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craig_foster

Cambodia(28)

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Yo people,

 

Yeah I know it's a bit confusing. Logically I should still bein Vietnamand I was, up until last night at about 7pm, but I'll explain everythinglater in the email. First Vietnam.

 

Vietnam, whereto start. I read a quote in Lonely Planet about Vietnam beforeI came here. They said you either love or hate the place butI disagree. You love AND hate the place. Your opinion changesfrom day to day, hour to hour minute to minute. It's the people andthe place. One day you can be cycling along some ofthe most spectacular coast line you've ever seen and the next day you'restuck on a hard shoulder with trucks honking their super powered air horns twoinches from your ear. One minute you're sitting, laughing with somecurious villagers, using a globe to explain where you'refrom and where you've traveled and the next minute you're being ripped offblind by some street vendor who obviously hates you and everything aboutyou. Then there's the other variable which is you. With all thenoise, all the aggression and the curiosity of the people you have to befeeling 100%. Have a bad day on the bike or wake up on the wrong side ofthe bed and you'll hate everybody and everything. It's a place of endlesspossibilities both good and bad.

 

We left Hueabout 20 days ago and it was back to the madness of Highway 1. Nodescription of Vietnamis complete without explaining the driving. It's utterly insane. Maybe they drive worse in Laosbut they have 6 cars in the entire country so it matters less. Thereare more cars per 30 metres of tarmac in Vietnam. Someone told medriving in Vietnamis like playing a video game and the analogy couldn't be more accurate. You need fast reactions. The noise will make your ears bleed. Youneed to concentrate 100% and of more relevance is that you only need to worryabout what's going on in front of you. As a Westerner it's a completelyalien concept. We're taught to be aware of what's going on allaround us. You change lanes you look over you shoulder. Youturn right or left and you look behind you. You use your mirrorsbefore every manoeuvre. Doesn't worklike that here. You just look in front and make sure you don't hitanything and let the people behind worry about you. It seems to workalthough when you see what's going on in front it makes you skeptical about thepeople behind you. I reckon we see 3 or 4 incidents a day where you thinkthere's going to be an accident but somewhere everyone seems to avoidthem. Maybe without all the safety trappings of Western society peopleconcentrate more on the road.

 

It's the honking that drives you crazy. Honking in most places means thatsomething bad is about to happen. Honking behind you usually meanssomething bad is going to happen to you. You hear someone leaning on thehorn back home and you get off the road. It's a reflex action but youhave to break it if you're to spend more than 5 seconds cycling in Vietnam. Here honking the horn can mean anything from 'I have a very small penisand I'm trying to compensate by intimidating people with my massive horn'to 'hey you on the bicycle, I think what you're doing is really cool andwant to lean out my window at 100 miles an hour and wave to you as I gopast'. In fact the last thing it means is that something bad isgoing to happen behind you. You think you've gotten used to the horns butsometimes you'll find yourself dreaming and a truck will catch you unaware andlet off their high powered air horn two inches from your head and the oldinstinct comes back and you head for the bushes.

 

The horn also serves as a warning that a driver is about to do somethingincredibly stupid. Over take on a blind bend for example. The ideapresumably that in the event of an accident the guy who did the dumbass overtakingmanoeuvre can say I told you so if anyone survives. The real problemis that you have no idea if the horn you hear coming round the corner is a guywith size issues if it's a 20 ton truck on your side of the road. We usuallyplay it safe and get as far to the right as possible but it makes for some hairraising descents.

 

From Hue weheaded south towards Danang. Just before Danang is the famous Hai VanPass which is a ten kilometre climb up the side of mountain with the Gulf of Tonkin shimmering a perfect blue on yourleft. The climb isn't easy but you barely notice it and I'd put thatstretch of road in my top ten favourites of all time. Just a warningthough if you're ever tempted to do the climb. Don't stop at thetop. The top is populated by the most aggressive business women I've comeacross yet. They offer you cold drinks and before you know it you'vebought all manner of utter dross you don't need.

 

We skipped Danang and headed for Hoi An which is one of those towns where youfeel you've stepped back in time except the shops all seem to sell the sameT-shirts you can buy anywhere else in the world. We got ourselves a roomover looking the river and spent 3 days sampling the famous Hoi An cuisine. We even booked ourselves into a half day cooking course so you can look forwardto my squid in chili and lemon grass when I get back.

 

After Hoi An we headed back onto the highway and either we're getting used tothe madness or the traffic is improving. I suspect the former. Ourroute down the coast of Vietnamwas decided on after much consideration by yours truly. I'd read that thewind blows from the north-east which would give us some much appreciatedtailwind for a 1000kms or so. Turns out this isn't actually thecase. We've had a head wind about 90% of the time in Vietnam. Heyho.

 

Another thing that amazes you when you cycle here is what people manage tocarry on their bikes. We have state of the art racks with waterproofpanniers with lightweight equipment and you feel slightly humbled when you gopast a guy carrying three pigs on the back of his bicycle. So far I'veseen someone carrying an entire tree, a whole bicycle (which is taking thecarrying of spares to the extreme), three pigs, three dogs and someone carryingwhat looked like 10 ducks strapped to the handlebars. That's ignoring therun-of-mill people I've seen carrying what looks like an entire crop in twobaskets on either side of the bike.

