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Cycling through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam
European Big Freeze
I always feel great leaving Europe around end of December when the weather is absolutely freezing, but this time was touch and go! The whole of Europe and USA was frozen and cities like Paris are not equipped for de-icing the number of planes that take off everyday! We were extremely lucky that we sat in the plane for 2 hours and then took off with only 2 hours delay.
Some people on our trip were delayed by 26 hours and just made it for the trip start date.
I was very excited as this was going to be my first ever organised cycling trip. We have cycled on holidays before, but it involved putting our bikes on the bike rack fitted on the Land Rover and driving off somewhere.
This trip involved visited three different countries over 16 days by bike. For trip information see separate box on the right.
Company : EXODUS
Trip Name : Cycle Indochina & Angkor Wat
Dates : 19th Dec 2009 to 2nd Jan 2010
Ratings : 1(bad) to 5(excellent)
Guides : 3 to 5 (we had several guides)
Hire Bikes :5 (new bikes)
Quality of rides : 4/5 ; mainly good rides and some were great fun, but some were inevitably along busy roads and that was not so much fun.
Hygiene by country
Thailand : 5
Cambodia : 1
Level of fitness : Intermediate, well I am quite fit (but not superfit) but I found it tough on some days. A good idea to do some 2 hours cycling session prior to trip.
- Bring your gel seat as it will save you a lot of pain
- Bikes can be hired and we did that because we did not fancy transporting our own bikes due to risks of damage.
- As many bike shorts with padding as possible
- Good water bottle...enough water to keep you going for 20 km in a very hot and humid climate
- Helmets are compulsory and good practice.
- Lots of suntan cream
- Your good humour is essential
- Strong stomach if you have one!
- Get all the vaccinations and bring some antibiotics, immodium and rehydration sachets.
Me on my bike!
I had been to Thailand several times before but my last trip was in 1996 and it was amazing how much had changed in Bangkok. There is now a very efficient skytrain and metro system and the few tuktuks look new and clean and even the cars are newer and less polluting. We had such a chilled out few days eating our favourite cuisine every day! Bliss! On the day that our organised trip started, we were picked up from our hotel and the rest of the group from the airport. We met some very tired people who had severe delays and did not even know which day it was, but they were happy to have made it.
We spent our first day in Khao Yai National Park, met the guides and our bikes. The short bike ride (20 km) was a lovely way to get used to our hired bikes. I fit my gel seat on my saddle and at the end of the trip I realised how lucky I was to have brought this with me even though I was wearing padded shorts...any extra bit of cushioning helped after the first 100 km!
Next day was an early start for a long 90 km ride, which may seem impossibly long to people who are not used to cycling long distances, but it was not as hard as I had imagined as we had refreshment stops every 17-18 km. The support crew were fabulous as they had cold towels ready and cold drinks and all kinds of energy snacks. These breaks were always great to catch our breath and have a laugh with everyone. This was really a very civilised adventure trip. While cycling through the little villages we shouted "hello" to everyone we see and all the kids wave and shout back "hello". After a while I started shouting "Sawadee Kha" instead and that amused all the children. We also stopped at a lovely Buddhist temple ( there is no shortage of Wats in Thailand).
A funny side story here : My husband is a marathon runner and has completed two iron man events in very respectable times and he cycles 180 km for these events, so him taking the support vehicle was never even discussed. And the joke between us was that I would end up in the support vehicle more than on my bike. That first day, my husband and two of the other bikers decided they would run the last stretch of 17 km [I guess they did not find the 90 km cycling tough enough]. The rest of us set off quite satisfied that the first 90 km was nearly completed. As it turned out, one of the runners was struggling so all three had to complete the last part of the trip in the van, since their bike had already been taken to the hotel. It was hilarious to see Iron Man/Marathon Man coming out of the van on the first day with no injuries. (sorry Rich had to tell this story).
Next day it was 70 km through Tapioca plantations and an educational stop at a rubber tree plantation. Dinner was becoming more and more fun as people were getting to know one another. This one was special because there was live music with beautiful Thai girls singing all the songs we requested them to sing.
Day 4 was our final bike ride in Thailand. A 90 km ride to the border town of Aranyaprathet. I found the last half of this ride very tough with a 5km uphill to a reservoir cycling into wind. I finally succumbed to the support van for the last 17 km. But hey, I still did 73 km by bike that day and so in 4 days I had cycled 253 km already. I am happy with that even if my bum was starting to feel it! At Aranyaprathet we saw the most bizarre thing I have ever seen. Huge double decker disco buses were in the hotel parking with people actually dancing at 5 pm! I decided to have a traditional Thai massage before dinner on my last night in Thailand. That leaves me aching everywhere. These Thai masseuse look so small yet they are so strong and they can bend your body any way they want it to. I am always amazed how supple they make me look.
Yum yum spicy fried SPIDERS
Oh what horrors took place in Cambodia!
