tisdag 22 april 2014

Another New Year, Island life and a surprise

One of the reasons why I went through the south part of Cambodia a little fast in the end was to make into Thailand for the New Year’s celebrations. Songkran as they call it lasts for a few days and during those days there is a lot of fun things going on in the country especially the water fights. It didn’t take long after crossing the border until I had the first bucket of water thrown over me by a happy kid standing by the side of the road. And so it continued for the rest of the ride to the city Trat. I did fight back as good as I could but once I reached the city I was completely drenched with water and with chalk in my face. Likely all of my bags are waterproof so there was no problem.
In the city of Trat the main street was filled with happy celebrating people on slow moving trucks throwing water at everyone. And of course extra fun to get to empty a bucket of ice cold water on that foreigner riding by on the bicycle.
The next day I had dried up and started early before the water fights had started. And I made it almost completely dry to the ferry port. I was heading out to the island Koh Chang for a few days break on some nice beaches. And once I was on the island I understood what the girl at the guesthouse in Trat meant when she said Koh Chang wasn’t a good place to ride a bike. Because on my ride to the south part of the island where I would stay where probably the steepest roads I’ve ever cycled on. And in this humid hot weather it was really hard going slowly up hills after hills. At some points I actually had to get off and push the bike 
which I think has just happened once before. And on top of that I had an flat tire just 2 km from the hostel.
So I was tired and again drenched in water from the water fights once I arrived at the hostel.
It was a really nice place and at a little quieter part of the island away from the most crowded beaches. And after that tough day the next day I just did nothing and was lying on the beach and swimming in the nice warm sea. It was the last day of Songkran and even though it was a lot of fun it still felt kind of nice that is was over and you could walk around without getting completely wet. After a day at the beach doing nothing I felt I wanted to do something the next day and me and some others from the hostel went out on an all-day snorkeling trip off the coast of the island. Unfortunately there’s a lot of tourist in the good snorkeling spots, but when we swam a little further we got away from the crowds and it was really nice. It was a good day and I met some really nice people on the boat.
And speaking of meeting nice people, at the some hostel I was staying at two people I had met on this trip twice before had turned up. André and Karla was staying at the hostel, the cycling couple from Brazil who I had met before first in Vietnam and then again in Cambodia. It was such a nice surprise and coincidence that we would happen to stay at the same place at the same time, and this time we had some more time to spend together since the last two times we crossed paths going in the opposite directions.
I stayed a total of five days on the island and had a really nice relaxing time, made many new friends met old ones and have some great memories from that place. But eventually it’s always time to move on and on the way back to the ferry I didn’t want to go through the tortures hills again, once was more than enough. So I put the bike on a taxi who had to struggle itself to get up those hills back to the ferry port. But once back on the mainland the roads were flat again and I set my sight on Bangkok. It was hotter back on the mainland then on the island and I missed the nice sea breeze when cycling under the burning sun. But for the most part the wind was in my back and I did around 100 km each day stopping in Chanthaburi, Rayong and Chon Buri before the last ride into the capital.
And riding a bicycle through Bangkok is not something I would recommend anyone to do. At first it was okay with wide roads and not to bad traffic. But once I got closer to the center the traffic became really bad with a lot of traffic jams. But the good thing about being on a bicycle is that is easy to ride through a traffic jam, and I was going through the middle of the traffic, on the side and even on the sidewalk. Eventually I made it to where I was staying, a little north of the center. My host Toom is an amazing couchsurfer and just loves hosting a lot of people. This first night we were 6 people staying here.

