A Travellerspoint blog

The Eliminator Route

Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep

Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep

Although this is somewhat belated (we've been busy finding the middle of nowhere), I thought I should bring you right up to date on our most recent cycling endeavours.

We spent the festive period in Chiang Mai province in the cooler North West of Thailand, and after Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and three days of non-stop eating, I was itching to get back in the saddle. So, on the 22nd December, while Chris went to talk to the animals [see blog Chris goes to the zoo (again)] I booked myself onto Route 6X: The Eliminator Route. This was described by Chiang Mai Mountain Biking as

The ultimate cross country challenge, for only the strongest and most fit XC riders.*

At 40km long, the route promised to circumnavigate the entire Doi Suthep National Park along the mountain range crest, and crucially, included uphills. Perfect, I thought. What better way to work off the countless thai green curries? The following day at the morning briefing, I was instructed to don elbow pads, knee pads, cycling gloves, a helmet, and carry at least three litres of water and a couple of cereal bars...an ominous sign? At this juncture, I should point out that I was now slightly anxious about my choice of route, but still hopeful that many a weekend spent attempting to stay on down "technical" descents in the Peak District would work in my favour. I figured that the absence of beach material on the single track would also be an enormous advantage. I then prayed to Buddha that I wouldn't be found out.

We, and several other groups on the intermediate and beginner rides, were deposted at the top of the Doi Suthep mountain by jeeps. I was joined in the hard core group by three other victims: Laurent, Steve and John as well as our guide for the day: Jay. Now Jay was something else entirely. Jay was pint-sized, but on a bike, larger than life. It woudn't have surprised me to learn that he also slept on his bicycle from the way he rode. He disappeared off down the track into the jungle on one wheel (his front wheel being surplus to requirements of course). He reminded me of our ski instructor, Remy, in La Plagne: every fallen tree / mound of earth / major drop / boulder was seen as an opportunity to gain air time. Fortunately, the same wasn't expected of us.

  • *They may as well have called it The Yorkie Route (It's not for girls)

The select few - hot but not yet eliminated!

The select few - hot but not yet eliminated!

The riding was fabulous. We rode straight through the jungle on single track, and the descents were not so technical as to find me out. It turned out that the knee pads were also useful for bushwhacking, so overgrown were some of the sections of track we "cycled". The tough part of the route was a half hour ascent, which included walking (Jay even got off his bike here) and a poisonous snake spotting, and landed us right at the top of the mountain ridge from where we had magnificent views. These were masked only by the sweat pouring into my eyes!

The hard work is over as I relax on the Doi Suthep ridge

The hard work is over as I relax on the Doi Suthep ridge

Banana trees and jungle

Banana trees and jungle

The jungle

The jungle

The rest of the ride was predominantly downhill through jungle, past plantations of tomatoes along tracks lined with banana trees. We cycled well through lunchtime and out the other side, eventually stopping at a farm, where a toddler handed us some much needed local sustenance: bananas. Her father watched on in sandles fashioned from tree trunks. We were well off the beaten track.

Lunch...

Lunch...

Our day ended at Huay Jung Thao Lake with beers and curry. All four of us arrived, fortunately uneliminated and unscathed, about an hour behind all of the other groups. They were suspiciously clean. We were caked in mud, sweat, and dust with the odd tree branch here and there: a fine day out!

A route perhaps better described as The Eliminator Route is the Samoeng Loop. This 100km loop to the west of Chiang Mai up the Mae Sa Valley to Samoeng is usually aimed at "bikers" rather than "cyclists", however, Chris and I were not to be deterred. We hired two Trek mountain bikes from an affable Aussie called Damien (and his slobbery golden retriever Lucy) at Spice Roads in Chiang Mai, and packed our bags for a two-day adventure.

