Saturday, November 28, 2009

Nha Trang +

I left you last time at the end of our epic ride to Nha Trang.
Currently I am sitting in an Internet cafe in Trang Town, Trang Province on the Andaman Coast in Southern Thailand. I'm sipping a lemon smoothie which I'd become addicted to in Cambodia, much healthier than Coke and tastier than water.

As it stands I'll be meeting my girlfriend, Eunjin tomorrow afternoon at the airport and on Monday we'll be heading to a nearby island for a week before we part ways once more for the holidays. Throughout this trip I attempted to 'blog' to keep friends and family updated on my progress but as you know I fell short of that several times. Perhaps I'm not cut out for the wild world of blogging or I'm just too busy living right now to find time to write about it. For this I apologize, I will not retire my shoddy blog though I will try to sum up the last two months in this final post on the topic of my cycling trip. I'll keep this blog and update as much as I can about where I end up and what I'm doing, but please forgive me for cramming the past months into one post. Needless to say I will not talk about everything, maybe even skipping weeks and please know that even though I will do my best, there will be many things you'll have to ask me about face to face. My good friend Anderson Muth, whose blog "Watch Out World" is far more up to date than mine, has kept up with his writing with the vigilance of a Phu Quoc rat. You can read his account of our trip as well as his fantastic articles published both on ESL Daily as well as Please check them out and I'm sure you'll see his perspectives are right on the money. Without further adieu, the rest of my life changing experience:

When we rolled into Nha Trang it was pitch black, though thanks to the huge ex-pat scene and tourist attraction of this place, there were plenty of lights to guide our way to a cosy guesthouse run by a beautiful Vietnamese family. Nha Trang has a lot of restaurants. A lot. I have eaten a lot of food and this place was the mecca of selection, Indian, Western, European, Asian, everything. We spent a day on a party boat before I parted ways with the team for the first time. Nha Trang has some excellent diving and I decided to do my PADI Open water certification here which would take several days. The course was awesome and the center I did it through was thorough and very professional. I feel 100% capable of prepping my own equipment and being a capable diver. I am even considering furthering my certification in the future as I have had one of the most awesome times of my life while underwater. The aquatic life was plentiful and the feeling of being around such a diverse ecosystem was thrilling. I have truly never experienced anything like it before, even diving with sharks in Korea cannot compare to this.

Being alone, I grabbed an overnight bus to meet my friends in the town of Hoi An, which was another amazing little town. Here we extended our visas for Vietnam to see more of the country. We moved north to Danang through torrential rains that almost beat out the worst of Cambodian rains, almost. I think I would have remained drier had I jumped in the river, as I was pedaling around looking for the hotel the flood waters were well above my crank set. We had intended to go directly to Hue from Hoi An but we took a 15 km detour up a mountain where our road abruptly ended in the ocean. I had mentioned in passing to my friends "I don't think this is the right way guys, that road just goes up a mountain". But my lack of conviction in my observation ended in us just continuing on our way. It was a nice view of the ocean though...

The forecast predicted level 4 tropical storms coming our way. This of course didn't materialize in our area until a few days after we had left.

Hue was a great place with such incredible history and sights. We partook in walking tours as well as more than our share of street-side coffee breaks as we watched the rain pour down.
From Hue we jumped a bus to Hanoi. Another bus, I know. This was starting to irritate everyone as we all just wanted to clock some k's on the saddle but the reality of our situation was that there was nothing to do between here and Hanoi and if we tried we would be in more than a little trouble with the Vietnamese government for over staying our visas.

Hanoi was a very busy place with lots to see. I made up for my lack of cycling by walking through the entire city to see the Army Museum, the Hanoi Hilton and a few other sights. The amount of shopping in Hanoi is ridiculous. It's completely retarded how many stores there are and the hilarity of the design was not lost on me. Whatever you need in Hanoi can be found quite easily (except actual chain oil), and when you find the area where your desired goods are sold all you have to do is pick which store on the street you'd like to buy from. There is a tin box street, there is a silk street, there is a Buddhist street, there is even a plush animal street. Each product and good has it's own street. This is common in Asia but on no such scale as in Hanoi.

