Tuesday 7th May 2019
Siem Reap to Stoung
A few days ago I went into Siem Reap town center to a travel agents. I was enquiring about extending my visa for 1 more month. However, with the amount of public holidays this month and the fact your passport has to be sent to the capital, Phnom Phen, it wouldn’t have been returned to me until about the same day the extension was going to run out! Not an ideal situation. The next option was to do a ‘visa run’. The most popular route is to drive west to the Thai border at Poipet, about 150km away. However there have been some recent horror stories about the Thai officials turning people back,. Plus there is the hassle of queueing for hours in the baking heat to get in and out, the cost of getting there etc etc.
Then someone at the bar, a popular forum for all visa/expat knowledge, mentioned that it costs $10 per day in visa overstay charges in Cambodia. Hmmm, a quick mental calculation ensued, then a recheck after another beer.
Cost of Cambodian visa $35
Cost of visa run $50 if I’m lucky,
If I can cycle to Vietnam from Siem Reap in less than 8 point 5 days (I’m sure they don’t do half day fees at the border) then I’ll actually be saving money and the stress of the visa run.
Another quick calculation ensued…
Siem Reap to Xa Mat border 344km
Hypothetical daily mileage 70km
Time required 4.91 days let’s say 5
5 days at $10 =$50 (Simple arithmetic calculation included for the American readers)
Brilliant, I’ll be saving $35. Another beer please bartender (it was a bar man but we’re PC here!)
OK, I can’t leave now, as I’ve had a beer. Tomorrow I’ll need to shop for some new cycling shorts, I’ll go on Tuesday! There were other contributing factors to this decision, but I don’t want to bore you so early on, when there’s every chance you’ll be bored later!!
So here I am, it’s Tuesday, it’s 4am in the morning, humid but cool, and dark too. The trike is loaded and I say goodbye to Emily and Henk and Sarah who happen to be up watching the crucial Manchester City vs Leicester City football match (1-0 to City!)
I pedal off into the quiet, dark streets of Siam Reap,
avoiding potholes, and drunk revellers returning to their hostels after a night out on Pub Street. After about 4km I catch up with Quentin, a frog… sorry, a Frenchman who is also cycling to Vietnam. We’d agreed to meet up on the road and so we did. We were now on Route 6, the main road to the capital.
Wow, this is great, it’s super cool, there’s only light traffic and Quentin speaks good English. By 6am it’s light and we’ve done 34km, only another 36km for my required daily average. We stop for a refreshing frappe and crack on. The roads a little busier now with smartly dressed kids pedalling to school and mums n dads riding to work on motorbikes and mopeds.
By 9 am we’ve stopped again, the temperature is now not so cool, in fact it’s in the 30s and we’re starting to bake. Also there are 4x4s and trucks hurtling by. Fortunately there’s a good hard shoulder we can ride on with only the occasional cow or two, or oncoming cart to get in the way. Our speed has dropped and now we’re stopping every 30 minutes or so to rest in a shady roadside ‘shop’, douse ourselves in water and cool down. Quentin has been off the bike for about 6 months whilst living in Siam Reap and his arse and arms are feeling the pain.
Remember that theoretical 70km mark? Well that’s come and gone, there no accommodation at this point. We have actually checked the map and there is a guest house at 80km, but when we get there it’s a lonely house surrounded by dried up fields in the middle of nowhere. No shops or restaurants for kilometres that we can see! The next town with hotels marked is Stoung, another 18km away. With our bodies protesting we eat one of the cheese and ham rolls Quentin’s friend made for him. They’re now about the same temperature as a panini, without the added bonus of being a lovely crusty toasted consistency. Beggars, choosers blah blah. We appropriate some ice cubes from a roadside shack and push on. By the time we roll into Stoung every piece of clothing I’m wearing is drenched I can taste the salt when I lick my lips, and my body is aching. Quentin is much the same only French as well. There’s a hotel and 4 guest houses marked on the map so we only need to cycle 2.4km more.
Oh My God what’s that sign? Restaurant and guesthouse. We pull in, in the hope of not having to do a further 2.4km. Please have a room, with aircon, at a reasonable price and with WiFi. Not much to ask for. We roll up into the open restaurant, literally right up the ramp and into the spacious and dark, cool interior. Our aching bodies climb off our sweat encrusted cycles. Not only do they have a room, but there’s a buffet dinner available too. But first things first, I bags the shower!!!
So I’m sitting here in our aircon room, clothes rinsed out, body washed, we’ve eaten Quentins second round of ‘panini’ and had an ice cream. It’s only just turned midday. Time for some sleep!!
