All posts for the month January, 2016

We had planned to move on from Bangkok, into Malaysia and into KL where we had intended to fly the ANIMAL to Darwin, Australia. From there we would ride down to Uluru and then across to Southern Cross and meet our friends from Perth Motorbike and Sidecar Riders to escort us back into our home town of Perth around mid March…..that was the plan!

But a phone call this morning put an end to all of that…..I have worked through being diagnosed with an aggressive squamous cell carcinoma which needed surgery 5 days before we left to begin in London, chemo therapy on the road and adverse burns as a result needing to be under the hospital burns unit in Scotland,  a second lump in Iran that needed surgery, a breast lump that had to be surgically removed in India, and two broken bones that need surgery for titanium implants in Thailand……….it has been a challenging time…..but giving up and going home early was never an option for me……but today I have been flattened beyond belief…I have no fight left in me……I got the call every parent dreads…..last night (24.1.16) my son, Kyle, tragically passed away after hitting a pothole in the road on his motorbike and colliding with a tree…..three friends were with him and witnessed it but no one could do anything….his de facto is due to give birth in 7 weeks to his first child (a little boy) and now my son will never get to see his son…..I can’t accept it……I’m completely and utterly shattered…..Vince and I are going home to lay our son to rest. NO PARENT SHOULD HAVE TO DO THAT.

With help from Ivan at Bikes Abroad, the ANIMAL will get taken care of in Bangkok and sent home by sea now, to Perth. We are booked on the red eye, but direct flight, tomorrow night and we will be home by Wed 27th Jan morning……….the Adventure is abruptly over….family is more important and precious…..hug yours now!

Photos are from 26th Jan leaving Bangkok….

Today we tried to get breakfast at a local cafe which opened at 7.00am….but the owner informed us thats just when staff arrive there is no food until 7.30am…and we were due to be collected by our Tour Guide and Driver from Chang Thai Travel at 7.30am from our hotel….Bugger… quick thinking saw us round the corner for McDonalds!

Back at the hotel our Driver, Mr Ken, was already waiting for us and we were on our way….collecting our Guide, Miss Katie on the road. Our half day tour included air-conditioned private vehicle transport for the duration as well as pick up and drop off at our hotel.

We drove past rice paddies and salt fields along they way and we stopped off at the Maeklong Station Train Markets (Nicknamed: Talad Rom Hub which means the “umbrella pulldown market”). It is one of the largest fresh seafood markets in Thailand, and is centred on the Maeklong Railway’s track. Whenever a train approaches, the awnings and shop fronts are moved back from the rails, to be replaced once the train has passed, this happens around 6 times each day. However, since May 2015 the station is closed for track renovations….they were due to be completed in Dec 2015 but are running behind schedule!

Next we stopped off at a “farmhouse” (quite touristy) where we saw how they make coconut brown sugar and coconut oil….quite and amazing process….the milk and oil come from inside the coconut whilst the sugar comes from the syrup that is made from the Coconut Flower before it fruits.
For a mere 3600THB in total, our trip took us to the 150 year old traditional, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market at klong Damnern Saduak in Ratchaburi province, about two hour drive from Bangkok. We had an exhilarating 30min ride in a narrow long-tailed speed boat through the marshes and stilt houses of the village where the locals still live (love our Ondansetron so we don’t get motion sickness!).

At this unique market we saw Thai style canoes laden with colourful, succulent fruits, vegetables, sweets and meats and we watched as the occupants gently ply their way through the canals. With the help of our Guide, Miss Katie, we even managed to partake of Chicken Noodle Soup, Fresh Coconut Juice and the No 1 must have Thai Dessert…..Sticky Rice with Coconut Milk and Mango….YUM! You could hire a paddle canoe for around 500THB but we decided to see the market by walking.

Whist walking we came across a guy with some snakes…..Vince was brave enough for 100THB to drape it around his neck….I was not convinced so I watched from a safe distance….but was eventually coerced into standing next to him for a photo and they made me hold it’s tale… face says it all….terrified! There was also a lady with a cute little thing that looked like a possum…but she said it was a kind of monkey….that’s much more my style!

We got dropped off at our hotel around 1.30pm…and we gave Miss Katie a tip (as she was so helpful in so many ways). We chilled for the afternoon doing chores such as photos, blogging and chasing up info on crating the ANIMAL home before heading out for some dinner at Terminal 21 Food Court.