I will take a little break from cycling now and have decided to go up to the north of Thailand. The train ticket to Chiang Mai is booked for Thursday and it feels good to take a little break from cycling and travel like a backpacker..

lördag 12 april 2014

Second tour in Cambodia

After going being in Vietnam for the second time it was now time to head back to Cambodia also for the second time. Last time I entered Cambodia I already had the visa in my passport but this time I had to apply at the border. I had heard stories about how corrupt it is and how they try to get more money out of you. And knowing that it should cost 20$ I refused to pay the 25$ that the border police asked for. I was there with a couple from England and finally they said they would give us a “special” price of 22$. We still demanded that it should be 20$, but gave in after he said we could stand on the side and wait for a couple of hours. Maybe with a little more patience we could have gotten it for 20$, but paid the extra 2$ bribe and moved on.
The first stop was the small Kep just about 30 km from the border. It was a really small and quit place and I didn’t do much there except lying in a hammock by the sea. The place is famous for its crabs and have a “crab market” next to some nice restaurant. But I wouldn’t call much of a crab market since there where barely any crabs there, just a small market for tourists. I met a Belgium guy in Kep wo was riding bike from Phnom Penh and we decided to ride together to Kampot.
It was a short ride and Antoine and I stopped by a little cave on the way there. Not muck to see if you’ve seen a couple of caves but still kind of nice. After the visit to the cave we rode into the little town of Kampot. I made reservation at a place called The Magic Sponge and I have to say it was one of the nicer hostels I’ve been at. For 3$ I got a big bed on the top floor with a view of the Bakor mountain from my bed.
I met a lot of nice people during the days I spent in Kampot. I didn’t really do much there, but it’s one of those relaxed placed where there no need to do anything and still enjoy it. I also met some other cyclist while I was there and two Canadian guys was supposed ride with Antoine and I from Kampot but after a fun last night one of the guy’s weren’t really ready in the morning. So the two of us started cycling and met two other cyclists along the way. A couple from France, and yet again I was surrounded by French speaking people. Felt like most people I met in Kampot spoke French. And not just the French people, also the French-Canadian’s and French speaking Belgians.
We didn’t cycle together for long and at once intersection we all split up. Antoine rode south to Sihanoutville, the couple stayed in the little town at the intersection and I rode north-west towards Koh Kong and Thailand. I’ve decided to skip Sihanoutville and the island off the coast since I felt I’ve been enough in Cambodia and wanted to move on. Also wanted to be in Thailand for the Thai New Year aka Waterfestival.
The road to the border town Koh Kong was really nice and I stopped in two small places before getting here. The first stop was in the mall town of Ambel, wasn’t anything to do there but I really like the genuine markets in there tows where there’s no tourists and I can just walk in the market maze and look around. And of course get my daily dose of delicious mangoes.

The road from Ambel to Koh Kong goes through Boutum Sakor National Park and is a little hilly. So far Cambodia had been very flat and now I got to feel how it was to go uphill in this heat. I was sweating like never before but still enjoyed the surroundings with forest and green hills. Once out of the forest I was back at by the sea and in Koh Kong. I had a day on rest here and rode around the area a little to the mangrove forest and along the sea side. Tomorrow I’m leaving Cambodia for the second time and heading into Thailand. I’ve had a great time here but also feel excited to move on into Thailand and experience it on the bike..   

