Off to Sumatra

Thursday February 8 2018

I will leave the Vietnam Trip for now and move onto our current trip. Even though we are supposed to be “cruising”, life is so full it is proving hard to keep up with the record of our travels.

Back to Pangkor with backpacks full of goodies  as we maxed out our weight allowance.  Our hand luggage was so tightly packed that  Melbourne Airport Security wanted everything pulled out. Other than that it was a good flight. The bus to Pangkor was full so we had to wait for the later one, arriving back at the boat at 1.30am. Bloody hot compared to our recent trip up to Mt Hotham and Mt Feathertop.

Gemini Lady was in good condition with not much mould and all systems ok. First job next morning was to clean the cockpit area and move the dinghy back to its cradle. Pangkor is close to a coal fired power station so lots of black dust on the boat. Shade cloth covers over the front windows worked well to keep temperatures down inside. We borrowed Psycho Puss’s car and went off to Mr Teh’s sail loft to check out our repairs. All ok and a reasonable price. Food shopping next at. Aeon and its big western supermarket.

BBQ dinner at Jook’s in Lumut with the current crowd of yachties and caught up with a few familiar faces.

Saturday Feb 10

Early start off to the wet market with John and Kerryn off Esoterica. Great fresh pork and chicken but no beef. Local Roti Cheni for breakfast before heading back to the boat for more prep work. Mainsail delivered back and rear clear fixed with a new zip. All good we thought.

Evening walk with Kerryn and John over to the Marina Island Light Show, all part of the celebrations for Chinese New Year.

The magic and side shows were closed and it was fairly quiet but made for a lovely evening stroll.

Sunday Feb 11

Off for an early morning run. Lea wanted to regain her Strava Crown for her run. Got it with 8 seconds to spare. Next job was our favourite, not: putting on the mainsail. We already had had help to get it up on the coach house roof so the heavy lifting was done. I think we are getting better at it as it all went smoothly. Still a big job and took all morning in the tropical sun.

Removed the shade cloth covers and cleaned the rest of the boat of the black coal dust.

Impromptu drinks on Gemini Lady with Heather and Rod off PP, Kerryn and John off Esoterica and we met new friends Liz and Jamie off Esper an Oyster 43.

Monday Feb 12

We dropped Heather off at the laundry and took the car to clear out with Jabatan Laut and Customs. Quick stop at Aeon for some new bedsheets as Malaysian sized sheets fit our Queen Size mattresses perfectly. A few more food goodies then back to pick up Heather.

I dove on the props with the Hookah and cleaned off all the barnacle growth. Big mistake not to bag them before we left. Again,  despite our good prep the primer did not bond well to the props so we had lost most of our antifoul. The rest of the hull and legs looked good with only a bit of slime. Note to self, “Propspeed” seems to be the best of a poor selection of options for the props.

Said our goodbyes and pulled out of Pangkor with Esoterica at 1400. Nice sailing breeze to the little island of Talang 13Nm to the north for a quiet night at anchor.

Woken by 3 gunshots very close by on our uninhabited island. A bit unnerving but we assumed some locals were hunting on the island, possibly shooting monkeys.

We were up and away before daylight, dodging fishing nets that fortunately had lights on their floats. A nice land breeze soon had us sailing for an hour. Back to motorsailing before the afternoon sea breeze came in and we enjoyed a great sail into Penang. Had a problem with the starboard motor. A blocked water intake caused the impeller to shred. First part of fix was to find the blockage. This turned out to be what looked like an octopus beak. Took a bit of clearing out (another reminder that I should have bagged the legs) but eventually water was flooding in nicely again. Then I had to clean out the raw water pump and the lines to the heat exchanger of bits of broken impeller. I also back flushed the heat exchanger core to make sure it was clear. All good, so reassembled with a new impeller. Primed and tested ok.

Sailed under the Penang Causeway and into the Jerejuk Anchorage in time for sundowners aboard Esoterica.

Wednesday Feb 14

Tried to take the shortcut just north of Jerejuk Island but the tide was too low, so after stirring up a lot of mud we retreated south of the Island to get north up to Straits Quay Marina. We advised Esoterica that their AIS was not showing up. John investigated his end and found no problem. So then I started checking our end and discovered the link cable from our AIS into the network was not working. Fortunately I had a spare lead and this fixed the problem. John and I have now both had the same problem with Raymarine Seatalk NG leads failing. Very pleased that John of Straits Quay Marina could fit us in over the busy Chinese New Year Celebrations.

After an afternoon checking out the Straits Quay Marina and a request from PP for some lamb roasts we fired up the big freezer only to find that the fan was not working. Emptied the pantry and checked the wiring. Discovered more “Rat” damage but that was not the problem. Fan was buggered. Had two in spares but the one that fit didn’t seem powerful enough. Decided to swap the vent fan from the Inverter/Charger to the freezer and fit the other spare new fan which was too thick for the freezer to the Inverter Charger. If that seemed like a mouthfull, so was the job. However, eventually all was done and everything working fine.

Revisited our favourite Food Court with John and Kerryn

Thursday Feb 15

Morning run along the foreshore path also popular with the locals for their morning exercise routines. Stocked up the freezer with 4 big Australia lamb roasts from Sam’s Gourmet Supermarket in the Mall then caught the bus into Georgetown.  Fabulous Tandoori Lunch at Kapitan then off to wander the streets. Lea and I were keen to visit the Penang Peranakan Mansion Museum which we missed last time. Our guide was great and we enjoyed our tour of this traditional home of a wealthy Peranakan or Baba Nyonya (Chinese Malay marriage) home. The home is extremely ornate with exquisite carvings, lavish furnishings, imported tiles and wrought iron.

