Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Week 14 Into Cambodia Hon Chong to Samrong 345kms cycled

Highlights: Less traffic, less beeping, life at a more relaxed pace, ABC stout
Low blows: Dust, but not too much.
Music of the week: 80’s Poodle Rock Fest including the likes of Ozzy, David Lee Roth, and Aerosmith

Hon Chong to Kompong Trach 58km
Awoken by blaring horn of a truck which must be transporting rock somewhere. Just as well or Id've slept quite late. Had noodles and coffee up road then set off. Bloke who’d done me a deal on room last night actually dreamed up a way to make back some of the money he’d discounted me and charged me for the 2 bottles of water in the room – the Vietnamese! Amusing actually J.
Lovely morning light and swash of sea against the beach. Soon heading along flat road adjacent to cement factories and shrimp farms, newly dug pits revealing smelly mud. A head wind also not helping my advance. Road followed coastline pretty much and fairly light with traffic too. Past over one bridge with all fishing boats jumbled together below. Stopped off for lunch in town 6kms before border and spent the last of my cash – tasty squid and beans on rice, 2 coffees, half kilo of satsumas, and some sweets.
Got to border, Vietnamese passport blokes being officious and slow and flipping through passport ‘checking things’  just to give an air of authority and that they actually give a monkeys, took a good half hour even though only 3 people there in front of me. 4 casinos in no-mans land, but really on Cambo side. Got cambo visa $20US plus $3 tip. After being conditioned to overcharging for the last 3 weeks I couldn’t be arsed fussing. At the next office where they check the stamp one official asked me how much Id paid and why Id not made a fuss, just shrugged at him. Why don’t they do summat about it?
Dirt road all the way to Kompong Trach, luckily the wind was now coming from the side so all the massive clouds of dust kicked up by the few trucks, cars and speeding van from the casino, was blown away from me. Very flat landscape. Rice has been harvested not long ago, a few buffalos dotted about in mud holes. Sugar palms. Lots of kids coming from school on bikes and saying hello. Hot sun. Arrived at destination by 2pm. Fan room for $6. Went to have a look at a cave complex set amongst limestone outcrops, $1 to get in and I tipped the young lad who’d attached himself to me on the way there and showed me around a dollar too. Interesting enough. Several people quarrying rock by hand out the back and breaking it into aggregate. Back into dusty town, pony and traps around, interesting designed and good looking new Khmer temple next to road, lots of roof levels and quite compact. People keen to practice their English.
Jumbled fishing fleet

Viva Hatien Vegas

Pleasant Cambodian scene

Could this really be a door to a $6 room?

Kompong Trach to Takeo 74km
Only place I could find that did food in morning had super burnt pork steaks and pickled veg, so I just went for the pickled veg on rice and a coffee. Not a bad road, hardly any traffic, rice paddies either side, cows, a few buffalos, people going along on bicycles, some women having a mobile meat shop from the back of their bikes and selling pork to people who stopped them. Bit of a head wind so achy knees. I  was daydreaming along and came back into reality to realise a long snake was crossing the road immediately in front of me. I didn’t have time to stop or swerve and unfortunately ran straight over it, lifting my legs as high as possible in the air to prevent any possibility of getting bitten by the poor thing. When I looked back it had slinked off into the bushes, but I felt really bad that Id hit and surely injured  it.
Came past a small hilly area which made a change to the flat landscape. ‘Zoomed’ past a truck carrying a jcb on its trailer and belching black smoke out the back. Dry landscape all the way. Typical housing along the roadside was a small square shaped house on stilts set back a small way from road, tiled roof and decorative crowns at roof ends and a larger one in middle, haystack in yard, a tree for shade and a small lotus pond, perhaps with fish in it? Ate tasty small eel like fried fish and omelet on rice for pre lunch. Bicyles laden with bamboo tubes of palm wine, dishing out servings into pans and cups of the local residents. Road busied up a bit and got bumpy for last 20km so rode on sandy bit at side as did everyone else on a bike. Very hot and glad to arrive at 2ish.
Found lovely room although plumbing and wiring very bodged, superb view over flood plain area and lush green as planted with rice as far as the eye could see. Ate fish soup in skanky burnt out/derelict looking market building then retired to room until cooler and had an explore. Had fruit shake, dinner and some dessert flan things, on crushed ice with condensed milk. Yum. Takeo must be the education capital of Cambo, so many buildings as schools, English centres and universities.
School closes for lunch and the street swims with cyclists