We saddled up and headed the two days to Halong Bay, on the coast. Stopping for the night in the usual dive. This time ending in a massage hotel complete with sketchy pink lights and termite infested bedposts.
Halong Bay is the UNESCO site that has Halong drooling over itself as it revels in it's not-so unique limestone karsts. World heritage status would have you believe it's unique but I can promise you it is not. For miles along the coast these karsts appear in grand form and are being blown up or smashed down by quarry companies where the tourism boom decided to ignore. That's not to say that Halong Bay isn't amazing, it truly is. It's absolutely breathtaking and is the closest I'll ever feel to being a non-violent pirate navigating my way through shrouded cliffs and foggy caves. We ate some great seafood and bartered our way onto a tour which ended in us having a boat to ourselves as we toured around this fantasy land. Oh, I forgot to mention another detour we took. 10 or so km's before Halong Bay is a newly built bridge about 1.5 km's long that attaches a large island to the mainland. The sign clearly reads"Cat Ba Island blah blah blah". Since our Vietnamese is a little rusty we asked to confirm that this Island was indeed Cat Ba. "Cat Ba, Cat Ba, yes yes" said the guardsmen at the gate. Great we thought, Cat Ba Island is a sought after tourist destination with several wildlife parks and sights to see as well, we should just stay here! We rode across the bridge and up some seriously steep hills and all around this nearly deserted Island before ending on the other side without the slightest sight of any accommodation besides a100$ a night resort. It turns out from this island you can catch a ferry, once in awhile with no real schedule to the REAL Cat Ba Island. We had no choice but to turn around and repeat the journey back to the mainland, and on to Halong City in the dark. Luckily the number of hotels here match the number of Sea food restaurants so we ended up in the middle of a bidding war between several hotel owners slashing their prices for our business.

We rode back to Hanoi the same way we had come where I celebrated my 23rd birthday with some Bia Hoi (fresh beer, 50cents a liter) and a trip the best club in town. Turns out the best club in town is a mostly gay bar where a poisonous snake decided it wanted to dance too. The screams and turmoil which ensued ended in several people smashing the life out of this snake in the middle of the dance floor. All in all, an interesting 23rd.

From Hanoi we started the toughest, longest part of our journey yet. The trip west to the Laos border was gruelling but dwarfed by the ride through Northern Laos.
All I can say is mountains. Mountains, mountains and more mountains. Each day ending in us freezing as we made our way through the dark to the power-less villages. It's hard to feel full on noodle soup after 8 hours of solid biking but it was all we could get most days so we made due and watched our muscles shrink further away.

Laos is another amazing country that I knew nothing about. I can now say I know a thousand times more than I did before which is still insignificant for a country that barely knows itself. Most Laos people didn't even know they belonged to a country called Laos, and most of them aren't even Laotian. Over 70% of the population live in rural farming villages and are remote hill tribes in themselves. The sentiment toward westerners here is pretty good considering the atrocities that have befallen them at the hands of America and the secret war which went on here. To this day UXO, or unexploded ordinance kills many Laos people every year. Usually in the form of un-primed 'Bombies" which are tennis ball sized spheres that are sent hurling from cluster bomb casings to land inhabited by innocent civilians who belonged to a completely neutral country. If you don't know what I'm talking about it is well worth the research.

Laos holds some great gems too, besides war ravaged valleys. The Plain of Jars is a mysterious collage of giant stone jars, believed to have held water for travelers or perhaps have been used as funeral containers. No one knows for sure.
There is also the uber-famous Vang Vieng where a 3 km stretch of the Nam Song river in Vientiane province that has been transformed into a hippie mecca and adult playground of crippling water swings and day-long bucket fests. A bucket for the older readers is a plastic bucket filled with booze.
I did succumb and buy a t-shirt...

Of course there is also Luang Prabang. The ancient capitol that is a temple-fanatic's wet dream. There are so many temples here, spaced so closely together that you literally only have to walk down the main drag to see most of the guidebook's recommended sights. It was a great place with amazing sandwiches. The sandwiches were so good I ate them everyday, and they were only 10,000 kip, slightly over 1$.

We pedaled down to the capitol city of Vientiane where I applied for my 1 month tourist visa for Thailand, ate some good food and met some great new Chinese friends who are cycling around Asia as well. They are slightly more important than us in that they meet with Chinese officials and promote the the 2010 Asian games. We did however show our new friends how to bowl, and how to party ;).