The new second owner of the house has also purchased the adjoining 2 houses and added displays of beautiful Chinese artefacts and jewellery. There is also a large collection of Nyonya embroidery, beaded shoes and traditional wedding attire.

It is a fabulous collection and well displayed, giving an insight into the lives of affluent Chinese in times gone by.

Georgetown is very quiet today as being the eve of the first day of Chinese New Year; it is traditionally a family day. Many businesses were closed and finding a restaurant for dinner was a bit of a challenge. After an average meal at a bar we took an Uber up to the Temple of Kek Lok Sei to see the light display. Again this is an annual event at the 127 year old Temple.

I like the one in front best.

Fabulous Displays

Friday Feb 16.

Off to the Chief Ministers Reception at Spice Arena. The girls frocked up and we took an Uber down to Spice Arena, South of Georgetown. The arena was full of tables for VIP guests which included kids from orphanages and with handicaps. We caught up with Elizabeth and Patrick off La Baroque and the Perarduans some old friends from the 2015 Rally through Indonesia. Long queue’s for food but they were feeding about 5000 people we estimated. While waiting we were entertained by a vibrant young dance troupe, Acrobatic Chinese Dogs and popular local singer.

While eating there was more entertainment after the customary speeches. An excellent magician and a comedian juggler as finale.

Relaxing afternoon at a The Mansion waterfront Hotel Bar catching up with John and Cec off Delphian. Our favourite food court was closed so we settled for expensive burgers and fries at an Aussie Bar back at the Quay.

Saturday Feb 17

Morning run and final load of washing. Last marina for us for about 10 weeks we thought. Waited for the tide to come in before we could leave the marina. Silting is a big problem here due to massive land reclamation works nearby. THe afternoon breeze gave us a brilliant sail to Palau Paya. We arrived just on nightfall and found 1 free mooring. Esoterica was an hour behind and we prepared for her to raft up in the calm conditions.

Sunday Feb 18.

A few hours sleep before the building NE breeze made the raft up untenable so at midnight we set off for Kuah, Langkawi 20NM away. A beam on breeze and sea made for a bumpy passage. No main to keep the speed down as it was a pitch black night and fishing nets always a worry. Nice to drop the anchor in Kuah around 4.00am and get some more sleep after the local Mosques finished their early morning call to prayer.

Mid morning we emerged to find Reverie and Ocelot close by. Reverie had seen us as they up anchored bound for Penang but dropped it again to catch up with us. Moved Gemini Lady closer inshore and then visited Ocelot for a catch up and coffee. Lots to discuss re our Nepal Trekking Adventure coming up in May with them. Jon also had my 2 replacement Alternator Regulators.

Then out to Reverie to catch up with Peter and Denise. We organised a potluck dinner aboard Gemini Lady. Kerryn and John declined as they were on a mission to get up to Thailand. They went off to clear into Langkawi then out of Malaysia. Once the formalities were complete they headed off. They had delayed their trip to do part of Chinese New Year with us at Penang. We will miss their company.

Our potluck dinner was a great night, enjoyed by all.

Monday Feb 19

Cleared in then went up to the new chandlery at Langkawi Yacht Club to pick up the Spectra Watermaker Pickling Compound we had ordered. Looked at a new Fischer Panda NEO 5000i genset. Very impressive little unit. Then off to restock the booze cupboard for the next 4 months.

5 slabs Skol beer

4 slabs Carlsberg

1 slab Anchor beer

2 litres Blue Sapphire Gin

1 litre Spiced Dark Rum

18 1 litre bottles white wine

12 bottles Chardonnay

12 bottles Cab Sav

All for less than $500.00AUD

Took a taxi back to the dinghy dock and got a few looks as we loaded our haul into the dinghy.

Tuesday Feb 20

A 7.30 am meet up with Jon and Sue to climb the hill behind Kuah. A steep 8km round trip as part of our Nepal Training. Dinghy was stranded by the tide when we returned so enjoyed an iced coffee while we waited. Met Christine from Galacsea, an Amel 54, and were invited aboard for sundowners. Also discovered an Inerphase Forward Lookig Sonar Head Unit for sale on the noticeboard. Ours had died following the Lightning Strike back in 2015 and couldnt be replaced. Assuming our transducer is still ok this would be a great find.

Other jobs for the day included re commissioning the watermaker and readjusting the generator governor back to the old settings as now it was revving too low. Another trip to town to change some money. We also visited another supermarket just out of town and managed to get a good supply of frozen beef cubes. The fruit and veggies were awful so will need another trip to Billion Supermarket in the morning.

Spent a very enjoyable evening onboard Galacsea with Christine and JP, Sue and Jon. Great conversation and hospitality. We may sail with them out to Koh Lipe tomorrow as we set sail for Sumatra.

Wednesday Feb 21

Another hill climb this morning followed by laundry and last minute stock up with fresh food. Cleared out for depature tomorrow. Psycho Puss had arrived from Pangkor so we caught up with them to discuss our trip to Sumatra. We handed over the kayak we had picked up from Penang for them together with 1 of the lamb roasts. Prominent in our discussions was the recent big erruption of Mt Sinabung. PP was waiting to pick up friends on Sunday. We thought we would spend a day or 2 at Koh Lipe before we met up at Sabang. That was the plan anyway.

Vietnam 2 Dalat

Sunday September 24

A leisurely start asa the bus wasn’t due until 9.30am. Our 3 nights accomodation, laundry, phone SIM and water cost just under $100.00AUD. The bus company sent a runner to pick us up and direct us to the bus relay station. The big busses don’t enter the city. Passengers are ferried out to them on smaller commuter busses. This was our first sleeper bus and we found it quite comfortable. I wouldn’t have wanted to be any taller though. Lea likened it to airline business class without the movies or champagne. 