This evening we had Gold Seats for the 8.00pm performance of Siam Niramit….an “ xtravaganza” with over 150 dancers and 500 costumes. There were three acts…

1 Journey in History…….The North (Ancient Kingdom of Lanna), The South Seas (Traders from OS), The Northeast – Issan (Heritage of the Khmer Civilisation) and the Central Plains (Ayutthaya the Mighty Capital).

2 Journey beyond Imagination (The three Worlds)…Fiery Hell, Mystical Himapaan, Blissful Heaven.

3 Journey through Joyous Festivals…Loy Krathong and Joyous Festivals such as Songkran and the Phitakhon Ghost Parade.

Whilst we are glad we went it certainly wasn’t in the realm of other shows we’ve seen in London. We also had to content with an Indian family behind us who had brought their children…who continually talked…..cried ……and kicked the back of my seat!

But on the up side I did get to feed an elephant named Tum Lah, she was gorgeous….and appeared later in the show. Vince got picked out of the audience in the last act to come and put a candle cake into the water to float away….quite special….my husband the STAR!

130km approx, and around 2.5 hours riding.

The alarm was set for 6am but we switched it off and woke up again at 7am, packed quickly and left our hotel about 8am, stopping for fuel just down the road and then heading out to Highway 7, bound for Bangkok.

Aad had already alerted us via email to the fact that motorcycles aren’t allowed on the expressways that run into and through Bangkok (on pain of a 2000 THB fine I recalled later in the day) and I thought the route I’d plotted yesterday on the GPS avoided any expressways, but this morning we quickly found ourselves breaking the rules once again, but at least we had a good ride into Bangkok!

I honestly didn’t see any signs saying that motorbikes weren’t allowed, and a highway police car that came up on us from behind with his lights flashing didn’t pull us over – I quickly realised he was escorting three large tour coaches to give them a clear run up the motorway so I dropped in behind the last coach and joined the convoy. They turned off the motorway at the Chon Buri exit, maybe halfway to Bangkok, so we picked up the pace a bit and cruised along at 120kmh for a while, the designated speed limit for cars.

We passed a motorcycle policeman parked on the side of the road and it looked like he wanted to have a chat with us as he started to pull away from his position, but I never saw him again so perhaps he changed his mind.

We came across a toll booth but we’re that accustomed to slipping through on the free motorcycles lane that in the absence of such a lane today I made my own, taking advantage of a truck rolling through the boom gate to sneak through ourselves. Someone yelled out to us from the gate booth – I’m sure it sounded like “Have a nice day” or something similar 🙂

We found another coach convoy with four buses under police escort and dropped in behind them, enjoying the slipstreaming as we clocked up 100km from Pattaya, but then another toll booth appeared and we took the opportunity to come off the motorway at this point rather than continue to press our luck. Two highway police officers with fluro vests were waiting at the boom gate and I thought we’d be well and truly busted but they just waved us through with a smile! “Great” I thought, as Aad and Mike had been forced to turn around and ride back down the motorway into the oncoming traffic when they got stopped a few days ago.

On the urban roads with about 26km to go we quickly got bogged down with stop-start traffic, full of cars and trucks and tuk-tuks and scooters. At times we’d have a little break and could scoot ahead, and at times we squeezed quite neatly through the gaps between the cars, but the closer we got to Bangkok the narrower the gaps and the less confident I was of squeezing through, so often we just sat and sweltered in the morning heat, watching the scooters and motorbikes swarm all around the cars. It took us about 70 minutes to cover the 26km.

Our first stop today was the Olympus camera office. Yesterday we’d booked a hotel within walking distance of the office, and then afterwards I found out that google maps was showing the wrong address for Olympus, so they were 4km east of our hotel (fortunately just off the main arterial road I thought they were on). Anyway, we went to Olympus in the hope of getting the faulty TG-4 either replaced or refunded on the spot but they insisted that it needed to be checked first so we left it there and will return on Monday to collect either it or its replacement. There’s a whole blog waiting to be posted about the camera and our views on world-wide warranties and customer service, but I’ll wait to see how things eventuate on Monday before finishing off that post.

Back on the bike we rejoined the arterial road and crawled towards our hotel, whilst local riders just mounted the footpaths and scooted along them – how I wanted to join them – but bollards placed on the footpaths looked quite narrowly spaced and I didn’t want to get jammed in.