The morning of November 24th, Christine and I said our heartfelt goodbyes to our other three cycling friends as they departed early for the Laos-Thai friendship bridge and to begin their 600km trip to Bangkok. I was awaiting my visa and then C and I would bike the 30ish km's into Thailand before catching an overnight bus to Bangkok. When we arrived in Bangkok around 4:30am we biked in darkness to the still closed Amarin plaza to sell our bikes back to Fausto at BikeZone Bangkok, before we finally said goodbye to each other. Christine was heading to nearby Koh Samet, and I was heading for another 16hour bus ride to the South.

It is nearly the end of this journey for me and I cannot tell you how deeply it has affected me and improved my outlook on life and the world. I have learned many things about myself, life and this most fascinating region of the world. I have met so many great people and done things that will bring a smile to my face for years to come. I am truly saddened by the end but hopeful for a future in which traveling plays a major role. The world is enormous, and if you detract planes from the equation is only gets bigger. I am in the process of planning my next cycling tour, perhaps along my southern neighbours coast and into my own country. With it's vastness I can only imagine what I will discover about a people and history so young in comparison, though I am embarrassed to say I know very little about. I will forever be indebted to my friends who have allowed me to share this experience with them, and who have become my life long friends.
Luke has invited me join him and the others on a bike tour of his home state of Iowa which I will do everything in my power to accomplish. While this is the end of one chapter in my life, I am returning to a family and friends back home who have been nothing but supportive of me and my decisions. I have missed them so very much and cannot wait to spend the holidays together at last. My plans are to return to Korea, a place I have grown to love and to find a new way to finance my future travels. I would love to one day return to these majestic countries, because there are thousands of years of history and culture cannot be appreciated with just one trip.
Thank you for following along with me and sharing in my ups and downs. Thank you everyone so very much.
Until next time; Keep on Keepin' on.

P.S- I don't have any pictures at the moment, but I'll work on getting an online album soon^^

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Saigon to Dalat

We grabbed a bus from Saigon to Dalat and thanks to my all natural over-the-counter tranquilizers I was unconscious for most of the winding trip. It was a good thing too because in the moments of wavering wakefulness all I could hear was the wretching of the unfortunate people who are afflicted with such a terrible thing as motion sickness. I've decided that buses suck. I rarely use them but the constant sound of yacking, coughing, sneezing and weezing, coupled with midget seats and varying degrees of climate control they are my least favorite form of transportation.

When we rolled into Dalat we pulled our bikes out of the cargo compartment to inspect the damage which is always inevitable. If memory serves correct there was only minor brake damage and some other insignificant adjustments to be made before we were back on our way.
Almost immediately we were greeted by the ever present moto drivers who would love to show us their "most beautiful clean and cheap guesthouses". We took the offer of one of them and followed him up a series of hills to the elegant 'Pink House Hotel'. It turned out to be a great place and much cheaper than expected. Being the off season this had happened a lot and we usually get the sympathy/hardcore discount because of bikes...even when we don't ride them^^

Dalat was really beautiful and I have been assured they bear a remarkable resemblance to the Swiss country-side, though with the Euro I 'm not sure I'll ever know for certain. The town was and still is used as a getaway and was known as a safe area during the war. The temperature was much cooler and we had to break out the long sleeves. I even remember thinking the heat was better, I wasn't very accustomed to the cold anymore.
We filled our days there by seeing a former Emperor's Mansion, as well as the "Hang Nga Crazy House" constructed by a presidents daughter.

The Mansion was pretty retro but we got to try on some royal costumes and have our own little photo shoot which was pretty funny. The grounds were well kept though dotted with an assortment of psychedelic faux-creatures, vintage Vespa's and a few farm animals.

The Crazy House was then and I assume will continue to be under construction for quite sometime, if not forever. The eternal winding of plaster staircases, intentionally plumb-crazy window frames and animal themed bedrooms (Oh yeah, it's ALSO a guesthouse) seem like they can continue forever.

There are enough intricacies in the plaster work to keep you looking for something out of the obvious odd and still enough perilous incomplete over-head walkways to keep you on your toes. These though wacky and interesting, didn't last long.