The trip was about 6 hours and would have been relaxing except for the constant use of the horn by the driver. Lea counted 20 blasts per minute at times. Use of the horn is not aggressive in Vietnam but used merely as a courtesy warning. Many vehicles have horns with multiple tones for different situations. From the Delat bus station we again transferred to a small bus to deliver us to our hotel. 

Our destination was Crazy House Hotel and we were booked into the “Termite Room”.

This is one bizarre building! Very complex and weird in design and layout it was created as an artistic project and is now one of the 10 top strangest hotels in the world. 

The “Termite Room” is the smallest room in the hotel but the only one we could get. It was tiny, with a big bed and mirrors on the walls and ceilings. The bathroom was rather large in comparison. Not a flat wall or hard angle anywhere. The ceiling was shaped to be like the inside of a termite mound and tiny fireplace was set in a small termite mound.

We went for a wander to find a meal for dinner and ended up at a BBQ restaurant as the heavens opened and a tropical deluge began. We got the last fully undercover table. Fortunately our waitress spoke English and she guided us through the cooking. Our table had a central hole into which a pot of burning charcoal was placed and a grill laid on top. Then it was up to us to cook our own food. The meat arrived pre marinated with raw veggies sauces and condiments. Our waitress helped us cut the pork off the ribs and the chicken into pieces. She kept an eye on us and helped when necessary. 

We were the only westerners in this very busy restaurant. It was a really tasty meal and we thoroughly enjoyed it. With 4 beers the cost was about $25AUD. We gave the waitress a good tip and headed back to the hotel in the drizzle.

 Monday September 25

Awoken by a bugle call at 5.30am. Undaunted by the heavy rain we headed out early to find some breakfast. We headed toward the lake passing through markets with a spectacular display of fresh produce. Avocados the size of baseballs, strawberries galore and wonderful flower displays.

Stopped for a warming soy milk drink from a street vendor with the friendly locals

We found a nice cafe overlooking Xuan Huong Lake for breakfast as the rain came down. It cleared a bit so we headed off to explore and found some amazing modern buildings on top of an underground shopping complex.

Open spaces and spectacular glass structures

At the end of our walk around the Lake we found the Flower Gardens.

Here we found a mixture of kitsch statues and lovely displays

 

 

After booking our bus to Na Trang, some clothes shopping and fuelling up with lunch we set off again to the base of the local chairlift. The French influence is easy to see in many of the beautiful buildings and chateaus. The chairlift took us up to Truc Lam Monastery perch up high overlooking Tuyen Lam Lake. We missed our tun off to find Datania Falls but saw the spillway which had been done very creatively. We learned that during the war there was a tacit agreement to leave Dalat alone. In fact it was rumoured that commanders from both the North and South had time out from the war in neighbouring chateau’s.

Back to hotel where we explored the bizarre architecture some more. An extension is being built to an Ocean Theme with detailed sea creatures built into the walls together with excellent art work on the walls and ceilings. The camera just couldn’t capture it. We had walked 26km for the day so a nice sit down Chinese dinner with wine was very welcome.

Tuesday September 26

A yummy street baguette for breakfast while waiting for the bus outside the hotel. Transferred to the big bus and a 4 hour journey to the coast. The drive was very scenic through the mountains with lots of waterfalls. Rich farmlands and virgin forrest alternated depending on the steepness. Very green and pretty.

Arrived at seaside Na Trang just before lunch. First job was to book tickets on the evening sleeper train to Da Nang. We left our backpacks at the travel agent and went off to explore. 

Na Trang was bustling and hot. Lots of huge construction works going on. People selling goods and services were very pushy and everything seemed expensive. Lots of Russians have settled here since the war and Russian tourism is huge here. Lunch and a cold beer watching the world go by then a relax on the beach. The beach is a 6 km stretch of lovely white sand and kept immaculately clean. Lea went for a swim while I snoozed.

Early dinner then off to the station for our first sleeper train journey.

 

The trip was great and the beds comfortable and clean, we slept well. The other 2 in the cabin were very quiet. Apart from the occasional jolt it was pretty smooth.

 

 

Vietnam 1

September 22

Saigon

A early morning walk through the Ben Thanh Market as the stall holders were setting up. The number of motorbikes on the road was amazing but they all kept moving better than traffic in Melbourne.

Lea haggled for a beautiful set of 3 lacquered trays. We were surprised by the fabulous fresh flowers available everywhere.

We then did a self guided walking tour around District 1 with all the stunning French Colonial buildings. First was City Hall.

And the avenue in front of it.

Then on to the Opera House. 

And Notre Dame

The Post office was very impressive inside with its vaulted ceiling.

We walked on to the War Remnants Museum to meet up with Dave and Anne. Passed Independence Palace on the way.

We also got waylaid by a Coconut Vendor. Ended up costing us over the odds for a coconut but it was fun.

The War Remnants Museum was our first taste of Vietnamese Propaganda. The Museum was originally called “The museum of Chinese and American War Crimes. They have now toned it down a bit. Most of the displays are anti American and show in graphic detail the horrors of the “American War” including some of the results of “Agent Orange”. There is no doubt that the Americans broke the terms of the 1954 Geneva Peace agreement. However, what is less clear is whether or not North Vietnam broke the agreement first. 

After a terrible lunch at a local restaurant where our Chicken Soup came out as awful fish porridge we headed back to the Palace of Independence or “Reunification Palace” This was the symbolic end to the war when VC tanks stormed through the palace gates on April 30 1975 and General Minh took control of the South. 

The Palace was originally a French building and was rebuilt after being bombed in 1662. It is still in beautiful condition but complete with the added bunkers and war rooms for the South Vietnamese President. 

 

Lovely large spaces and many formal rooms with lots of light and ventilation. A theatre, billiard room, bar and helipad on the roof.  All set in beautiful gardens. The 2 red circles near the helipad were where 2 bombs hit. This was the only damage the building sustained during the war.