Me and bike number 7 from Spice Roads

Me and bike number 7 from Spice Roads

We must have been suffering some kind of withdrawal symptoms from "undulations" (there weren't any in Cambodia) for the mere words "Coffee House" and "Hmong Lodge" enticed us off into the Mae Raem Valley around a 38km extension to the usual route. The coffee house and Hmong Lodge turned out to be a wild goose chase (closed in high season), but we were rewarded with a 1,000 metre "climb"** up to Hmong Nong Hoi village at 1,400m. We soon realised the pitfalls of Thailand, an infinitely more developed nation than our previous destinations: the roads were so steep that we spent most of the day in granny gear, unlike in Vietnam and Laos where the local vehicles simply woudn't have made it. The wild goose chase made lunch finding difficult. However, our stomachs were unconcerned - we were powered by cheese cake and tiramisu from Wawee Coffee in Mae Sa (yum).

  • **A "climb" (as distinct from an "undulation") was variously defined by our Redspokes group as an undulation of 4km or more; any hill that required the use of granny gear; any hill that Phong was not cycling - see blog Sunburnt, squiffy and saddlesore

Fuel for the Samoeng Loop

Fuel for the Samoeng Loop

We ended the day sipping beers and noshing on an excellent thai take out at the Forest Guest House, taking in a fabulous view across the Samoeng Valley, and a less fabulous serenade by some particularly bad karioke wafting up from a nearby thai wedding party.

Chains of mountains behind the Samoeng Valley

Chains of mountains behind the Samoeng Valley

The only way to finish the day

The only way to finish the day

The following day was a comparatively lazy day. Abandoned were the plans for 60km off-road before lunch: our legs had had enough and our stomachs hadn't. We breakfasted slowly on eggs, and put off the ascent out of Samoeng (500 metres up in 6km) a little longer by testing out the local strawberry juice (much sweeter than the strawberries were). We still had some serious work to do to get ourselves out of the mountains and back to Chiang Mai, including two major climbs totalling another 800 metres. Only another cake stop at Bon Banana would see us through! In a continuing theme we ended the day with the spare Chang beer from the night before, which tasted all the better for having been carried all the way from Samoeng. The only minor improvement would have been a trade-up to Beer Lao.

The only way forward

The only way forward

As I write this, we have now finally tested out the local "bikes". Apparently they haven't heard of bicycles in Koh Lanta, so we hired a moped and sped off round the island for a day. Fortunately I didn't have to ride up the 1 in 2 out of our hotel on my first ever moped outing. This was not a suitable challenge for a novice rider, and one of the hotel staff took pity on us. Mopeds don't inspire quite the same thirst as a bicycle, but they do make you lazy, especially when the sun is ablaze. You can tell by the well-fed look of the locals here (by comparison with Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) that this is a place powered on petrol and curry.

Betrayal by "bike"!

Betrayal by "bike"!

Posted by jparsons 05:49 Archived in Thailand Tagged people food thailand cycling Comments (0)

Mission Impossible: South-East Asia


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In Chiang Mai we went to the local multiplex to watch the preposterous but highly entertaining Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, in which Tom Cruise saves the world from a madman bent on starting a nuclear war. It seems likely that a fifth film in the series will be made, and our experiences in South East Asia have given me a few ideas for the producers....

Scene 1:
The movie opens in Hanoi, Vietnam, where IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is being chased through the Old Quarter by the communist police. Suddenly he comes to the main highway on the edge of the district, and is confronted by a moving wall of cars, buses, mopeds, tuk-tuks, trucks and bicycles. His mission? Cross the road. Cruise sets off at a run but sees a bus on collision course and makes a fatal mistake - he changes direction. Confused drivers screech to a halt on all sides, blocking his escape. Meanwhile, the commies march purposefully into the moving traffic, and like Moses crossing the Red Sea, it parts around them. Ethan Hunt is captured.

Scene 2:
Cruise is in custody in Sapa, a Vietnamese town near the Chinese border. An American agent is valuable property, and the Viets want to do a deal with the Chinese military. When his captors are distracted by the 5:30am tai chi public service broadcast, he makes a daring escape. But he hasn't reckoned with the local Hmong ladies who lie in wait and chase him down the road, sweeping him up in a chorus of "You buy from meee?", "You come to my village?" and "I follow you all day!" Resistance is futile, and Cruise is marched down to the 'ethnic' hilltribe village to purchase some hand-woven garments from an old crone in a funny hat.