It took around 30 minutes to cover about 4km, but eventually we turned off the road down a little alleyway and quickly arrived at our Travelodge, home for the next three evenings.

Bike unloaded and dingy room moved into, we went for lunch back near the Main Street at a little Italian place – spaghetti and red wine for Karen and chicken with cashew nuts and Chang beer for me. This was our first meal of the day and it was about 2pm at this stage, so we were hungry and ready for a bite to eat.

In the afternoon I had a little nap – I was tired either from not sleeping too well last night and/or exhausted from the ride into Bangkok, and Karen worked on her photos.

In the early evening we went for a stroll around the local area, finding flash hotels nearby like the Sofitel and the Sheraton, and an airport-themed mall called ‘Terminal 21’ where floors are given names like ‘Paris’ or ‘Istanbul’ rather than floor numbers. We had Mexican for dinner here, walking past the Swenson’s icecream place that Mike would have enjoyed had he been here 🙂

Back at our dingy room Karen has been organising a few sightseeing activities for us whilst we’re in Bangkok this weekend and I’ve been blogging and reading the news. Check back tomorrow and Sunday to find out how we spent our weekend in this sprawling mega-city !!!

Today we planned to visit a couple of places, including the Sanctuary of Truth (Prasat Sut Ja Tum) which is a carved teak wood construction spanning some 105 metres high, one of a kind in the world. It is a strange fusion of religion, philosophy, art and culture……not a temple or palace even though it looks like one. The info I have read tells me the elaborate sculptures and cravings are a reflection of the Ancient Vision of Earth, Ancient Knowledge and Eastern Philosophy………..the seven creators man cannot be born and exist without: Heaven, Earth, Father, Mother, Moon, Sun and Stars. Deeply embedded into all of this are ancient Buddhist, Hindu, Brahman and other spiritual and philosophical elements. We can see it from the balcony of our hotel room.

But after we had an interesting breakfast of plain toast, coffee and “Milk Tea” ( a teacup filled with frothy milk, a small jug with hot water and an espresso cup with red tea – obviously not what I was expecting!) at The Little Duck Cafe, we decided to skip it as I was not feeling 100%. The owner/baker of the shop didn’t want us to go …offering for her to “present my cake”….made of Taro….I really didn’t feel like eating it but we didn’t want to offend so we sat back down and tried some….it was too die for! The most delicious cake I think I have ever had in my life…the sponge was perfect…so light and fluffy…and the filling so light and creamy…unbelievable!

After walking back, we chatted with the the hotel owner and her adult son for a while, as he had studied in Australia and Switzerland, before they helped us organise a taxi (150 THB) from our hotel to take us the 6km journey into Pattaya City and visit an unusual Art Gallery

Art in Paradise, is the first interactive art gallery in Thailand, by allowing visitors to be more than just a viewer, but become an art object themselves. You can actually be part of the art works. The place displays over 100 3D paintings in 10 different themed zones. Every painting looks so real that you have to move closer to see if they are actually painted on the flat surface and each piece allows visitors to interact creatively and pose for photos.

It cost us 400THB (A$20) each to get in. At the entrance we had to remove our shoes and this became clear as to why later when we started interacting with the art work. It was an amazing place…..Vince and I had such fun and hammed it up big time…..we easily spent about two hours and it was a very unique opportunity and experience. We found out later they have these also in Chaing Mai and Bangkok. We had a great time!

We left Art in Paradise, passing some of the “girly entertainment” places as we went to find somewhere for lunch….my tummy had really started playing up in the gallery…… resulting in two rushed visits to the ladies, so I wanted to try to play it safe….Vince spotted Burger King….. not proud of it but that’s where we ended up.

We caught a taxi bus (200THB) back to our hotel for a rest from the heat and more toilet visits for me…. before heading back to The Little Duck Cafe for another piece of  THAT cake…but she had sold out of the Taro so Vince tried the Chocolate Fudge and I had the Coconut Sponge…….OMG…..both to die for! This woman is an amazing baker, we have never tasted anything so good before….it was so good it even made me temporarily forget about the fruitcake I have been craving since our non event of a Christmas!

Unfortunately, it was almost a RUN back to our hotel for me…then into what must be the slowest lift on the planet up to our room on the 12th floor….it was excruciating…but luckily I just made it! Travelling in 3rd world countries has its price and my digestive tract has taken a severe beating off and on since Turkey! Cast Iron Vince remains unaffected by this latest bout….. so I don’t know what it was that’s set it off…..not fun!

