söndag 23 mars 2014

Covered in dust

After 12 days in Siem Reap it was time to get back out on the open road. And after almost 2 weeks break the legs are always a little slow to start with. But very soon I’m back into it and heading for the capital Phnom Penh. I had met other cyclist telling me that this road was really bad at some parts, so I was ready for that. The heat continues, so staring a little earlier in the morning is always nice to get a few hours when the sun isn’t burning as much. It was not only the heat and the tired legs that was hard when leaving Siem Reap. It was also a day of reflecting over the time I had there and a special someone that I’ll miss very much..
But the show must go on, and I pushed on 100 km into the wind the first day reaching the small town of Stoung and found a little Guesthouse. And once you get out of the touristy Siem Reap the prices are back to normal Cambodian and you can get a private room for 5 Dollars and a pretty good dinner with rice and meat for 1 Dollar.
On my way from Siem Reap I guy pulled up next to me with his motorbike and started talking. His name was Vutha and was really nice and curious about my trip. He rode next to me for about half an hour and we had a really nice conversation about my trip, life in Cambodia and other things. After a break with something to drink we said goodbye and I continued on to the next small town and another little guesthouse.
It took me 4 days to get to Phnom Penh. I could probably have done it in 3, but didn’t feel like I had to push on since I had plenty of time. And the road was not built for speed at all. So one day I just rode 50 km and had a good rest before the last day of riding into the Capital. And I really needed the strength for that day because that part of the road was really bad and the dustiest road I have ever been on. For about 60 km it was just dirt road with a layer of sand that covered my face and body at the end of the day.
I got laughed at by the people at the little road side restaurant when I pulled over all covered in dust. So it was really nice do wash off and have a nice really good lunch for just 50 cents. I bumped into two other cyclists after lunch and we rode the last stretch into the city together. I couldn’t see how dirty my own face was, but judging by how they looked I could just imagine what I looked like. Lucy and Kevin was a couple from Scotland who also was on a long trip being away for about one year so far.
I was really nice to get to the hostel in Phnom Penh that surprisingly was only 2 Dollars for a really nice air-conditioned dorm. And the shower after a day of cycling through a cloud of dust was amazing. Arriving in the Capital was a little strange because it doesn’t feel at all lie the rest of Cambodia. High-rise buildings and a buzzing big city feel to it. And the traffic… WOW! No time to relax.
I stayed here four nights and meet some really nice people and had a good time. I meet up with my cycling friends from Scotland one night and it was really nice to share stories from our trips. And since all of us had been cycling in Iran we ended up talking a lot about how great it was and wishing we were back there again. I also met another cyclist from France just when walking around the city and shared some stories. Unfortunately none of them where going the same way as I am so we couldn’t ride together from here.
One thing I wanted to see while being here in Phnom Penh was the “Killing Fields”. So yesterday was a somber one but also very important to know about the history of the country and all the horrific things that went on here under the Khmer Rouge. I first visited the S-21 prison where people was tortured in ways to horrible to imagine and then brought out to Choeung Ek also called the “Killing Fields” to be executed. But since bullets where to expensive they were just beaten to death with all types of weapons. Choeung Ek is just one of many mass graves all around Cambodia at the time where about 3 million people died under the rule of the Khmer Rouge.
After a day of horrible history a rode my bike around town a bit today seeing some sights, going by the riverside and walking around the lively markets here where you can really find everything.

Tomorrow I’ll continue east towards the Vietnam border and will stop a few days in Ho Chi Minh City before continuing south and eventually back into Cambodia again. 