Smiling with our Hmong kidnappers at Sapa

Smiling with our Hmong kidnappers at Sapa

Scene 3:
Ethan Hunt has made it to the Vietnam-Laos border, but the police are still on his tail. His new mission? To secure a Laos visa in less than 3 hours. But what's this? The border guards have closed the visa office and gone for a mid-morning 'lunch'. Not even IMF can pull strings here, leaving Cruise high and dry. His only option is to retire to the adjacent cafe and order some coffee and snacks while he waits nervously. But little does he know the cafe is owned by the visa officials, and as soon as he hands over his money the border reopens, and he is swept through in a wave of euphoria.

Form filling at the Vietnam-Laos border

Form filling at the Vietnam-Laos border

Scene 4:
Cruise is in Laos and is safe for the time being. IMF pages him with another mission - he's being redeployed to the town of Vang Vieng to save it from rampant British backpackers. This being Laos, the usual IMF sign-off has been modified to "This message will self-destruct when it feels like it." He leaps aboard the nearest vehicle to race to the scene, but unfortunately it's a squeaking, creaking Laotian bicycle. Moreover, because Cruise is only 4 foot 3, he has to stand on the pedals and ride in the manner of the local kids. (This scene should provide some much-needed light relief).

Scene 5:
Ethan Hunt spots a crowd of backpackers on the river and ditches the bike. There follows a high-octane, fast and furious chase scene down river, showcasing the latest extreme sport, tubing. (The tubes drift lazily with the current, so some bombastic music and clever editing will be required here.) But what's this? Cruise has been lassooed by a riverside bar and hauled to the bank. He is forced to down several bottles of lao lao, smoke strange substances and bop along to bad Eurodance in his bermuda shorts. He blacks out.

Scene 6:
Cruise suddenly comes to his senses. His GPS phone pinpoints his location as Chiang Mai, Thailand. The backpackers must have brought him here. He needs IMF to pull him out of here sharpish. But it's Christmas Day, the Night Market is in full swing and 15 million Thais are here to part with their baht. He's hemmed in on all sides, forced to file past the same handful of stalls repeated ad nauseum: wooden elephants, paper lanterns, silk scarves, knock-off DVDs and "I love Chiang Mai" t-shirts. Suddenly a woman approaches - at least he thinks it's a woman, but it's hard to tell under her heavy make-up. "Hello sir," she says in a suspiciously deep voice, "you wanna some fun tonight?" This could be Ethan Hunt's most daring mission yet... (to be continued)

Crowds doing the Sunday shuffle in Chiang Mai

Crowds doing the Sunday shuffle in Chiang Mai

It's only a start, but I think it's got all the ingredients of a classic summer blockbuster, plus a ladyboy. Tom will love it!

On a separate subject, Jen and I are about to disappear into the Thai rainforest for a few days, to spend New Year in the company of some gibbons. No, not British backpackers, real gibbons. So we'd like to say a slightly premature Happy New Year to everybody - have a great New Year's Eve wherever you are. We'll be blogging again in 2012!

Posted by Chris Parsons 03:48 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand vietnam laos christmas backpackers hmong visas Comments (2)

Night moves


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During the planning stages of this trip, I was quite taken with the idea of using sleeper trains for some of our long-distance hops. What could be better than sweeping gracefully through the countryside, sipping a nightcap in the dining car and then retiring to bed to be rocked gently to sleep by the swaying carriage. Yes, I thought, this would be a civilised way to arrive somewhere. And then I remembered that this is Asia we are talking about.

Our first night train was the 21:00 Padatik Express from New Jalpaiguri (NJP) to Calcutta. This being India, I did wonder what hurdles we would have to overcome to get ourselves on board. We arrived at NJP in good time, armed with a print-out of our pre-booked reservation for two berths in first class. I was fully prepared to brandish this in the face of any uniformed jobsworth who stood between me and my train. But in the course of four hours at the station, my heart rate remained steady and my blood pressure normal. At the ticket counter, we were told that the reservation receipt also constituted our tickets. The train appeared on the departure board as expected. We parked ourselves in the 'military waiting area' and nobody moved us on. Even the local beggars, missing various limbs and crawling around the concourse like spiders, left us in peace. By this stage I was completely disarmed, almost willing for an obstructive minor official to pick a fight with.