Apparently it rains in Dalat. And apparently it rains everyday in Dalat. It usually starts during lunch and doesn't really stop for the rest of the day. It's also a pounding massive rain that seems to shoot from the sky. I've been told if you have a lot to do, you should get up at 5 or 6am. So I'm told.

We ate and drank and watched the rain fall before getting ready to head out to see our hotel manager Rot, sing at a club. He was a total pro and the lounge as pretty high class, though without fail our group still resembled bikers even in our 'non-biking' clothes. While the other singers were decked out in suits and hair gel Rot was running around in a hoody and t-shirt. He has sang for the Royal Family among other prestigious people and was a pretty funny guy. After the show was finished we thought we would take-part in the only other activity available in Dalat: Karaoke. Some hilarity ensued and I ended up using my Krama (scarf) as a bandage to hold in the blood after my encounter with a rogue broken beer bottle. The beauty about not going to the hospital is that you're guaranteed not to hear bad news like stitches or infection or something ;). We (I) were even enticed into a full on arm-wrestling competition post-Karaoke.

We had fun in Dalat but it came time to head back east to the beachfront town of Nha Trang. That trip remains the longest distance we traveled in one day yet, and it was one of the most challenging accomplishments of this trip.

The locals had repeatedly told us that it wasn't that difficult. They must have all been in on some sick joke because over 60kms of road leaving Dalat held perhaps 4 real 'downhills' the rest was up. Up, up and more up. The most difficult thing about riding on a high % grade road up a mountain range is the way the road winds. You keep that shred of hope floating at the surface that reassures you "Around this corner and then it'll go down." More often than not you are wrong.

Though like they say, what goes up must come down (the opposite seems more true to me...) so with exhausted muscles and hungry stomachs we reached the peak of our trial and found ourselves being surrounded by clouds. It's safe to say we were 2000 + meters above sea level by now and the misty sky marked the point where each ascent is worth it, every time.
From the opaque folds of air we began our descent, 30km of downhill.

Not big down little up. Not even little down big up. This was all, 100% downhill. The scenery remains unique to my experience throughout this trip, it was sheer rock face wrapped roads with constant picturesque views of the valleys and lesser mountains below. The trip down flew by at over 40km/h, we got good use out of our newer breaks to dodge landslides and continuing construction.

After the 30kms ended we returned to rolling ups and downs as the sun fell below the horizon. Left in the dust of dusk we pushed our bodies further to continue on. By the time we rolled into Nha Trang, we were literally rolling.

140 kms through the Vietnamese Highlands had worn us down, but we all made it alive and were dying for some good food. Luckily Nha Trang holds a wide variety of great international dishes so our stay here would be well fed.

Underwater adventures in Nha Trang to follow soon^^

Till then, Keep on Keepin' on.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ok, so I know it's been eons since I last wrote a blog entry and I'm really sorry. I love to tell everyone what's going on from my perspective but the past month has just been a whirlwind and the opportunity and will power have eluded me. Here is my plan to catch you all up on the last MONTH of travel through Vietnam; I will post a couple entries over the next few days, each one will be a quick summary of certain cities or events. The following is what I wrote 10 days ago and I will segue into the first of this much-too-late series. I hope you enjoy^^ -Blaise

Hey everyone!
I'm in the town of Hue, Viet Nam right now and you'll be privately humored that I am not writing this from the base of some should-be world wonder or on the beach of an island paradise. No, I'm sitting in the lobby of a less than perfect hotel while raindrops beat the earth with a fury that can only come in tropical storm season. Two nights in a row I had waded the streets through flood waters above my knees. It rained so hard that I even sprang for a poncho! I have been scoffing at rain wear and had set my mind on toughing it out without any. That was at least until I got here, where there has literally been maybe an hour in the past few days when the rain hasn't been falling.
It has been nearly a month since my last post and tones of things have happened though for spacial considerations I'll try to keep this moderate in length. If you've been in personal contact with me you might know that today, the 19th of October, we should be in Laos. Due to the fact that Vietnam is enormously long we've had to extend our visas for an extra 15 days so from now until then we will be whisking ourselves to the remaining places we want to see and then finally to Hanoi. From Hanoi we are planning on biking straight to Laos where we'll be completing the most intense leg our trip through this rugged though I'm told beautiful country.

