金邊 Phnom Penh

So we got into the wealthest city in Cambodia at last, but the traffic in Phnom Penh was as crazy as you can imagine, sometimes we think the drivers were determined to kill us as a revenge for our not saying hello to every Khmer kid on the road, Pazu murmured "crazy" at least 10 times contrary to 9 yesterday. We finally found enough time to use the laundry service, seven shirts and some underwears, US$1 for a kilogram (we have 2.5kg). The old laundry lady suddenly asked us in Vietnamese if Pazu was Vietnamese, "Chau la nguoi Trung Quoc, nhung biet noi tieng Viet..." Pazu replied awkwardly. It's been quite a while since he used this language, how to say "seven"? Pazu suddenly forgot... but there's going to have lots of chances to practice it soon because we're going back to Vietnam during the Tet festival. And today there's nothing special on the road, the same kids yelling hello, but look at this little girl, she was almost choked to death by Kong Junior, we're very sorry. (Cambodia: Skun to Phnom Penh, 79.06km, 20050131-00090)


蜘蛛城 Spider town

Road from Kampong Thom to Skun is perfectly paved, we didn't meet many cyclists on the road as you can see from our weblog, but we hadn't met any naked cyclist until we saw Rach Touzez, an Australian. Rach said, "It's very hot here!" So he took off his shirt while cycling, naturally he got a bunch of admirers (of his fatty tissue). Okay, back on the road there're still lots of kids shouting to say hello, bye-bye or OK, but to be frankly, Pazu felt tired already, he apologized, "Sorry kids, I know I may be the first barang you met, but after 2 weeks of trying to respond to every single shouting, now I want to keep myself meditating while cycling!" PS: To you kids, I'm a foreigner, but not a barang (westerner)! Now tell a Khmer friend that you're coming to Skun, they will say "oh the spider town!" Skun is famous (or infamous??) for its habit of eating deep-fried spiders, basically you didn't need to go and the spider girls would come and find you. "Where did these spiders come from?" Pazu asked them, Siem Reap was the answer... perhaps we got something wrong here, so just ignore us; "Where do you live young ladies?" Poom Joh-juat, 20km away from here; "Why did you eat spiders?", because it's delicious. But on the guidebook it said that perhaps they started eating it during the Khmer Rouge time. We never know the exact answer, but never be scared off, Pazu was a bit of adventurous type and he had tried the following (with no specific order, all in China though): bees, grasshoppers, cocoon, scorpions, dogs, snakes, frogs, fresh blood, clotted blood... yeah you're right, Pazu is Chinese. Anyway we tried three scorpions (500 riel each), yaaa... that's yumm, a bit like shrimps, eat the shell, eat the flesh. stay: Sopheak Mongkol Guesthouse, US$2.5 for room without bathroom (pay double if you want a toilet), rooms are on the ground floor so you can put your bike inside room, frequent black-out which can be annoying at hot night, the guesthouse is on your right-hand side once you get into town, there're two more guesthouses right nextdoor. (Cambodia: Kampong Thom to Skun, 92.15km, 20050130-00089)


真臘遺跡 Zhenla ruins

The biggest attraction in Kg Thom is the pre-Angkorian ruins Sombor Preikuk, around town there are always some barang tour groups, though it's still 100 times less touristy than Siem Reap. The ruins are 29km away from town, naturally we went there by bicycle. The road was half-good half-unpaved, but traffic was filled almost with bicycles exclusively, it was still quite a pleasant ride, a funny scene was that kids love shouting, "OK!" as if saying hello. "OK~~~!" We made a late start, so we caught up with the students' lunch break. Perhaps we were the first foreigners they had seen, everyone was following us, a young boy started to talk, "Excuse me, can I ask you something?", he asked. "What's your name?", "Okay... and what's your nationality?" "Okay... can you answer me why you come here?" "Okay..." The boy said he wanted to further his study in Phnom Penh and become a lawyer, Pazu thought he had a bigger chance to become a police though. We said goodbye to the lawyer-to-be, and went to the historical site. Sombor Preikuk (entrance: US$2) was built during the Zhenla Period in the 6th and 7th centuries, we think the towers looks pretty similar to the Cham towers we had seen in Vietnam. Zhenla was succeeded by Angkor, Angkor was attacked by Chams, Chams was then defeated by the Angkor again. Perhaps there are some cultural linkage too? (Cambodia: Kampong Thom, 20050128-00088)


我已經充滿力量喇 I'm powered!

