Final Days in Siem Reap

Saturday 13th of Feb saw us leave Seam Reap after a stay of six nights. 

We had a terrific time in Seam Reap and spread our 3 day Angkor ticket over 5 days so we didn’t get ‘temple fatigue’. In the middle we had time to find someone to weld the other front rack (which had began to crack), explore the town and its MANY bars, and meet some other travellers.

We enjoyed teaming up with Sarah and Julian from Germany and coming 2nd place in the hostel pub quiz one night! We also bumped into Karin and Dierk (for the third time!!) and had dinner with them and their two friends (both experienced cycle tourers who had arrived that day) on our last night. 

Gunnar, the cyclist from Norway, has been touring his whole life reckons he’s probably covered 130,000km on his bike! This is like cycling the circumstance of the Earth at the equator 3 and a bit times! He had some amazing stories and we really enjoyed meeting them. 

Dierk had also bought along his Swiss army pen knife as a parting gift for us after reading on our blog that our other knife got stolen. We were both very touched by this.

Angkor has been a spectacular end to our 25 days in Cambodia and we are both ready to see some new scenery. Even some hills might be welcome! 

Originally we had planned to head towards Batambang on the other (west) side of the Tonle Sap lake. We thought we could spend some time there before crossing the border at Pailin. You can apparently make this journey by boat but after looking into it and discovering the cost ($22 each + $10 for the bike) we agreed it wasn’t worth it and so we decided to head north towards Sisophon instead and then onwards to the crossing at Poipet, leaving Cambodia slightly earlier than expected.

Siem Reap once again blew our budget so we plan to get back to basics for a week or so in Thailand as we head East towards Bangkok. We plan to take the scenic route and will probably make a detour down through Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctury in Chachoengsao province and then head up to the popular Kao Yai nature reserve in Prachin Buri province. We have heard that both offer great camping spots. 

Advertisements

Angkor – The big boy temples – Day 2 in pictures

Small Circuit

 

8am at Angkor Wat
  

   

  

Paddy and Jayavarman VII
   
Tandem shot outside the Bayon
 
 
plenty of other tourists to take a rare photo with us both in!
 

Hail the Helinox – the almighty lightweight camping chair

Right, let’s not beat around the bush. We are both basically in love with our Helinox camping chairs.image

To many touring cyclists they are an unessesary luxury, contributing to the weight on our back wheel and putting us in the ‘glamping’ category of tourers.

But we don’t care, because after 8 hours in the saddle and completing 100km, relaxing back in our chairs, away from the dirt, insects and damp ground is quite simply; sublime. Let’s face it, camping can suck a bit sometimes so you need to make things as easy as possible for yourself.

  
Weighing just under 900 grams each, they are hardly heavy, and they pack down into a lightweight durable bag (roughly 14x4x5 inches). We permanently hang ours off the handles of our ortlieb rack bag with cable ties so they don’t take up space in our panniers. Our 1.5L water bottles sit very nicely on top.

  
Paddy and I enjoy having ‘chair set up’ races. They practically fit together themselves and our best record so far is just over 40s.

They are SUPER comfy (you can property lie back) and the mesh material ensures you don’t get too hot. The only improvement we might suggest is that they add a couple of mesh pockets to the sides…image

They are not only useful for sitting in too. They come in handy when keeping food away from ants (by placing each leg in a dish of water at night) and they acted as a brilliant ‘scare shield’ when we needed to shoo away some vicious monkeys while having lunch one day. We also used them as deck chairs while enjoying a day on the beach.

  
We’re 5 weeks in so we’ll see how they hold up after 6 months on the road. 

If you are a cycle tourer reading this, think again about investing in one of these… Granted, they are pricey (£75 each) but they have genuinely improved our camping experience and we probably camp more with them, saving us money along the way.

You deserve some comfort, so sit back and enjoy the view after a long hard day in the saddle.

  

Flying Our Tandem by Air to HCMC

We started planning early how to get the bike out to Asia. It had to be a direct flight to reduce any chance of it getting lost in transit and we had to find an airline with a clear policy on taking bikes.

Vietnam Airlines was our choice, their website stipulated that the bike be in a box less than 203cm in length and weigh less than 32kg. We got in touch and they explained that once we booked a ticket they would be able to enter the package on their system and confirm it – but that it should be ok. Not taking any chances we only purchased Paddy’s ticket in case there was a problem and we needed Annie to try with another airline.

