Published: November 15th 2009November 30th 2006
Pictures can only tell so much. The smells and humidity are always things that come back to me so quickly once I begin these tours. This trip is no different. Whether it is the smell of diesel, or the feel of 90% humidity, they will always be associated with cycle touring.
We have seen the best and worst of cycle touring over the past couple of days. Outside of the traffic in Saigon, the riding has been great: flat terrain, smooth roads, great roadscape, and little traffic. I will talk about the traffic in Saigon in a minute, but the heat and humidity have been difficult for both Shauna and I. We had two days back-to-back of 130km; and because of those distances, we had to ride through the heat of the day (11:30 to 2:30). While necessary, it isn't a lot of fun. I, for example, went through at least six liters of water yesterday. With these first two days being our longest, we hope to avoid the afternoon heat from here on in.
Both Shauna and I had a bit of a scare in Saigon. On Wednesday night, we were walking to dinner when I was hit
by a van. We were standing at the midpoint of a crosswalk, when a van clipped me with its mirror. No damage to me, but still much too close for my comfort. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of visiting some of the larger cities in the developing world, traffic works very differently here than back home. Basically, the larger vehicles dictate who has control of the road. Therefore, a pedestrian is on the lowest form of life on the roads. You could have a walk sign and a crosswalk in front of you and NO one would stop. You have to move out slowly into traffic as cars, trucks, scooters, bicycles, weave around you; otherwise, you will never cross.
Shauna had her close call the next morning. As we were riding out of Saigon, she was clipped by a scooter. While she didn't go down, it was enough to really shake her up. The scooter traffic in Saigon is incredible. If you could take an aerial view of the streets there, it would look like a swarm of insects moving around the corridors of the city. By kilometer 25, things started to quieted down. Things
were fairly uneventful to the border.
As I told Shauna earlier, when we cross borders, we keep on cycling (slowly) until either the boarder guards start yelling at us, or they raise their guns. Fortunately for us, the former applied. The whole border crossing ordeal took up close to an hour. Unfortunately, we were now in the midday heat.
There have only been a few places in the world were I have been greeted as warmly as here in Cambodia. The Sinai Desert in Egypt and Thailand come to mind. Hellos and waves came from all directions. I could have sworn that there was some kind of early warning system in place, as all the kids seem to know we were coming. They would scream out "Hello" and run out to the road to greet us. Adults would also smile and wave. It is like it is part of their DNA, as kids as young as one or two would get into the game. Given that this is also common in Thailand, I wonder if it has something to do with the Buddhist culture of these two countries.
When we would stop, Shauna would get many compliments about her "pointy" nose. Once again, we have an example of people wanting what we can't have. Remember the story of white skin in Saigon.
I was pretty knackered for the second day of our trip to Phnom Penh (remember that I'm the one carrying all of the bags). The only thing that seemed to be going for me was that my legs were not sore. This was a change, as all I could do for the past month was spin classes at the gym.
The highlight of the second day was certainly our visit to a small school, where we took an hour to talk and teach English to a class full of children. They don't get a lot of foreign visitors to this part of Cambodia, so everyone was very interested in us. I found it kind of disconcerting, though, that the teacher was getting repeated laughs from the class when he translated to them. I hope the laughter wasn't at my expense... We could have spent the whole day there, but we had to make it into Phnom Penh before nightfall. Tired, hungry, and thirsty, we arrived into Phnom Penh around 4:00. Given the huge boom in tourism here (20% increase so far this year) it was a bit of a challenge to find decent accommodations, but, as always, I came through and we found something quite comfortable on the riverfront, which sits right on the mighty Mekong River. The waterfront here is the nicest I have seen anywhere in Asia.
The internet connection here is very slow, so I will not be able to upload pictures today. Shauna and I have a 5:00 massage booked, so I must run! The next update will come from the southern coast of Cambodia.