Heading back to the hotel peak our traffic was on the move again. 

We caught up with our German friends Jessica and Mitra at Oceans Sports Bar. We should have known better as we got ripped off for the drinks and even got charged for the towelettes they gave us. Bought some peanuts from a street vendor and then got told we weren’t allowed to eat then at the bar. I gave them a serve and we left. Researched a recommended Pho Restaurant and found a great one thanks to the “Triposa” App I had discovered. Fabulous meal and a great night. We may have overstayed our welcome though as the other tables turned over customers about 5 times while we were there. 

Sunday September 23

Cu Chi Tunnels

We had been warned the the Cu Chi Tunnel trip was just a tourist trap but we wanted to do it anyway. Wasted an hour driving around town picking up other customers from the city’s hotels. Then we stopped at a government sponsored craft centre where victims of the war, Agent Orange and handicapped workers were trained and employed to produced handicrafts. They make beautiful inlaid artworks with egg shells, sea shells and paints with a thick lacquer coating. Very nice but very expensive compared to local market prices. We found Lea’s trays for sale at twice the price she paid. 

At the tunnel site, which was only 5 km from the site of the main American Base during the war we first watched an original c-1970 film on the tenacity and determination of the VC. It showed women fighting alongside men and other village women and children sharpening bamboo for weapons and booby traps. Easy to see the difficulty the Americans had distinguishing between friend and foe. 

Our tour of the Tunnels seemed rushed and emotionless. The guide spoke in a monotone as if reading a script and didn’t wait for the group to reassemble at each display.  The tunnel network was over 250 km long. Where we were was 5 km from the Saigon River and some tunnels passed right under the American Base. We saw agricultural but deadly effective man traps designed to maim and hold the victim so that he and his rescuers would then be easy targets. The tunnels were tiny and very well camouflaged with timber lids and leaf litter. Air vents were well hidden as well and kitchen flues were run for 300M to carry any smoke well away from the actual kitchen. The story is that many schools boys and girls were involved in the digging of the tunnels. The VC were amazingly ingenious and committed. It would have been a very tough life living in those tunnels.

 

 Back in Saigon we checked out Dave and Annes flash apartment on the other side of the river. Walked through the hardware shop section of the city and drooled over all the nice goodies for sale. Well Dave and I did anyway. Had a brief swim but it was a bit chilly and breezy up on the roof. We found an authentic American Burger Joint and discovered an immediate craving for Burger and Fries. Jake the owner greeted us personally and we had a great feed. Jake knows how to run a restaurant.

Cycle Cambodia 3

Sunday September 17 Day 6

We were picked up at 0700. Heing had bought a box of Cambodian cycle jerseys for us to try on and purchase. Now we were a matching team. Andrew had been out on the town all night and had had no sleep. We were bussed out of town as cycling in PP would be suicidal.

We drove 15km out of town to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre or The Killing Fields as it is better known as. This was one of many area where mass executions and burials took place. A large memorial Stupa filled with human skulls and bones is at the centre of the “Park”.

There was a well done audio tour that allowed you to take in the details of the atrocities committed here in your own space and time. Many of those killed here came from S-21.

Back on the bikes it was hot and bumpy as we followed a railway line for a while then passing through small villages and farmlands. Our other guide Wet was the leader today as this was his home area and he knew it well. Lots of smiling children waved and “Hi fived” as we passed. 

Stopped at Pnom Chisor for a local lunch.

The venue was busy due to the weekend festival. We sat up on bamboo platforms. Once we were finished the plates were cleared and the hammocks strung up. A little snooze to let lunch go down.

From there we walked up 418 steps to visit the site of an early Bhuddist Temple. The Temple itself is no longer there but the people still pilgrimage here to pray at the new Temple and statues. The view and the breeze made the effort worthwhile, however, the rubbish lying around was dreadful. Not many tourists ever come here.

Continuing our ride we wove our way along trails above the flooded rice fields. There were lots of eucalyptus trees bordering the roads. We finally arrived at the rural city of Takeo and made our way to our motel. Not flash but clean and air-conditioned. Lea need sleep to beat a headache and sunburn. We all got burned today as the sun was relentless and there wasn’t much shade. Dinner at a local open air restaurant was a quiet affair as we were all tired out. Great food again though. Beer was good to once we convinced them to brink buckets of ice to chill it. 

 

 Day 7 Into Vietnam

Now dressed in our new Jerseys we started the day with a team photo shoot. 

5 minutes into the ride Lea’s gear cable broke. She was put on the spare bike but it had a large frame that was a bit uncomfortable for her. Our day was straight down the bitumen road toward the Vietnam Border at Phnom Den. Lea got her old bike back after just an hour. The road was busy but had a good shoulder for bikes. 

Our last water stop before the border was near a few shanties on the roadside. The people were rice farmers a obviously very poor. They were very excited to see us. We empty our pockets of the last of our Cambodian cash and gave it to an older lady for distribution amongst the people and children. 

They were all very appreciative. 

The border was out in the open with no trees or shade on a wide section of road raised above the water logged fields on either side.

There was a small shelter and restaurant just before the border. We pulled in there and enjoyed a quick beer with our Cambodian crew as we said our goodbyes. We were to have a new guide and crew for the Vietnam section of the ride.

 

The team. Islam, Heung, Wet and Farid

We walked our bikes under the boom gate and our luggage was trolleyed across for us. We greeted our new guide and with a handshake Heung passed us into the care of Trong our Vietnamese guide. Trong speaks very good English and is a very fit competitive MTB rider.

Immigration and Customs were all business and we were soon through. Our luggage was loaded up & we rode to a local restaurant for lunch. Immediately we noticed an improvement in the food over Cambodia.

