We’ve reached Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, a very fascinating old Khmer Empire temple and Cambodia’s main tourist attraction. It is also a UNESCO heritage site and draws tourists from all around the world. The Khmer Empire was the dominant force in Southeast Asia for hundreds of years until the 15th century when the capital of Angkor was captured by the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Things went downhill from there for the remnants of the Khmer and Cambodia as a whole, as the region was repeatedly conquered, exploited, vassalized and colonized for the next 400 years by Siam (Thailand), Vietnam, France and the United States. That is where I will stop with respect to recent Cambodian history, only to say that we have seen very few old people here. Such wonderful people, and so welcoming, but there is an undeniably tense feeling that hangs over everything. The country is advancing quickly due to investments from the outside world, and this trip would have been ill-advised, if not logistically and physically impossible on our rigid bike frames, only 15 years ago.
Anyways, the last few days have been an interesting, trying at times, experience to say the least. As we’ve gotten further from the border, the more we have sunk into rural Cambodia and a first-hand, lung, and mouth experience with this country’s dusty, blisteringly hot summer months. For our mothers’ sake, I have not included pictures of the 70km stretch of road from Sisophon to Battambang and instead just leave these pictures of us wearing appropriate safety gear.
Sophie and I spent a few days in Bangkok taking care of some important errands before boarding the train to the border at Aranyaprathet and fleeing Thailand. Sophie ended up paying for two days of overstay. These overstay fees had been a source of worry for us, but in retrospect the process of paying the fine (3 min) and the amount ($30) was probably overall a smaller burden than the length of the line to pay the fine in the first place (1.5 hours).
We are in off the long, sandy, wet trail. We’ve reached Bangkok, and the first leg of our journey is complete. But before I get to the hectic up-and-down day we had to cap off the leg, let’s go back to Prachuap Khiri Kahn, the King’s Coast, and the few rainy and flat days that got us here.
Quick update today. Sophie and I have made it to Prachuap Khiri Khan, which is a small, sort of touristy city on the Gulf of Thailand coast. We’ve sort of settled into a nice beach camping routine, and we spend most of our nights doing just that. We take a day in a hotel every once in awhile, but it’s really hard to beat the stunning beach spots that we’ve been able to camp at. Ditto to the roads that we’ve been riding along, and the food that we get to eat every day. In the end, there isn’t too much to report from this part of the journey but good things. We’re almost over 700km in, and probably about 2-3 days ride from where we’ll bus into Bangkok. The peninsula leg of the trip is almost done, and we plan on celebrating with a moderately priced dinner when we reach Bangkok. The rolling hills have slowly disappeared, and most of our riding has been done on flat coastal roads, sometimes right along the beach past big resorts and hotels. That is, except for today, when we found ourselves riding on the large shoulder of a main highway. After about 3 hours of breathing vehicle fumes, we’re both feeling a little queasy.
When I last wrote, Sophie and I were headed towards Ranong at the border with Myanmar in order to do a refresh of our visas. Well, in the end at least I got my visa refreshed by taking a boat to Myanmar, entering the country, leaving the country, then boating back and re-entering Thailand. Sophie on the other hand got pushed through bureaucratic hell and told she has two weeks to leave the country or start paying overstay fees. The fees aren’t bad, like $15 per day, but we’re pushing for Bangkok to be safe and considering a bus or train from Bangkok to Poi Pet at the border of Cambodia. Anyways, three days after that immigration “adventure” brings us to today, where we have crossed the 450km mark and the next “big” town, Chumphon, in our journey. Three days out of Ranong, and the riding has been pretty intense. Very pretty, but very intense.
We are off! After an extended stay in Phang Nga, Sophie’s teaching Princeton in Asia teaching post is over, and my obscure sort of career related obligation in Bangkok is taken care of. I am vaccinated against Japanese Encephalitis, and we are both sharing in the mix of excitement and nerves that accompany the start of a trip like this. For me, it’s almost pure excitement because for two months I’ve been missing being on the road and the rush of endorphins that each day brings. I’ve missed the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance-esque view of my body and bike as a combined machine needing to be continuously monitored and maintained in order to prevent physical and mental deterioration.
First post of the new adventure! Short post to check in and share some photos from the last few days.
For the last few days I’ve been hanging out in Phang Nga, Thailand waiting for Sophie to finish the term at her Princeton in Asia teaching post. I’m taking the opportunity to finish up some work from home, and adjust to this heat and humidity. I have to visit Bangkok next weekend to get a vaccine for Japanese Encephalitis and present some research at USAID, so our plan is to depart from here around March 9. It’s really hot here, getting into the hot, dry summer season. March is pretty late in the tourism season, but timing never really stopped me before so I’m not worrying about it. We just have to make some adjustments to account for the weather, like biking early and late in the day, with a nice long siesta midday when the temperatures get prohibitively hot. We’ll also be drinking a lot of water. A lot of water.
I never wrote my final blog about Ushuaia. I never made an “I’m home!” post, or even explained to everyone that tried to text me that my cell phone number is no longer mine. The truth is that I didn’t really want to declare my trip finished, because that’s just sad. Well, the new year is here, and I’m ready to give you an update on the end of the Chile trip and the status of the next one. I am very, very happy to say that after two months of hiding in Eugene doing odd jobs and applying to regular ones, I will be continuing my travels starting 20 days from now in Southeast Asia! Even more exciting is who will be accompanying me for this journey. My partner-in-crime Sophie Howard is in the process of acquiring a set of wheels while finishing up at her Princeton in Asia teaching post in Thailand. But more on that in a bit, because here’s some pictures from the end of the world.
I am, for better or worse, done with this trip. But not done, because my odometer says 2950km, so agonizingly close to 3000km, and with plenty of excess energy to finish it off sometime this week. I want to go to the end of Ruta 3, which is basically the end of a string of roads that starts in Alaska.