Mar 11

Eastern Cambodia; Rolling Hills and Massive Corridors

Day 76 – 27th May to Day 78 – 29th May

After Kampot we wanted to make to Sen Monorom in Eastern Cambodia. Bernard had told us there was some awesome riding to be had and a lot of other people had said it’s a really beautiful part of the country so off we went. It’s a pretty long drive at over 600 km so we stopped off for one night at Phnom Penh, unfortunately, yet again we missed the all you can eat KFC. We did get Bernard to sort out a few teething issues with the bike which he sorted in no time at all, respect to Bernard and his mechanics at The Bike Shop. Als also picked up a digital camera so we didn’t have to rely on my mobile phone any more, sweet.

From Phnom Penh we headed straight to Kompong Cham, we could have made it Sen Monorom in one hit but we were told the route was incredible and we wanted to take it slow. Kampong Cham is situated on the Mekong and is the provincial capital. Although it’s quite a large town full of large buildings it’s really very quiet and seems quite empty. We only stayed one night in the Mekong hotel with possibly the largest corridors I have ever seen in any building…wider than a tennis court and probably four courts long.

The next day we got up pretty early to get to Sen Monorom asap. The ride was pretty cool; at first we were surrounded by open flat plains and drove through the occasional rubber plantation with hundreds if not thousands of trees or lined up in a grid system. As we headed east we started hitting rolling hills with some dense vegetation on places, it kinda reminded me of the UK but a hell of a lot sunnier. Once again we were on a new road so it was beautifully tarmacked for a while which then turned swiftly to a dirt track, slower but still a lot of fun to ride. We soon made it into Sen Monorom which is the provincial capital of Mondulkiri although really it’s just a small village albeit beautiful. Just as we rocked into town the heavens opened so we found a place to stay quick sharp and grabbed some food.

By the time we had finished eating the skies had cleared and we decided to head out to find some waterfalls and put our new off-road beasts to the test. True enough I fell off pretty fast and threw myself into a nice puddle of mad. I came round the corner to see Als bouncing around on his bike being flung from one side of the road to the other holding on for dear life. I will forever regret not having my camera ready to take a video.

The waterfall was very pleasant but, despite the rain, there wasn’t much water flowing. To be honest I would have preferred watching Als bouncing about the dirt trail. We didn’t get up too much in Sen Monorom and left the next day for Ban Lung but it was a really beautiful place and fully recommend everyone to go check it out, for those crazy fools that are into trekking there are plenty to be had in the area.

Mar 11

Sexy Sihanoukville aka Sexville

Day 71 – 23rd May to Day 75 – 27th May

Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s version of a beach holiday resort, with its white sandy beaches, tropical islands and late night bars it’s easy to see why. Built in the 1950’s it was Cambodia’s first and only deep water port, designed to make them less reliant on Vietnam’s ports. It has now grown pretty large and is constantly ex-panding. The lure of the beautiful beaches and cheap beer (the Angkor brewery is just outside of town) at $0.50 brings the tourists flocking in, and in turn the working girls as well…hence the nickname sexville. We got a little lost coming into town but I’m happy we did otherwise we would never come across a very small airport. Which, according to the sign offers “Fashionable Disco Flights”, why would you ever get any other type of flight again?

Als bro, Nick, had recommended that we stay in the Monkey Republic where you can stay in your own bungalow only a short walk from the beach (or an even shorter drive I should add) for only $3.00 each. Perfect. Monkey Republic is a really cool guest house built mainly of bamboo with various levels here there and everywhere. It has a pool table, two movie rooms (if that’s your thing), a bar with a fine selection of cheap booze and great food.

We rolled in grabbed a super refreshing, super cheap Angkor beer. Dumped our stuff in the bungalow and headed straight down the beach and oh man, what a beach. White sands as far as the eye could see, crystal clear water, and even fun inflatable objects to play on in the water (yes I am a large child). The only downside was it was hot, really stonking hot, hence it was very important to always have cold Angkor nearby otherwise risk overheating.