Our afternoon ride took in smaller streets in rural areas. Houses bordered the road and the rice fields were directly behind. The farming seems more intensive here with herds of cows, well kept in pens and undercover barns. The produce is varied and well laid out. Copra and Dung is neatly laid out to dry. Firewood is collected and stacked around the houses. The kids gave us lots of greetings and waves but the older people seemed less interested in us than in Cambodia.

After 80 km we had an optional “hill climb” up Sam Hill. It’s 1.4 km and up to 17% gradient. Trong adjusted Lea’s gears and we all headed up except for Miter, our German friend. Trong and Andrew led the way with me not far behind with Jessica and Lea. Anne and Dave soldiered on and got there in the end. A rest at stage 1 to admire the view and catch our breath.

 

Stage 2 was tougher but we made it to the top. Lea later found that on Strava she was the second fastest women up the mountain. If only she had pushed a bit harder!

4 more km to our hotel. 84 km, our biggest day yet. First priority was a shower, then laundry before heading out to find an ATM for some local currency. Dinner at a local bistro was excellent. We are not losing any weight this trip despite the riding. 

Day 8

Woke up to lightning, thunder and rain. Bucketing down! We were bussed to the Mekong River and enjoyed a one hour local boat trip touring the riverbanks. Floating houses with fish farms underneathThankfully it had cleared by the time we started riding, however, the roads were very wet and mud puddles were everywhere.

  

These fish farms are jam packed with tiny Bassa. The feeding part is interesting with big crushers and mixers to grind up the food which consists of anything available from fish guts and offcuts to left over vegetables from the market. We suspect the WC feed the fish as well. Different fish can be in each cage. Some like to live deep near the bottom of the 5-6 metre cages. Others live near the top. Up to 5 Different species can be in 1 cage.

On to a small Muslim Village renowned for its woven cloth products. They use a different type of loom from those used by the Chau people that we saw in PP. Marks on a local house showed the annual flood levels for the last 20 years. 2000 was the highest but last year 2016 didn’t get a mention as it was so low. The people depend on this annual flood and until last year there was a run of poor years.  There is much concern here about what is being done to the river in upstream countries. The general feeling here is an easy life with an abundance of produce from the delta. Many Vietnamese are migrating here from the North where life is much harder.

We transferred out of town to begin our ride along the dykes that seperate the rice fields and higher water levels. Beautiful fields of lush green divided by palm trees. We saw people out fertilising and insect fogging with backpacks. The crops look better maintained, more neat and regular than in Cambodia. 

Trong

We turned off onto single lane track with the river on one side and the rice fields on the other. A few bridges to cross then passing through some nice neat villages. We had to concentrate hard to avoid the mud puddles but the rain held off. The overcast sky gave us some relief from the sun.

We stopped for a look at a small village that specialises in catching frogs, then gutting,skinning and drying them for packaging and consumption. The frogs of various graded sizes are laid out on trestles with chilli and other herbs to dry in the sun. They create  crunchy snack. Trong bought some for beer o’clock but they never appeared. 

Millions of them!

We then headed for the Vietnam Killing Fields. Here a whole Vietnamese Village was massacred and buried in mass graves by the Khmer Rouge (KR). This was one of the worst atrocities as it was mainly women and children. It happened in many places along the Cambodian border with Vietnam as the KR were trying to reclaim land that once belonged to Cambodia. The memorial was an interesting building design. Like a giant egg.

The germans called it a day and loaded into the bus. We continued on the last 20 km to lunch. Another local cafe that we would have thought twice about going into gave us another sensational meal. Covered with mud and sand we loaded into the bus for the 3 hour drive to our hotel. Traffic is more frantic here and horns blare more aggressively. Our hotel was brand new and very flash. 

 Day 9

A big 80 km day planned but first another boat ride. We walked to the river to meet a day boat that took us up or down river (hard to tell which) to the floating markets. This is a wholesale market for farmers who bring there produce from remote farms by boat. They sell there produce in bulk to smaller vendors. The farmers anchor their boats and remain until all their stock is sold. The produce being sold is displayed on the roof of the boat or atop tall bamboo poles.

Back on the bikes we headed via backroads and laneways to a ferry crossing the main river. 

No time to dally we were off again through great scenery and charming rural roads. Still had to give way to motorbikes and avoid lots of pot holes so not a relaxing ride. We stopped at a cafe to use the toilets. Not the done thing to use the facilities and not purchase anything so we tried the local iced coffee. It came out in a tiny shot glass with a coffee dripper on top. Once the dripping has completed you pour the coffee and sweetened condensed milk into a cup of ice, stir, let chill then drink. A morning ritual for most of the local men who gather here before work. It definitely hit the caffeine spot.

On through the rice fields and the heavens finally opened and drowned us. The good news was that it was cooler and the locals stayed off the roads. We continued another 20 kms through the rain with one more ferry crossing before the rain ceased. We wove through concrete paths that exist on no map. 

This is Trong’s home area and he knows it well. He introduced us to the “Monkey Bridge”. We played around on this for a while much to the amusement of 2 shy local kids.

Finally we made it too the hotel. A quirky place that seemed almost abandoned stuck in unfinished surroundings. The pool was green, growing frogs and green plants. Apparently the area was developed by the government to try and attract commerce and business. A very large and fancy conference centre was next door and our hotel was the accompanying accomodation. Obviously it didn’t quite work out. The foyer and dining area were very large and grand. Our little group looked lost in it. Lots of things didn’t work but we still managed to get cleaned up, wash and dry our clothes of all the mud. Thank god for aircon!

Dinner was at the bistro over the main road and another great feast once we got the beer chilled with ice. We were wondering what to do with all our chicken bones and prawn shells when we noticed the locals just threw them on the floor. Apparently this is ok and the staff simply sweep it all up afterwards. We couldn’t do it though.

