Bye-bye Bangkok

Some scenes from the recovery days before heading home.

Royal Palace grounds
flower market
Once referred to as the Venice of the East, Bangkok had an extensive canal network, some of which still remains. The bike tour was great!
We cycled some impossibly narrow alleys (“soi”), especially in the old section known as Thonburi.
blessing the community
Khao San Road, perhaps akin to Bourbon Street in New Orleans
Old Siam Market
Wat Arun
The colorful currency speeds up transactions since I don’t have to look at the numbers.
That costs 50 baht? Aha, the blue one!
The river and canal water taxis are fun, cheap, and faster than the gridlocked streets.
I made it back to my room just in time to avoid the daily storm.
the day the rain came early
Wild and crazy tuk tuk ride!
My mom’s former exchange student Wachiraphon arranged a nice dinner with a great view.
the view from the tallest building, King Power Maha Nakhon

Food

Chef Leez cooking class was EXCELLENT!
There is nothing like grating it fresh to make your own coconut milk and coconut cream.

nori roll and mango smoothie at vegetarian restaurant May Kaidee
May’s famous mango black sticky rice. It was worth coming to Bangkok just to eat this, my all time favorite food ever.
Thai sweet crepes, or khanom buang, are seriously delicious.
did not eat
Street food: assemble your own pad thai to taste, and they cook it for you. Great idea!

temple exterior detail from royal palace grounds
The palace temples and buildings glitter at night.

Gulf of Thailand

After crossing the border, the last two days of cycling were in Thailand along the gulf coast.
–Krong Pailin to Chantaburi, 26 miles, mostly flat, cloudy, 80s and humid
–Chantaburi to Laem Mae Phim, 50 miles, hills, drizzle, windy, 80s

Bike lanes!
The one puddle we encountered, our guide pointed to it and said, “Cambodia.” (Ouch.)
Squid (or as our guide says, “squish”) fishing is a major industry here, and the green lights used as the lure are an eerie sight at night. (borrowed photo) The lights can even be seen from space.
Wat Pak Nam Khaem Nu
Our rest stops in Cambodia and Thailand have been on temple grounds, which are open to all comers for temporary respite. This is a rare blue temple, perhaps as a nod to the nearby gulf.
Hitting this giant gong three times is supposed to bring you fame. It resounded with the loudest and lowest thunderous growl I have EVER heard. It was SO COOL!
Ahoy, monks!
visiting a Thai royal navy ship that is now a museum
Our guide is determined to share every dish in Thailand with us.
L-R: Curry, seafood salad, ginger chicken, sweet pork with a special leaf, morning glory, vegetables with sardine sauce, and crab cakes.
Prawn/shrimp farming is huge here.
roots of the golden mangrove field
DONE
800 miles, 3 countries, 23 days

Gilligan’s Reprise

Boat from Siem Reap to Battambang

I’ve not had good luck with water transportation on this trip. It all started out innocently enough.

heading out of the river toward Tonle Sap lake
Thick water hyacinths make for tough going.
Thousands of people live on the waterways in Cambodia.

Once out of the river and into the huge lake, I quickly became concerned about our small boat in the high winds and huge waves, with no other boats visible. As water crashed over the bow, we surged up the waves and then banged down into the troughs, our unaffixed chairs sliding all over the deck. I strapped on my purse and wiggled into a life jacket while our guide Nak scrambled astern to help with the rudder. Two and a half tense hours later, we reached the lee of the far shore, completing the roughest crossing the captain had ever experienced.

I managed this photo before things got really rough.

And then the engine died.

Water hyacinths kept us from drifting while Nak and the captain bled the air out of the engine. Mark and Kirsten weren’t as concerned about the crossing, and Nak thought it was great fun. I apparently have a low “thrill” tolerance.
Once underway again, we headed up the tight and twisty Sangker river.
We saw thousands of swallow’s nests as well as monkeys, storks, and kingfishers.
The low, wooden cages in the foreground are an alligator farm.