So unable to be too far from the toilet it will be a quiet night in for me tonight and luckily it’s not a long ride to Bangkok tomorrow! Hope this passes soon, I feel like crap….literally!

300km approx. Five hours including the border crossing.

After last night’s little drama where four guys tried to barge into our hotel room about 9:30pm before they realised they had the wrong room, and then they were waiting just outside at a table for over an hour before someone called off the dogs, sleep didn’t come particularly easy last night and I was grateful to see the sky getting lighter through our flimsy curtains as that meant I could get up and start the day.

We packed the bike quickly and then rode the brief distance down to the ‘beachside’ restaurant overlooking the river where we had dined last night. I walked across to the river edge and snapped a few photos of the guys working on the fishing boats at rest in the water, loading supplies and sorting out fishing nets, whilst a woman and an old man fished from the boat ramp.

Breakfast concluded – crispy bacon, eggs and tea & coffee – we were on the bike and across the long bridge to the toll booth on the far side, 1,400 riel fee to cross. The Cambodian border town of Cham Yeam is 10km west of the bridge and Karen and I chatted on the intercom about our experiences in Cambodia as we rode through the lush countryside. We’ve only been in Cambodia for 10 nights but the experience has been quite profound and we’ll both miss this country, still struggling to get back on its feet and having to face a range of social issues and problems.

We rode past the Koh Kong Safari World entrance and the International Resort which seemed modelled with a French influence dating back to perhaps the 1930’s before arriving at the small Cambodian border crossing station. We quickly had our passports stamped out, departure cards removed and fingerprints scanned, and then across the road an officer from the Customs department waved us over, and started to query us about why we didn’t have any Customs paperwork for the bike – essential apparently if you want to ride inside Cambodia. Karen switched her charm onto ‘full’ and explained in her most endearing voice that despite her erstwhile request at O’Smach – our entry point into Cambodia – they had told us that no paperwork was required.

The risk at this stage was that we might be sent back to O’Smach to get the required paperwork, but Karen’s charm worked wonders on the Customs officer who emphasised that ‘next time’ we must get the paperwork, before shaking our hands and waving us across the border. Phew !!!!!!

The short section of road leading to the Thai border control passed the ocean – this is the first time we’ve seen the sea since Albania and it was great. We filled out our arrival and departure cards for Thailand and then mistakenly stood in the line for ‘Visas On Arrival’ I was told I needed to get our passports stamped and the Simplified Customs Declaration Form for the motorbike sorted out, so I went to another window and had the passports stamped and then trotted across the road to yet another window, got the form completed as required, and then went back to the VOA window where the girl checked our paperwork, completed our vehicle conveyancing form in duplicate, and then gave everything back to us.

Karen walked past the border gate and went to get some cold cokes whilst I moved the bike up – we had some Thai baht from our earlier visit and that came in handy today. Drinks drunk we were back on the road and I could immediately tell that we were back in Thailand as the road was in great condition and the road markings and signage is immaculate.

Yesterday evening I’d plotted a route from Koh Kong to Pattaya – our destination for the day – but when loaded into the GPS it just drew a straight line from A to B, so I could only guess that we had between 300km and 400km to ride today. The first part of the ride was absolutely blissful – twisting, scenic road that stretched between the coast on our left and the mountains on the right, with minimal traffic to distract us. We cruised along around 110kmh – 120kmh here, but after a while I throttled back as I was trying to conserve fuel and avoid a refuelling stop today, as I wasn’t sure we had enough THB on us to pay for a tank load. Dropping our speed to around 100kmh changed our fuel consumption for the better – from initially projecting that we’d run out 40km from Pattaya we finished the day with 65km left in the tank. I can always guarantee a good reaction from Karen when I tell here how close we’ve come to using a full tank but I don’t do that often to maintain the element of surprise.

Gradually the roads started to widen and carry more traffic, and occasional signs showed that bicycles and motorbikes should stay in the far left lane, but we slipped through the traffic as we wished, taking advantage of the far left lane only when faced with a red light ahead, as then we could sneak to the front of the waiting traffic and get a great start on the green, pulling far ahead of the cars and trucks and getting some open road for a while.

