03
Mar

Cycling Vietnam and Cambodia! (Summary Post with Links)

By: muttler

 

Xin Chào and Sou Sdey!

I have finally got to typing up some quick notes and stories about my recent cycling trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Mostly I went to visit Angkor, but I had 10 days of great fun on a cycling tour. Below are links to each of the days. Hope you enjoy!

Day One: *Insert Good Morning Vietnam Cliche Here*

Day Two: The Cycling Commences

Day Three: Exploring The Mekong

Day Four: Pineapple, Pho, Frog and Ice Cream (one of those things is not like the other)

Day Five: Border Crossing

Day Six: Monkeys and Muay Thai

Day Seven: Spiderlicious

Day Eight: Siem Reap FC

Day Nine: Sunrise at Angkor

Day Ten: The Grand Circuit

 

03
Mar

The Grand Circuit

By: muttler

 

29/01/2019 – Angkor

My last day 🙁

I had one last day to explore Angkor before I would be heading home. While I *should* have been out in it from early, I did have a bit of a sleep in, as the reality was that every day was quite long and we rode around 400km in the end. So combine the activity with moderate sleep and lots of heat (and beer!), and I thought I had earned a little lie in. Plus I wanted to enjoy the day, so having a sleep in for a couple of hours was a good idea I thought.

I had plans to mostly walk for the day in Angkor, but I wanted to see some of the slightly more fringe temples, so the hotel staff strongly advised me to get a tuk tuk out to angkor, and have the driver hang out with me. For $18 for the day, I couldn’t say no.

 

 

I did what is called “The Grand Circuit”. It is the ring of temples that is slightly outside the typical ones (i.e. the ones we did the day before). They are all quite different and typically have less tourists so I was excited to see them.

I won’t go into much detail for them, except to say that if you go to Angkor you MUST ensure you have at least a couple of days up your sleeve to visit more temples outside the main ones. While Angkor Wat, Bayon, etc are undeniably stunning, the scale and number of tourists can get a little overwhelming. But those on the Grand Circuit are still fascinating and gorgeous, with the benefit of much less tourists.

So where did I go?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preah Khan was first on this list… a medium sized temple with lots to explore. I just love clambering over ruins!

 

 

Neak Peak is a little shrine in the middle of small lake. Interesting, although could be skipped if short on time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ta Som I LOVED! There were heads like Bayon which endlessly fascinated me, but had a bit more to explore and even had a cool tree growing out of a head at the rear entrance!

 

 

 

 

East Mebon was next. This was a little run down, with some small towers and elephant statues. You could walk around some of the inside walls and explore the buildings and ruins within. I loved getting into these kind of temples!

 

 

 

Pre Rup was last on the list for the day. It was in good condition and was similar to East Mebon. I could climb up a number of steep steps and get amongst lots of towers with small bricks. Another great one and hardly anyone there!

 

 

 

 

 

So with that it was getting on in the day and I was done! There were MANY more temples I could explore but that would mean getting out further from the complex, and sadly that would have to wait for another visit. I did want to do another quick stop by Angkor Wat as it dawned on me that I never did the classic walk in from the front. So the driver let me do a quick stop by to wander in. Yes, it was the classic touristy view, but it really is stunning.

With that it was back to the hotel. I was exhausted and a little templed out, and probably ready to head home. So a quiet night to myself with some dinner and my Cambodian adventure had come to an end.

03
Mar

Sunrise at Angkor

By: muttler

 

28/01/2019 – Angkor (32km riding)

The day had finally arrived. ANGKOR! The main reason for my whole trip really.

We had an early start… 4am to be exact. You can’t come to Angkor and not do a sunrise really, especially given that part of the design of the temple is to be stunning for sunrise and sunset. So up we got and went to get our park tickets. Entry is quite tightly controlled now, with tickets with your photo to be kept on you at al times. We got those nice and early and headed into the temple complex to get a spot for sunrise.