There are four main beaches around Sihanoukville; Serendipity, Occheuteal, Independence and Sokha beach. Occheuteall beach is supposed to be the best all-rounder but Monkey Republic is closest to Serendipity beach so we spent most of our time there maxing and relaxing, or at least trying to. There are loads of kids running around getting up to all sorts of mischief. Namely shooting BB guns at us and for some reason group attacking one of the other English guys which was most entertaining. There are literally hundreds of locals trying to sell stuff to you. From lobsters and braclets to massages, haircuts and fireworks. Obviously we had to buy a few fireworks which turned out to be a mistake as someone fired one at me a burnt a perfect hole in my new t-shirt and back, highly entertaining for everyone but me of course.

The first night there we hooked up with three pretty cool English lads staying in the bungalow next to us. We had a few giraffe pitchers before heading down to the local bar on the beach JJ’s, a place they promised with endless fun. By gum they weren’t lying with local lads blowing fire and spinning fire sticks, good tunes (as good as you’re gonna get in Cambodia), a great location, and free shots and beer bongs whenever the bar staff thought the place needed living up bit.

One of the English guys was very horny so we thought it a good idea to feed him some Viagra one night. We got the chef at The Monkey Republic to lace his burger with it (what a hero), put some in his beer, mashed some into his Jaegermeister. By the end of the night I was just feeding them straight to him saying they were crazy Finnish stomach pills. We screwed him over good and proper. Then, the evil bastards that they are, turned on me. Fair play to them, they planned and executed it to perfection. They all went to possibly the best burger joint in Cambodia and laced yet another burger. Then Als and one of the dudes came back with delicious burgers and made me feel very envious. Soon after they arrived Rob turned up with a spare burger and offered it around. Being a sucker for a burger I wolfed it down and soon found myself in Viagra land…nuff said!

Whilst in Sihanoukville we also went to check out the Snake House, which house’s Cambodia’s largest collection of snakes and birds and a few crocodiles as well. There truly are some weird and wonderful snakes in the world and all of them give me the heebi jeebies, I am not a snake fan. There were crap loads crocodiles but we had just missed feeding time. Crocodiles don’t really do much unless there’s food around; they just lie around occasionally hissing at each other. Still it was cool seeing that many crocodiles close up. The snake house is well worth a trip if you’re in town.

Mar 11

Kep & Kampot

Day 70 – 22nd May to Day 71 – 23nd May

The thought of getting on the road with our new Baja’s was very exciting. Finally we had a couple of bikes that were awesome. Compared to the Minsk’s they were more powerful, more suited to off road madness, had a working speedo (digital I might add), working lights (even with a high beam!) it was going to be amazing.

Our next destination was Kep on the South West coast and to be honest it was a bit of a boring drive. The road was almost straight the whole entire way and the bikes ran like a dream. Which on one hand was awesome but on the other hand quite boring with no challenges to face. The other problem with the Baja’s were that they had saddles of steel and numb bum came a distinct problem after only 40 mins of riding.

There was a couple of things different on the road in Cambodia compared to Vietnam. One was the quality of the roads, while its true Vietnam has the odd deadly pot hole or two (that I fell victim to) the majority of the roads are in good condition. Cambodia on the other hand was very different although currently it seems the whole road system in Cambodia is being upgraded, it just depends on how far they’ve got by the time you get there. Some roads are tarmaced and beautiful, others have been flattened and have a loose layer of gravel on top whilst others are still just a dirt track through the jungle. The road to Kep was flattened but covered in deadly loose gravel. Secondly, there is a significant increase in the number of temples dotted around and also the turnings of the road (usally small paths) have these ornate arches which I still don’t understand the purpose of. Thirdly, whilst driving through Cambodia you come across a lot of political houses. They seem like  every other house on the street but they have a big sign outside appending them to a certain party such as the Cambodians People Party or Funcinpen. Fourthly and finally Cambodia seems to have a lot of large imposing building, often in the middle of nowhere, and looking very empty, with large, very official, looking and sounding signs such as the ‘Department of Transport’ or ‘Department of Economic Growth’.

We were taking it pretty easy so it took us 2 hours or so to get down to Kep and man my butt was hurting. When we got down the whether was pretty poor and not much seemed to be going on so we grabbed a beer and decided to push on straight to Kampot. Its a shame the whether wasn’t better because the beaches looked amazing but c’est la vie. We left Kep but made sure we got some photos of the larger than life crab that we came across.