About 150km into the ride I spotted “Ben’s Cafe” on the roadside so we pulled over for a brownie each and a cup of tea & coffee, before scooting off again, this time into some light drizzle that made the road surface slippery in some places. We did get the tyres zinging in one spot when a silly car driver started to do a u-turn into our lane, but I caught it before the bike did so I was pleased with that.

Towards the end of the ride and with about 5km to go the GPS wanted us to take a 25km detour but I spotted that before we got sucked into it, so I just ignored the suggested route and instead we picked our way through the back roads before popping out a short distance from our hotel – the Ruenthip Pattaya. I’m guessing that a glitch in the Open Street Map I’m using for Thailand (thanks Aad !!) had a small gap in the roads near our hotel and hence felt obliged to look for a complete route.

Our hotel is a few blocks back from the beach and one of the tallest buildings in the area. Our top-floor room on the 12th floor overlooks the sea and the view is lovely. We unpacked, showered to cool down and then walked to a nearby restaurant for a cheap lunch of fried chicken and cashew nuts, and then chilled out back in our room before walking to the beach just before sunset to take some photos and enjoy the view.

We found ourselves in a large, covered dining area that opened out over the sea, which had receded on the tide to leave a mess of junk on the beach. Patrons were ordering food from attentive waiters, and when we walked out the back of this place we came across the large kitchen where the chefs were busy at work, and tanks full of dinnerplate-sized crabs, lobsters, sea bass, and various types of prawns.

We walked south – in the direction of Pattaya, stopping at a small restaurant that had a walkway stretching past a river mouth around to the sea front, and took some more photos of the setting sun and young boys trying their luck with a fishing net in the shallow river water before we enjoyed a wine & beer.

Now we’re catching up on our regular jobs – Karen is looking for accommodation in Bangkok and I’m blogging away to Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”. We have an off-bike day tomorrow and then will scoot up to Bangkok to go visit Olympus Cameras and explore the city a bit. Bring it on !!!!

National Museum 18th Jan Phnom Penh

300km approx. 4.5 hours riding. Average speed – 64kmh.

For the past four nights our bike has been parked out the front of our dingy hotel, sheltered amongst a throng of scooters and motorbikes, all chained together and under the watchful eyes of the 24 hour security guards who are sometimes there and sometimes not. With these parking arrangements in mind I was up early this morning so I could move the bike out a bit before it got blocked in by any other bikes arriving for work today, and around 6:30am I was squeezing the bike out past its newfound scooter friends.

We loaded the bike quickly and Karen walked down to the Paddy Rice’s pub on the riverfront whilst I rode down. I parked on the riverfront road but that was a mistake as the morning traffic built up and a car that was parked and diverting traffic away from our bike moved off, exposing the bike to all the manic early morning bikes and trucks, so we pushed the bike back around the corner into 136 Street and relocated outdoor tables at Paddy’s so we could keep our watchful eyes on the bike. No one here in Cambodia has touched or interfered with the bike or our equipment but we still like to watch it when we’re out in public with it.

Breakfast was our standard fare at Paddy’s – eggs, bacon, sausages & toast – Karen gets my bacon and I get her sausage. On the bike we didn’t have too much trouble crossing the busy riverfront road to start our ride out of Phnom Penh, but shortly afterwards the GPS wanted us to turn the wrong way down a one-way street so we had to improvise for a while before we got into the right road, immediately bogging down in the stationery morning traffic.

It was a long, slow ride through the morning traffic and whilst usually I quite enjoy the cut and thrust of crazy riding in close traffic today I just wasn’t really in the mood for it and struggled to get a good rhythm going. Being passed by an old woman on a push bike whilst I sat stuck behind a big 4×4 going nowhere did nothing to improve my humour.

Motorbikes, scooters and tuk-tuks gravitate to the extreme right hand lane, cars travel in the centre lane, except when vehicles doing a u-turn (which is permitted at all the gaps in the central road divider) have stopped in advance of completing their turn – and at these points the cars spill into the motorbike lane and it all turns into a bit of a shitmix.

Eventually however the traffic started to thin out and we were able to chip away at our 300km target for the day, bound for Koh Kong, just 10km short of the southernmost Cambodian-Thai border crossing and last chance of accommodation before the border.

The countryside was rural and flat, cultivated land stretching out, occasionally interrupted by trees or little villages. A lot of trucks were heading in both directions and these were holding up the traffic a bit, breaking our rhythm and bringing on some nice overtaking moves – the bike howls like a banshee when it’s given a bit of throttle.