Battambang to Krong Pailin, 58 miles, hilly, rainy, 70s

The grit and grime from riding rainy roads was even in my hair.
While peddlers are common everywhere, I haven’t seen whole roving stores in other countries.
The beginning of the rainy season is time for planting certain types of rice.
again, uniquely Cambodian
Speaking of rice, the best I’ve had was at Jaan Bai in Battambang. The vegetable curry was also amazing.
This gecko measured about 1.5 feet and croaked his name all night long, “gec-ko, geck-ko.”
last hurrah with Nak

Yin and Yang

Skip this post if you don’t want to know about some of the harsher realities of bike travel in southeast Asia. Like any tourist, I’ve only shown you the best photos of the prettiest things. But if you’re curious about the full experience, here it is.

Vietnam was by far the worst for trash, everywhere. If you stick to the most popular tourist areas, you might not encounter it quite this bad, but you will certainly notice it.
Bali and Vietnam excelled in roadside fires, the smoke from which irritated the respiratory system. People sweep up their properties daily, then burn the trash/leaf piles since there is not much of a garbage removal system.
The grit and grime is a cycling-specific downside.
as is daily sink laundry
mostly encountered in Cambodia’s gas stations and wayside temple grounds

I don’t have photos of every unpleasant aspect I encountered, so here’s a sampling of what you might expect if you cycle or visit here.

  • Heat
  • High humidity
  • Heat rash
  • Road rash
  • Chafing
  • Sunburn
  • Hydration/electrolyte issues
  • Poverty
  • Repressive governments
  • Hyperinflation
  • Touts/hawkers/pushy proprietors/being hassled/touristy markets
  • Haggling
  • Air pollution
  • Poor water quality
  • Anti-malaria medication side effects
  • Decisions: for every photo posted, there are five that aren’t

For any unpleasantness I saw or experienced, there was also balance in nature’s beauty and the amazing resilience and friendliness of the people.

Angkor

There are Khmer temples that predate Angkor. The Chenla empire was headquartered at Sambor Prei Kuk near Phnom Penh from the late 500s through the 700s. Hundreds of temples remain.

Prasat Chrey temple in the grip f a strangler fig at Sambor

Angkor (near Siem Reap) was the capital city of the Khmer empire from 802 to 1431. All that is left of the approximately one million people and their hundreds of square miles of urban sprawl are more than one thousand stone temples in various states of ruin. Angkor Thom is the name of the walled, 3.5 square miles at the empire’s center that contain many, but not all, of the Angkor period remains. Temples were constructed either as Buddhist or Hindu shrines, then re-purposed and switched around according to the current king’s preference.

Angkor Thom’s west gate
Incredibly, you can mountain bike on top of Angkor Thom’s south and west walls. To the left is a very large moat.
Bayon temple stands at the very center of Angkor Thom and was built in the late 1100s. Like many large temples, it has its own moat, representing the ocean.
Bayon has 54 towers, each of which has this benevolently smiling face on four sides.
Biking some great single track to the entrance of Ta Keo.

Cycling has to be the best way to visit Angkor, since you can get into the forest and visit ruins most visitors never experience. Our guide Nak is not only an excellent cyclist, he is very knowledgeable and proud of Angkor, sharing with us the best views, interesting details, and fun routes.

Ta Keo temple
entrance to Ta Prohm temple
The movie “Tomb Raider “was filmed here.
I thought strangler figs covered all of the temples at Angkor, but in most cases they have been removed since they are destructive. Preservationists balance the trees and temple at Ta Prohm to let us see the beauty and interplay between man and nature, and to understand what the temples looked like ca. 150 years ago before restoration began.
small temple along the way
Banteay Srei was constructed in the 900s of hard red sandstone. Its delicate carvings have survived in stunning detail.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is just one temple complex out of the Angkor region’s approximately one thousand temples. The largest religious monument in the world, it was built in the early 1100s.

