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Cycling around Kep

22 Dec

After a “I hear Kep is supposed to be nice” comment from  fellow traveller Raf, we were on a bus to the little coastal town, not far from Kampot in Cambodia (where loads of pepper is grown).

Once we arrived we secured a bamboo hut on the hill side (they were pretty comfortable, though electricity only came on from about 5pm), with a beautiful view of the bay. We rented a couple of bikes and along with our friend Raf we scouted out the local area.

Kep, once a popular resort area until the Khmer Rouge came along and forced everyone out, it now had an air of abandonment; but not it a trashy way, just reclaimed by nature and time. The old fancy broad-walks along the coast, now cracked and grown over in some places, coastal homes lay gutted. Though next to all this decay there were also a few wonderful local restaurants and newer resorts (like our own).

We stopped to try the local crab (which the area is known for), and did not regret it. We ate peppered crab with pepper from down the road and crab not more that 30M from where we sat and ate on the shore.

The next day, feeling energetic we set off with our bicycles once more in an attempt to find more old abandoned houses whilst we circled the hill which a part of Kep sat on. We cycled for miles through the most beautiful countryside. Passing locals retrieving mud from the river (not sure either…) and field after field of rice. Stopping here and there to say hello to the local children of picking up playing cards (once again not sure either… ask Clare). As we doubled back to round the other side of the hill, we happened upon a mosque almost in the middle of nowhere. It looked pretty incredible against the swirling skies of an ominous looking storm.

 

2 Minutes up the road we ploughed into the nearest restaurant/cafe/shop/thingy at the side of the road, rain just on our heels. As we propped our bikes up and ran under the tarp that was the front of the shop thing, the heavens opened. I know! I know! Its a massive cliché, but there really was no other way to describe it. SO MUCH WATER FROM SKY! We sat and ate some chewy fried things and nibbled on some hard cinnamon baked things whilst we waited, watching the road become a river.

After a surprisingly short time the rains just stopped and on we went.

We cycled only a short distance and discovered an amazingly blackened building in the middle of a luscious green field of rice. We all stopped to take pictures and after a minute we realised how quiet and peaceful it was around there. Well, not entirely.

“What’s that sound?” Raf asked.

“What sound?” I replied

“That sorta whooshing rushing sound? Sounds like TV Static? Oh my god is that rain?!”

“Shit, CLARE RAINS COMING, Run!”

We grabbed our bikes and peddled as fast as we could in the direction of the nearest building, which happened to be a farm house with a pig-sty next to it. Not seeing anyone in the house we ran for the iron lean-to that was the sty. And then the rain fell, heavy as before, soaking Clare to the bone as she was a little way behind us (she had gone up to explore the building).

Eventually the rain slowed enough (the owners of the farm house had seen us standing in the sty) and we we’re invited into the farm house. It was an incredibly humble home, with dirt floors wooden beds with no mattress only mats and a barrel in a back room for washing. We spent quite some time in there, waiting for the rain, in the warmth of the simple home. We made the time pass by trying to bridge the language barrier; playing with the children  (Clare teaching them yoga and getting them to play ‘Simon Says’ which was more like ‘Copy Clare’), drawing pictures in a little note book, teaching the kids to count in English and showing photos from our camera’s. I don’t think I have felt that welcomed by strangers in a long time, though there was no common language and we had nothing to give to them in the way of thanks, we really did feel so welcomed.

Eventually the rain let up and we left, waving and shouting “Ar Kun” (thank you). After a short ride we finished the circle, to climb the guest houses hill once more, arriving exhausted and sweaty.

Cycling Map Free around Luang Prabang, Laos

22 Sep

Yesterday, we (me, Dom and our older nomadic traveller friend, Paul) went on a bike ride to nowhere in particular, which I quite like doing because there are often surprises along the way.

About half an hour in though, we came to Luang Prabang Airport; not really a must see site. We’d decided to take the route across the wooden plank bridge because it looked nice. It kind of seemed like we’d gone the wrong way and that bringing a map would have been a good idea after all.

However, when you’re on a ‘let’s just cycle and see’ bike ride there isn’t really a right or wrong way, providing you have no expectations. I think we were all hoping for lovely countryside, mountainside jungle or interesting riverside paths, apart from Paul who was just happy to lose some calories.

We carried on cycling anyway and stopped again after an hour to sit in this wooden shelter in the shade by the side of the road opposite some houses and fruit trees.

Unsure which way to go next I asked a man walking past, “Khwy sawk haa” which translates badly as “I’m looking for forest.” He shook his head and I asked again replacing ‘forest’ with ‘river’. He then smiled and pointed left. In the mean time Paul had been given a papaya from a lady who lived in one of the houses opposite.