When I left you in Phu Quoc, our next step was to bike through the Mekong Delta and make our way to Saigon. The logical (and only) choice from the Island was to grab a ferry to the coastal town of Rach Gia where we would start our biking, but as usual it was nowhere this easy. We had asked twice which pier to go to and had been naive enough to assume that twice was enough. We were diligent in dragging our eternally tired bodies from our bunks before sunrise to ensure we got there on time. We ploughed through the 15km ride to the other side of the Island, we stuffed some eggs into our mouths, we bargained for our bike fees, and had even piled our sorry selves into the vessel before we were untimely informed we had arrived at... the wrong pier. Needless to say we were frustrated but I maintain that our state of semi-consciousness held any rash actions at bay until we were safely on our way toward the 'right' pier. The problem here was that our tickets were now as useful as teats on a bull, and we would have to buy more to use the next boat. A surmountable roadblock for sure, though the 5 hour wait time until said boat arrived was a little more irritating . We would survive, after all, we really have no place to be but were were worried about the time on our visas. I used the 5 hours to attempt sleep and dream of slaughtering the 10 coq's that lay caged 5 feet away. Incessantly screeching their infuriating calls of anguish that haunt my sleep to this day. Save for a flash rainstorm that soaked us to the bone before our overly air conditioned pneumonia inducing ride to Rach Gia, it was pretty good. They even kiboshed the loud abrasive Vietnamese game shows and singing DVDs that are standard around the country in exchange for SILENT Chaplain flicks.

From Rach Gia we headed to Vi Thanh and then onto Can Tho. This was all through the Delta which was something I'll never forget. We swerved left and right along the 'road' through throngs of drying rice and grain, passed over dozens of shabby bridges and had a 2 word conversation with nearly everyone we passed. The road varied from 3 to 6 feet wide and the surrounding lifestyles of the river people were nothing if not spectacular.

The farmers days seem to be spent along the process of plantation to harvest, all the while surrounded by merchants piled together in a scene I can only describe as post-apocalyptic disarray. The rogue roosters, the featherless hens, the circles of hunched over gamblers throwing cards down beside a burning was intense. They sell nearly everything and anything you can think of from the day to day necessities to monstrously ugly plastic pieces in the form of nothing. That last description was terrible but I honestly don't know what over half of this crap was. I could deduce no useful purpose for most of it, and how they can carve out a living by selling bicycle streamers, water buckets and plastic trinkets (in an absolute non-tourist area) is beyond me. Perhaps if they were the lucky owner of the only shop around it would be possible, but the 50,000 vendors must have cut-throat competition.

We arrived in Can Tho just as I got a flat tire. Though I've changed one or two this trip, this was my first. After rolling possible causes around in my head I've come to the conclusion that one of the stray screws shoddily fastening the corrugated steel to the bridges through the Mekong was the most likely culprit. We spent our time here along a river and floating market, having some Can Tho specialties along with some snake wine and good conversation.

We took a small boat barely large enough for the five of us to see the river market and get a little tour of the river. The last part wasn't really our idea but we just ended up moving along at a snails pace through the maze of waterways for much longer than necessary.