torsdag 3 april 2014

Back in Vietnam

I was very happy to find that the road from Phnom Penh going east was paved and as smooth as it can be in Cambodia. I started early in the morning as I’ve been trying to do lately to have a little time at the beginning of the ride when it isn’t burning hot. But still, as soon as the sun shines on you it gets really hot again.
It would take me two days to get to the border and the first night I stayed in a little town that happened to have a little guest house, but not much more. When I walked around just before sunset it couldn’t find any restaurant. But as I continued on a small road leading into the village passing the market where I earlier bought some fruit I came across a nice lady who seemed to be selling some food. And after a little confusion I got me some BBQ chicken and sat there eating while villagers came by looking puzzled why a foreigner would be sitting there eating. I was most likely the only costumer at the little guest house and had to knock on the gate to have someone from the family let me in. I’ve gotten used to these kind of places and feel no need for air-condition and other luxuries, even though it’s nice sometimes. This night I was just happy that the ceiling fan didn’t fall down on me during the night since it was swinging wildly above my bed.
I continued on the next day fighting with a headwind for the 6th day in a row. I stopped at the border town of Bavet instead of continuing into Vietnam that day. But the next morning I left Cambodia and after a very fast and smooth border crossing I was back in Vietnam again, more than two months after I left Vietnam for Laos.
And one thing that was very different from the north was the weather. When I was there before it was a little cold some days and always very cold during the nights since the houses there aren’t really made for cold weather. So the contrast was huge when I now returned to the country and it was 35 degrees. But except for the weather it looked somewhat the same. Good roads when compared to Cambodia, more modern with wifi almost everywhere and the coffee shops, oh how I love the coffee shops here in Vietnam. Along the road there are countless and whenever I feel like a refreshing ice coffee the next place is just a few hundred meters ahead. And the best thing is that most places has hammocks where you lie down relax for a while and sip you’re coffee.
From the border it wasn’t very far to Ho Chi Minh City, and from what I’ve heard the traffic would be absolute crazy. I had cycled in Hanoi before and knew what to expect plus a little bit more traffic. And it was not easy, but somehow there’s some kind of system. I thing when you stand on the side and look at the traffic going by it looks completely mad, but when cycling there it works somehow but you always have to be prepared with your hands on the brakes and never hesitate.
After many hostels and guesthouses I was now back to couchsurfing with a guy named Duzng. I really enjoyed all the hostels and meeting other travelers, but I need the variety and it was really nice to live with a local again. We had fun during my time in the big city, going around by bicycle by day and at the back of Duzng’s motorbike at night, seeing the city and trying some delicious food. We also met up with some other couchsurfer for some drinks and a little sightseeing around town.
One thing I had to do while I was in  Ho Chi Minh was to go to the Thai embassy and apply for my visa. That process was quick and easy and I could collect my two months visa the next evening.
The bike ride out of the city was as crazy as on the way in and I always had my hands ready on the breaks all the time. But luckily I had no accidents and made it safe out.
I continued to My Tho, the first city in the Mekong Delta. Also there I had an invitation from a couchsrfer. But since my host was leaving for work in Ho Chi Minh the next morning and the fact that there wasn’t much to see there I instead continued on south. It was really nice to be cycling around the delta, through small villages, over many bridges and a couple of ferries.
I reached Can Tho in the evening and met up with Tran from couchsurfing in the evening. She gave me some good advice on what to see around, but the main sight I already knew about. And that was the floating market on the river. There’s many floating markets around the delta, but this one was supposed to be the best. So I got up really early the next morning and went to the harbor to hire a boat to take me around the market. I was really interesting to see and something completely new for me.
The market at the harbor
That night I also met up with another couchsurfer, and that was a little funny story. It turned out that I had met her while I was in Luang Prabang about two months ago, and she recognized me from my profile. Anh took me around on her motorbike and showed me the city, had some really good noodles and a special desert only found in that city. It was some sort of jelly with milk and of course ice, everything here is served with ice..
The next morning I continued on south and had a really nice ride on small roads next to the canals with small boats driving next to me. The next stop was Rach Gia, and for the first time in a long while I was back by the ocean. It fest great and something I had been looking forward to a lot.
On the way into the city a man on a motorbike pulled up next to me and starting talking. I was really difficult to understand anything since his English wasn’t good and also while riding. So we stopped to have a chat and I finally understood that he wanted to invite me to his home. I went along with that and we had a couple of beers and tried to understand each other. In the evening he took me around town on his motorbike to the seaside and in the city. He invited me for dinner and his brother and I later went for another trip to the sea side and had a chat at a café. Hien couldn’t host me since his house was really small and he had wife and two kids. But he helped me to find a room for the night right next door for only 3 dollars.
Today I followed the coast to Ha Tien and it was a really hot day today, it must have reached 40 degrees. I though being close to the sea would give a little cooler breeze but today the breeze was hot. I managed the 90 km in good time since I had started early in the morning and had time to look around the town for a cheap place. Ha Tien is a small town but still have a lot of guesthouses, but after a while I met a guy that could get me a room for 5 dollars. And with a complimentary beer included =)

So again I’m updating the blog just as I’m about to cross another border. In the morning I have a short ride to the Cambodian border and from there not very far to the little town of Kep. I’ve really enjoyed the time here in Vietnam but also looking forward to be back in Cambodia.