Day 10

Our last day of the tour. 50 km to be done before lunch. No rain but overcast and cooler. Perfect! Trong led us through back lanes and villages which made for pleasant views and easy cycling. We stopped to watch local bricks being made.

They were using some simple but effective machinery to mix and form the clay before drying then firing in the nearby old kilns

Morning tea was beside the river where we enjoyed fresh coconuts. Then over the river via an impressive modern bridge. One of 7 that now span the Mekong. Into Ben Tre Province which is a big coconut growing area. We stopped at a processing area. Fairly agricultural techniques used but all parts of the coconut get used. The liquid for drinking, the husks for string, the older nuts for oil and the shells for fuel. We finished at a large tourist trap Restaurant. It was was still great food but the place had a more western flavour to it. 

Last stop was at Trong’s friends bike shop where we could purchase more jerseys. We all chipped in for a tip before we said our goodbyes and were dropped off at our respective hotels in Saigon. We had chosen a small hotel called Ngoc Linh in the back packer area. it was in a small laneway off the main roads and central to all the nightlife. Our room was basic but clean and the aircon worked well. 

Wandered the streets and enjoyed a street cafe dinner. Met some Canadians at a bar and got some good tips for our travels to the north. A very pleasant end to a fabulous 10 days. We covered over 550km & would highly recommend Cycling Cambodia as a tour operator. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cycle Cambodia 2

September 15 Day 4

We negotiated a cycle free day today. The original plan was to cycle the 18 km out to the boats again and take a fast boat for the 6 hour trip to Phnom Penh(PP). The boat trip was cancelled (sigh of relief) so we asked to go to the Angkor Wat Museum instead before driving to PP. Lea was up early for a 6km run along the river bank dodging the piles of rubbish and traffic. The German couple elected to do an early morning ride and skip the museum. 

The museum was terrific, a beautiful building, centred on a water courtyard, great displays and lots of information about the construction and symbolism of the Temples. We spent 2 hours there trying to take it all in. Then we picked up the Germans to commence our 6 hour road trip. The road to PP is a busy major thoroughfare only one lane wide with a narrow verge on each lane for motorbikes. We stopped at an old original French Arched Bridge, one of 22 originally on this road. Only 11 remain now.

Lunch was about halfway there overlooking wet paddocks and rice fields. Our last stop was at an afternoon market with local “delicacies”. Tarantula spiders, giant cockroaches, crickets, silk worms and scorpions. The locals were buying up so it wasn’t just a tourist trap.

This local girl was very charming and spoke good English. She encouraged us to try these delicacies. She had a live Tarantula on her shoulder. Apparently the fangs had been removed and we were assured it didn’t jump or scurry. Lea was not convinced and kept her distance.

Our guide Heung and our driver Islam loved the crickets.

Not so sure about the silk worms though.

From there it was dual highway into PP. We arrived at our hotel and checked out the roof top bar and pool. We were in the central river district so we didn’t have to go far for a good meal and cheap beer. Our room was on the 10th floor of the Harmony Hotel. 

Day 5

We were picked up at 0730 and transferred out of town to the edge of the Mekong River. A very short bike ride followed by a ferry crossing onto Mekong Island. It was a very pleasant ride around the Island taking in the quiet lifestyle only a stones throw from the bustling city.

 

We stopped at a house where the women were weaving silk on large, complicated traditional looms. Lots of foot pedals and slides to work the patterns.

The fabrics that are produced are lovely.

Donkeys and motorbikes are the preferred transport.

Nice concrete roads

Unbelievably long dragon boats. 

Back across on the ferry then off to the National Museum. Here we found some stunning artefacts from the Angkor Wat Temples but the displays and information boards were not up to the standard of Siem Reap. The building itself was lovely though.

45 minutes back at the hotel for shower., change and regroup for lunch before visiting the Tull Sleng Genocide Museum.

This former high school became known as the infamous S-21 Secret Prison during the time of the Khmer Rouge. Between 12000 and 20000 people were held her and only 12 survived. All forms of horrific torture were employed here. Detailed records of all prisoners were maintained although many were destroyed with the collapse of the movement. 

The frame was where countless prisoners were hung up and tortured.

The cells contained iron beds with leg clamps attached to restrain the prisoners.

The audio tour presented a grim and somber story of the goings on here.

Next was the Royal Palace in the CBD of PP. Our tour guide was a excellent and well spoken. The King is in Thailand at the moment for health reasons although we suspect there is more to that story than meets the eye. Politics here has taken a more repressive turn toward dictatorship. Opposition leaders have been arrested and charged with treason. The people we spoke to are reluctant to speak out openly about their government. All you get is a shrug, a raised eyebrow or a roll of the eyes when asking questions. There is still an element of fear here.

Inside were great displays of royal regalia.

 

That evening we caught up with our friends Lloyd, Mandy and Heidi who we met on the 2015 Sail Indo Rally. They have settled in Cambodia. it has been a tough 18months for them but its all coming together now. Mandy is working at a new International School. Lloyd has got a foot in the door in the construction business and Heidi is thriving and still cute as ever. We had carried a large jar of Vegemite over for them and some story books centred on Australian wildlife. We had a great night catching up at a local Indian Restaurant. Lloyd gave me quick tour of the seedier side of town before we said our goodbyes. 

 

The view from our PP hotel roof top bar and pool.

 

 

Cycling Cambodia

Tuesday September 12

Day 1 of our cycling tour. All ready to go by 0730. We were joined by 3others who had began their ride in Bangkok, Thailand.  Heing, our guide, took us through the bumpy dirt back streets of Siem Reap to get to the Angkor Wat ticket and information centre, a large modern complex. Very efficiently we were photographed and our personal passes given to Heing. It is a quiet ride to the first temple we visit called Ta Phrom. Heing is a little difficult to understand but full of history and information. We have to concentrate to listen and put it all together.