When Can Tho had run its course on us, we headed to the bus station to grab a shuttle to Saigon. We had been told that entering HCMC by bicycle was stupid and dangerous so with that nice piece of advice we bused it to the commerce capital of 'Nam. This was only half redundant because the bus station we were dropped off at was still not really inside Saigon but we saved several days riding and avoided the rain that poured down the whole time. We also got to experience the real Saigon traffic which I found to be entertaining and often times hilarious but if you were frustrated to begin with I can see how it would be a living hell. Because it had been raining so hard when we arrived, we grabbed the first hotel we could find which was effectively a per hour kindof establishment but served our needs well enough. After some delicious Pho (with extra protein...(bugs), I decided to go for a walk while my travel buddies went in search of pastries. I was looking for an internet cafe, which proved to be about a 35mins walk away through flooded streets and shady characters. I've never been approached by so many pimps before in my life, not even in Bangkok and the women they were peddling were of every walk of life. Somehow my insistent "No" which I now know as KhĂ´ng, my shaking head and mimed 'X' didn't quite get the point across to these dudes. They followed me for awhile and then returned to the shadows of their alleyway. I was intending on hitting up an ATM before I went home but the number of dark figures lurking around the rainy night changed my mind. I would wait for tomorrow.
The following day we biked down to the hotel/backpacker (disgusting tourist ghetto as Anderson and now all of us refer to it) area of Pham Ngu Lao. This area is exactly how you would imagine a tourist ghetto to look, hundreds of vendors, boutiques, panhandlers and restaurants. The restaurants are only outnumbered by the travel agents and moto drivers who will gladly take you wherever you want to go, arrange for dirty nighttime rendezvous or enable any or all of your vices.
In this bustling city we made arrangements for a total bike overhaul at Golden Rose Bike Shop. We all picked up new sets of Brake pads for our chariots as we were effectively brake less at this point. The guys at the shop fixed us up really well with full bike tune-ups and a new derailleur cable housing for me. The ride from the shop was smooth as Vietnamese silk and a good way to see some of the city.
We spent our time in Saigon by seeing some museums and taking a day trip to the Cao Dai Holy See and to the Cu Chi tunnels about 170kms northwest of the city.

The Cao Dai religion is quite special. At least I felt a kind of warmth flood through me when the structure and surroundings sank in. It might have been the splendor of Cao Dai mish-mashing eastern and western religions together, or it might have been a nostalgic throw back to my younger years of the country fair and carnival lights. The ornate sculptures and bold colours depicting dragons and mystical creatures of all shapes and sizes gave the whole place a surreal feel. More than once an "are you kidding me?" thought flew through my lobes as I took it all in. The walls, the pillars, the giant white hats and even the impatient man with a feather duster guarding a would be look-out tower were hilariously outfitted. For a short time we were allowed to observe the prayer session and service at noon where the robed ushers coralled us upstairs to the upper balconies for a birds eye view of the chanting and bowing.

From here we took of in our under-cooled over-crowded van-bus to the Cu chi tunnels. This was what I signed up for. Over 250kms of underground tunnel systems that the U.S. could not destroy, control or even locate for the most part.
The tour took us through the jungle to many made-up camps to show us daily life for the soldiers and families that lived here.

'Termite' mounds that were actually air holes, a collection of man traps that make the 'Saw' series look like an afternoon special.

We were 'allowed' (forced) to try the air-conditioned retrofitted tunnels for ourselves. They were supposedly enlarged for foreigner tourists and had a lighting system built in. All of these perks were dubious lies on the part of our guide. Not that I cared at that point, I wanted to try!
The tunnels sucked.

I cannot imagine for the life of me being ordered into one of these death traps. Barely wide enough for my massive whitey shoulders, short enough to nearly require a hands and knee approach, hotter than a cheap loft hostel late-July in Bangkok and as dark enough that Liz ran nose-first into my more than sweaty butt. It was claustrophobic, it was filthy, it was terrible.

The sounds of the nearby shooting range gave us a feelings of would be war time but also insight into what the families and soldiers who lived in these tunnels felt like.
When we exited the tunnel we saw a few more exhibits and the hit up the shooting range where I was robbed of a free t-shirt. I opted to try out a left-over M16 assault rifle for a minimal fee and was assured "You hit target you win". I may not be a sharpshooter but I'm no spring chicken to weapons and they hold a close spot in my heart, right beside croc skin accessories. The firearm was louder than I expected but held hardly any recoil and I was successful in annihilating my wooden animal. I even have it on video tape, but the man was certain I had missed and should leave the range now. 'Sigh', life as a whitey turns sour again ;)

After some more shopping and before we left Saigon I took another solo trip to another croc farm on the outskirts of town. Same ol' Same ol' I was told, and they were right but I can never turn down a crocodile farm / boutique.

We also visited the War Remnants Museum (previously called the American War Crimes Museum) which gave a ghastly look into the chemical warfare of America and it's 'puppets', the continual negative effect of Agent Orange and many wartime artifacts.
It was a sobering trip but lightened by our return journey on cyclos.