Around the halfway mark we pulled into a servo for some fuel, a cold Coke each and a chance to stretch our legs. At the nearby junction the road south headed to Sihanoukville, but we needed to head north from here, up into the Cardamom Mountains. The traffic dropped off immediately and the riding became more diverse and interesting as we climbed up the ‘mountains’ – peaking around 2,200m above sea level. We saw a few road signs warning about elephants, but we didn’t spot any unfortunately.

I’d guesstimated a 2:00pm arrival in Koh Kong and at 1:54pm we arrived at our pre-arranged accommodation – the Champ Koh Kong Guesthouse. The guesthouse was built in a large U shape, and was a bit south or the main intersection in town, just over the little bridge.

Neither the lady running the place nor her grandmother could speak English, so Karen needed to grab the iPad and show them our booking details, and chat with someone on the phone who relayed instructions to the first lady. We moved our gear into our log-cabin style room and covered the bike up – parked just outside – before walking into town for lunch.

The sun was scorching as we walked into town, and we were happy to find a place looking out across the river that served food, even if little birds were hopping around the counter and dogs were walking in and out of the kitchen. The beer was cold and the fried noodles with chicken tasty, and that’s all I needed.

The afternoon was spent doing chores at our guesthouse before we walked back into town on sunset to get some photos of the sunset behind the fishing boats tied up, and then had dinner again overlooking the river before I snapped some photos of the two old merry-go-rounds creaking and groaning on the foreshore.

Back at the guesthouse we were in bed early as I was knackered, but all sleep was interrupted about 9:30pm when a car pulled up in the car park outside, with the engine left running whilst the four occupants came to our door and started banging on it incessantly. I jumped out of bed and threw the door open and the four guys tried to barge into our room. Karen says one of them gave me a shove but I don’t recall that – I do however recall giving one of them a good shove back. Tit for tat really.

It only took them a couple of seconds to figure out that I wasn’t the person they were looking for – I guess standing in the doorway completely naked left nothing to the imagination, and they sheepishly apologised and backed off.

In the time it took me to grab a towel and go outside to make it clear I was pissed with them the guys had checked an adjacent room without success and were moving down the courtyard, apologising again as they walked past. I went back inside and the guys sat down at an outdoor table just outside our room.

Karen and I were completely perplexed regarding their motives and objectives. Initially I thought we were being robbed but that train of thought was quickly despatched. At least two of them had mag-light style torches on them, but none of them were wearing any kind of uniform and their utility vehicle had no official markings on it. Every now and then we could see from the torch beams sweeping across our window that they were patrolling the courtyard.

For the next ninety minutes or so we waited to see what happened as the guys chatted outside. Once or twice I thought I could hear a walkie-talkie being used, and eventually we could clearly hear a conversation (in Cambodian mind you so we couldn’t understand a word) over a radio, and shortly afterwards they all got back into their ute and drove off.

A very strange evening and not pleasant at all, but it could have gone much worse so we’re thankful that nothing else happened.

Footnote: the following morning as we rode out of town there was a large police presence cordoning off a government building as if they were expecting some big-wigs. Perhaps our late-night callers were police sent to ‘check on’ known agitators or trouble-makers before the big-wigs arrived – that may explain the mag-lights and walkie-talkies, the disciplined approach and their repeated apologies.

We started with a quiet morning, breakfast at our new find Paddy Rice (Irish Pub), picking up my laundry from a local business and then waiting for pick up at the Lance Court Hotel (No42-44, Street 136, Sangkat Phsar Kandal I, Khan Duan Penh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Ph (+855) 23 22 99 61 ) to go on our half-day Silk Island Lunch Cruise and Tour departing the wharf.

For US$22 each we got an all-you-can-eat lunch prepared fresh on board in stainless steel kitchens…including drinks, as we cruised the mighty Mekong River. We also sailed through the Tonle Sap.

Our English speaking tour guide took us to visit Silk Farms to see silk production from larvae to finished products, a modern temple (pagoda) that is a working monastery, and stroll by plantations.

We were collected by tuk tuk at 11.40am and once on board we were given a special cocktail for free. After departure, at 12:10pm, lunch was made from fresh, local, organic food prepare and served directly from the boats stainless steel kitchens…….never on land hours before, and definitely not on a rusty charcoal grill. No food is frozen or foreign. No fish from the river is served, ever! Safety and hygiene are paramount……lunch was delicious…..fresh spring rolls with peanut sauce and salad, followed by BBQ chicken and pork with fried rice and kebabs! They also provided a full bar service to Western Standards…so Vince had a beers and I had a cocktail!

