If you've watched our last few videos, you'll have seen that we managed to cycle all the way to Saigon as hoped and then blitzed our way over to Phnom Penh to meet two friends from home who were on holiday in Cambodia. We managed to catch them before they flew home and, luckily, we wouldn't have crossed paths with them if Mike hadn't have been ill! Things have a way of working out, don't they?
Cambodia was a welcome change from Vietnam; we were back to trusting people during interactions and not on our guard all the time. The children and adults were waving and constantly saying hello and the traffic only occasionally beeped their horns. Vietnam must be one of the loudest countries on the planet and our warmshowers host, Regina, welcomed us into her oasis of calm once we reached Saigon. We were so chilled and happy there that we stayed an extra day longer and pushed ourselves to do one 125 km day and one 130 km day from Saigon to Phnom Penh.
After a couple of days off we made our way slowly up to Siem Reap where we'd be stayed for Mike's birthday. We were very lucky to have had a hotel booked for us by Mike's dad for us to stay in a little bit of luxury for a few nights, though we were a day early for the dates we had guestimated so we booked into a cheap hostel for one night right by the markets. We had already changed the dates with the swanky hotel once when Mike was ill so we didn't want to change them again so took the opportunity to be a little closer to the nightlife area and make sure we saw all that the touristy area had to offer.
Not long after we rocked up to the hostel and dumped our stuff in the room, we noticed two other bicycle tourers arriving. I got so excited to see other tourers that I introduced myself and went straight in for the hug which I immediately regretted as being a bit weird! So I stopped after one of the pair, called Mike over and we got chatting. Thus began our friendship with Aminda and Victor, a couple from Sweden who had cycled across Europe, across the Pamirs and then flew to south east Asia as they had no luck with the Chinese visa, like a lot of cycle tourers have done this year. Since we were changing hotels after one night, we said we'd meet them the next evening for a drink and exchange stories. This is something we love about the cycling community - there's an almost instant bond between you all because of the common interest and then from there you're pretty likely to get along because you tend to have to be similar in personalities to have the desire to do what we all do each day. They weren't sure how long they'd be staying in Siem Reap for, so we told them our plans and to get in touch if they were leaving on the same day as us.
Mike's birthday rolled around and our day at Angkor Wat was nothing but outstanding. We hired a tuk tuk driver from 8am - 3pm and saw only a tiny portion of the entire city complex. I can totally see why you might buy a week ticket, but it was a bit too much for us at the time. It's now gone down on our list of 'places to return to'. I was also very sneaky and organised with the hotel for a chocolate birthday cake to be bought while we were away at the temples all day and we managed to surprise Mike by the pool with a rendition of 'happy birthday' and a candle for him to blow out. No matter how old you get, you're never too old for a birthday cake. I'm so glad I managed to get one surprise in for Mike's birthday, especially as he's only having one birthday whilst we're on this trip while I'm having two. Greedy!
We got a message from the A & V saying that they'd stayed an extra day and would be leaving the same day as us but they'd be heading out earlier than we'd planned to. We were both aiming for the same town for the night so after a sweaty day's riding we met for dinner and beer - the cycle tourer's speciality.
We weren't staying in the same guesthouse so we caught up with them the following morning just before the Thai border and carried on in peloton. It turned out that we were a fairly good match for speed and attitude towards regular stops so onwards we went together. The Thai border crossing at Poipet was super easy as all of our passports qualified us for a 30 day visa waiver. All we had to do was fill out an arrivals card, say where we were planning on exiting the country and we got a stamp in our passports and waved on our way. Online the rules say you must be able to produce a method of exit, i.e. A plane ticket, but we were never asked for it.
Mike and I were eager to try temple (wat) camping as soon as possible to cut down on expenses as we knew it was more possible in Thailand than any other south east Asian country and we had an area in mind to aim for which seemed to have lots of them all in one area. By the time it got nearer to dinner and we were getting nervous about trying the temples, we cycled past an enormous pizza sign and had no option but to stop for dinner. We were greeted by the English speaking Albanian owner who said yes to our request to camp behind the restaurant that night. It gets dark at around 6pm still and we had seen that the restaurant closes at 8pm so it seemed a perfect place to get some early, free, shut eye.
One of the best things about sleeping outside is that we wake up far more naturally with the sunrise and get a good amount of cycling done in the morning before it gets too hot. We had become very lazy whilst staying in cheap guesthouses since Kunming so we'd lost that habit. It might be difficult to actually get up, but once you're up and have had some coffee we've never regretted the decision.
Victor had previously mentioned that he wanted the challenge of seeing how far he could cycle in one day and set up the challenge of doing 150 km towards Bangkok that day. We were so up for the challenge and after a morning coffee at the petrol station complex next to the pizza restaurant we were whisked along by tailwinds and caffeine and had covered 80 km by lunch time. The terrain had become rolling with a good hard shoulder along the highway to speed us along in relative safety. You're never totally safe, obviously, and it had been on my mind that we would be passing the point on the road where a British couple on a world cycle trip had been hit and killed by a truck 5 years previously. The driver had bent down to pick up his hat from the cab floor, swerved and hit them, killing them both instantly. The driver got an £18 fine and a suspended sentence.