We had spent quite a few days in Saigon and the time had come to say goodbye. At this point we hadn't renewed our visas yet and set off on the next leg of Vietnamese journey : Dalat.
Tune in next time for more on "What is that Blaise dude doing?"^^

Till then, Keep on Keepin' On.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Into Vietnam

Hey everybody, another update on where I am and what we're up to.

The time we spent in Kep was great! We chilled out at Botanica Bungalows for a few days of rest and relaxation (minus the bugs). This place is lacated quite a few kilometers away from the actual town of Kep but thanks to our bikes it's not much of a problem. Our bungalows were situated in a lush garden of tropical flowers and plants, along with which came an abundance of wild creatures and insects.
While almost the sleepiest town I've ever been to, Kep holds some breath-taking scenery and amazing ocean / sunset views. The most memorable thing about this place however was the food. There is nothing quite like it anywhere else I have been before. The specialty here is the crab, and when coupled with Kampot fresh green pepper I'm not sure there's much that compares.

For $5 US I got 4 crabs, steamed rice and the best dish I've had in a long time. The owner of our bungalows, Stefaan, is a great Belgium dude who makes some killer shots (just ask Luke) and has a deep love and knowledge of Cambodia. It was great to pick his brain for advice and many stories of his time in this amazing country. On the last night here, while on our way to enjoy some stew prepared by one of the most hilarious Hungarian men I've ever met, at the only Hungarian restaurant in Cambodia, my bicycle decided to junk out on me. My derailleur cable housing had worn down and popped through the top tube bracket, leaving me stuck in the toughest 8th gear. Lacking the proper tools and any repair shop, I was stuck with an extra hard workout.

When it came time to leave, Luke had come down with some health issues but fought them off long enough to bid adieu to the last place we'd stay in Cambodia. We had to back track a bit to return to the highway and made the 40ish km ride to our turnoff in somewhat decent time.

As I turned off the main Hwy, I was embarking not only on the last leg of our Cambodia saga, but onto one of the most tiring, stressful and muddy roads I have ever biked on.
I say road because I have seen muddier areas before. The 4x4 destination close to my house lovingly called “The Pits” is such a place. Here, people like to show how hardcore their vehicles as well as themselves are when placed in front of a watery hole filled with mud. It's considered leisure time and is a hell of a lot of fun.

This road however was intended as a way of passage from Cambodia to Viet Nam. Until last year it has been reserved for locals. Assuming, most rightfully so, that no one else in their right mind would/could want to use this border crossing. However for bikers who have a time schedule to keep we were grateful that it had been opened for foreigners as well. The following is my own account of the road.