Cruising along the Phnom Penh riverfront we enjoyed the view from the upper deck passing the Royal Palace, we saw the junction of the Tonle Sap, Mekong, and Bassac rivers. Up the Mekong River we saw floating villages and fishing families living on their boats.

It took us about an hour to get to Silk Island and it was just a short ride (we were hoping for Ox cart but had to settle for a tuk tuk) to the silk farms. Along the way we took in the views of plantations and village life. We also passed through a modern pagoda which is also an active monastery. Our tour was very basic but we did get a good overview from silk worm to finished product….we had seen similar in Myanmar…so I guess some of the impact was lost.

On the 1 hour ride back to Phnom Penh we were served fresh fruit and we ordered some drinks. There were only 5 passengers…Ken (an Indian who lives in Chicargo), Manu (also Indian who lives in Laos) and Claudette (French Canadian living in Quebec)…..everyone was very friendly…it was like we were on a private boat.

The Cambo Cruise boat has 75 seats with a wooden Traditional Cambodian design with modern touches. With two commercial quality kitchens, men’s and women’s toilets, running water from fresh water tanks, and a water filtration system for clean, purified drinking water. Hygiene, safety, and guest satisfaction are their priority. We felt safe knowing that the boat is licensed, inspected, and has staff that are well trained in safety and first-aid procedures, with flotation devices, safety equipment, and fire extinguishers onboard.

We had a lovely, relaxing day. In the evening we walked to the Silver Pagoda and Royal Palace Gardens to see the sunset…..lots of people were out and about enjoying the evening. Walking back to our hotel we stopped in at the Pizza Company for dinner.

To start to understand Cambodia and appreciate the delicacy of the situation, you have to look at its history. Pol Pot (Saloth Sar), a former school teacher, led what was then called Democratic Kampuchea. The majority of people in the world recognise Cambodia as an underdeveloped country just like any other, what they often don’t realise are the atrocities that Cambodians experienced in the 70s, when the Khmer Rouge was at it’s height of savagery.

Tuol Sleng (S-21), was a high school that was turned into a secret prison for torturing, interrogating, and depriving those who were accused of illegal activities and accused of being traitors…..most of whom were completely innocent …..but made confessions because they wanted the torture to stop….and it did…by being sent for execution! The Khmer Rouge acted like savage animals with no conscience…..most of the soldiers were children under 15…..incomprehensible. The Khmer Rouge had turned the peaceful and beautiful Cheung Ek village into the infamous killing fields….we’re men, women and children were killed in the most abhorrent ways.

In the years that the Khmer Rouge was in power (around 5 years), almost 1/3 of the country’s men, women, children were killed. Many were tortured for long periods of time, sometimes for more than 3 years. For years there was mass-murder in progress and the world didn’t even know about it until it was almost too late. Much of what happened was depicted in the movie “The Killing Fields.” (Vince and I saw this at the local cinema, The Empire, run by Kevin, a Yorkshireman on the evening of 15th Jan)

The Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979, in which an estimated 1.7 million people lost their lives (approximately 21% of the country’s population), was one of the worst human tragedies of the last century. The Khmer Rouge, combined extremist ideology, ethnic animosity, and a disregard for human life to carry murder on a massive scale.

Vince and I visited S21, Toul Sleng on 15th Jan, we had an English speaking guide who took us through and it was very confronting. Of over 20,000 prisoners only 7 men and 4 children survived on the day the Vietnamese Army over through the Khmer Rouge on Phnom Penh….we got to meet one of the survivors ….Mr Chum Mey, a mechanic, who was singled out to repair the typewriters that his torturers used to record their forced confessions. We bought his book and DVD, both of which he signed and offered to pose for a photo. We had seen his cell on the tour and we felt quite humble and honoured to meet a man who had survived against such odds.

We visited the Killing Fields on 16th Jan….and although sad and somber….it didn’t have the same shock impact upon me that S21 had….there were no frills….Block A cells still have torture implements in them along with the basic bed and a toilet box with a photo on the wall of a victim in the room. Block B had classrooms that were divided up into smaller cells….brick on ground level, wood on the second level and the top floor was one big room housing up to 50 prisoners who were all kept silent.