The road to Kampot was slightly more interesting and we had some amazing views, we also came arcoss a massive trailer loaded with people and goods pulled by a tiny scooter. Kampot was significantly larger than Kep and we managed to get lost for a while. Its quite a quiet sleepy town full of charm and sits on the banks of a river, we stayed in a cool guest house overlooking it. Kampot is famous for its pepper and we went out that night to sample as many peppery dishes as possible, I can tell you the pepper is pretty damn good. Apart from a jungle trek or two there wasn’t much else to do so we left the next day for Sihanoukville via Bokor national park.

Bokor national park is home to the Bokor Hill station, built in the 1920’s by the French as a holiday resort. It is now totally abandoned and apparently more like a ghost town. Unfortunately Als and I didn’t get to see it as the road up there was closed. We could have done a two hour trek to check it out but unfortunately we had all our stuff loaded on the bikes and no safe place to store it, nothing to do with the fact we both hate walking. We did get to drive along the edge of the park and it did look amazing, a proper tropical jungle. Next time we’re in town we’ll defiantly have to check it out.

Jan 11

New Country, New Bikes…

Day 67 – 19th May to Day 70 – 22th May

Getting to Phenom Pehn by public transport was not an enjoyable experience and I wish we had done it on bike. Although the bus was air conditioned Als and I managed to get the two seats right next to the AC outlet aka it was warm, very warm. I was struggling through but Als found it unbearable and kept complaining the whole way there. It was mine and Als’s first overland boarder crossing and we had no issues at all, we got off the bus, went through Vietnamese passport control followed by Cambodian passport control and then we got back on the bus. Couldn’t be simpler!

By the time we got to Phenom Pehn it was dark. As the bus pulled into the bus station there were hordes of people waiting for us, not us in particular (much to my disappointment) but for the bus in general. They started banging on the windows offering the best, or cheapest (or both) Tuk Tuk in Cambodia. One guy seemed slightly more frenzied than the others so we asked him for a lift to Guest House No. 9 as recommended by Als’s bro Nick. After a bit of extreme dodging and weaving we made it there in one piece. It turned out to be Guest House Sister No. 9 but what’s the point in being fussy!

A lot of people seem to dislike Phenom Pehn and describe it as a dump but both Als’s and I thought it was a pretty cool place. In my eyes there’s three main parts to the town; the tourist are along the river, the tourist are by the lake, and what’s in between the two. Obviously that is a very simplified version but it sufficed for my needs. The tourist area along the river is the upmarket side of town and has some really nice bars and cafe’s over looking a beautiful river. The main part of town is massive, although not on the same scale as Saigon, and is full of various shops, restaurants and quite a few high risers (not New York high). The shops range in size and standard. Some shops are straight out of a high street in London whilst others look more like a garage sale with a varied and random collection of goods. The same goes for the restaurants although, arguably, the best food comes from the more run down looking places. The main part of town is also home to a massive indoor market where you can buy pretty much anything your heart desires at bargain bucket prices providing your haggling skills are up to scratch.

Which leaves the tourist area around the lake. The lake used to be immense apparently but the government has reclaimed a lot of it for land, although nothing seems to be have been built there. The lake was still a nice feature but mainly at night when you couldn’t see all the scum floating around. The area around the lake was both mine and Als’s favourite part of Phenom Pehn and had very small streets lined with bars, restaurants, and a few shops. We found a curry house that did all you can eat chicken thali for $3 including naan and one beer…incredible. $2 for the veg version and the curry was delicious. Anything and everything was on offer for sale down these back streets and you couldn’t walk two meters with out being offered ‘boom boom’, or weed or a million other illegal things even blowing cows up with bazooka’s…brilliant.

Sister Guest House No.9 was a couple of doors down from No. 9 but they were owned by the same people and we could hang out in either. Both guest house’s had large decking areas extending out over the lake with a range of hammocks and comfy chairs to relax on. It was a great place to chill out and have a beer and it was bloody cheap too at $2 a night. One of the reasons it was so cheap was due to the lack of AC and Phenom Pehn got ridiculously hot. So hot in fact that the first night we were reduced to throwing cold water over each other but that turned out to be a mistake as very soon the mattress was soaking with warm water that only got warmer with your body heat. In other words once you started there was no stopping. The second night Als tried to make some adjustments to the fan which the fan did not seem to appreciate and self destructed one piece at a time…well done Als!