The Padatik Express ready to leave on Platform 4

The Padatik Express ready to leave on Platform 4


Loading the luggage car at NJP

Loading the luggage car at NJP

We moved to the platform half an hour ahead of departure and found the train waiting for us. A list of passenger names was pasted next to each carriage door, and if your name wasn't on the list, you weren't getting on. We had to walk the whole length of the platform to find the single first class carriage, past third class, second class (seats), second class (sleeper, non a/c) and second class (sleeper, a/c). Miracle of miracles, our names were on the list. What's more, we seemed to have the four-berth compartment to ourselves.

My disappointment at the lack of a dining car was forgotten when a man appeared to take our dinner order. The menu options were chicken or vegetable (no further details were provided, but you can take it as read that it's going to be curry). We ordered two vegetable dinners - he brought one of each. Strangely, I found his incompetence reassuringly Indian.

I switched off the irritating rattle of the ceiling fan, only to find that it was masking the equally irritating hum of a badly-maintained a/c unit. This could not be switched off. My hackles were briefly raised, but I was distracted by the sensation of movement. The train had left on time! With nothing left to rail against, we settled down to sleep. It felt like a sleepness night, but I must have drifted off at some point because I dreamt that someone was running their fingertips across my stomach. In the morning, we discovered evidence of a mystery occupant in the compartment. I had stowed a piece of cake wrapped in foil in a storage pocket on the wall next to my bed. The foil now had a mouse-sized hole in it, and half the cake was missing. Evidently, I had not been dreaming. (We later discovered that only first class carriages come with complimentary rodents. The riff-raff in second class get cockroaches.) Although we arrived in Calcutta an hour late, Indian Railways had provided a disappointingly stress-free service. We disembarked and strode out onto the street, where we were promptly fleeced by a taxi driver. Ah, the real India again!

Bangkok's Hualamphong station concourse

Bangkok's Hualamphong station concourse


Our compartment on the Bangkok-Chiang Mai Express

Our compartment on the Bangkok-Chiang Mai Express

The Thais also do night trains well, even more so than the Indians. The Bangkok to Chiang Mai Special Express service was extremely comfortable, even in second class, and mercifully rodent-free. It even had a dining car, but the waitress service made us lazy and we ate our dinner and breakfast in our seats. At bed time, a bustling, cheerful woman turned up to convert our table and seats into fully made-up beds, with curtains for privacy, within two minutes. Ok, the train was more than an hour late in arriving, but I'm prepared to forgive the Thais seeing as their main railway line north has been flooded for much of the past three months.

In India we shared a carriage with well-dressed businessmen, in Thailand with Western families on their holidays, but in Cambodia we joined the backpacker set for the night bus from the coast to Siem Reap. Signs all over town in Sihanoukville advertised the bus, using words like 'express', 'comfort' and 'luxury'. It had a toilet, a DVD player, air-conditioning and seats that looked vaguely bed-like. On the other hand, the Lonely Planet warns against road travel by night in Cambodia, and a quick Google search turned up some terrifying accounts of bus drivers falling asleep at the wheel and near misses with sleeping dogs in the middle of the highway. It sounded unmissable, so we bought two tickets.

We boarded at 7:15pm and discovered a problem straight away. The 'seats', which looked like a cross between bunk beds and sun-loungers, were designed for locals. For anyone over 5 foot 6, it was impossible to find a comfortable position to lie in. A second problem lay in the state of the road. Granted, it was surfaced, but the Cambodians have a habit of laying strips of raised tarmac across the highway every few hundred yards. In the bus, it felt like crossing cattle grids at high speed, making sleep impossible. We were the cattle, and we were on our way to market.

I half-remember the unwelcome stops during the night: dinner in a dead-end town at 9:30pm; midnight in Phnom Penh, to decant the bewildered farangs making the 18 hour journey to Ho Chi Minh City; and breakfast at the god-forsaken hour of 4:00am. Shortly after sunrise, we were deposited at the bus company's Siem Reap depot. The gates were locked behind the bus until everyone had bought a tuk-tuk ride into town, at non-negotiable rates. This of course provided an opportunity for more fleecing, but your money goes a long way in Cambodia and we were ripped off to the tune of a dollar. Would I do the night bus again? No, once was enough, thanks.