On the road there are some signs saying that the Primary Road Restoration Project was funded by the Asian Development Bank, so road condition from Kg Kdei to Kg Thom is as good as yesterday, quite a happy ride. And we made frequent stops to drink sugarcane juice. But if you come to Cambodia, you'll notice lots of Fanta bottles filled with suspicious liquid, Pazu tried it, "I'm powered!" Kg Thom is a very big town, with a big central market and a big hotel. There are also a few branches of some int'l NGOs, WorldVision, Red Cross... stay: Arunras Guesthouse, just next to the biggest hotel, very good value at US$3/single, with satellite TV and shower. We can watch CNN tonight, it's the 60th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz. (Cambodia: Kampong Kdei to Kampong Thom, 87.63km, 20050127-00087)


蛇頭橋 Naga Bridge

蛇頭橋 Naga Bridge We made an early start today, at 7am... Siem Reap was already as busy as Mongkok, marketeers hurrying to psar with trailers, students rushing to schools by bicycles, in short, traffic was a mess. But Siem Reap was really like another nation without a defined border, once get out of it, the traffic was thin again. From our research on the internet, the National Highway 6 was said to be in pretty bad shape. The good news was that this info was old, so now we can announce to everybody who wants to ride this leg of road, NH6 from Siem Reap to Kampong Kdei is in good-to-perfect condition. In front of Kampong Kdei we were greeted by a Naga bridge. So what's Naga? Naga is a mythical serpent with 7 or 9 heads that appeared frequently in Angkor, or modern Kampuchea. You can see these copras (usually two or four together) everywhere in Cambodia, they are greeting you in front of temples, dancing in the middle of a hotel's fountain, or spitting fire outside petrol station. Khmer people has their own national birth legend, which tells of the arrival of a prince from India, named Kambu, who married Lady Soma, daughter of the Naga King (Serpent Spirit of the Waters), who ruled over the land that was to become Cambodia. Chinese are descendants of Dragon, Khmer are offspring of Naga, while both dragon and serpent implied a sense of slyness or treachery, Asians love them. Back in Kampong Kdei, so what's the Naga Bridge? It's a 10-meter bridge decorated with 4 very long nagas. The bridge was very impressive. "Bohmann ch'nam?" (How many years?) Pazu tried his newly learnt Khmer, an old man replied, "xxjlsjdflksf...." The answer was totally out of the numbers Pazu had learnt. But the bridge looked very old, built by laterite, nothing like a replica. We met an Overseas Chinese who said the bridge was dated back to the Angkorian time (and he claimed that the bridge was built with the help of Chinese...). Oh yeah now we suddenly felt like a part of history, that we were riding through a thousand-year-old Angkorian bridge, it's not just a temple for you to take a shot (or for Sokha Hotel Co. to extort your money), it's not just an adorner, it's the vena cava of Cambodia, that it's still working to connect the modern capital to Angkorian center and Thailand. The bridge was in pretty bad condition, we hoped it wouldn't fall. stay: Ngoav Peang Guesthouse tonight, it's on the LHS (north) of the highway, you can see a sign in English there, US$4 a room with bathroom but no TV. We usually didn't mind to have no TV, but now Pazu got addicted already after Siem Reap... (Cambodia: Siem Reap to Kompong Kdei, 62.75km, 20050126-00086)


河邊小食攤 Riverside food stall

The very first day we met Mr Mon Pros, a Cambodian boy in Wat Kesararam (just in front of our guesthouse). He stayed in Siem Reap because he wanted to learn English, he stayed at a temple because he didn't have much money. He's not a monk, he's not going to be a monk anyway. "Where are you from?" Pazu asked Mon Pros, Mon Pros searched around Pazu's Nellie's map for ten minutes and still couldn't find his hometown. (Pazu was trying to be patient...) "I don't know how to read a map!" Mon Pros said at last. It was dinner time and he took us to a local food stall on the riverside, we had some rice (baai), 1500 riel (US$0.375, things are cheaper than Thailand). Mon Pros told us, "I like the girl here, but she didn't like me." I asked him the name of the girl, he said he didn't know yet. How romantic! I asked the girl her name, she's Koa Kun Thea, 17 years old. We went to have dinner there almost every night afterwards. Koa Kun Thea couldn't speak much English, we tried a few phrases of Khmer, she pointed to the little boy in the picture and said, "He is my father." Now I got it, Cambodian always confused the "f" and "b" sound, "farang" (French, Thai language) is "barang" in Khmer, so she was only trying to tell me this little boy is her brother. Next time when you come to Kampuchea, don't be scared off if a local wanting to be your "father", he wanted to be a friend as good as a brother only. (Cambodia: Siem Reap, 20050125-00085)