As we continued to cycle, the river turned out to be unsuitable for swimming but we later found a small cafe where we could consume sugar and eat the papaya. The woman who worked there happily agreed to cut it up for us. 10 minutes later she returned with a plate of the South East Asian speciality, papaya salad- spaghetti like strands of papaya, soaked in a kind of chilli fish oil with tomatoes and green herbs. It was surprisingly tasty.

Towards the end of our bike ride we ended up finding a 3-floored temple on a hill with a fantastic view over Luang Prabang. Most temples contain mural paintings and artworks. However, in this one the work was different. Am I right to think that the people in this part of the mural are eating themselves?

On the way out of the temple an old wise looking, white robed woman, who I assumed worked there smiled at me and gestured for me to come over to her. She reached for my hand and tied several plaited, gold threads around my wrist whilst muttering something in Lao. I thought, how lovely, she singled me out because I’m paying extra attention to the art and deserve a bracelet. However, once she’d finished she held out her hand and said, “Money.”

Now I have 2 thread/ string bracelets on my right wrist which are supposed to symbolize happiness. The left wrist is knowledge. Perhaps I’ll get another one of those soon.

As we rode slowly back to Luang Prabang, we spotted a huge rainbow running right through the sky; a lovely clichéd ending to a ‘There’s no right or wrong way’ bike ride.

Cycling around Chiang Rai (“Just one gear on my fixie bike”)

1 Sep

Yesterday we hired two bikes from our hostel at 50Baht each (1 pound roughly). Slightly too small frames and with fixed gears we set off in search of a cave we read about in our guide. Crossing a bridge and ending up in the suburbs we cycled past an arc by the river, apparently this full size building was a church…

After a 3km cycle through some nice flat countryside we reached the first cave. Down a track with abandoned huts down one side, the atmosphere was pretty spooky. A monk greeted us with no English and signed that we could go up this worn looking stair case. With Clare in front it felt as if this was some old spooky temple (which it half was) and we were about to steal some precious jewel after dodging a few ancient traps and shooting bats. And yes, there were actually bats in the cave way above where my touch beam could reach into the darkness of the main cavern.

After running out the cave screaming with a flock of bats in pursuit… well not really, we carried out towards another “Buddha Image Cave”. This cave was some how less impressive and felt more like a hollow in a rock wall. The resident monk in this place was pretty nice and obviously didn’t get many visitors. He took us through every ritual and got us to pose for a picture in front of one of the statues.

We decided that even though we had seen what we come to see the countryside alone was much more worth the time. With this in mind we continued up the road steadily getting deeper into the countryside. The views were pretty incredible and a light warm rain kept us going. We happened upon a sign saying there was a hot-spring 12km away, with no other real aims we decided this must be where we needed to go (after a small disagreement of “You REALLY want to go to a tourist elephant village along the main highway?”). This route lead us across a huge swelling river, up through mountain villages, over red mud slide covered roads and past smiling/waving villagers.

After a distance that felt way over 12km (I swear it took us about 5 minutes to do 3km then 2 hours to do 1km, according to the signs) we arrived at the hot-spring. The bubbling 87degC water, smelling of eggs, with pipes running into a pool… that was closed.

It was now around 4:30pm and it would be getting dark soon. From what we could tell it was about 20km+ back to Chiang Rai. We needed to cover some serious ground back as we had no lights and our map was pretty much useless out this far. 8km later we were exhausted with some huge hills still to go (remember we had no gears) things were looking a little sketchy. Its worth pointing out at this point pretty much the only vehicles we saw on the road (which only seemed to be every 30 mins or so anyway) were motorbikes or 4×4’s. Behind us I heard the deep rumbling of a vehicle, looking round I saw heaven… a pickup truck. Madly flailing my thumb out and waving frantically the vehicle stopped on the side. I pointed down the road and simply said “Chiang Rai?” hoping that would be obvious. He pointed and gave the thumbs up, we chucked our bikes in the back and pretty much flopped into the back with them.

At last, now we would get somewhere, even if it was not all the way. But after only 5 mins of traveling we stopped in a village I really didn’t remember passing. The driver and his passenger got out to a road side ‘shop’, pointing at a bottle of something and then motioning to us we realised he wanted us to drink with him. They paid for a shot of this white clear rum(?) topped off with a fruity/cherry/red stuff mixer. It was actually pretty nice and wouldn’t accept me paying for any of the drinks at all. In the end they did drop us on the outskirts of Chiang Rai and it was only a short cycle to our hostel. It really is true about the kindness of strangers out in the rural parts.