In the end they did confirm, and issued a new ticket which included the agreed dimensions. No extra baggage cost – Great!

Target:
200 x 50 x 120 cm
30KG

Now the fun part: building the box.

You can pick up old bike boxes in shops or buy expensive ones online, but not for a tandem. So a plan was formed to build a box:

1. Measure up – by taking the wheels and racks off, and breaking the bike down it would just fit in the length and other dimensions.

image
The bike laid out ready for packing. Just under 2m lenght

2. Purchase a stack of Styrofoam insulation boards from Wickes. I used a selection of 25mm and 50mm. I would only use 50mm if doing it again.

3. Wait for Annie to go to Berlin for a girls holiday, then clear the living room and get out the jigsaw, stanley blade, Hoover. (I was meant to do it outside but it was November…).

image
Stacking it up

4. Then put the first 2 board down, lay out the bike, in parts, on top and ‘trace’ around it onto the second board. Then cut out that layer.

5. Be amazed at the volume of Styrofoam floating around your living room in tiny fluff and balls. Then attack it with the Hoover.

image
Penultimate layer

6. Eventually you get a bike sandwich which gets taped up with a lot of duct tape.

7. Try to get rid of all Styrofoam balls before Annie returns, alternatively, make best efforts to achieve this and pick balls out of couch for weeks.

8. Purchase a few rolls of commercial clingfilm and wrap it all up.

image
Ready to go at Heathrow - before having to re-open

Matt very kindly drove us to the airport at 6am with the package and at check in they knew we were coming. We were 3 hours before the flight but needed it!

Next up we tried to get the box through oversize baggage – too big. This means that the box can’t be x-rayed and has to go down stairs to be checked manually; That means opening it up and swabbing for Semtex. Luckily we had bought along more tape and cling film just in case.

The Heathrow staff were great and very interested in our plans. We said goodbye to the box and headed for the gate absolutely exhausted by the packing up, moving out of our flat, Christmas festivities and associated travel all over the place… We were off!

Ho Chi Minh city airport is a much swisher affair than Hanoi, the city really is a modern metropolis compared to the Vietnam we visited last year. We had decided in advance that we’d figure out how to get the bike to our Warm Showers host when we arrived and sure enough it was fine. The box was stuffed in the top of a modern minivan and we were away.

image
Safely arrived in HCMC

No hassle. Even the ‘use only once’ nature of the box was improved – the security guys at our host’s house took it away to re-use, probably as fishing floats.

All up in cost about £100 to make the box. About £70 for the insulation sheets and the rest on tape, cling film and new Hoover filters!

VeloVixen – Urbanist Brigitte – Savvy on PR, terrible shorts for cycle touring

My first gear review had to be my Velovixen (company based in Oxford, UK) padded shorts because I can’t let another day go by without telling other female cycle tourists TO NEVER BUY THIS PRODUCT.

Cycle tourers really should have at least 2 pairs of padded shorts with them and as space was limited I wanted to find a compact, comfy and hard wearing pair to complement my longer B-Twin shorts.

After reading a comparison review which led me to the VeloVixen site I decided that this was a garment which deserved some investment, so I duly dished out the cash (£45!!!!!!). 

All I can say is, whoever wrote that comparison review, had either been paid a nice ‘Christmas bonus’ or had done no more than sat on their sofa for 10 minutes wearing these shorts drinking a cup of tea. Because as far as I’m concerned, no cyclist in their right mind would wear these things on a bike!

wp-1452652798070.jpeg
The only way to wear your Velovixen shorts is with another pair of shorts underneath…
I should have been weary from the start – never buy a product which has ‘urban’ in the title.

 VeloVixen describe their product as the following however:

The Holy Grail!, for medium/long rides, with exceptional quality 

That ‘high quality’ they mention; stitching which is already coming loose (and the shorts have spent most of their time stuffed at the bottom of my ortlieb), padding which pokes out into your groin and material which doesn’t breath.

