Saturday, March 17, 2012

A quick introduction passage.

Firstly, this Blog/Journal is 20 days in total. As such it runs over 2 or more web pages, when you get to the bottom click the 'older posts' option at the bottom right of the last narrative.

What follows below is my account of Toms, Tonys and my own journey around eastern Cambodia. It was written quickly and roughly to give me an idea afterwards of what went on. My memory is poor.
Some entries were written when drunk, but I left them in anyway. Others I've filled out from memory after.
The whole lot was typed up the day I got home while it was fresh, after being awake 48 hours flying. There's going to be spelling mistakes and bits that don't make sense.

The photo's haven't been processed at all and it often shows, I removed any pictures that were rubbish, but if in doubt I put pictures in rather than leaving them out, so some parts are quite image heavy and maybe a bit repetitive.

Anyway. Enjoy

A rough guide of the route we took around Cambodia. Both routes from the Western boarder down to Phnom Pehn should be in red to show the bus parts of the route. I just messed up and did the lower one blue. The rest of the route shows the motorbike main travel routes. The blue lines being the routes out, the yellow lines where we went back on ourselves.

Click on the Map to get a larger image

We hadn't considered we might need a map when we left, in fact we never really did. Why would we need a map in a country with barely any road signs and a pretty under developed road network generally.
Anyhow, sat in Phnom Pehn, a street seller came up to us, and amongst his books was a Cambodia map so we bought it. And for some reason trusted it and followed it for a good week or so. By which point it had been rained on, in a lake, lost and found many times, and we had firmly established that it was about as accurate as pointing in a random direction and shouting 'that way'

Anyhow, this is our map
Day 1 - Monday + Day 2 - Tuesday
Heathrow to Sri Lanka to Bangkok

If I'm honest this is going to be little but filler on day one. I havent written in any real form in a long time. It shows from the handwriting.

I can't imagine anyone really enjoys the first part of any travel like this. 10 hours on a plane, can it be anything but a seemingly endless chore? Nicholas Cage has made some reasonable films, but 'Trespass' certainly isn't one of them, and it's the sole film on loop.
After numerous drinks at the airport and the discovery of Tonys artwork on his shirt the holiday seemed to be underway.
Anyway, lets all sleep on a plane to the sultry sounds of Nancy Sinatra.

PS [end of flight] There's definately something going wrong when sleeping blankets, used for a few hours only, need to be collected by staff wearing enbow high plastic disposable gloves. Are customers really that bad??

Room one. Well, you get a mattress at least...

Day 3 - Wednesday
and we're having another day of major traveling. We've moved on from jet, to minibuses, to now 7 hours on a jalopy of a coach from the Thai border to Phnom Pehn in Cambodia. I fear this entry ends here as the road is too bad to write on the page. A first introduction to local travel though! I've had enough of sitting in cramped seats now, get us to the bikes!

Yesterday was spent in Khoa San Road. Mecca for people who want to dress up as stereotyped travelers for some reason. Fisherman style cotton trousers and Buddha teeshirts on white guys everywhere.
An easy hub to work from but not somewhere to savor. Being traveller elitist already!

So in summary of the day, we got onto a minibus at 8am in Bangkok, arrived at the border at 12.30, got onto the jalopy bus around 4pm in Cambodia. That finally arrived in Phnom Pehn at 2am. After one of the side windows was smashed by some unknown missile from the pavement as we entered the city. And after the bloody bus stopped almost every half hour almost the whole way, often for no apparent reason.

finally we found a tuk-tuk to take us to the guesthouse Tom and Tony knew, which after lapping the city twice, asking other tuk-tuk drivers for directions twice (even after we showed him on the map where we wanted to go). Somehow we've ended up god knows where in the city in quite a posh hotel, that has a dirtbike in the lobby. Our sort of place! It's 3.30am, we killed the cockroach in the shower, All is Well!
Day 4 - Thursday + Day 5 - Friday it would seem.
I thought it was thursday but the clock says different.
We sorted out the bikes yesterday, spent the day in town shopping at the markets, then hit the vaguelly touristy river front area. Which basically meant that in maybe a third of the bars you sat down outside, you were quickly surrounded by Cambodian girls. Less awkward after a few beers, and the made a good effort at teaching us how to count to 10 and other random topics of conversation, but still we went on to find a more traditional bar.
Though what began as a few beers ended for me at a Karaoke bar (Cambodian...) at around 4am, for Tom and Tony, around 6 I think... Which meant the plan to leave on the bikes at 10am turned into 2pm.