 

 

Cham took us to a quieter spot… not the typical spot close to the front. We had a little bit of distance, and while it was quieter there was still certainly a lot of people there by sunrise. I was quite overwhelmed by it all. It had been many years that I had wanted to get to Angkor, so to see Angkor Wat in its glory was quite something. We sat and watched the sun come up and soaked it all in.

Given it was still quite early, we made our way back to the hotel for breakfast and to get our bikes. No point exploring Angkor on foot or tuk tuk when you have bikes!

So we geared up and did the cycle to Angkor , starting back at Angkor Wat. Rather than go in the front, we went in the back entrance which was more quiet. We got to wander in with a little more serenity before exploring the temple fully with Cham and 1000s of other tourists.

I can’t really say too much except that I found my whole time at Angkor pretty magical. I instantly regretted only allowing 2 days to explore, but oh well. I guess I would come back. I just enjoyed the time I had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So we spent about 2hr in Angkor Wat, marvelling at the structure and the carvings.

We then jumped back on the bikes to cycle to Angkor Thom. The Angkor complex is quite massive, so on foot is quite daunting. But bikes made it so much fun, as we could scoot around in the woods and then also along the outer wall of Angkor Thom which was great. It is about 1.5km on each side, so to cycle rather than trek in the heat was a great way to do it.

 

 

 

 

Bayon exists within Angkor Thom and was my favourite of the day. Many hundreds of stone heads graced the temple and it was absolutely stunning and fascinating.

 

 

Back on the bikes again to cycle to the next most popular temple, and within close proximity to the others, Ta Prom. Outside of Angkor Wat itself, this is the most recognisable, being the temple with the trees growing out of it. Yep, the Tomb Raider temple. I found this one the least compelling, but it was indeed quite visually striking.

We had some time to explore and then have a very late lunch before we cycled back to Siem Reap. We were hot from our riding and exploring, so what better thing to do than jump in the pool with a drink?! We did some relaxing and then out for dinner. Sadly it was the farewell dinner, as the tour was technically all done. Much of the group was disappearing the next day, so it was unlikely I was going to see many the next day. The make up of this group was quite a bit different to other G Adventures groups I had been part of in the past, but it was a great group. Everyone was a great cyclist meaning when you ride a few hundred kilometres and need everyone to be on it, we were always riding strong and everyone was looking out for each other. So it really was quite a perfect group.

Cham was a top tour leader too, which I now expect from G Adventures. Fun, super knowledgable, and always looking after us… we could not have had better.

 

 

Our night was like most… dinner followed by more cheeky drinks before we said our farewells this time. I would have one more day of adventure ahead.

03
Mar

Siem Reap FC

By: muttler

 

27/01/2019 – Siem Reap (52km riding)

Today was quite a different day. We were going to be based in Siem Reap for the next few days, so it was about a little bit of cycling, stopping to look at something, repeat.

 

 

 

We got out of the centre of Siem Reap quite quickly, making our way through rice fields and lots of veggies. In no time we found ourselves in a local market, where not only were there lots of things to buy, but lots of food to eat too! We first of all jumped on to the waffles and the group couldn’t get enough! My favourites were the fried banana and especially the banana sticky rice. Yum! I could have stayed there all day eating.

 

 

Nearby we popped out head into a crocodile farm and got to see a big bunch of crocodiles just hanging out in the sun.

 

 

 

But the best part of the day was just around the corner, and completely unplanned. As we were riding we saw a bunch of local kids (early/mid teens) playing football in a dusty field. Cham stopped and asked “so is anyone up for playing?!”. A bunch of us were super keen, so a match of G Adventures United versus Siem Reap FC was born! We took to the field in our cycling gear and in no time were running up and down. It was a really tight match and we ended up playing for close to half an hour in the heat! It was SO much fun! In the end we went down 2-1, but that gives you an idea of how intense and close it was. It really was a highlight of the trip

 

 

 

 

We kept riding until we arrived at lunch. I had some form of Siem Reap soup which was nice to fill the belly before having a little relax in the abundant hammocks.