The Road

Driving along in a vehicle the turnoff would have come and gone without a second glance lest you'd traveled it before. A stone sign with the graceful Khmer language was the only marker to indicate that is cowpath was indeed the way to Viet Nam. One look down the 'road' left you imagining how many of the 28 kilometers to the border would be in this condition before it improved. Surely it couldn't be ALL like this.
As my bike decided to stay in the 8th gear, I was the first to start off. In hindsight the beginning really wasn't that bad, the trademark red Cambodian dirt was bumpy, worn ragged by the recent weather and pock-marked by more than enough pot-holes filled with a redish brown liquid. The going was not so bad, save for the bumps that threatened each time to eject my packs from my rack and leave me frustrated with a muddy mess. As I pedaled on, the road grew increasingly worse with areas of pure water for dozens of meters straight. So thick and murky you hoped you'd chosen the best line to avoid any potential holes which could measure from 1-2 feet deep in places. My legs pushed on as I avoided each ridge and crevasse to lighten the impact on my packs. As the water thinned the road turned to a potters clay, which clung to the wheels like beggars to hesitant tourists. Within seconds my brakes had gunked up and left me wishing for the cleansing mud/waters before. My legs strained under the task of maintaining progress
through this bog of eternal mud. The moto's whose rep it is to fly by with a waning honk were often going the same speed even with their many inches of travel on their suspension. I weaved in and out, around, forward and backward to find the highest, smoothest, driest track. The gear issue with my bicycle left me sweating profusely in the afternoon sun, as I cursed Merida for their shoddy derailleur cable housings. The children which scattered the sides of the road were ceaseless in their calls of 'hello' and 'what's your name?'. Calls which once filled me with glee were now permeating my eardrums with effects worse than an angered swarm of yellow jackets.
I loathed their screaming and shouting but felt terrible for not responding. As if somehow in some way I was being a terrible ambassador for my country and company.
My patience grew so thin with the conditions and noises I found no solace in my MP3 player, it served only to increase the pressure in my head. As the road dried slightly a group of people 15 feet away joined together in their greeting to me, and in my weakness I called back. Upon this recall they let loose the tether on their dog. A putrid animal not 2 feet tall took off after me with an unexpected speed. I kicked out to the creature whose snout housed a set of gleaming white teeth. How its canines could contrast so powerfully against the molten earth while it's owners hung rotten and black, I'll never know. A swift kick caught it haphazardly in the ear but only served to feed it's hunger for me. My evasion was swift as the adrenaline surged through my legs, now even more slender though muscular then before. (My upper body seems to be wasting away though). My escape seemed doomed by the ruts and holes in the ground that forced my packs to choose this instant to pop off my iron rack. The loss of my left pack went unnoticed as I attempted to avoid the jaws of this infernal beast. Though due to the fashion in which I attached my extra pack to the top, my Otlieb hung with me and caused my backpack's strap to tear lose and drag behind me. At this point I had had enough of this flea ridden bastard dog and let fall my bicycle. As I turned, the most basic of instinct within this dog must have alerted to the fact that I was hell-bent on blood. I was seeing only red, my ears the only other sense registering as they delivered to me the sounds of laughter coming from the beasts owners. This act of war only fed my hatred for this four-legged creature. It knew what I was, and what I so earnestly was after. I was going to depart this animal from this earth and I was going to enjoy it. I turned on the animal and drew back my leg which held enough anger and power to send it's scruffy white head 50 yards into the rice paddy. As I did so, his survival skills seemed to send the message to his legs. He turned and high tailed it back to his owners before I could make any attempt at hate-filled revenge. The mud was ceaseless in its venture to slow my progress.

Vietnam couldn't be close enough and Cambodia could keep it's shit roads for all I cared. I wanted the crimson star studded canvas to pierce to too-blue sky. I wanted a grim-faced border guard to stamp my passport as I gratefully marched into the country I had seen more movies about then ever read books. A capitalist country masquerading as socialist country or not, I didn't care. I just wanted paved roads.

After what seemed like an eternity of cussing the earth and rain, the crisscrossing of vehicles and the well intentioned but loathed air horns of passing trucks, two flags dotted the sky. One a red/blue backed Angkor, the other a sheet of scarlet with one awaiting golden star.

Caked with mud, blistered from the sun and tired from the journey I rolled to the front of the border guards building. My trek here seemed enough, though I was not even close yet to the welcomed spray of a shower head, or the well deserved scoop of a soup spoon to my mouth.

The process through the border was a joke. A joke which was delivered with mimed gestures and three words: Passport, Sit, and Down. I believe wholeheartedly that our arrival at the Vietnamese gate was a surprise. That the border control guard had been raised from a deep slumber to come and approve our entrance which would account for his irritated behaviour. After a 40 min wait we were waved through and were, for the first time in our lives, in Vietnam. The road that will someday (not now), be a laughable memory, turned as quickly into hard top as it had to mud.

I should note here that once my mud-bogging debacle was finished my love for Cambodia returned and I no longer hate the childish greetings and red dirt roads.

We biked through the border town the 10 or so km's to Ha Tien, where we would sleep for the night.
After washing our legs and arms and getting the necessary liquids into us, we headed out to a good dinner of fried shrimp and fried rice, where we would toast to the 5th anniversary of Anderson and Liz, take a stroll around the town and then head back to out hotel.

We left the next morning for the pier where we caught a slow local boat across the waters to Phu Quoc Island, where we would enjoy a beach paradise for a few days and plan out the next leg of our trip. As I write this I am sitting in a towel on a beach chair with the ocean air blowing through my hair. The sound of the surf, hard and rough today, bashing into the foreground. The sun is setting and I am content. I have a beer and peace of mind. Tomorrow we will leave this island retreat and head out to our next adventure through the Mekong Delta toward Ho Chi Min City, or Saigon as it is still referred to here. Until next time, keep on keepin' on.