The main problem with these ‘briefs’ though is that they are fundamentally flawed in terms of their design. Cycling shorts should aim to reduce chafing but the seams on these just dig into your groin creating angry red lines and chaffing on your behind area. The back of the shorts also pulls down to show more than you’d like while on the bike. And yes, I did follow the size guidelines correctly. 

In the interest of being fair, I have approved Velovixen’s response to this blog below but, having tested this product for five weeks, I’m afraid I will continue to tell other cycle tourers to spend their precious travel savings on another product.

Phnom Penh to Siem Riep: 5 days. 400km

We were all set for an early start from the hostel in Phnom Penh, that is until we met Jo from Clapton the night before leaving and one thing led to another…so we had a 10am rather than 7am start. The benefit was that we met an expat cyclist at breakfast who pointed us to the Giant shop in town.

Our main purchases there being dry lube and a bike computer which has turned Annie into a hard taskmaster – regularly calling  out average speeds, distances covered and time on bike as we zip along. It turns out we travel quite a bit faster than we guessed – around 22km/hr over the ~400km since we left PP.

Our first stop out of town was at the NGO school which our Warm Showers host Raphael runs. It was interesting seeing the kids running around doing English lessons and sharing lunch with the volunteers. A small way up the road we found two Wats – one didn’t let us camp, but the second did – providing a very, very welcome bath (big tub of water and a bucket).

image
Annie and the friendly English speaking monk at our overnight Wat
The next morning we did set out early and racked up miles fast, that is until we hit an unpaved section of the main highway. It was tough, very tough. We bought some surgical masks (standard local attire) and dug deep for an hour or so waiting for the end of it…it didn’t end for at least 20km, truck after truck engulfing us in dirt. Eventually we couldn’t bear it and had to stop – checking the map it was only 3km to Kampong Thmar, so we climbed back on and the paved road did thankfully return in the town.
image
Filth!
image
Masks!

The other side of town on a pleasant paved road we crossed paths with a Belgian couple cycling the other way – they were 8 months into a basically identical, but reverse tour as ourselves. Over the course of 10mins we soaked up some great advice on routes and countries. It’s very reassuring to meet kindred spirits, we are not insane! We reached our stop in Kampong Thom with 105km on the clock, a tough day.

That night we realised we had an extra day to burn before our host could accommodate us in Siem Riep so we decided a 60km run out and back to the Sombor Prei Kuh temples would be worthwhile. They were the capital of the Angkorian empire before (7th Century) the famous Angkor Wat and they felt like a nice little warm up for the many temples still to come. It was very peaceful strolling through the woods seeing crumbling ruins in competition with nature.

image

At the virtually empty site we could really appreciate the temples properly…

Day 4 was a good day as we turned west and the NE wind came slightly behind us, could we fashion a sail to harness this on the bike – hmmm. George Dadd, get thinking!

95km was gobbled up easily and we stopped at the Spean Praptos bridge which is an 85m long arched bridge dating back to Angkor and is still in use. A perfect place to camp beside; or so we thought!

  
Half way through cooking our pasta some torches wandered down to meet us, Perun introduced himself and warned that in this town the gangsters drunk in the bar close by. He also mentioned the words ‘murderers’ and snakes. SNAKES – Judas! (incidentally we’d run one down that day accidentally and didn’t fancy any playback). Perun very kindly led us up the bank to the front of his sister’s shop where we re-pitched the tent. Then two local police arrived to check what we were up to. These local visits were made complete with the police chief arriving to double check we were ok and to offer the use of his station to camp instead.

The lesson – don’t pitch the tent in a big town – but it was nice to feel the warmth of Perun’s family and the police towards the crazy westerners. I guess the same would happen if two Cambodians pitched a tent in Hyde Park. Would it? I’d like to think so anyway.

It was the first cold night we’ve had in our tent and we got to use ‘Big Agnes’, our double sleeping bag for the first time. We fell sound asleep to the howling of dogs and shouting of drunk gangstars and their women close by.

Day 5 and we only had 60km to cover to Siem Riep. It went quick and by midday we arrived at The Roluos Group of temples east of the city. This is where the temples of Angkor start and a wonderful spot for lunch. We took a tour of the Bakong temple and it really was impressive – no stupid shots riding a lion here – this was a spectacular sight.

  

  
After looking at some great scale models of the major Angkor temples which locals had carved close by we left for Siem Riep ready for Temple mania.