 

 

 

 

With the legs feeling good, we then rode to the famous stilted village in Tonie Sap lake. Tonie Sap is the largest lake in south east Asia, and also is incredible for how much it changes over the year. It is so much so that all the houses in the area sit on massive stilts to deal with the near 6m of water that arrives in rainy season. So it was fascinating to ride into the village on a dusty trail that at another time of the year we could be many metres under water. We could see the water mark on the stilts of the houses and it was incredible to think that for half the year bikes are replaced by boats as the necessary transport.

 

 

 

 

Even though it was low season, the lake was still quite plentiful and there were several floating restaurants out there in the lake. We jumped on a boat and made our way out to look. I imagine in high season the immense water with villages within would be amazing. As it was it was cool to see but more a curiosity than anything, seeing houses on large stilts and the odd restaurant out in the water.

We rode back a little ways before taking our bus back to Siem Reap. We had a quick change of hotels to do due to a mix up (moving to a much nicer one!) and then had time to relax before dinner at a cheap local. 50 cent beers! Yes! I had a good simple meal of spring rolls and rice curry.

The usual crew went out exploring Siem Reap and discovered as craft beer bar which was great. Beers were a little more expensive, but was nice to have a full flavoured beer! We enjoyed a couple and then head to bed for a very early morning.

03
Mar

Spiderlicious

By: muttler

 

26/01/2019 – Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (42km riding)

Today was our longest travel day… a bit of riding in there, but quite a bit of bus action as well to get us out of Phnom Penh and off to Siem Reap, our final destination on the trip.

It started with some bus travel for about 1.5hr out of the city, where we made our first real stop, and one I had been looking forward to all trip… the Spider Village at Skuon! This is fairly notorious for visitors to Cambodia. Where else will you get the chance to not just hold large furry spiders, but also eat one? The eating of spiders (and grubs and bugs) came not from novelty originally, but necessity, when food was scarce and the previous regime in full power.

 

 

 

 

 

So playing with and eating spiders? I was up for it! When you arrive many small children run up and will plonk spiders in your hands or on you. Most visitors shoo them away, but I was fine to hold a spider or two. We had a little time to wander the market. Cham looked after getting us some tasty treats for the bus, but it was fascinating to wander the market and see all the good eating on display!

 

 

 

When we got back in the bus, Cham offered up some goodies to whoever was keen. Most of us were willing to give it a go. The crickets were best for me… crunchy with some OK spice to them. The spider just tasted like deep fried something, and the grub was a little odd in texture. But all were fine. Not sure I would go back for much more though!

Another 1.5hr in the bus before we got a chance to get back on the bikes. When we started cycling it was very different countryside. The tracks were predominantly very dusty red roads, quite a contrast to Vietnam. It was some casual riding before stopping for a set lunch. Food in Cambodia was much more rice and curry than the soups in Vietnam. Nice to dive into some different cuisine.

 

 

 

 

The afternoon held more riding, with unfortunately a minor spill! One of our team came off her bike and managed to scrape up the knees pretty badly! Thankfully all was OK, and nothing that some antiseptic couldn’t get under control. After a bit more short riding (the roads were getting a bit too busy) it was on the bus for 2.5hrs to Siem Reap.

We arrived in Siem Reap, and instantly it felt very different. There were suddenly LOTS of tourists. While we had certainly seen our share in our travels thus far, clearly travel to Cambodia is all about Siem Reap and Angkor. As such, the city reflected that. It was quite pretty in places on the river, and wandering the streets certainly had a different buzz to them. But of course it also had a tourist area called Pub Street with lots of cheap drinking and food. That was fine, it was just the incessant people trying to get you into their bars that started to wear you out.

 

 

 

But for dinner Cham took us to a place that was a nice blend of good and cheap food and drink. Of course a 4.5 litre beer tower was in order! We chilled out there, playing some pool, before a few of us found a small bar to play some darts and then back to the hotel for the night.