We spent most of our time in Phenom Pehn looking for some new motorbikes, an extremely fun and enjoyable task. We must have visited around 20 shops and who knows how many bikes we tested but they were all leagues better than our previous Minsk’s. Eventually we settled on a pair from of 250 Honda Baja’s from ‘The Bike Shop’ which were by far the best we had tested. I recommend anyone who’s looking for a bike in Cambodia to go talk to Bernard at ‘The Bike Shop’ his bikes are in great nik and well looked after and he has a vast knowledge of Cambodia and the surrounding countries in terms of riding.

Whilst in Phenom Pehn we went to check out S-21 (or Toul Sleng museam) and the ‘Killing Fields of Choeung Ek’. Both are very heavy and depressing. S-21 is actually an old school that was converted into a prison and torture house during the reign of the Khmer Rouge (1975 – 1979). The Khmer Rouge kept meticulous records of everyone who was admitted and now their photos line most of rooms. Not many people who entered S-21 as a prisoner ever made it out alive, in-fact between 1975 and 1978 more that 17,000 people were killed, a horrific number. S-21 still contains some of the beds, intact with the shackles, where the prisoners were tortured and has several gruesome photos to document what happened. Other rooms, where the prisoners were locked up, are split into tiny cells maybe 4 x2 ft still with the iron shackles bolted to the floor. I can’t imagine the suffering that went on in this place.

Despite all the horrendous images I had seen it only really sunk in after reading people’s real life experience’s. Not of being in S-21 itself (as very few people made it out alive) but more of people who’s family and friends just disappeared overnight and they later learned they had been taken to S-21. No one was safe during the Khmer Rouge era, towards the end of their reign they even turned on themselves and the tortures soon became the tortured.

S-21 was enough for one day so we headed to the Killing fields the next day, again it was very heavy day. The tortured prisoners from S-21 were transported to Choeung Ek’ to die. Typically they were bludgeoned to death to save bullets. In 1980 86 of the 129 mass graves were exhumed to find a total of 8985 bodies, a truly horrifying number. Walking around Choeung Ek’ was an eerie experience, it had an unnatural peace about the place. But as I walked around this peaceful place I was distinctly aware of bits of bones scattered around and sticking out the ground. Then I came across a tree with bricks sticking out of it which the Khmer Rouge once used to kill children with. In the centre a memorial stupa has been erected that houses all of the bones that have been unearthed, quite an unnerving thing to see.

After seeing the depths to which humanity can sink to Als and I decided to try and cheer ourselves up by visiting the infamous club; the Heart of Darkness. It was one of the slickest places we had been to so far in the whole of SE complete with bouncers and everything. Apprently the bouncers are there as Phenom Pehn has a real gun and knife problem…great news. The club was very dark and a little bit seedy on the inside. We were by far the youngest westerners in there and the place seemed to be full of older sex tourists and also, of course, it being SE Asia a lot of prostitutes (less than Saigon though). I pretended to be gay to get the lady’s of the night off my back and told them to go for Als which was very entertaining to watch.

Another great thing about Phenom Pehn is that they have KFC but not as we know it. Every Wednesday from 11 till 3 it was all you can eat, all you can eat for only $5, that’s right $5 for all the chicken you can consume from 11 till 3. Incredible! Unfortunately we weren’t going to be around on Wednesday but we knew we were coming back in the near future, oh happy days.

On the way back from KFC we were caught in some real heavy traffic. It was extremely frustrating and I was wondering what kind of idiotic driver could be causing all these delays when an elephant rounded the corner walking down the middle of the road. I sight I was not expecting but welcomed despite the jam it caused.

After getting our bikes sorted and picking up all the new spares and tools we needed it was time to get going and visit the coast of SW Cambodia.

Dec 10

Sexy Saigon

Day 59 – 11th May to Day 66 – 18th May

The ride into Saigon was quite a sad experience as we all knew we were going to be splitting up, boo. Then to top it all off the heavens opened and we absolutely soaked for about an hour luckily by the time we got to the out skirts of Saigon we were completely dry thanks to Vietnam’s lovely weather. We managed to hit the outskirts of Saigon just as rush hour was commencing and it was crazy; 3 to 4 lanes heading in with cars, trucks and what seemed like hundreds of thousands of scooters weaving in and out of each other. It was quite fun at first dodging the traffic but after driving for two hours in solid traffic and still not getting into Saigon we were all a little peeved. Finally we made it to what seemed like the start of the city although none of us had realised quite how large Saigon is (just over 2,000 Km2 for those interested). We headed towards the direction of the tourist district (or so we hoped) and after driving around for a few more hours some dude in the traffic jam with us asked where we wanted to go and kindly agreed to show us the way, what a very kind and very helpful man.