There are several rooms in block C with displays of photos of victims when they first arrived and were counted and then after they were tortured or died. This was very sad viewing and included women and children….even babies!

D block houses a museum of torture implements along with very graphic paintings of how these were used. The paintings were done by a survivor, Bou Meng, who has wriiten a book about his experience.

Both experiences were very moving, and although not pleasant, I think Westerners should see the horror of what Cambodians had to endure. A warning though it’s not for the faint hearted….I had nightmares about it!

308km. 14th January.

Aad had spoken to Steve King, the owner of Panda Guesthouse in Siem Reap where we were staying and he had told Aad that the road from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh was in very bad condition with lots of roadworks, forcing oncoming traffic to share a single lane and had suggested that people should take the longer route via Battambang, but Karen and I had already booked our accommodation in Phnom Penh and needed to get there today, so we just prepared ourselves for a long day and whatever may arise, and had an early departure from our guesthouse.

Aad waved us off as we rode out, heading initially for breakfast in Siem Reap and stopping out the front of a Mexican restaurant, one of the few places open early enough to serve up food and coffee in time for us. The coffee was so nice I had two cups, whilst we enjoyed our cooked breakfast.

I tried to get some fuel before leaving town but couldn’t make any sense of what the servo we’d stopped at was pumping, so we pushed on – with about 305km to ride and 260km of fuel I’d need to find something down the road. The early morning traffic was getting thicker and more congested, but we made careful progress on the way out of town, eventually coming across a slow moving convoy of cars and open trucks following a couple of trucks full of people wearing white clothes and headbands, and a police vehicle in front with its red lights flashing. Once we had scooted past this convoy we were able to get up to a decent speed, enjoying the open road.

In the first 20km since leaving Siem Reap we did encounter some roadworks that made the riding quite difficult with very thick dust being thrown up by the trucks and cars obscuring our vision, so here I flipped on our hazard lights, hoping we wouldn’t get squashed in the dust. Once we’d cleared this section we found the road in good to great condition for the next 130km, with only a few more small areas of roadworks we needed to watch out for.

The countryside was pancake flat and predominantly rural, with just a few small villages and towns to break up the monotony of the flat horizon. In some places the road was built up high above the wooden houses below us, and many of these houses had a pond in front of them, often with a water buffalo wallowing in the muddy water as it enjoyed a rest.

We stopped for fuel, and a little while later stopped for a drink and some chips and stale Orio cookies – standard morning tea on the road here.

At the halfway-point we passed through Kampong Thma where the road direction changes from East to South, and we then had 70km of graded gravel road to contend with – very smooth, very dusty, and very difficult to see ahead through the dust clouds, but manageable – we cruised at 80kmh through this section. Some parts had been narrowed to 1.0 or 1.5 lanes wide but mainly it’s very wide, and minimal road work construction work was currently taking place. The last 80km into Phnom Penh was mainly on a wide four lane road with a central divider and light traffic.It took us 5.5 hours but that included a refuelling stop and a morning tea stop, so maybe 4.5 hours riding time in total.

Arriving in Phnom Penh I was grateful for our GPS leading us quickly and easily to our hotel, as the traffic in town was quite hectic, with heaps of 125cc motorbikes, tuk-tuks, cars, tourist buses and trucks all competing with pedestrians on the narrow roads. Arriving at our hotel – the Lance Court Hotel – it was apparent that we would need to park the bike up on the sidewalk in front of the hotel for parking, but th hotel assured us they had 24 hour security staff watching the parking area, so we checked in, unloaded the bike completely and then covered it up quickly, making it disappear under the cover.

The inside of the hotel stank – a truck had been parked up against the front door and was pumping crap out of underground tanks beneath the hotel and the air was rank with the smell. We went for a walk to get a late lunch and ended up at Sury’s Guesthouse one street up, where we enjoyed a cheap and tasty lunch.

Later that afternoon we took the short walk from our hotel to the riverfront – looking over the Tonle Sap towards where it converges with the Mekong, and taking in all the sights and sounds of Phnom Penh. Our hotel is on 136 Street, and a guide book I’d picked up and flicked through said that 136 Street was renowned for the number of hostess bars that populated the street towards the riverfront. Hmmm – I think Karen has landed us in the middle of the red light district here – that’ll make for a story or two I’m sure !!!