03
Mar

Monkeys and Muay Thai

By: muttler

 

25/01/2019 – Phonm Penh (42km riding)

Today was a day of staying in Phnom Penh, but cycling in to the outer reaches to explore. Given I was a touch hungover, the sound of only a 40km day was not too bad!

 

 

We did a very short drive out of the city centre so we could collect our Cambodian bikes. This was a good move, as I’m not so sure the main roads out of the city centre would have been all that fun to ride on! We were all introduced to our new bikes (more mountain bikes) and then headed out of town.

Phnom Penh is certainly a city in transition. There is a lot of Chinese money coming in, and as a consequence, the amount of development is crazy… in many respects it is like Doha or somewhere, where new buildings are going up left, right and centre.

 

 

The roads heading out of the city were OK, but it got much more interesting in the countryside. What was crazy was to see a massive 60,000 seat stadium being built out in the middle of seemingly nowhere!

 

 

 

 

During the morning we made a temple stop… the first of many temples that would be in our Cambodian future. This was quite a cool complex, made up of lots of statues and some temples. The statues are interesting, as they are donated by people but with plaques to let people know as such. And there is apparently a direct correlation between the size of the statue and the donation. Wouldn’t want the smallest statue hey? 🙂

After this we did some more riding. The scenery was super different. Rather than lush and watery and green, we were now dry and dusty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the end we reached a small mountain stupor… with monkeys! Yay! I love a temple with monkeys. This was a short walk up a steep hill to arrive at the temple, with great surrounding views… a cracking place for photos and to soak in our new surrounds.

 

 

A late lunch at a local place followed, with our bus then picking us up to take us back to Phnom Penh. We had some time to shower and relax, and of course some of us decided to head out for coffee and beer!

Cham had a nice surprise for us. He had mentioned that he could possibly get us to see some Muay Thai boxing, and he got it sorted! So 5 of us who were keen loaded into tuk tuks, and made our way. On the way, Cham and I made a slight detour, as he had hooked me up with a Cambodian team football jersey. Sweet! Keisuke Honda would be proud 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

We got to the Muay Thai and were taken to our ringside seats. So close! A bout was already underway and I have to say, I’m not a great fan of boxing. But this was rad. Yes, it was a bit more full on than regular boxing, given the lack of big gloves and the addition of elbows and knees. But the general vibe seemed much more respectful between the combatants. The local musicians playing the soundtrack too were a nice addition!

We saw 5 matches in total, with the last 2 matches being particularly awesome. Some of decided to have some not too serious bets over 4 of the matches, and of course, by the end of it I had lost 7 beers in total. Never bet on Red is all I will say.

 

 

After the boxing came to an end, we jumped back in our tuk tuks and made our way to the night market for a late dinner. It was a choose what you want them to throw in the soup kind of deal, and I am not exactly sure what I ate, but it was a bit of alright. That would end our time in Phnom Penh before we would leave the next day.

03
Mar

Border Crossing

By: muttler

 

24/01/2019 – Chau Doc to Phnom Penh

No cycling today. Today was all about leaving Vietnam and making our way into Cambodia. That involved saying good bye to our Vietnam bikes, taking our bus to the border, walking over (and all the complicated things that happen in the middle) and then a bus on the other side to Phnom Penh.

The border crossing was a typical fairly straight forward, if slightly complicated land crossing, not unlike Central America. We got the Vietnam border, and of course a small fee would allow us to get over a bit more quickly! 2000 dong (so about 15 cents!) and we were out the other side. Overall the Vietnamese eVisa had been nice and straight forward and made travel super easy.

From there we were in no mans land of sorts! We had exited Vietnam but not yet gone into Cambodia. Cambodia was going to require a slightly more formal visa, but knew about it. They too have an eVisa system, but only going into the major air arrival locations. So this had to be done at the border. It was a bit more of a convoluted process, but it involved an actual in-the-passport visa, so understandable. But it was fairly straight forward all told. $30 USD for the visa (plus a couple of dollars to make it happen more quickly!) and I was officially in! There was also a medical check of sorts that cost 1 USD that was a dude pointing something at my arm and taking a reading (um, OK), but then was god to go.