View from my balcony

Takeo to Phnom Penh 81km
Beef in gravy with baguette for breaky and a good coffee. Young girl working in shop very pleasant and polite. Was gonna buy bananas from mkt as not full but too expensive. Got some later on when I stopped off for a break. Busier road today although nothing compared to Vietnamese standards. Wind a bit of a battle at times but right enough. Road went quiet around lunchtime.
Id planned to stop off but the last 20kms had nowhere at all selling food so plodded on. PP also pretty quiet traffic wise to my surprise. Riverfront area has been well poshified. Soon stopped off in what used to be a cheap resto but had since put its prices up. Ghs I new were cheap were full, but got a tip from a worker who pointed me in direction of a cheapie and got a decent enough room for $5 (far better than the cheapies Id wanted to go in too). Showered and made a beeline to local supermarket, got bottle grouse whisky $10, bottle Rawson Retreat wine $10, 100g cheddar $1.50 and 2 delicious baguettes 60c. Back to gh. People burning stuff for Chinese new Year in pots outside their house and saying prayers over piles of goods outside their shops on the street. Zulu on TV so watched that and glugged the wine before it got too warm and ate the tasty cheese sarnies. Had a wander about and looked up a mate who manages Riverside Bistro.

Phnom Penh
Intended to get Thai visa today but when I got down to embassy was told that visa would take 4 days cos they were busy. I pointed out I was first in the queue of 2 people and gestured to the empty room, but they said that’s how things were done here. That would mean a wait until Tuesday and don’t want to wait that long. Had a moan to a local bloke outside and it turns out all agents come at 10am and they all pay ‘processing fees’ so these get processed first and all normal traffic has to wait.
Got a taxi to Russian mkt which turned out to be closed as Chinese NY. Walked back up to gh area, stopping off for some food. Loads of language schools here too – big business! Went and bought a book and chilled in afternoon. Sat on promenade at sunset, pleasant breeze as pleasure boats went up and down the Tonle Sap, then for an Indian which was pretty crap. Felt sick after. Happened upon a corner shop selling big bottle beer Lao for $1.5 so sat outside there watching world go by and a bloke selling tiny packets of drugs to the local blokes. Lots of beggars about including an old woman who obviously had a duvet stuffed up her sarong to look pregnant cos she mustve been at least 65 and the bulge was all wrong. Felt sorry for her and the other desperate people here. Retired to room and read for a bit.

Locals celebrate Chinese New Year in style

Phnom Penh central market looking good after a fresh lick of paint

The Royal Palace

Phnom Penh to Siem Riep  by bus
Intended to catch 8:30 bus but turned out the bus company didn’t take bikes so had to go back to one near gh and book it on the 10am bus as earlier departures full. Sat in a café and had breakfast. Lots of policemen on a table who’d been guarding the jewelry shops along this section – an old lady tipped them as she came out and got into a huge 4x4. Monks wandering around, but here they have a temple ‘boy’/bloke who goes in front and asks for money. The bloke screwed up his face when I declined. All seemed a bit odd and when I asked someone later they said its not really correct. Traffic quiet again cos of new year.
Went and sat briefly on riverfront before a guard approached blowing a whistle and asked me (with the aid of a passer by) to move the bicycle off the promenade, so just went for a cycle up and down until time to go to bus station.
 Big bus so just slotted bike into huge space underneath, along with loads of luggage and 2 motorbikes! Set off. First part of new road not sealed yet so very dusty. Chatted with local bloke sat next to me who sold real estate in Siem Riep and a Jewish bloke and Chinese bird behind who were researching use of solar power in Cambo. AC not so good so sweaty back. Bloke got a call from his wife saying Thais had started shooting at Prear Vihear temple on the border and he got all nationalistic and upset about it. Arrived SR 5:30. Eventually figured out where the gh was and luckily theyd taken my booking via last nights late email, didn’t seem so busy although Italian couple I kept seeing in Vietnam were there so said hello. Showered, ate food, had a wander, then had a few stouts that was on offer across the road. $6 room, Spartan but fine.
Driver giving the buses rear transmission a good bash with a hammer during a brief intermission in the journey