Long galleries on lower levels protect amazing wall carvings depicting daily life, battles, and other stories, histories, and mythologies of the empire.
At the top level of the highest tower. Yes, those stairs were very steep! (The tourist access side has a hand rail.)
The view from the top, which only the king and highest priests would have enjoyed. The complex grounds are so vast that you cannot see the large moat surrounding them.
Young monks enjoying the view.

Cycling:
Siem Reap and Angkor, 26 miles, warm and sunny
Siem Reap and Banteay Srei, 40 miles, rainy/muddy/70s

Naga, the serpent deity

សួស្តី។ (Suostei!)

Hello from Cambodia!

southern Cambodia and the Vipassana Dhura Buddhist Center from Oudong mountain
We reached Phnom Penh on Thursdsay after five hours on the Mekong River.

Cambodia should be viewed through the lens of the Khmer Rouge (Cambodian Communist) regime led by Pol Pot, 1975-79. An estimated two to three million people (about a quarter of the population) were killed, the currency eradicated, religion outlawed, hospitals shuttered, and schools closed, setting the country back hundreds of years. Genocide targets included professionals, intellectuals, artists, foreigners, diplomats, and any other suspected political enemies. A slower death faced urbanites who were forced out of the cities and onto collective farms. Cambodia has managed an incredible recovery in only 40 years, yet the after-affects are still visible, and it is considered an LDC (least developed country). Currently described as a constitutional monarchy, it has a single party and the second-longest serving prime minister in the world, so you can drawn your own conclusions.

S-21 prison, now Tuol Sleng museum
Formerly a high school, the prison was primarily used for interrogation and torture.
Shrine at Choeung Ek killing field, the location of many mass graves. This is just one of countless sites.
The archives program is going strong as cultural memory and education. Let us learn from the mistakes of history, in part through preserving and promoting its documentation.
lotus, in memoriam

Phnom Penh to Kampong Thom, 20 flat miles, overcast with occasional light rain, mid-80s
Kampong Thom to Siem Reap, 40 flat and fast miles, partly cloudy, mid-80s

Phnom Penh and the royal palace. We’re here at the beginning of rainy season.
Most of the country roads are constructed of red sandy dirt brought from the mountains.
Inside of the Vipassana Dhura Buddhist temple, which I think is kind of like the national temple.
bridge on the way to Siem Reap built in 1181 during the Angkor period
at the spider market in Skuon
The empty back roads are cycling heaven. It is less busy here than in Vietnam.
Old and new: traditional stilt house beside a modern home.
a common sight – an overworked motorbike
seeing a lot of these interesting transport vehicles
Siem Reap’s large tourist quarter
The lemongrass flavor of the soup, the fish curry, and the coconut chicken skewers were all divine.
Things we did not eat: scorpions.
tarantulas and grasshoppers
red ant egg salad
Kampong Thom market
I like how in Cambodian markets, the stalls are elevated instead of on the ground.

V-EAT-nam, part 2

The Vietnamese coffee maker is infamous for making a slow, thick brew. Put sweetened condensed milk in the glass first for a “white coffee.”
See the coffee beans on the bush?
Da Lat pizza (banh trang nuong): a beaten egg spread on rice paper cooked over an open fire with green onions, a mystery sauce, and some pork floss.
Dragon fruit is the product of a cactus they train to grow up concrete poles.
I’m in love with these sweet little bananas. I hope to find them at the Asian markets at home.
Bananas hanging out in the wild in the Mekong delta.
banh canh (thick noodle soup)
fine dining at the Temple Club in Saigon as part of the Spice Roads tour: fish, veg, rice
coffee panna cotta, citron mousse, sesame seed mung bean ball
Tous les jours bakery in Saigon
This was a fantastic green papaya salad at Saigon’s hip restaurant Anan. I chatted up famous chef-owner Peter Cuong Franklin at the bar without knowing who he was until much later.
Sticky rice is my favorite food, ever. I tried all seven flavors: red bean, peanut, black, pandan, carrot, purple, and coconut.
Rambutans have a tasty white flesh inside the wild outer covering.
This delectable goodness is a creamed avocado base with a scoop of coconut ice cream and some shredded coconut and crunchies on top.