As always after a rest we struggled to wake up and get moving on our way out of Saigon. Luckily we only planned to ride 30km to the town of Cu Chi. This turned out to be even more fortunate given the way the morning panned out.
Disclaimer – the title of this blog post is 100% James’. Bryony was just too tired to think of anything better.
We spent 4 nights in Ho Chi Minh city (or Saigon, depending who you talk to). Although we didn’t do everything the city has to offer, it was long enough for us. It’s good to explore while we are in this part of the world, but we both prefer being on the bike each day, and being in smaller places. We also found it to be more expensive than other places we’ve stayed, especially the food. This is probably due to the phenomenon that lots of tourists describe, where they pay more for the same thing than locals. We just tried to eat at the ones that had prices marked, because while they were more expensive than rurally, they weren’t as much as we paid for some things when we didn’t ask.
After a breakfast of com tâm from the same stall we frequented each morning in Can Tho we headed off towards Tra Vinh, only about 60km away. We usually have a look at our route for the day over breakfast to plan a way out of a city, and get a rough idea of where we will travel, the problem is that maps don’t always specify which streets will be transformed into markets so occasionally find outselves jammed in amongst the fruit, flowers and fish. That, plus trying to work out how to get onto the big bridge, made our start pretty slow. If you look at our strava files over time you’ll see how many times we stopped to check the gps! The bridge was the most climbing we’d done in ages, but the view from the top was amazing, and we passed a few motorbikes as we rolled down the other side.
Crossing the border between Cambodia and Vietnam proved no hassles – the buildings weren’t very large or official, but we were just shuttled from person to person and in less than half an hour had all the stamps we needed and were on the road in Vietnam. We still had another 25km to ride to reach Chau Doc, but thankfully we changed tack and had a roaring tail wind. This was useful going up the first hill we’d encountered in ages which rendered us both sweaty messes. We found a town with ATMs after about 5km, and then just rolled along with all the traffic, which included lots more big trucks, to Chau Doc.
We really enjoyed spending a few days in Phnom Penh. Initially we were going to avoid it all together, as in Thailand we found we liked the small towns the most. It was a bit different in Cambodia though, and the cities were a good place to feel like we fitted in again. Our guesthouse was brilliant – the room was ok but the staff were super friendly and interesting. We spent one night in the bar with one of the managers who told us all about his experiences riding at high level equestrian events throughout Malaysia. His brother is in Cambridge, NZ at the moment training to be a jockey.
We’d read a fair few reports that highway 6 to Phnom Penh is awful, and that a better option is to ride beneath the lake. But in the spirit of not believing everything we read (and of not backtracking, because neither of us like backtracking) we decided to do it anyway. There are less options for straightforward travel off the highway, but it would be possible if it was awful.
I was going to title this “off the bike exploring Siem Reap”, but that wouldn’t really be accurate given that we spent our first “rest” day riding 60km around the Angkor heritage park. It was a chaos of motorbikes, tuktuks and tourists on hired granny bikes getting to the ticket booth. A lady fell off her bicycle in front of Bryony when faced with a motorbike coming at her on the wrong side of the road, but in the meatime James rode past the turn off to get the tickets. She seemed ok and there were plenty of people around to help. The ticketing procedure was pretty official – we had to take a 3km detour to a huge building and get a pass with our photo on it. They checked it all day too, so it seems they are pretty strict. People caught in the park without one pay a $100 fine. We just got a one day pass, opting to spend a full on day visiting temples, rather than slowly over 3 days.
When we arrived in Pailin on our first night in Cambodia we were a bit overwhelmed by the differences between here and Thailand. The dust, the chaotic driving and the right hand side of the road thing. I also think we’d spent too much time reading about the potential scams, and hearing all the ways that Cambodians will rip you off, that we approached the country with too much suspicion. This wasn’t actually helped by the fact that we got ripped off for dinner on our first night. US dollars and Cambodian riel are used interchangeably here, with 1 dollar equivalent to 4000 riel. We had read this, but when the guy who served us our soup demanded $3 for our 6000 riel soup, we were too tired and confused to argue. We kicked ourselves later, especially as we saw him waving the dollars at his friends. It’s funny, we were overcharged about NZ $2 but it felt like a kick in the guts, and as if it confirmed everything we’d heard about Cambodia was true.