The trip to the Thai/Cambodian border was very interesting as you feel you had just been teleported to another world. There were contraptions on wheels that I have never seen in my life. All kinds of strange vegetables, meat (raw and dried) and all sorts of edible and non edible stuff were crossing the border in both directions. We now met our Cambodian guide, who told us his name was Mr T and although we desperately tried to get a name without the Mr for him, we did not succeed. Mr T was a robot really because he told everything as if he learnt it parrot fashion and if you interrupt him to ask a question, he just ignores you anyway.
We were now in Siem Reap where the Angkor Wat are. Late afternoon we went to watch sunset over the Angkor Wat. Sounds fabulous? Well it sort of was except for the thousands of other tourists who had the same idea. It was a bit of a frenzy getting there so you don't miss the sunset. Too many people and too many cameras, but that still does not stop the Angkor Wat being one of the most magnificent Temple complex ever built in the name of Vishnu, the Indian God - One of the Trinity.
In Indian Mythology/Religion, there is Bramha the Creator, Shiva the Destroyer and Vishnu the Preserver.
To write about Angkor Wat in this hub would not do it justice, so for now, all I will say is that it is one of the places you have to see before you die. It is a huge complex and going from one temple/site to the next by bike was quick and a lot of fun. There were also a few elephant-taxi service for those who could not walk. At this point on our trip it was really hot and there was not much shade, so we were all getting a dose of sun stroke. In the evening a few of us went to the same restaurant and then one by one we all started coming down with a very serious stomach bug. One cyclist ended up in hospital, where she stayed for 3 days. It was Christmas day and some of us still managed to drag ourselves out and have a few drinks and some food. The people in Cambodia look quite different from the Thais or the Vietnamese. I think they look more Indian and have rounder faces. They all thought I was Cambodian with my Indian looks and my slanted eyes!
We stopped cycling and headed towards Phnom Penh where we all knew there was horror and dread waiting for us. I had read a lot about the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. In fact, I had just finished reading a book by Denise Affonco, who was born in Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Her mother was Vietnamese and her father French. She was held prisoner in the countryside, where her husband was killed and her daughter died of starvation. Her book "to the end of hell" describes everything they all went through and how the population of Cambodia went down by two million in a few years.
In Phnom Penh we visited the S-21 prison, where the most terrible atrocities took place and even met one of the survivors. That was one of the most moving encounter I have ever had. It makes you wonder how human beings can do such things to one another. Will this ever stop?This is still happening elsewhere in the world. We can never forget about what happened in places like Cambodia. Then we visited the killing fields, where masses of prisoners were told to dig a huge hole and when it was done they would be thrown in there and killed. I know it is not a nice thing to write about, but I cannot write about my trip to Cambodia without making others aware, if they are not aware and reminding others who may have forgotten that we must honor the memories of the Cambodians who were massacred by a group of murderers.
On a lighter note, before leaving Cambodia we stopped in a little village, Skuon to sample the local delicacies, one of which was fried Spiders, not just any spider but Tarantulas! I am a wimp and I am scared of spiders, so I did not try it!
Homestay in Vietnam
When I came back from a year of backpacking around the world, and people asked me which was my favourite country, I always found it very hard to answer as I love most places I visit. However, for those really insistent friends I would end up picking Vietnam. It is a very chaotic place but I find there is an underlying peace there that is difficult to find elsewhere. So going back to Vietnam was going to be very exciting. And guess what, the highlight of this trip was the homestay on an island in the Mekong Delta. That place was really magical and we were given two communal rooms and we could go and see our hosts preparing our food. The food was presented very artistically and the setting was perfect. Everybody was feeling good as we seemed to have left the sickness in Cambodia. We played silly games, sang and drank beers until the early hours of the morning. The next day we visited a market, where they showed us how they make rice pops, rice paper and some lovely cakes from rice and coconut. Time to put back some weight; with the cycling and stomach issues we had all lost weight.
Finally we had to say good bye to our bikes and we took a group photo. This cycling holiday was really great. When we drive or take a train around places like this it is very difficult to experience the everyday culture of the place, but with a bike you can stop anywhere and communicate with the people who live in the villages. I would recommend this trip to everyone who wants to really experience the culture and have great fun while keeping fit!
We headed to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) on new year's eve. Had our last group dinner and welcomed the new year in the oldest nightclub in Saigon, Apocalypse.
Saigon has changed a lot since I last went there. In 1995, there were many bicycles on the road. Now there are hardly any bikes but many more motorbikes. It is total chaos. These motorbikes never stop so crossing the road is a real challenge. Even then we managed to have a few more days chilling out in Saigon before heading back to the big freeze...
- CYCLE INDOCHINA & ANGKOR WAT - THAILAND, CAMBODIA, VIETNAM | Exodus
CYCLE INDOCHINA & ANGKOR - An adventurous road cycle between Bangkok and Saigon, through traditional villages, national parks, magnificent Angkor Wat and the mighty Mekong Delta.