As we rode along, we stopped for a load bang on the dirt path beside us followed by some horrible screaming. Parked up and went over, Tom was helping this guy upright his scooter, which had a basket on it containing 3 pigs then 4 or 5 ducks on top. All were fine and we got him strapped up and on his way. As we were walking off, Tom confessed 'as I ran over there and heard the screaming, I picked the bike up thinking "please don't be a child under there"'

We were aiming to get to Kratie but as the sun set into pitch blackness we were left with the choice of whether to push on, or backtrack to a pokey little town in the middle of Buddha knows where to a guesthouse we'd seen. The bikes had almost no headlights above a dim glow, and we only had sunglasses, so to ride at night we had to take them off and were reduced to about 40kph. It could have been a long night ahead so we went back. The town (Memout) was a real no-where town, luckily the guesthouse guide found us a tiny little restaurant as we could track down bugger all places to eat, not even street food.
The days riding was good though, More near misses than I could have ever imagined for one journey. My favorite being my attempt to take to the dirt to undertake a bus, then a lady chose to just walk out of her drive in front of me without even thinking of checking if it was safe (motorbikes generally hop on the dirt to get round obstacles here). As i'm just about to lock the front wheel and say my goodbyes I just hear tony riding past on the road laughing out loud. Theme of the holiday was set then, and soon these unbelievable close calls just become routine parts of the journey that you soon don't even blink at.
The bikes are reliable and start on the button, even if they're not 'new' as the sales rep had promised, but so far, so good.

After our stay in Memout, and the street food on the way up here, I think we've collectively given in and decided we're not going to worry about stomach bugs while we're here. Plans to only drink bottled water are scuppered when everywhere we stop they just present a big jug of local made iced tea to drink, and neither the veggie or meat option often either look safer than the other one. Oh well, bottoms up!
Day 6 - Saturday (beginning to lose track though!)

Our first day of properly getting out there. We smashed the road miles up to Kratie, stopped for some food then aimed to follow the Mekong river north along dirt roads to Stoeng Treng. Our plan to avoid the main roads failed after about 2 hours of riding when the wide dirt road turned into a smaller dirt track, then a footpath, and ended up at a house. So we said hello, then turned round and back-tracked 2 hours toward Kratie for the night.

Great days riding though, started getting the hang of the bikes in some good rocky and sandy sections. Only to drive past a moped doing the same thing with 3 people on board. Damn Honda Waves.
We stopped to swim in the river near Sandon, but didn't spot any of the famous local freshwater river dolphins. We did get into a good water (us) and then mud slinging (them) fight with some local kids though.

Most of the comedy of today came from being the last of the 3 bikes and not being able to see your own front wheels, let alone the trail for the dust coming up off the other bikes. Most of all we learnt to accept the constant swerving to avoid dogs, pigs, cows and chickens running across the road, even worse than the local drivers and pedestrians! Got lots of waves and shouts of 'Hello' from the kids in the villages as we road through though, no begging, just happy to come and shout Hello at you, none of them could do 'Bye-Bye'.
Day 7 - Sunday + Day 8 - Monday

Slacking in the Diary keeping, and struggling to remember what happened in the last day! We left yesterday morning early before the sun came out to avoid the heat, anticipating many hours on rough unmade roads to Bang Lung. However almost all of the roads have now been tarmac'd to some degree so we smashed the journey averaging 90kph. All in, about 4 hours riding.
By far the most excitement came from the fact that you would ride 10 to 15 minutes on perfect smooth empty roads, day dreaming away or chatting at each other, then the road would just fall apart for 20 yards into two foot deep sand and rock sections with no pre-warning. Keeps the concentration up! It's like inserting the occasional off road section into the M25, wouldn't be so much fun at night.

All across Cambodia so far we'd been paying for fuel with either Dollars or Riel, however out of the way, so we pulled over here, had a laugh with the young girl filling up the bikes, waved at all the kids in the hut behind it, then tried to pay and she didn't want dollars. And we didn't have enough riel left.
We're not the sort to drive off and short change a young girl, and it all got a bit awkward. Then a random young guy on a scooter pulled up and said hello. No reason it would seem other than he saw our strange lot and wanted to say hello and practise his English. So with his help we managed to accept the girl to take dollars if we over-paid her a little bit and all ended well. Deus ex machina!

We stopped at a waterfall as we got towards Bang Lung and had a shower on the rocks at the bottom, then had to ride 3km of soft dusty tracks back to the road soaking wet after. Didn't end up much cleaner..,
Found a guesthouse on the side of a lake in the town, and befriended a French girl called Virginie (did I spell that right? From here-in to be known as V, as she was to us). We all headed up to a nearby lake on the bikes for a swim in the afternoon, A perfectly circular ex-volcanic crater it turned out.

Monday was spent in Bang Lung, myself and Tom explored the local market for the morning, then grabbed some lunch and we picked up Tony and V and headed back to the lake for a swim. Next up was an explore of nearby dirt tracks on the bikes, some proper hill climbing in loose soft sand. Once again to be shown up by a young lady on a scooter climbing the same track on her way home.

After which, we found another picture perfect waterfall we could swim in, then onto another smaller one for a beer and a relax.
Here's a tree frog we found in the bathroom

A good a day in the tropics as you could wish for.