From there it we got on our new bus to head to Phnom Penh. Instantly things felt different. The people, the landscape, and also the political environment seemed very different. Billboards were everywhere with the current president… something we would see many hundreds of times over the coming days.

 

 

 

On the way we stopped in at the main site for remembering the atrocities of the recent genocides, known as the Killing Fields. It is mind boggling to think how recent that history is. We had a guide who took us around the site. The centrepiece is a memorial filled with skulls, that is both haunting and confronting, but not sensationalist. Quite a heavy place to visit but worthwhile.

 

 

After our first Cambodian lunch (and Cambodian beer!) we headed into the city.

 

 

 

 

Before going to the hotel, we visited the other major memorial to the atrocities, the Genocide Museum. Here I struggled. Located at what was originally a school, but then a prison, this was filled with photos of victims, survivors, and those that were responsible. A few us had troubles, especially when speaking with survivors. A valuable place to visit and a reminder of how incredibly close we are to recent horrors.

It was time to start to soak up the city. We had a quick hotel check in and then some of us were off for some drinks. The rest of the group joined up and it was off to explore the city by Tuk Tuk. Cham showed us around, stopping at some of the main sites, including the main temple and palace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We arrived at our restaurant for dinner, beside the water. It was a great place, with good food and very cheap drinks. Cham organised happy hour for us our entire time there 🙂

 

 

 

 

As a consequence, we had a LOT of drinks. $2.50 double strength mojitos! Cheap beer!

A few of us stayed until closing time, wandering back to our hotel a little drunk, but with time for a cheeky drink and some card games on the way back before ending our first night in Cambodia.

03
Mar

Pineapple, Pho, Frog and Ice Cream (one of those things is not like the other)

By: muttler

 

23/01/2019 – Tra On to Chau Doc (80km riding)

A slightly earlier 6:30am start today, so that we could do some sightseeing of sorts before jumping on the bikes. We jumped back on a boat after our pleasant homestay, taking it back to the main roads via the floating markets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a set of markets where the trading happens on boat… larger boats are chock full of goods (veggies, fruit, seafood) and everyone pulls up alongside in their smaller boat to buy for their restaurant or to onsell somewhere else. Since it was nice and early, we stopped by the pineapple seller and got some sweet fruit for a post breakfast treat. So very sweet! The floating market was quite busy with sellers, buyers, and tourists and before not too long we disembarked the boat, wandered through the local on-land market, and grabbed our bikes.

The riding was similar to the day before… this time there was lots of rice fields which were really pretty. Slightly more main roads which wasn’t quite as fun, but still great to be out on the bikes. Lunch stop was again a very local hole in the wall for a nice Pho (and a cold beer).

 

 

 

Just after lunch we stopped in to visit a Khmer temple which was interesting as it was the first thing of that ilk that we visited. It was a nice surprise as I didn’t expect the temples to start until we got into Cambodia. As we rode, it was a delight as there were so many friendly locals and kids saying hello. High fiving kids while riding is the absolute best!

Late in the arvo we has a stop for coffee and ice cream. The place had hammocks! Yessss!

And not long after we were all done. It was a great day riding… a nice long 80km, but a little cooler and a bit overcast.

From there it was a bus to Chau Doc and the hotel. We had a little time to relax before heading out for some food. Again a quintessential local eatery, this a big place with lots of locals and huge menu. Perusing it, of course I knew what i would have… frog! Complete with chili and lemongrass.

 

 

 

How was it? Hhhmmm, not great. Just really boney to be honest. But what I also discovered here was something had not seen in a long time… ring pulls on cans! Ha! With even the chance to win a free beer underneath!

After dinner, some of us went wandering and found some coffee and ice cream. I had the taro ice cream which made up for the frog. 

 

 

With the night still young, we discovered a local open air billiard hall. What was odd was the nature of the billiard tables… no pockets and only three balls! Thanks to Google we worked out the rules (basically teams of two, where you had to play your ball on to the other two in one hit to get a point). With some billiards and beer done, back to the hotel for sleep.