6 TV channels at once! Night out Khmer style

Siem RIep to Kralanh 53km
Some people crashing about early in morning, probably going for the sunset over the temples. Got up. Have the shits. Ate bf then set off along lovely new road to destination. Thais built it so its good quality and I managed 25kmh with ease. Not too busy either. Flat land going off into horizon on left side, just dry rice fields, some with stubble burnt/burning off, small houses, Indian type cows (the white ones with floppy ears), a duck farm around a muddy pond, water buffalos munching on floating weeds, sugar palms. Had a fresh coconut halfway then opened it and ate some flesh too. Arrived Kralanh at 12 and ate fish soup on rice. Found the only gh in town – they wanted $10 for fan room but haggled to $8 eventually. Way overpriced but the only place in town! Tomorrows road stretching off into the distance and just one big pile of dust. Felt tired so slept till 3 then had a wander in mkt, very hot. Read book in resto over road and chatted with girls who ran it. 2 Coach loads of Russians from Thailand turned up later on and were straight over to check out the booze cabinet, although no one bought anything, some just finishing off the cans of Chang theyd brought with them. Road vendors surrounding a stopped car with their trays of food. Wandered up a tarmac artery for a bit in eve to a river then came back. Dusty town whose only commerse is passing vehicles, and farming.

Ducks n cows

A fresh swarm outside my room

Mobile pottery shop

Kralanh to Samrong 79km
Big red sunrise to start the day and bananas for bf as stomach still ropey. Set off prepared for dust and dust is what there was! Unsealed road the whole way, traffic wasn’t too bad, but tended to be cars/ pickups rammed full of people (including Cambodian style 2 in the driver’s seat) going past at hight speed, and huge lorries laden with aggregate for the road going up and down churning up the good stuff for poor old me and the local people making their way along the road on their push irons. Several empty army trucks coming from the direction of the border too.
Misty start to the day. Long straight road, barren fields of rice stubble stretching off into distance, sugar palms silhouetted in the mist. Floppy eared white cows casually crossing the road, white falcon type birds hunting, swooping down low over the fields. Not a lot else. Very poor looking houses dotted along the road in small settlements every so often – all covered in red dust, kids shouting out hello hello. Luckily wind generally blowing in my favor and keeping a lot of dust away. Soon heated up once the mist had gone.
Stopped at a small dusty town for lunch, stomach well dodgy but need to eat something for energy. Had a bowl of noodles with loads of delicious slices of fresh pork and only 3000 riels! ($1=4000riels) - wondered if itd stay in my stomach. Easy enough to get water from small stalls along the way. Stopped off in a lonely sala at 60kms for a rest, stretched out on the wooden seating and had a doze as 2 sparrow type birds twittered and made a nest in the rafters. Finished the remaining 20kms and eventually hit tarmac on outskirts of town. Had fried rice in a resto then got a room sorted out for $5. Showered, lazed and watched tv. Had a spin around big lotus filled lake up the road, locals to and froing with small bottles of fresh sugar cane juice- fancied some but stomach had other ideas. Ate tasty dinner in local place next door, $1 for big plate veg and pork  rice and bowl of soup veg and chicken.

A beautiful start to the day ahead!

Dust begins here, just 50m off the lovely smooth tarmaced main strip
Typical landscape in early morning mist

Saved by a side wind, plumes of dust exit stage left

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