Wednesday 8th May 2019
Stoung to Kampong Thmar
Yesterday afternoon we had lunch at our guesthouse consisting of rice with a beef and pineapple stew. The pineapple was nice, the beef gristle not so. Then we ventured out into town. Well, we walked 2km into town. A very dusty and noisy town. There was a wedding celebration going on and the music was being pumped out of the local loudspeakers mounted on telegraph poles! Fortunately once into the centre distance had done its trick. We ventured down a side street in search of a supermarket, walked passed a large pagoda and into the ‘central market’ area. The heat was oppressive, and we were definitely causing a stir, I don’t think they see many foreigners in Stoung. Kids are shouting out at us from the local school and stallholders stare or smile and giggle if they’re female.
Well there’s no supermarket but Quentin manages to buy some fruit on the second attempt. We walk passed drying racks full of gutted and splayed fish from Tonle Sap Lake. Brightly coloured boats wait stacked along the road looking for someone to purchase them. Dogs bark, chickens scratch and we sweat. Finally beaten we walk back to the guesthouse and purchase another seven 1.5l bottles of water. Hopefully this will rehydrate us and leave some for tomorrow.
In the evening having decided we’re going to leave even earlier we have another dinner at the guesthouse, noodle fish soup this time and retire to bed at 8pm!
The alarm wakes me from a fitful sleep at 2.45am and by 3.08am we’re pedalling away from Stoung.
My legs are aching slightly, probably from all the twitching they did in my sleep last night. I’m also now wearing a long sleeve top so that when the sun finally rises I don’t burn my forearms again!
Barking dogs serenade us as we cycle out and back onto the main road. Occasionally we pass small roadside ponds and the dogs are drowned out by the frogs, it’s noisy in the middle of the night! We spot blue light tubes amongst the roadside properties, they are set up against plastic sheets, we think they are mosquito traps, but who knows!
Today our legs are heavy and in the countryside darkness it feels like we’re pedalling on a treadmill. But the stars are out and so pretty. After about an hour and a half a motorbike towing a large trailer full of charcoal slowly passes us by. We speed up in the hopes of drafting it for an easier pedal but soon find it’s much easier just hanging off the back.
And so starts the fun. The charcoal guy takes us about 8 sweet and easy kilometers up the road before pulling over, we give him a wave and pedal on. There’s a lake now either side of the road and we stop for a quick leg stretch. A local restaurant owner greets us and hearing Quentin’s accent starts spouting off in French. Must be old school. He has two beautiful golden Labradors which we spend time stroking whilst chatting about ‘barking dogs seldom bite’. We’ll I still get goosebumps every time I’m chased by one of the buggers, it’s even worse in the dark as you can’t see them.
But soon in the pre-dawn light we spot another two slow-moving vehicles laden down with wooden tables. We jump on our bikes and catch them up, another tow! Later we also draft behind a motorbike and side-car combination, a huge brand new tractor with ploughshares hanging off the back (at 33kmph I didn’t want him to brake suddenly! Sliced cyclist anyone?), a lumberjack trailer and a food cart motorbike combo! After yesterday’s exertions it’s a great feeling. And saves us about 25 km of cycling into a headwind.
At one point going through a small town we hit a bakery and coffee shop for breakfast, we order a couple of muffins and two pastries but when we open the bag later realise the pastries have been replaced by slightly stale donuts, damn, those pastries looked yummy!
Our original plan to do 76km today is out of the window as we’ve had such an easy day we decide to push on to the next town 12km away. We’re both feeling worn out from yesterday and the heat is building, but feel it’s manageable. And what a great decision, as we cross a river and enter the town centre we see a modern, 5 storey hotel towering over everything. We pull up in the shade, sweat dripping from us and the receptionist comes out to greet us. She doesn’t even blink at our bedraggled looks but tells us they have aircon rooms for $15, boom that’s what I’m talking about (and dreamed about for the last 20km!). It’s only 9am in the morning, but 6 hours since we set out, “Time for bed, said Zebedee! “
Later in the afternoon we pop out for lunch and bump into a French speaking Kymer lady. Quentin is in his element and soon has her showing us a local inexpensive eatery with good food. Apart from this excursion there’s little else to do in town so we rest for the remainder of the day.
Thursday 8th May 2019 Kampong Thmor to Kampong Cham Distance 75km Total 25487km
Another 3am start, but today is markedly less humid than yesterday and once we’ve cycled out of the darkened town we realise it’s also much cooler. We’re cycling off the main road today, cutting across country on a narrow road running through forests and small villages. The forest is probably the reason it feels cooler too. Once it’s light we can admire the rubber plantations and fruit trees passing by.