And so I'm left with a paradox: the night trains of India and Thailand were disappointingly dull, and for that reason I wouldn't hesitate to use them again.

Posted by Chris Parsons 03:12 Archived in Thailand Tagged night trains india cambodia thailand buses Comments (0)

Why I'm a crap tourist...

1) Two temples in, and I'm in need of one or all of the following: 1) a cup of tea; 2) a chocolate brownie; 3) a Beer Lao; 4) a lie down.

2) [Anyone who knows me will confirm this] I don't respond well to being told what to do, least of all what I should like or be wowed by. The carvings at Angkor Wat were undoubtedly stunning, but the havoc wreaked by nature on a nearby nameless temple was something else...

3) A balding, overweight westerner, sweating profusely in the midday sun, obliterates the seventh wonder of the world in a bid to offer photographic evidence to long-suffering relatives back home that he "was 'ere". Can someone please explain, because I really don't understand...

4) At major tourist attractions, I become easily distracted by people watching. I find myself absorbed by a bus-load of Koreans, who are filing past some ancient carving in a zombie-like state, wondering if they read the holiday brochure correctly, and thinking up nifty ways to out-manoeuvre them round the next section.

5) "You buy from meeee, only four dollaarr; you buy from meeee". "I'd love to, but unfortunately I left my purse at home. If you could just wait while I swim ashore..."

6) Tick lists are the root of all evil: e.g.101 things to do before you die. Is anything more crushing to the spirit of adventure than this?

Rant over. Now get back to the turkey sandwiches, or something.

Posted by jparsons 02:27 Tagged tourism Comments (0)

Step away from the turkey...

...and feast your eyes on this!

In case you were wondering what Vietnam and Laos were like to travel through, here are some photos of the beautiful scenery. Enjoy.

Vietnam

We visited Van Long National Park on a three day tour from Hanoi before meeting up with the Redspokes group

We visited Van Long National Park on a three day tour from Hanoi before meeting up with the Redspokes group

A beautiful sunset in Van Long National Park

A beautiful sunset in Van Long National Park

A morning waddle in Ninm Binh province

A morning waddle in Ninm Binh province

A misty morning in North West Vietnam

A misty morning in North West Vietnam

Our first day of sunshine on the bikes? Sunrise over Tu Le

Our first day of sunshine on the bikes? Sunrise over Tu Le

The hills around Sapa

The hills around Sapa

The new road over-caters for its users in North West Vietnam

The new road over-caters for its users in North West Vietnam

A girl cycles the 10 kilometre hill that should have been 5!

A girl cycles the 10 kilometre hill that should have been 5!

Rice fields near Lai Chau

Rice fields near Lai Chau

The peaceful river valley approaching Muong Lai

The peaceful river valley approaching Muong Lai

All change: a brand new bridge to go with a rebuilt town (Muong Lai) following flooding for a hydro-electric scheme

All change: a brand new bridge to go with a rebuilt town (Muong Lai) following flooding for a hydro-electric scheme

A buffalo marks the route!

A buffalo marks the route!

Laos

Laotian mountains from the Nam Ou river - our first taste of Laos

Laotian mountains from the Nam Ou river - our first taste of Laos

The Nam Ou river, which later joins the Mekong

The Nam Ou river, which later joins the Mekong

The Mekong winds through the mountains

The Mekong winds through the mountains

The back up bus catches us up...

The back up bus catches us up...

Dusk in the mountains after an afternoon lounging in the hot springs

Dusk in the mountains after an afternoon lounging in the hot springs

December haymaking

December haymaking

Sunset in Vang Vieng

Sunset in Vang Vieng

Locals at a fishing village

Locals at a fishing village

Flatter lands approaching Vientiane

Flatter lands approaching Vientiane

Big skys on the road to Vientiane

Big skys on the road to Vientiane

Posted by jparsons 09:50 Archived in Vietnam Tagged landscapes vietnam laos Comments (2)

Every little helps...


