minutes talking with them. They are all so very nice. And food is cheap - usually around 75 cents a meal. At least until I got here... Siem Reap - the gateway to Angkor Wat.

Siem Reap is definitely on the touristy side. Can't get a decent meal here for much less than $5. At least they have western food. Khmer food is okay, but it gets a little tiring after breakfast, lunch, and dinner of rice or noodles, veggies, and some mystery meat. Lots of tourists - which means lots of moto drivers and kids begging for money. At least the streets are paved though.

Went to Angkor Wat this afternoon. Very cool. I got the week pass, but will probably try to get out of here in 3 or 4 days. Too many tourists. Biking is definitely the way to go - my least favorite places thus far have been all the tourist stopping points.

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Scenes from Cambodia

Restaurant Row in Sisophon, Cambodia

The Fruit Stand

I'm not kidding about the cows

Highway 6 in Cambodia

Rice Fields Forever

Monday, November 1, 2004

Poipet, Cambodia

The ride across Thailand was nice and peaceful, with sporadic little towns that had welcoming food markets and friendly people. This place is more like a suburb of Hades - think Mad Max on steroids. Coming upon the border there's a massive market with Thai and Cambodian stall. There are hordes of people pulling carts, driving motorbikes, walking, bicycling, loaded into the back of pick up trucks, on top of semi-trucks, and pretty much every mode of ground transport available streaming in and out of the border. Once into Cambodia, it only gets worse. Kids and other people all over, either pulling carts, begging, or offering their services. Food stands all over, tuk-tuks, motos, and whatnots driving every which way. They even have roadside gas stations - petrol in coke bottles on a little push cart.

At least there are plenty of guest houses, and even though mine is setting me back over $12, it looks quite nice. Aircon, hot water, tv, and no brothel element.