söndag 16 mars 2014

Temples, temples, temples…

After a short ride in the early morning I reached the Cambodian border. And the crossing was quick and smooth and with no bribe needed at the Cambodian border. That was one of the things I had heard about beforehand, that there is a lot of corruption in the country. I could feel the difference from Thailand directly, with a lot of noise and sounds in the small border town. And here everyone is selling something and there is no shortage of taxi and tuk tuk drivers. I even got the question if I needed a ride, despite the obvious fact that I was riding my bicycle. One said it would be easier to take a taxi in the warm weather, and that he was right about. It is really hot here, between 35 and 40 in the middle of the day, and there’s no cool breeze just hot air.
On the first day I rode to Battambang and got the first taste of the chaotic traffic and some stretches on some very dusty roads. So one I reached the hostel in Battambang I was very tires and could scrape off a layer of dirt from my face. Battambang was a nice quiet city despite being one of the bigger in Cambodia. I really liked the hostel I stayed at and met many nice travelers there. I stayed there for three nights with one day of sightseeing with Lisa from Germany. We started the day with a very different kind of tourist attraction. Just outside of town there is an old railway track that now I used to drive tourists back and forth to an old brick factory on a very special train. We’re sitting on a platform made out of bamboo that is placed on the axels, and then a motor is placed in the back and drives off on the old bumpy tracks with overgrown vegetation on both sides.
After a shaky ride on the bamboo train we jumped on the tuk tuk again headed to a hill on the other side of town. There waited a climb up many steps to the top of the hill with temples and a nice view of the surroundings. But the highlight at that place was at sunset when bats flew out of a cave on their way to the lake to eat mosquitoes. It was really impressive to see a dark moving cloud of bats flying out for about 30 minutes.
After Battambang I rode back the same dusty road and stopped for the night in a small town on the way to Siem Reap. It was yet another super-hot day and for the first time the shower wasn’t cold enough for me when I wanted to cool off after the days ride. The next day I had 100 km left to cover to get to Siem Reap. I had been in contact with Andre and Karla, two cyclists from Brazil that I met in Vietnam. They were going the opposite way and we made plans to meet up along the road somewhere. So after covering 50 km I was looking around for them and suddenly Andre came running out from the side of the road shouting my name. It was great to see them again even though I wish we were going the same way for a while. After sharing some stories and drinking a refreshing ice coffee we said goodbye again and rode out separate ways.
100 km is probably the maximum I want to do in this heat and I was tired when arriving in Siem Reap. I met another cyclist in town but unfortunately he couldn’t stay at the hostel I had booked since it was full.
It was really nice to finally be in Siem Reap where I planned to stay for a while. And luckily some people I had met in Laos a few weeks before were here as well and we had a fun reunion and a first taste of the nightlife at Pub Street. The first couple of days I didn’t do much except for hanging by the pool during the days and Pub Street at night. Some people I met in Battambang also stayed at the hostel and we had some fun nights out.
The reason for my long stay here in Siem Reap was not only the temples but a friend who was coming here for a weeks stay and we had planned to see Angkor Wat together. So on Monday Amanda and I got up at 4:30 in the morning to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. It was really interesting to walk in there in the darkness not knowing where we were and then wait for the sun to rise from behind the spectacular Temple. After the amazing sunrise we then made the most out of the cool (not really) morning air and visited the Ta Prohm temple, known for being used as a location in the film Tomb Raider.
After a day’s rest by the pool and at an ice cream place we set out for a full day of temples. The highlight that day was Bayon temple with so many stone faces carved out of stone. But it’s hard work visiting the temples a full day and we were sweating walking around and up steps in the heat. We finished with a sunset from a temple on a hill before heading back for a refreshing cold shower.
The town of Siem Reap is nice with a lot of good restaurants with all kinds of different food, some stranger than others. So I  think it’s time to make a little list of the strange things I have eaten so far on my trip.
  • ·         Donkey
  • ·         Cicada
  • ·         Rabbits head
  • ·         Snake
  • ·         Crocodile
  • ·         Silk worm
  • ·         Cockroach
  • ·         Kangaroo
More to come…
Our third and last day with temples we decided to go out of the main area and started off with a hike in the jungle to a water stream with carving in the stones. Not as great as we had hoped but still nice and a very hot hike up there. We finished with the big one, Angkor Wat. It’s really big and there’s a lot to see there. But after a whole day in the heat the energy is not 100% and no one wanted to hurry around and see absolutely every corner. Instead we sat down and just enjoyed the surroundings and the beauty of the place. After the sun had set on Angkor Wat we headed back to our amazing tuk tuk driver Van San who had drove us around all three days, guiding us, telling us about the history and always with great humor and a smile on his face. So if you’re going here, look up Van San!
Yesterday was our last day, and also my birthday! Last year I spent my birthday on the road in east of Turkey spending the night in an abandoned house with a dog as my only company. So this year was a big contrast to that day, spending the day with Amanda who surprised me with a birthday cake and gifts =)

Today I’m sitting by the computer going through hundreds of photos of temples and also making a plan for the next couple of weeks. I have changed my original plan and will now ride back into Vietnam to see the south and by doing that I won’t have to rush through the rest of Cambodia. Instead I’ll get a new visa when I go back into Cambodia again and can take it a little slower along the coast on my way back into Thailand. If I don’t change my mind again…