兩個單車友 Toni and Agnes

The day when we left Kra Lang, we forgot to leave a message or email address to the Deustch-Canadian couple, Toni and Agnes. We thought we could meet them again here in Siem Reap, but as we have told you already, SR was really big and touristy, not much chance to see them anymore. Agnes said, "Oh we can't see Kong Junior and Pazu again!" Toni said, "No we can still meet them!" So Mr Toni was right, we knew their conversation because we met each other today at the backpackers' Sivatha Avenue and we had some Indian Thali and masala tea together. They said they were going to take the boat down the Tonle Sap Lake tomorrow's morning, and rush their bikes down the National Highway 5. Hey Toni and Agnes, I'll tell you the answer plus one magic trick if we see you in Phnom Penh. Good luck! (Cambodia: Siem Reap, 20050124-00084)


大婆羅宮 Ta Phrom

Angkor is under serious protection with the effort of international money, but with so many years of negligence, civil wars and even holocaust, some of the Angkor were basically left with no choice but to leave them there without doing any repairment, something like cutting the dorsal aorta would kill a man. Ta Phrom was one of our favorites in Angkor, but before we started to tell you more about it, let's turn to page 118 of your Cert Level Biology textbook. Mosses grow on stones, decayed into an organic matter called humus, which then serves as a prefect base for small plants. Small plants died and decomposed into yet another thicker layer of humus, thus bigger plants grown. Roots grow larger and pry into rocks, break them apart. Trees grown taller, and become a part of the structure eventually. Give the natural mother some more thousand years, they will engulf the whole thing without mercy. Good luck for us that we can come to see it at this stage, it's like a perfect harmony between the human and natural forces, everything was twisted together. Have you ever watched the Japanese animation La-pu-ta (** sorry for anyone who knows French/Spanish/Portuguese, Laputa has nothing to do with "that"! It's the name of the the Castle in the Sky only.), the Laputa Castle was a lost civilization, so was the Angkor. (Cambodia: Siem Reap, 20050122-00083)


吳哥甩 Angkor Wat

The prime reason to come to Cambodia was to see the Angkor-cum-Wat. Angkor is a vast area covering 200 km square of land with clusters of architectures from the beginning of last millennium, Pay US$20/40/60 (day/3days/week) and you can have a glimpse of the Khmer glorious past, star of ancient civilization, wonder of world. We bought a 3-day pass, bicycle is the best and cheapest way to get around. The most extraordinary one we visited today was Angkor Thom, a buddhist temple now. Fifty-four towers, every tower topped with 4-faced big head. Who are they? Brahmin, Shiva, Jayavarman VII the Khmer king or Avalokitesvara (觀音)? Nobody can say for sure. (Cambodia: Siem Reap, 20050121-00082)


回到文明 Back to civilization

Exactly 20km bye-bye from Kra Lang, Pazu suddenly acclaimed and would have probably applaused if he didn't need to control the bike. We were back on a paved road, we were back to civilization! It was such an exciting moment so we had our happy meal (rice with pork plus a can of coke) in a town called Puok, we were attracted by a beautiful wooden signpost after lunch, it was Artisans d'Angkor, their mission is "handling on cultural savoir-faire and promoting the Khmer identity". Bonjour? Excusez-moi? What is savoir-faire? There're always some French words around even in small town like Kra Lang. We followed a path leading to Artisans d'Angkor (AA), it was the cleanest and neatest place we had seen in Cambodia so far. Mr Pou Pich worked there, he said he could give us a farm tour. Pazu said we were ready, Mr Pich asked if we wanted to use the bathroom first. He was very considerate, we were dusty and looked like from another planet! AA was actually a silk farm, they have everything from farming worms, extracting silk and weaving clothes. The worms look delicious, Mr Pich said, "you can eat them, I'm not kidding!" No he wasn't kidding, the worms could be eaten after boiling (a process to get the silk thread out of the cocoon). Thank you very much Mr Pich for the informative tour, we almost forgotten every single detail though. Now we were back on the bike and went to Siem Reap, only 17km ride. What could we tell you about Siem Reap? It looks very touristy. (Cambodia: Kra Lang to Siem Reap, 56.28km, 20050120-00081)