Saigon is one hell of a crazy city with people, cars, trucks and scooters buzzing about everywhere in every direction. There are what seem like dead end ally ways with nothing down them that in fact lead to other ally’s all lined with shops and restaurant’s. There are people buzzing about everywhere mostly trying to sell things such as flowers, lighters, souvenirs and other such nic naks. There are also people walking around with towering piles of books, at least the hight of them if not more, and again they are trying to sell them to you. All of the sellers have no concept of invading personal space or privacy, they will come up to mid drink, mid meal, mid phone call, probably mid-shit if you couldn’t lock the door. It really is incessant. The other thing about Saigon is the amount of whores, they are literally everywhere and people trying to sell them to you, sometimes openly and sometimes in the guise of massages are also everywhere. They also have a big problem with kamikaze whores; normally there are two of them on a scooter (lady’s and / or lady boy’s), they mount the kerb and try and pin you to a wall so you can’t escape and start trying to feel you up while offering you everything under the sun. Its typically a ploy to steal everything in your pockets and your dignity…I got kamikazed at least three times but managed to keep hold of all my possessions. It really is a funny sight seeing a scooter with two very dolled up female looking persons on it chasing after a westerner, trying to pin them to the wall.

At this point both Als and I had had enough with the Minsk’s breaking down and so we decided to flog them to some other poor bugger and get new bikes in Cambodia. Luckily for us Joel was going to be hanging around in Saigon and was hoping to get into selling motorbikes with Anh (our mechanic from Dong Hoi). We promptly put some adverts out on tinternet and stuck some for sale posters on our bikes. Joel had a few other bikes for sale as well through Anh and so put up other posters advertising his services. It wasn’t long before the local mafia threatened to chop off Joel’s arm if he kept stepping on their turf and stealing their business so he quickly decided only to advertise online which the local mafia probably don’t monitor.

Anh was supposed to bringing down a new bike for Joel, a 900cc monster, along with Delilah (mk1). Joel got a phone call from Anh saying he was at the bus stop with his bike but needed to borrow some money to pay for the bus. Joel disappeared for a while and then returned looking a little peeved. Although he had a bike in tow it was not the bike Anh had said it was, Anh reeled off some excuses and said the bike would be turning up soon along with my bike. Luckily Joel managed to sell the new bike quite quickly, Anh promptly disappeared with the cash much too Joel’s anger. Eventually he turned up again but claimed that he was robbed by a lady…we were losing our trust in Anh rapidly.

As the four of us were splitting up in Saigon we wanted to have a celebration or two out and about but we never really had a great time for a couple of reasons. The first being that there was just too many whores everywhere, you couldn’t have a drink with your friends with out being accosted. My personal favourite was when we were in a club where you literally couldn’t move for whores and one lady of the night grabbed Als’s arm and dragged him to the other side of the club to meet her sister. Her sister then told Als “I have a house in Shropshire”! Als was obviously puzzled by this line and managed to get out of the lady’s grip and ran away…what a great line. We also kept coming across some lady whom we dub the ‘scag whore’. She looked like a complete mess, sleeping on the streets spending all her money on high’s. Every time we saw was either hassling someone for money or passed out in the middle of the street. She was actually quite a hard lady (if you can call her that) to avoid.

Eventually we found a place that sold really cheap (really really really cheap) home brew beer away from the scag whore and the other ladies of the night. It cost about 12,000 VND for 4 pints or so, that’s only 40p wahooooo!!! True, it did give a slightly nastier hangover in the morning but for that price and the relative peace you could drink it in we were all happy as larry. Street hawkers were prominent in this area and one night I got challenged to a game of paper, scissor, stone by a 8 year old. If I win she would give me a rose, if she won I had to pay her the money for a rose. I was a little wary at first as the last time I had been challenged, by an even smaller girl in Bangkok to thumb wars, I got absolutely rinsed damaging my pride forever. As I had had a few home brews I was feeling confident and accepted the challenge. I swear we played about 30 rounds due to draws and it was becoming very tense. Finally, much to my delight, I took her down and received my free rose. Being the gentleman I am I obviously gave her the money happy in the thought that I’d beaten her at her own game. I am the paper, scissor, stone champion!!!