Ta Phrom has been extensively restored with sympathy to its discovered condition with trees growing through the temple and roots wrapped around form work.

The temple was stunning and very photogenic. Although there were lots of people around the place had a sense of enchantment. The light filtered through the trees and moss growing on the ancient stones creates a wonderful ambience.

Large piles of stone boulders remain ready for the archeologists and engineers to re piece together. 

We rode on through dense old growth forest to the next site called the Elephant Platform. We saw so much this day that it all becomes a blur. However, the overall impact of the places we visited was huge. Construction dating from around 800 AD the quality of the stonework and carving is amazing. But it is the overall size and magnitude of the temple complexes that blow the mind. Especially so when we know the full extent of the controlled urban and irrigated rural spaces that have recently been revealed with ground radar studies.

Then on to Bayon Temple.

This was an impressive Temple with intricately carved story boards depicting life, wars, hunting and civil structure.

Lunch was a welcome break before the big event of Angkor Wat itself. 

Incredibly impressive with the grand vista across the lake.

From the entrance across the lake we passed Shiva, the down the long causeway into the long halls of intricate carvings telling stories of life in around 1100 AD

 

 

Three levels of picture dialogue. Every surface, cornice and roof has some significant detail. Enough to entertain an archeologist for a lifetime. Modest dress code was applied to the upper temple levels so the girls had to cover their shoulders with shawls. Views were impressive.

A fascinating insight into the symbolism of the Hindu.

Back on the bikes we took the short way home straight through peak hour traffic in Siam Reap. The pool and bar were a welcome respite from the heat of the day and take in all we had seen.

Day 2

A 50 km ride through rural rice patties and villages. Small back streets and sandy lane ways. Neat houses with swept dirt surrounds and no rubbish. 

We visited Banteay Srie, which is a Hindu Temple dedicated to Shiva and called the Womens Temple. This is the most original and well preserved temple in the area. The stone is a redder colour and the carvings and engravings chiselled much deeper into the stone.

 

 

 

More riding up to Kbal Spean and the River of a thousand Linga’s. A 3 km walk to the waterfall and back on a lovely well marked forrest path.

Ancient carvings and Linga

Linga and Yoni

Walking in Bike Knicks is not good in the heat. We were pretty weary and chafed by the end of the walk.

Soldiered on for another 7km to a Landmine museum. Great display set up by Rai Akira a child soldier of the Khmer Rouge before changing sides and fighting for the Vietnamese. He then dedicated his life to clearing 10’s of thousands of land mines by himself. His whole family was killed during the Regime time.

Rain storm led to easy vote to put the bikes in the support truck and take the van back to the hotel. We passed through the Angkor Wat park and many night stalls were open providing a great atmosphere.

A few drinks and a great dinner at our Hotel and we were done.

Day 3

Up at 0445 for an 0500 pick up to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Hundreds of people crowded about the best spots to get the perfect picture.

Stunning to see Angkor Wat again and wait for the sky to change colour from darkness to Orange. Then back to the hotel for breakfast before heading out again on the bikes.

Another route taken toward Angkor Wat via the back roads. The roads were good quality and not too bumpy for our bums. The scenery was stunning with happy kids calling out “Hello” as we passed. The kilometres clicked over quickly on the flat terrain. We stopped at a local market for a walk through. Lots of new foods we haven’t seen before in an Asian Market. Plenty of fresh water catfish, eel fish and very tiny prawns or shrimps. Snakes, frogs and eels were also on the menu. Lea didn’t like to see the skun frogs still moving. 

One of the standout things I noticed about Cambodia is that the girls are generally beautiful.

We tried a local nut. Very tough but tasted ok. Then it was back to the boat dock to visit a water village. This village is dry during the dry season but is only accessible by boat during the wet. The houses are all on stilts including the school, police station and church. 

Dave had a go at driving the boat with its foot pedals and levers for accelerator, prop lift and gears.

We did a circle out into Tonle Sap Lake before heading back via the village souvenier shop. The shop displayed crocodile products, had a large Python in a cage, geese and 2 white rabbits wandering around. The crododile skin products were about a third of the prices in Darwin. 

It was much cooler out on the water and the boat trip gave our backsides a well needed rest. Not too much more riding that afternoon. We visited 2 more Hindu temples both dating back to around 800 AD.

Restoration is a continuous process at most of the numerous sites around Angkor Wat.

Brahma the sacred bull featured in many of the statues here.

We enjoyed learning about the history of each Temple from our guide but there was so much to take in and so many Temples that it all begins to blur.

We cycled back to Siem Reap via country lanes before loading everything into the vans to avoid tackling peak hour traffic.

Back at the hotel the girls went off for another massage while Dave and I enjoyed the pool and a cold beer.

That evening we were taken out for dinner and a show of traditional dancing. 5 different dances with beautiful costumes. The dance was very precise showing great control with slow, graceful, constant movement. Very enjoyable!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off to Cambodia

September 9 2017

Early start on the bus from Sitiawan to KLIA2 at 0400. Flight to Siam Reap slightly delayed. Couldn’t see a lot as we didn’t have window seats but first impressions of Cambodia were green and very wet. Visa took some time and $30.00 USD but we were eventually out and back into the heat. We were met at the airport and driven to our hotel. Many fancy hotels line the main road and traffic is heavy with lots of motorbikes, Tuk Tuks and Lexus 4wd’s. 

Arrived at Angkor Boutique Hotel and caught up with Anne and Dave poolside. A walk before dinner took us over the river

 and through the old town main road aptly named “ Pub Street”. Lots of people around and a busy atmosphere. Food carts lined the streets and locals were out playing a sort of soccer with a large heavy shuttlecock. Very skilful! We just wandered for a while to get the feel of the place then headed back over the river to the restaurant Dave and Anne had found.