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Jen does the Christmas shop in Chiang Mai - two bottles of water and a puncture repair kit. Shame we left the Clubcard at home.

The Christmas shop, Thai style

The Christmas shop, Thai style

Posted by Chris Parsons 02:39 Archived in Thailand Tagged shopping thailand christmas Comments (0)

Monkey news


View Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur 2011 on Chris Parsons's travel map.

1. Nepal: The Wise Guys

The_wise_g.._Valley.jpg
Hanuman_la..__Nepal.jpg

"Hey Larry."
"Hey Frank, how's tricks?"
"Doin' ok thanks, Larry, but to tell the truth, there is somethin' buggin' me."
"Oh yeah?"
"Yeah, it's these funny lookin' paleskins with their big cameras. I'm gettin' nervous man, think they're snoops?"
"You mean like this guy over here, Frank, pointin' that big ol' lens at your face? He don't look like no snoop to me."
"I don't like him, Larry. He keeps gettin' closer, jumpin' over walls even. He needs to show a little respect."
"He sure does. He needs to know who he's dealin' with here."
"Yeah, we got protection, don't he know who Hanuman is?"
"We're untouchable, Frank. We're a sacred animal, don't he know?"
"We never had this problem with the locals in this valley, Larry."
"Well I got news for you, Frank. You think these paleskins are bad? Well, things are gonna get a whole lot worse. You know who's coming next?"
"No, who?"
"The Chinese."
"Oh shit. We gotta get outta here Larry."
"I hear ya Frank."

2. Cambodia: The Angkor Crew

The_Angkor_Crew.jpg

"Hey buster! You gotta be macaque to join this crew, and you sure as hell ain't no macaque. We got prime territory here and we ain't movin'. Those goddamn tourists, man. They go ape for these temples and Angkorian shit, and we been working them over for years. We got a neat scam goin' here. The tourists gotta come this way to get to the temples, so we get guaranteed business every mornin'. All we gotta do is keep an ear to the ground. When the first tuk-tuk comes, we get ourselves down to this sunny rock by the moat. It's a nice place, don't get me wrong, but we ain't here for no sunbathin'. We wait till they get close, then perch our skinny asses on the rock and look like they just happened to catch us unawares. Dumb fools! Always helps to bring along some kids. The tourists just can't help themselves, they go bananas for our babies. The tuk-tuks screech to a halt and they pile out and start clickin' and snappin' with their cameras and phones like their goddamn lives depended on it. And here's the neat part: we're just the decoys. Some of the heavy guys stay back on the other side o' the road behind the stoopid tourists. They come down outta the trees and head straight for the bags. The tourists always leave their bags on the ground. Like I say, they're dumb fools. But the heavy guys are brave, man, the bravest in our crew. They got real balls. Quick as a flash they get lookin' through the bags. People that come to these parts always got some nice shit with 'em. Yeah, it's stealin', but the way I see it, if those tourist fools are that stoopid, they deserve what they get. Ain't they always saying we so clever? Well you gotta be clever to survive on the street. We ain't the only crew workin' these parts."

3. Vietnam: Doin' Time

A_crime_ag..fashion.jpg

"What u lookin' at? Huh? Is it the pants? It's always the pants, ain't that right? Ain't you never seen a monkey with red pants before? Jesus, you need to get out more. Look what they did to me - stuck me in a goddamn cage. All because of the pants. I didn't choose these pants, you hear me? I didn't get no choice in the matter, and now I'm doin' time for a crime against fashion, or somethin'. They don't call it a prison, they call it a rescue center, but it's all the same to me. Sure, the food's ok, and I ain't the only one in this predicament, but how they gonna rehabilitate my red pants? Paint 'em black? It's all screwed up, man!"