滿路是塵 Flurry of dust

The leg from Sisophon to Kra Lang was short, only 52.05km, it was one of the worst roads we had ever seen. Traffic was thin but even if just one truck passed, everything would turn into a flurry of dust. The bad road reminded us of Tibet, but when we saw this sign, the only country that popped up in Pazu's mind was Afghanistan. Halotrust's mission is demining, we saw their stone pillar on the way to Mazar-e Sharif too. But don't worry about us, we were riding on the National Highway 6, a well-travelled road, however the omnipresence of potholes and dirt. We met two other cyclists today, Toni (German) and Agnes (Canadian), coincidentally, they bought their bikes at Cycle Sports in Bangkok, same as us! There was only one place to stay in Kra Lang, it's Chaktomok Guesthouse (四臂灣旅社, US$4) next to the highway and near a gasoline station, we checked in and the little girl said, "Let me clean the room for you first!" Every decorations inside were covered with a layer of thick dust, in one day only. (Cambodia: Sisophon to Kra Lang, 52.05km, 20050119-00080)


金融系統 Monetary system

Our no-visa stay expired today, so bye-bye Thailand, we don't really feel like going but what can we do? We'll be back! Just hop the border to Cambodia and the difference was so huge. Lesser trucks, more carts, roads were either unpaved or paved with lots of potholes, the whole impression was a mess. The brighter side was that we could still see the same smiling faces and heard more "bye-bye", it's strange that the kids love saying "bye-bye" on first encounters. We stopped at Sisophon, a small town with some hotels and even a Zhongguo Qianjin Yiyuan (中國前進醫院, China Progressive Clinics) and had a chat with Mr Gao Peng (高朋), the physician. "Why did you come here?" Pazu asked Mr Gao. "I don't know, some agent suggested us to come," he said. He had been here for 5 months, asked if he wanted to go back to China (Guizhou), he said he still hadn't earned enough money, we doubt if he could actually earn enough money here. Good luck Mr Gao. And tonight we stayed at Phnom Svay Hotel (they have a cute Chinese name: 芒果山旅社), US$6 for a room with fan, satellite TV (with frequent interruptions) and freezer, in a word, good value but still a bit out of our daily budget. It was on the right-hand side of the main road (Poipet Street or Street no. 5), right opposite the provincial office (012-656565). Surprisingly, there were some net cafes, but the poster looked like they opened in the 1940s, 4000 riel (40 baht or US$1) for an hour. The monetary system in Cambodia was conveniently strange, everybody knows the exchange rate, US$1 = 40B = 4000R. So let me give you a simple math game, now Pazu wanted to buy one Mama instant noodles which is 500 riel, give the shop mama 5000 Cambodian riel, how much would she change back? Yes, she gave us back one American dollar plus five Thai baht. Thank you for your participation. (Thailand: Aranya Prathet to Sisophon in Cambodia, 55.55km, 20050118-00079)


美軍店 US Something Shop

Located just 3km east of the main town is the Frendhsip Border Market (aka Dalat Rong Klue), it's a bit like another Chatuchak Market (in Bangkok), lots of shops selling camping stuff or military clothes had names like US something, they even have broken meters or gas masks on display. The US of America bombed Cambodia secretly during the Vietnam War, would this be an explanation for the presence of these US military souvenir shops (with a dusty American flag outside)? We did go in one shop and asked the owner, he just said people like it, touring only. We bought a compact mosquito net there for 330 baht (US$8.25). (Thailand: Aranya Prathet, 20050117-00078)


高棉遺跡 Khmer ruin

The Thai-Cambodian border town is called Aranya Prathet, just 60km from Sa Kaeo. On the way to Aran we stopped at the provincial pillar of spiritual unity and the statue of King Naresuan the Great, but nothing was more interesting than this Khmer ruin. We didn't know anything about it but the sign-post next to Highway 33 was so big that we imagined the ruin would be even bigger, it turned out to be THIS only. Prasat Hin Ban Noi, about 1.6km away from the main road, Pazu thought only archeologists or those attracted mistakenly by the sign-post would come, the ruin was surrounded by a big area of wildland, there was a "for-sale" advertisement nearby. (Thailand: Aranya Prathet, 20050116-00077)