03
Mar

Exploring the Mekong

By: muttler

 

 

22/01/2019 – Ben Tre to Tra On (70km riding)

With another 7am start, today was a bigger riding day, where we would clock in around 70km or so.

Most of the day was riding through local villages and towns as we explored the Mekong Delta. There were lost of small paved roads, but we also found ourselves amongst the delta, on what seemed like footpaths, but that at different times would be a buzz with motorcycles or school children buzzing back and forth from home to school.

So in terms of “what did we do and see” it wasn’t that kind of day. It was a day to ride along, soaking in the new environment and culture. Highlights included popping in to see coconuts being harvested and prepared, catching a tiny ferry across a stretch of water to then explore a local market, fields of gorgeous flowers, an amazingly delicious lunch at a homestay (the veggies in pancake was soooo good!), and then a final ferry to our actual homestay for the evening. All up we did just over 70km and while I was a little tired from the riding and heat I felt good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So we took our small boat to the homestay, which was a nice place… part hotel part homestay. It was short on the comforts but flowing with the hospitality and beer… and doggo! We even rolled our sleeves up (so to speak) to make our own dinner… spring rolls and more of the same pancake we had for lunch. I was happy that mine was quite edible!

A few of us played cards for a couple of hours, before it was time for sleep.

03
Mar

The Cycling Commences

By: muttler

 

 

21/01/2019 – Ho Chi Minh City to Ben Tre (32km riding)

Today the trip started in earnest. We met our two remaining group mates and left the city by bus at 7am. Traffic was insane! SO many motorbikes. EVERYWHERE!

 

 

 

Once we were a bit out of Saigon, we were introduced to our bikes for the Vietnamese portion of the trip. They were some very solid mountain bikes and so it looked like some off road riding would be arriving sooner rather than later. The bike already was perfectly sized which was some nice comfort to start. Looking at the whole group it looked as though we had an ace squad… everyone was a pretty experienced cyclist and all looked to have some good fitness. Looked like it might even be me letting the team down!

Off we went, starting with an initial leg of 15km or so. Rode through countryside, some woods (with rubber trees), some rice and other things. It was a combination of some paved roads, but then into the woods it was on some dirt trails which was great.

In not too long we got to Chu Chi tunnels. We were actually at a set of lesser known and quieter ones. Apparently most tourists visit a different set of tunnels a bit easier to get to, but we were fortunate to have the bikes and advice to head to the different set. We had a local guide there to tell us all about them. What still existed was a series of tunnels, at a number of different depths below the ground, that were used during the war. Some we were permitted to go through so off to explore!

 

 

 

They were quite squeezy, but in many respects there was more space than I thought. Once you were in, some crouching was all that was really needed to make your way through. The entrance to one tunnel was VERY tight. Only two of us ventured down! Once in, it was actually not really any different to the others, but I could see how the tiny hole to get in would give people second thoughts about dropping in. Also in the tunnel area was examples of all the other aspects, including the traps that were used to catch people unawares that should not have been in there. For example, step in the wrong spot and you may fall into a pit of spikes. Ouch.

After the tunnels it was off for lunch. I elected to have a pork dish that had morning glory in it. This seemed to be like a water spinach of some kind, and as we would find out was everywhere. Quite tasty.

 

 

It was then more riding for the afternoon before joining our bus and taking it to our first stop, Ben Tre, nicely placed in the Mekong delta. Was quite a nice hotel and the town seemed quite fun too. Right on the water, and with local markets setting themselves up as the sun started to go down, it had a nice vibe to it. At dinner time, Cham took us to a local place where we plonked down on the outside tables and settled in for my first bowl of Pho. Delicious!

 

 

 

Some of us then spent some of the evening wandering the markets, before I settled in to watch Australia play in their Asian cup match. While it was a win, sadly it was a pretty lacklustre performance. Oh well, a win is a win. Then off to sleep for another 7am start.