Posted by Chris Parsons 02:31 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambo Comments (2)

Back on the road

Beng Mealea: something for the temple lovers

Beng Mealea: something for the temple lovers


Nature intervenes

Nature intervenes

It was a rude "awakening"; a series of head jangling ruts and speed bumps on the approach to Siem Reap. Semi-conscious (a bloody miracle given the standard of Cambodian road surfacing) we were evicted from our seats into a dusty scrapyard: Siem Reap Tourist Bus Park. It was 6am, and we were the first business of the day. Bleary-eyed from the overnight bus, we were sitting ducks for the tuk tuk drivers:"You wan tuk tuk, you go temples?", "Lady, tuk tuk?, "No job today, you take tuk tuk". In a pre-breakfast haze, we spent the entire journey to our hotel trying not to fall prey to the sales pitch.

A typical Cambodian tuk tuk driver

A typical Cambodian tuk tuk driver

The easiest way to avoid being tuk-tuk'ed of course is to be in possesion of two wheels already. And so it was that at 8am, a mere two hours into our Siem Reap sojourn, we found ourselves wobbling down the street on "Cambodia bicycle". For the uninitiated, this is a shopping trolley on two wheels: a basket on the front, no breaks, and an alarming tendancy to veer off to the right. Unaccustomed as we were to such standards of cycle machinery (Redspokes have made us soft), it wasn't long before we were soon wobbling back up the road to exchange our Cambodia bicycles for real bikes.

"Cambodia bicycle"

"Cambodia bicycle"


Real bike!

Real bike!

Our first experience of cycle hire in Cambodia was something akin to purching a Ryan Air flight: you book your ticket, but the seat is extra. And so it was at the Tourist Information Office in Siem Reap. To the untrained eye, the bikes looked good, like mountain bikes in fact; and for just $2 one of these "real bikes" would be ours, for the whole day. But appearances can be deceptive, and we had become fussy customers. About six bikes later, we had finally rooted out two with functioning brake sets, fully functioning gears, pumped up tyres, a seat that stayed up, and a frame big enough so that Chris could cycle without his knees wrapped around his ears...The chap at the information desk delivered the bad news: "these are good bikes, if you wan good bike, you pay 4 dollar, whole day!". Michael O'Leary would be proud.

Chris and I back on the road

Chris and I back on the road

Tuk tuk avoidance aside, it was a pleasure to be back in the saddle, able to enjoy the temples of Angkor Wat at our own pace, under our own steam, and escape Siem Reap to venture beyond the tourist zone. It also felt right, in a country that depends so heavily on two-wheeled transport, to be experiencing it on a bike. It is a common sight in Cambodia to see two, even three children on an oversized peddle cycle (one on the pedals, one on the seat, and one on the carrier). The Cambodian bicycle is quite literally the weekly shopping trolley, as well as being the primary vehicle for getting to and from school. I've witnessed locals hitching a lift on one, or, with the stand employed it converts into a jolly comfortable seat. The speed of travel isn't exceptionally fast (though I have been given a run for my money by the odd six year old); but this is probably wise given the standards of Cambodian brake maintenance and the loopy riding style of the locals...

Mother, baby and shopping on two wheels in Banteay Srei

Mother, baby and shopping on two wheels in Banteay Srei

A dirt road to nowhere

A dirt road to nowhere


Beyond the tourist zone

Beyond the tourist zone

In urban centres such as Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, mopeds are the two wheels of choice. These are everything from the family estate car (two adults, the weekly shop, and several babies squeezed in between) to the local corner shop, and of course the local taxi service or tuk tuk. I've seen children standing asleep on mopeds while their parents weave in and out of the traffic, and I nearly inhaled my breakfast when I saw a three year old steering one past our hotel while his father held the baby.

The family estate car, Cambodian-style

The family estate car, Cambodian-style

But above all, the advantage of being on the bike is that it enables you to connect with the local people. While tourists whizz past in their air-conditioned buses to the next must-see temple, we are free to cycle through the villages, where the children wave and shout; stop for the odd photo or at a local house for a drink, and experience something of the real Cambodia.

Cambodian snack stop

Cambodian snack stop


While their enterprising elder sister had skipped off to buy us a coke and some water, we made some new friends!

While their enterprising elder sister had skipped off to buy us a coke and some water, we made some new friends!


We draw a crowd at a much needed drink stop

We draw a crowd at a much needed drink stop

Posted by jparsons 07:18 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia cycling Comments (0)

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