Bangkok is notoriously chaotic and basically one big traffic jam so we were pleased with the route which looked pretty simple on the map. We thought we'd be taking a minor road into the city from the east. It was minor but still full of traffic and lots of road works with an almost dug up road for us to navigate our way along. Our cruising speed of 25 km/h dropped in half as we crawled and bounced our way along trying to get as close to Bangkok as we could. We were desperate to complete our challenge and cross the 150km mark for the day. Soon we reached the outskirts of the metropolitan area and started looking for a place to stay. Both of our map apps showed hotels and hostels along this road but we just couldn't find them. Eventually a local lady pointed us towards one, which we found, and paid a higher price than we'd hoped for but couldn't cycle any further because it had got dark and we were absolutely pooped. With our longest day on the trip so far under our belts, we felt like we deserved that little bit of comfort (there was no way we could camp anywhere) and celebrated with cooking pasta in the room and an early night.
The last 30km into Bangkok to our previously booked hostel went faster than we had anticipated. We expected to be weaving in and out of stand still traffic for hours on end, but actually once a traffic light was green it would last for at least two minutes and we'd be moving really well for a few kilometres at a time. In the end we made our turn off to our hostel (different to A & V's) said our goodbyes and went to get some real rest. The friendships you make on these journeys tend to not be false or fleeting. We've certainly made friends we'll make the effort to see again in the future and A&V definitely have a place to stay with us in Scotland, and vice versa. See you soon guys!
The main aim of staying in Bangkok was to run some errands. Mike needed to either fix his broken phone screen (dropped way back in Turkey) or buy an MP3 player so he wasn't driven mad by silence across the Nullarbor in January. Bangkok is THE place to buy discounted electronics and we got quoted $49 for a new phone screen for Mike's phone so we went with that option. By the next morning it had stopped working so the guy replaced it without any disagreement. We didn't want to hang around Bangkok too long as it's quite expensive for accommodation so off we went south west out of the city and actually found the road out to be pretty darn good with a really wide shoulder.
Back on the road again, we wanted to give a temple (wat) camp another go and by 4pm the sky behind us was looking ominous so we identified a wat on a map and aimed for it. If they said we could sleep there we'd be stopping earlier than normal but if they said no then we'd still have daylight to find somewhere else to sleep. As we turned off the main road the noise from the traffic was almost instantly gone and the calm of the countryside washed over us. The wat wasn't far down the road so we nervously approached a monk sitting surrounded by kittens and dogs to gingerly ask if we could stay. The Google Translate app seemed to work well enough for him and the other monks to understand and we were directed to a concreted area underneath a building on stilts for us to sleep. There was a wooden bed and lots of space so we gratefully accepted the location. The monks lived there so there was a toilet and shower block we were allowed to use and we were soon setting up our bug net for sleeping under and getting ready for sleeping after sundown. Unexpectedly, the monks soon brought over some food for us (which we were later told by others that they'd probably had donated to them) so we were thoroughly impressed with our first temple sleep.
Sundown is at about 6pm here so we were laying down super early and hoped the temperature would soon start to drop. The sequence of unfortunate events then began. The new phone screen stopped working so Mike was without a working phone again. Then Mike's sleeping mat delaminated on the inside so two air tubes burst together to make one big bulge running the length of the mat. By about 9pm we were both really uncomfortable in the heat and took off our trousers (which we'd put on to follow the rules of temples) but got more and more warm even with a breeze. Thinking that it was each others body heat which was making it worse because we're squashed in next to each other when we set up our bug net using our tripod as a place to hang the net, we eventually gave in and set up the tent to give ourselves more air flow around our bodies. It seemed to work as we finally fell asleep for a couple of hours but were awoken suddenly as an enormous gust of wind blew in as a storm front made it's way towards the temple. Forked lightening lit up the sky and thunder cracked over our heads and then, the rain began. It turned out that the concrete we were on was slightly lower than the rest of the area and the wind started blowing the torrential rain underneath the building. Mike got out of the tent to announce that our tent was floating in about half an inch of water. The one saving grace of all of this was that the repairs Mike had done to the base of the tent since China had stopped the leaking we'd experienced there so the inside of the tent was still dry - hooray! We wanted the base of the tent to stay dry so abandoned ship, packed down the tent and ended up covering ourselves with DEET and sleeping on the wooden bed for four hours before the sun came up. Mike ended up covered in bites and must have distracted the entire population of biting insects because I didn't get bothered at all!
We had 100km to go until we reached our warmshowers hosts in Cha'am so we just left as soon as we'd eaten our porridge and spent the day cycling past mangrove forests, wild monkeys and angry dogs until we reached the tranquillity of Paul and Natt's self built house in the stunning Thailand countryside. We were due to spend the next day with Natt at a local dog shelter so we arrived thrilled to be doing something different but I was also nervous about spending time with dogs since we'd been chased by quite a few that day, even on the highways. Their own 5 dogs made their house feel like a home and over numerous beers we fell straight into relaxation mode and eventually a great night sleep after the previous night's escapades.