SE Asia vol.1: Vietnam and Cambodia

Getting there

The journey began in my home in Bielsko-Biala, where I tried to squezze 45kg of stuff into 37kg limited by Emirates. The secret is to wear a jacket with big pockets!

After a plenty of time spent on checking weight of my bicycle, I finally boarded this plane heading to…Rome. All roads lead to Rome 😉 After three flights, I have finally landed in Vietnam. Finding a good spot on the airport to assemble my bike was impossible: I attracted a big audience.

After FAQ (a standard set of questions across all Asia: Where are you from? Where are you heading? Are you alone? How much is your bike? Sometimes supplemented by: Are you a muslim? Do you have a wife? Why not? :D) I received a short summary from an airport guardmen: „For a price of your cycle you can buy three motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh.” My answer mentioning that my bike is more beautiful did not convince him that I am not crazy 😀

It was already 11p.m. when I got out of the airport and the amount of heat which hit me was absolutely surprising. Honestly, I cannot imagine living anywhere in SE Asia for life. You have to stick to indoor activities because you are immediately wet outside 😉 However, I had a really great time there what I will try to describe on this blog.

Beginning

I spent the first day in Asia visiting Saigon. The first day means the first dumpass action: I thought that the USD/VND conversion rate is 10x higher than the actual rate and I heavily overpaid for a guy who drove me with a motorbike across Vietnam.

To remember: buy a local SIM card and use Uber even when you are only one day in the given country. It saves a lot of trouble and money. The city itself still remembers Vietnam War: You can meet people suffering from the war and wounds caused by land mines which are still exploding.

It is time to start

The next day was the first cycling day (you can follow 90% of my cycling days on Strava – the rest 10% did not sync from Lezyne Ally GPS app to Strava for no reason). I started at 5a.m. with a very ambitious plan to reach Phon Penh in the evening (ca. 250km). The traffic was pretty heavy as for the first day of Chinese New Year Holidays. A lot of motorbikes using any side of the road makes cycling in the whole Asia quite dangerous. Looking at the navigation longer than 3 seconds is a suicide. Anyway, it was going very smooth till the border…

After passing the immigration checks – and rejecting another tourist cam 😉 – it was already 10a.m. and the sun started hitting. The ride was super hard. I did 30 minutes of cycling followed by another 30 minutes of cooling down in a shade. Repeat, repeat, repeat… At 170km. I met a brave boy with shy friends…

…and re-evaluated my plan: I decided to sleep near the Big Bridge over Mekong. To sum up the first day: cycling in 50 degrees heat on a fully loaded touring bike while your BMI shows „the first stage of obesity” is not easy but doable…

The next day was short: 65km to Phnom Penh took just 3h so I was there before 9a.m. and headed straight to the visa agency. They told me that during Chinese New Year embassy is closed…great, at least I can continue cycling the next day. I was waiting way too long for my Pakistani visa back in Poland and had a „cover as many kilometers as fast as possible” mindset.

I got the guest house with a very ambitious plan to sighsee the city – and I was back in a guest house after 1h to sleep the whole day. Suepr hot, super humid, a lot of peope who enjoy travelling by bus (they are also sometimes called „backpackers” and I still do not know why, I think they would do perfectly well with suitcases most of the time) – it was hard to enjoy this trip at this stage.

I spent the next two days covering 310km to Siem Reap, the biggest attraction of Cambodia. Cycling on a new road was very comfortable. Many children going to school/back home on bikes/motorbikes. They all waved hands to me and shouted „Hello! Good morning!”. Pretty nice 🙂

When I stopped at one shop to re-supply and have a rest from the heat, I had a conversation with a local girl. She is an English teacher in a primary school. After teaching, she helps her parents to run a shop and next, in the evening, drives a motorbike to Phnom Penh where she attends a college. During our talk, her father started talking with her in a local language. As it turned out, he completely could not understand why I am cycling. Cannot I afford a car or a motorbike? What is the point? When I started cycling I was making many arguments why I am cycling. But actually – what is the point of this trip? I always say: I like to cycle and am interested in Asia. But is it a good reason to spend so much time by unproductive pedalling? I have no idea 😉

Somewhere near Siem Reap I stopped at the Colonel house and we made a selfie 😉 He is driving brand new Toyota Land Cruiser V8 and lives in a really big villa. Good life in so poor country!

There were ruling party information tables / propaganda postcards in front of each new bridge and sometimes in the middle of nowhere. Yep, propaganda is important if you want to convince people that ruling the country for over 20 years with rather poor results for the economy is OK.\

Siem Reap

Siem Reap was a white people area. A lot of hotels / guest houses, a lot of riksha drivers showing ruins to tourists. And the most important – some good restaurants 😉 I arrived to the hostel booked on booking.com and they informed me that there is no spot for me. I ended up in a hostel of their neightbor – a private room with A/C and a swimming pool outside for $10 per night – pretty awesome!

Siem Reap makes a really big impression. The average Polish guy would say: “mięli rozmach skur..syny” And I cannot find better words for describing the size and beauty of these temples.

After one day off, I set off to Battambang. 170km was very pleasant because of the rain around noon – a reallly great feeling after all this heat!

I was a little bit pissed off as I did not manage to call the Chinese embassy in Bangkok to ask if I can apply for a Chinese visa there (and in the process of checking the number online and calling I spent few hunder euros – I hate Orange telecom provider, their fares aborad are just insanse. If I used my UK giffgaff number it would be 10x cheaper). To cheer up, I joined a local wedding 😉

Battambang looks like cities from Western movies. I visited a local art gallery and I found Cambodian paintings  pretty weird – but I still highly recommend this place.

I should have spent another day in the city, but instead I headed to Pailin the border crossing with Thailand in Pailin the next day.

The border lies in the first mountains on my way and it was the first time I really felt drawback of my obesity. I was really dying there! At some point I put my bike next to the road and lay down on the road – drivers were stopping asking if I need any help. „No, I just love climbing in a heat!” 😉

The border crossing was very easy. 20 minutes in total and I was done. I was the only non-local guy there… Thailand was different not only because of a left-side traffic but also by the level of development. Shortly after crossing, I stopped next to the house to get a hot water for my noodles – the villager was very intersted in my bicycle making photos of each part 😉

After a really long descent I got to Chanthaburi and even saw some cyclists in the city.

It was still very hot – however much better than in Cambodia. The place is very turistic – another white man zone with rather expensive restaurants. But I never care about the price of food, this is the only thing I am not saving money on – contrary to all guesthouses/hotels. I sometimes spend more on a dinner than for a room.