Unfortunately the start of the day is also predominantly an uphill struggle, literally. I’m reduced to about 10 or 12 kmph and Quentin shoots ahead occasionally on his faster upright bike to stretch his legs. In one of the villages we stop for a coffee frappe and breakfast. They only have 1 dish, a fast food item. It’s a sausage stuffed with cheese on a stick, this is then put in a small cylindrical heater and raw egg is poured in. The result is a cooked egg surrounding the sausage. Quite ingenious!
Once at the top of the day’s climb we cycle out into open plowed fields for a while then we get the benefit of a 16km downhill stretch. We whizz along making up lost time and feeling the wind in our hair, the cool breeze refreshing after the heat of the past few days. We smile, wave and greet villagers as we descend. Great fun. At the end we join back onto the main road. There’s a huge statue to Vishnu here and we stop for a photo opportunity.
We’ve only got 10 more km to go and Quentin spots a temple on the map about half way so we decide to visit. It’s just off the main road up a short, 400metre climb… Bugger! Oh well in for a penny as they say. Quentin is soon at the top and I finally arrive to find him chatting with 2 French motorcyclists who have ridden in from Vietnam on their way to Siam Reap. Our first European meet up on this trip!
We saunter around the temple (all that effort up the hill and its a modern concrete Wat!) and enjoy the antics of the local monkey troop.
Back down the hill, where I reach a speed of 50kmph and onto the final stretch into Kampong Cham. The town sits on the Mekong River so if we find ourselves swimming we’ve gone too far!
By 10am we’re booked in to our accommodation for the night, a rather swanky hotel for only $16 between us. They even let us park our bikes in a meeting room. Or would if mine fitted through the door, so I end up leaving it just as safe in the corridor. We are right on the Mekong waterfront and there are several eateries along here so for lunch we enjoy some great local cuisine, Plea Sach Kor, which is some kind of tasty beef salad and rice.
As we finish up we can see huge black clouds forming over the Mekong and a stiff wind whipping up whitecaps. We head around the back streets to the local market and the heavens open. Oh my god its a downpour of biblical scale. We are thoroughly drenched and loving it. Walking down the centre of the street as everyone else takes cover, mad!
Back at the hotel the receptionists laugh at us but quickly arrange towels for us to dry off. Great service! I’m now listening to the rain through the open windows as I finish today’s blog entry. It’s been a deluge for the past 2 hours. Hope it stops by tomorrow!!
Friday 10th May 2019 Kampong Cham to Tam Bien Vietnam Distance 95 km Total 25582 km
The rain has cleared and taken the humidity and heat away with it. At 3.30am we’re crossing the Mekong River in darkness… at least there’s a bridge!
Quentin’s psychodelic wheel lights are ablaze as we swoop down the other side. This morning there’s a lot more traffic on the road and it’s pretty dusty and a lot of the trucks are belching out black fumes. Quentin has a nice charcoal filter face mask, I’m just hiding my nose in my top! To make matters worse, I can’t wear my sunglasses in the dark to stop the dust getting in my eyes. But I’ve got plenty in my nose and lungs and spend the morning clearing them! Nice. We stop in the early morning at a bakery in a dark town square. Breakfast for me is a lump/brick of lemon drizzle brioche. Very tasty.
Later there’s a lovely sunrise over to our left as we head southeast towards the border. Clouds give it a pinkish orange (is there a colour name for this?) hue and the road is flat and fast. I stop in a village and buy some cheap face masks, but it’s probably too little to late!
With 12km to go we turn off the main road onto a rutted and lumpy dirt road. Surely this can’t be the road to the border? I know we aren’t crossing at the main Cambodia Vietnam border crossing but seriously? However the road does change from lumpy dirt to lumpy tarmac after a couple of k’s and soon we are zipping passed a long line of trucks waiting to cross. There’s also a number of casino hotels here although they look pretty run down.
We wheel up to a gate where in front of us we can see the huge Vietnam border building. To our right is a small shack… this is the Cambodian Immigration office! We park our bikes on the mud covered road and join the non-existent queue. Handing my passport over I ready $30 as I know I’ve been a bad boy and overstayed my welcome in Cambodia. They look at my passport, they glance at me. My passport is passed to the big boss at the rear of the shack. I wait patiently in the heat enjoying the occasional waft of air-conditioned coolness coming from the low slung window. Did I tell you I was bent over double! My passport comes back and they ask for my $30. As simple as that, they give me a receipt and stamp me out of the country. I even get a smile.
So that’s the end of Cambodia for now. I’m sure I’ll be back at some stage, but now it’s on to Vietnam.
To learn about our Vietnam entry shenanigans and more you’ll have to wait for my next blog. Hope you’ve enjoyed this one!