After a few days we found a cheaper guest house and swiftly moved. Als and I managed to get a room on the top floor (6 stories up) which was a pain to lug all our stuff up to. The buildings in Saigon are very tight, the door to our room was right next to one of next doors window and it was hard not to look in. We’re not sure what was going on next door but we could only see a large statue covered in and surrounded by red flashing lights, we were convinced they were into devil worshipping and were suitably scarred shitless. We would have changed guest house but the owner, Om, turned out to be a really cool guy. I came downstairs one late morning with a slight home brew hangover and Om wouldn’t let me leave with out having a beer with him and two of his other Vietnamese guests. A few beers later Als also came downstairs and he too wasn’t allowed to leave without having a beer or two, soon Joel and Els also turned up for the festivities.

After getting through a few crates, clinking glasses every five minutes for one reason or another and being forced to down our beers or otherwise risk causing offence, we were all quite merry. Als and I wanted to grab some food and get some more beers but Om wouldn’t let us leave. He said that it was a women’s job to keep us supplied and sure enough he sent out his daughter to get us beer while in mum cooked us up a feast of crabs. I could defiantly get use to life in Vietnam! One of the Vietnamese dudes we were drinking with was convinced Joel was actually Ron Weasely from Harry Potter and demanded he fly around on his broom stick. When he wasn’t ranting about Ron he was embarking on a karaoke marathon with an amazing Vietnamese accent and trying to get us all involved. All in all it was a great day and I will never forgot Joel prancing around on a mop while the Vietnamese dude was singing his heart out.

Els and I wanted to visit the war museum which was supposed to offer a real insight into the war although quite heavy at the same time. The taxi driver said he knew which one we wanted to go to and dropped us off outside a large building. Els and I wandered around a for a while wondering where all the exhibits we had heard about were. Eventually we figured out we had been taken to the History Museum and not the War Remnants Museum. Although interesting it was not what we were looking for.

The next day we did manage to make it to the right museum. It was very interesting although very heavy, a lot of the images there are very harrowing and I would prefer to forget a lot of them. I can’t believe the atrocities America committed in Vietnam and the surrounding countries. More bombs were dropped on Vietnam than in the whole of WWII. America not only bombed the crap out of Vietnam but dropped tons of chemical herbicides (namely agent orange) to decimate the plant life rendering huge areas of land inhabitable and useless for growing crops. Tragically the Vietnamese are still suffering the effects of agent orange and will do for many more years with many children suffering from severe birth defects. It was obviously very bias and the Americans didn’t really get to tell their side of the story but the fact remains the Americans did some horrendous things.

Before Als and I left for Cambodia we decided to f*?! over Joel and Els and it wasn’t soon before they gave us the key…literally. They asked us to drop off something in their room and gave us their key, JACKPOT. Als and I proceeded to hide all their bedding within their room, we cunningly managed to lock their toilet door from the inside using Joel’s mattress. We stole their TV remote and my personal favourite, hid their A/C remote on top of their room. We made sure we were back first that night and barricaded ourself in our room. It wasn’t long before Els thumped his way up our stairs and started banging on the wall demanding the A/C remote, we gave him the silent treatment, Shortly after he disappeared Joel thundered up the stairs ranting and raving that he’d broken the toilet door and that it was all our fault and we would have to pay for it. We gave him the silent treatment too. We were greatly enjoying ourselves watching a bit of discovery while listening to Joel and Els tear apart their room even further looking for the holy A/C remote. After a few hours of listening to them tearing their room apart and few more tantrums outside our door we started to feel pity for them and sent them a few cryptic text messages about where they might find their remote…eventually the banging stop as did the visits to the outside of our door…they had obviously figured out the cryptic clues.

That next day the dream, in some ways, was over and it was time for Als and I to depart to Cambodia and leave Joel and Els to fend for themselves. It was also the first time Als and I would be braving the horrors of public transport out in SE Asia, not something either of us were looking forward to. All in all a very sad day but c’est la vie.