 Beautiful meal with 2 drinks for around $16 USD per couple. Alcohol, mainly beer, is heavily advertised everywhere. Such a contrast to Muslim Malaysia. The people are very friendly around not much English is spoken. The evening ended with a spectacular lightning display. We ran back to the nearby hotel before the rain got heavy.

Sunday September 10

The French have left there mark as the bread with breakfast was excellent. Our driver Islam was on time to take us out to Battambang, a town upriver so that we can do a boat trip through the freshwater lakes tomorrow back to Siam Reap. His vehicle was a comfy and spacious Mercedes Van. The roads were very busy with lots of different forms of transport.

 Motorbikes and Tuk Tuks keep to the right. Trucks move over as much as they can and cars keep their left indicator on all the time as they try and pass everything. Horns are used incessantly to warn other vehicles ahead. Horn tones are something of an art form here and almost sound friendly. They are certainly not used in anger.

We stop at a Pottery manufacturer to look at what they make. Islam doesn’t speak much English so we don’t get much idea of what its all about. But they like chickens.

The good news is that the toilets out the back are Western and clean. 

We pass through another largish town with a new railway being built through it. Some nice Colonial Architecture.

We stopped at a roadside stall and tried a local speciality. A Bamboo stick filled with sticky rice, shredded coconut and black beans. Quite good and not too sweet. Got charged tourist prices but thats all part of it. 

Checked into our hotel around midday and arranged a 2.30 pickup to see the sights.

The Classy Hotel has heavy dark wood carvings all throughout the foyer and is currently on display as part of a Cultural Festival. Our room is spacious and overlooks a big beautiful pool. Anne is straight off for a swim while Lea and I head into town for a look and lunch. 

Then off again to the Bamboo Railway. This is the Railway line to Phnom Penh. This part of the line is now unused so the locals use it for transport and tourism. The “train” consists of 2 axles with a wood and bamboo frame sitting on top. A slipping fan belt with a lever for belt tension transmits drive from small “lawnmower” type engines to one of the axles. The whole unit can be rapidly disassembled, lifted clear of the track, or reversed. A friendly tourist policeman takes our $5 USD and we make ourselves comfortable on the bamboo frame complete with rugs and cushions for the ride.

Our driver, complete with his assistant and their lunch, fires up the engine, pulls back on the tension lever and we are off.

The trip is interrupted twice as a new freeway being built has cut the track. We hop off our train, walk over to the other side and resume our trip on another train on the other side. Stall provide cold drinks and T shirts if required.

The other interruption is returning trains. Ours is stopped, dissassembeled, removed from the track to allow the other train to pass. We are then reassembled and on our way again in no time. 

 

The line ends at the local village where the pressure is on to sell us souvenirs. We enjoy a cold coconut and Lea bought 2 locally made scarves. Dave was hounded by a determined and charming little girl into buying a few woven wrist bracelets. She had to work very hard for that sale.

Lots of fun and interesting scenery as we drove through the rice fields at around 20 km/hr. A few Brahman cattle were seen and lots of termite mounds. The driver indicated that the locals eat the termites.

Then it was off to the Bat Cave, Hill Temple and Killing Cave.

At the bottom of the mountain we learnt 4wd was needed for the accent. 

So off we went in the tray of a Hilux for $15 USD each to the top. Our driver didn’t come so we were on our own. However, an enterprising and pushy young man got a dollar off Anne to give us the story.

The cave with its reclining Buddha was where local people fled during the days of Pol pot. Once discovered the Khmer Rouge used a smaller nearby cave to torture and execute people. There are terrible stories of people being thrown down cave holes, heads cut off etc.

The cage contains human bones and skulls of some of the victims. There is a bizarre memorial park showing some of the variety of horrors inflicted on the people here.

At the top, near the temple gun emplacements still remain.

The temple is beautiful with stunning views over the surrounding flat countryside.

Cheeky monkeys are always around.

 

We were back at the base of the mountain in time to watch the nightly exodus of a few million bats from the depths of the caves. 

Back to the hotel for a swim and dinner at the rooftop restaurant. We are finding Cambodian food a big improvement on Malaysian.

Monday September 11

A rushed breakfast to get to the boat in time. Our vessel for the day did have lifejackets. 4 of them for the 14 on board. It did have a toilet cunningly kept clean via a constant flush from a branch off the raw water pump on the engine. It wasn’t overcrowded and it did have padded seats. However, the big 6 cylinder turbo charged motor running a long-tail prop was unmuffled. VERY LOUD.

The river bank was congested with slap together houses mainly of timber with iron roofs. The river is the rubbish tip and the banks were lined with garbage and plastic of every variety. However, the kids were happily splashing about, women were bathing and men were setting fishing nets. The poverty was evident but  they still had happy smiles and a welcoming wave. The housing did get better as we moved away from the town.

 

Beyond the city we entered the freshwater lake system with its myriad of channels through marsh land and stilt houses. We had a few short stops to exchange local people and produce. Many others used the river for transport in a variety of vessels.

We had to cross Tonle Sap Lake. The breeze was up and the lake was rough. The boat flexed and groaned.  Navigation was by steering toward the small pimple of a hill in the distance, just as well it wasn’t raining. The entrance to the channel up to Siem Reap would be very easy to miss. 

Finally back at Siam Reap sporting headaches from the constant noise we were glad to get off the boat. Enough of Cambodian boat trips.

At the hotel we met up with Heang our Cambodia Cycling organiser. She briefed us on final arrangements and took our passports for our Vietnam Visa’s.

Enjoyed a Tuk Tuk ride and a great massage in town at Real Spa before dinner. Cycling starts tomorrow.