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

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.

03
Mar

*Insert Good Morning Vietnam Cliche Here*

By: muttler

 

20/01/2019 – Ho Chi Minh City

Xin chào! I’m in Vietnam!

Well, I *was* in Vietnam. Here is the first in a series of month-late catch up posts about my recent trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. I really had very little time to do this while I was away (and in all actuality I didn’t really take the technology to be able to do it anyway) as it was wall-to-wall cycling and exploring and eating and drinking. So these posts will be a little light on the detail, but hopefully you will get the idea!

After a brief stopover in Kuala Lumpur airport, I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) around 10am. Typical South East Asian craziness greeted me at the airport, as did bedlam on the roads as I got my cab to the hotel in the centre of the city. I would be meeting with a group that evening, but the day was mine to explore.

I only had a rough plan… a couple of historical places to see along with markets and some French architecture. Otherwise the idea was to just get out there and explore.

 

 

First stop was the Ben Thanh market. To be honest it wasn’t super interesting given I wasn’t looking for cheap t-shirts or knock off goods. The food did look good though, and I had my first of what would be several Banh Mi through the day. Mmmm… fresh baguette. The meat was typical luncheon meat and I was maybe expecting something a little different there (I am used to my roast pork at home) but the rest of the ingredients were nice and fresh. Just what I wanted after the airline food.

 

 

I found myself at the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon. If the French history of the city was not obvious before, it was now. The renovations made things a little difficult, but it was quite impressive, especially given it was somewhat at odds with the rest of the city.

 

 

 

Keeping the French theme, right across the road was the Gustav Eiffel designed Post Office. It was quite cool, although smaller than I thought it would be. Inside now it is really just home to some souvenir stalls…although you can still post a postcard there!

 

 

Next it was a casual wander through the streets. There was quite a great laneway housing many bookstores, just near the post office which was a delight. It also gave me time for a second banh mi! I my travels I also got to see some of the set up happening for upcoming lunar new year. This pig looked suspiciously like Pikachu I thought 🙂

In a little bit I arrived at my destination, the Independence Palace. This was the home of the South Vietnamese president during the war, as well as his place of work. I wasn’t sure what to expect really, but I LOVED this place. It was the most perfect 70’s time capsule. All the rooms, both those for work and those for living, were immaculate with 70’s furniture and decor. Symmetry at its finest! It was great to head deep into the basement to see all the tiny workrooms, and then up to the roof to see the helipad, in case he had to make a fast getaway. My highlight of the city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A visit to the War Remnants museum was next. Outside was a collection of vehicles which was quite cool, but also there was the evidence of the tiger cages and various torture devices. Some of that part was a little confronting, especially the accompanying photography. Indoors upped the ante though. Comprising mostly of photography, it was quite a horrific journey through the war and its impact. I can’t say it’s a great idea when you are a bit tired and jetlagged. The importance was without question, but not sure I really wanted to see quite a bit of it.

 

 

 

It was now late in the afternoon and so back to the hotel for an hour rest before meeting the group. On the way I had to contend with the Saigon traffic. As it turns out, the sidewalks are really for motorbikes, not pedestrians!

After some rest at the hotel it was time to meet up with the G Adventures tour group. Turned out to be a group of 7 on our Indochina Cycling adventure, although only 5 of us could make the initial meetup. An eclectic group of myself, 2 American gents, a Dane, a German, and then 2 British gals yet to join us. Chamnan was our Cambodian guide and as I expect from G Adventures, a delight to meet.

Dinner was casual, off to the nearby food market. TOO MANY OPTIONS!!! Had a Hanoi dish, Bun Cha, which was pork and noodles. Yuuuummm.

The rest of the evening was great fun, as we watched Vietnam in the football Asian Cup. They got a win in penalties. Exciting!