 

We kept heading south and eventually ended up in the town of Q. Nhon where we spent a sleepless night in abedbug ridden room. Luckily we intended to be up early anyway as we'dread in Lonely Planet about a great little beach 30 km south and we were due arelaxing day. Things didn't quite turn out as planned. Appears thatLP got their town names mixed up and we eventually hit the town they mentionedafter 50 km. Unfortunately they got a lot more than the names mixed upand the town turned out to have zero accommodation. We were offered a hammockfor the night by one of the locals but it was one in the afternoon so wefigured we're press onto the next decent sized town which turned out to beanother 60 km down the road. In total, our 30 km easy day turned into a110km slog. On the plus side the room we got in Tuy Hoa got my vote as myfavourite $12 room ever with a bath tub I could do lengths in.

 

It was another 160 kms to Nha Trang and we decided to split it up into two daysas we'd been putting in some big days without any rest. The road to NhaTrang is fantastic. Some of the best scenery I've had in SE Asia. The traffic had calmed down a fairbit as well so it was a great ride into Nha Trang.

 

In Nha Trang we made the decision to cut west into the highlands as we'dbeen on the coast for 10 days now and fancied a bit of a change. The heatwas also becoming more of an issue as we headed south and gaining some attitudewould lose us some heat. The plan would be for me to leave Nha Trang theday before and Corinne would catch a bus up. Dalat was 1500mabove sea level and we weren't sure if it could be done in one day fully loadedso Corinne would take some of my gear on the bus and I'd tacklethe mountains on my own. Turned out to be a bit of a mistake.

 

I hadn't been feeling 100% for a few days before. Hills I'dnormally race up were proving tougher than expected. On theride up to Dalat things got worse. It's a tough climb anywaywith two nasty alpine style climbs of about 15 km each but normally theywouldn't be a problem. By the time I got half way up the secondhill I could hardly turn the pedals. I had to lie down and restevery km and eventually I had to push the bike. After walking for 10kms and still with 25kms to go I couldn't even push the bikeanymore. Eventually I conceded defeat and caught a taxi the rest of theway.

 

I got to Dalat and by the time I made it to the hotel I was shivering like itwas below zero. Corinne took my temperature and it was running at 39.5Cwhich isn't healthy. It was bed for the next 3 days. Losing threedays at the moment isn't ideal for me. I'm hoping to do 4500 kms in SEAsia which would leave be 2500 kms to do in America in about 25 days. Thefewer miles I do here the more I have to do in America and once it starts gettingover 100 kms a day then things start getting tight. I still want to dothe 25,000 km in under a year and time is getting short.

 

After Dalat, we started the 300 km ride down to Ho Chi Minh City. I still wasn'tfeeling great but we needed to get going. As I said earlier, Vietnam isn't a place you won't to be whenyou're feeling below par and Ho Chi Minh Cityprobably the last place in Vietnamyou want to be. As we got closer to HCMC the madness of Vietnam justseemed to intensify. In the four day ride I can safely say there wasn't a30 second window of peace from the blaring horns. We got to within 30 kmsof HCMC and then formulated a plan which would get us some extra cycling daysin SE Asia. Crossing into Cambodia from Vietnam using our original planwould involve a day on a boat and then we had the problem of getting from SiemReap to the Thai border as the road isn't sealed.

 

So we decided on a spur of the moment change of plan. Fly from HCMC toSiem Reap and then travel south east to the coast and get a fast boat round to Thailand. It has the added bonus that it also means we should have enough kilometresbetween us and Bangkok.

 

Anyway, so that's how we ended up in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We arrived last night after a nervous flight. Not because of the flightitself but because in our rush to get to the airport we forget to check out thevisa regulations for Cambodia. As with most things though we got here and an ATM dispensing the required Americandollars was located two feet from the visa desk.

 

Today we did the usual tourist stuff and cycled out to the amazing AngkorWat and back again. I like Cambodia so far. People arehelpful and friendly even though we're in a major tourist area. Tomorrowwe head east to the capital city of Phnom Penh. It's around 320 km and we're looking to do itin 4 days. It'll be interesting to get out into the countryside asthat's a better measure of a country's character.

 

We were talking today about what our favourite country has been so far in SE Asia. 10 days ago, Vietnam was mine and Corinne'sfavourite. Today Laosis my favourite whereas Corinne's is still Vietnam. I think it's justindicative that I got ill in Vietnamand it's not a forgiving place. If I had been 100% all the way through Ihave no doubt that the people and the place would have made it a firmfavourite. As it is I have mixed feelings. I have some greatmemories but I also have some negatives. Maybe that's what makes for anexciting place?

 

I've booked my final tickets back home and will arrive back in Manchester Airport on the morning of 20thJuly. I have 2100 miles left to reach my target of 16000 miles and around45 days. It's doable but I've put a lot of pressure on myself if I stillwant to finish in under a year. There isn't much room for errorthere. For the last 1600 miles I'll be on my own again and it'll be backto sleeping under bridges and in ditches again.

 

Anyway best be off as it's late here and we have to get an early start. Here's hoping for tailwind.

 

Lots of love as always,

 

Craig. XXX

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