百事冰火袋 Pepsi Fire/Ice bag

We arrived at Sa Kaeo, just 44.47km from Kabinburi. It's one of the shortest distance we had travelled (the other one was from Nong Khai to Vientiane), but we were determined to go slower. Time is still plentiful and Pazu didn't want to rush anymore, better go slowly and take a longer rest. Accomodations outside major cities cost a bit more but still cheap, rooms are usually double, ah~ Thais love travelling in a group. Rooms are usually on the ground floor, we can even put our bike inside. Do you notice we have a new rear pannier? It's actually a promotion bag from Pepsi Fire/Ice. About a month ago Pepsi launched the new flavor "Fire" and "Ice" in Thailand, which were both quite strange, but the promotion bag (70 baht each only) was probably designed with bicycle in mind, they are small, thick and equipped with a rack-strap holder. We found a Pepsi truck today and bought two, they're perfect for keeping snacks, soap and first-aid kit. (Thailand: Sa Kaeo, 20050115-00076)


說再見 Say goodbye

It's 10am, a late start, Oat sent us to the junction of Highway 33, we really had to say goodbye, he used his video camera to record our departure. Pazu seldom gets so emotionally attached to any person, but because of Mr Oat's generous friendship and helpfulness, limitless knowledge of bicycle, pointless humour, nonsense imagination, and charming personality, it's truly-truly sorrowful to say goodbye. Perhaps it is actually a good omen to feel sad when you leave someone, it just meant we enjoyed our time together. We will miss you, Mr Oat! And Pazu said, "I will miss you more when I get another puncture!" // And we rode 72.04km to Kabinburi, it was a bit raining today, the road condition was getting a bit worse, though from what we had read from an internet guide, the road was even worse in Cambodia. (Thailand: Kabinburi, 20050114-00075)


立即又重逢 Reunion

So after staying in Thailand for almost 3 months, we have to go though we still want to stay longer. We will go to Poipet (Thai-Cambodian border) first and then to Siem Reap (Angkor Wat). Whenever Pazu imagined having to pass through the many roads in Bangkok, he got a headache, but Mr Oat was always here to help even without a telephone booth, it was his holiday today and he guided us to Nakhon Nayok, 131.68km from Bangkok. He had only one day of holiday indeed, this crazy and energetic guy said he would then go back to Bangkok alone at night and go working next morning. We arrived at N Nayok at around 7pm, found a hotel and ate some food, just when we had everything ready to say our last goodbye and shed some tears, he got a phone call from his manager, he was asked to work in the evening instead of morning. What a sudden surprise! It's like another reunion and we kept chatting without any topics until 2am. Perhaps I have to remind you, Pazu and Oat didn't have a very fluent common language, it's actually quite interesting that it would turn out to be such a close friendship. Our room's windows was right in front of Highway 33, extremely noisy, Pazu needed earplugs to sleep, Oat just slept without any complaints. (Thailand: Nakhon Nayok, 20050113-00074)


泰國單車會 Thailand Cycling Club

This is Mr Bank, yes his name is Bank though it's a pity that he doesn't own one, he does own a very warm heart and is always around to help. Another very helpful guy is Mr Ganok (not in photo), both of them work at the Thailand Cycling Club (TCC, their website is temporarily non-go-able...), a place that we visited very frequent during my short stay in Bangkok, they took us to some cheap bike shops around and offer many advice. I wanted to become a club member as a gratitude (200baht/year), but they just said, "Hey you are here for a few month and don't waste your money, if you need any help just come!" What Pazu didn't know was that Mr Bank loves eating bear. (Thailand: Bangkok, 20050112-00073)


黑洞 Black hole

This is the Daidomon yaki-shabu at MBK, pay hundred something baht and you can eat till you die, Ah Chin definitely couldn't beat the record of Oat and us, Oat was the last to stop though, he just said casually, "I have a black hole." He meant to say he had a big and unbreakable stomach. (Thailand: Bangkok, 20050111-00072)


甚麼都有 You have everything

You may think it's suicidal to ride a bike in Bangkok (with the notorious crazy and busy traffic), but we can tell you it's not true. Pazu said, "It's so much fun to ride through the traffic jam while even the tuk-tuk drivers had to wait!" Drivers are generally very nice to cyclists, usually (I mean "usually" only) let you go first if you give them a signal, and they're used to the uncontrolled traffic and sudden stop, though you still have to expect anything unexpected here, motorbikes from north, pedestrian from south, and even an elephant shitting in front of you. And the guy posing next to the pissing elephant is Oat, you remember the monk (check post #58)? He became a layman again after staying at the temple for 3 weeks, oh so low now. (Thailand: Bangkok, 20050108-00071)