Takeo to Phnom Penh with some great stops inbetween

It’s possible to cycle from Takeo to Phnom Penh in a day (81km) but there were a number of reasons why we chose to spread the distance over three days ride:

The N2 road which offers the most direct route isn’t the best road for cycle tourers. There’s no hard shoulder, its incredibly dusty in the dry season and the road is busy with trucks and and other heavy traffic. (At the time of writing – Jan 2016 – there are also major road construction works between Tonle Bati and the capital which adds to the dust and general unpleasantness)

Most importantly though there are four major sites of interest on the way – Phnom Chisaur, Phnom Tamau Zoological Park and Rescue Centre, Tonle Bati, and finally the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek. We wanted to hit them all and decided that Phnom Chisaur and Tonle Bati would be the best bets for camping. (Don’t be tempted to camp near the zoo, you will be no match for the semi-tame monkeys).

Taking all this into consideration we stocked up at the big market in Takeo, let some air out the tyres and headed directly north out of town along the windy roads through the lakes and canal network which run parallel with the N2. It was a great ride – a flat, quiet dirt track lined with spectacular lily covered lakes, friendly villages and plenty of shelter from the headwind.
   
 We stopped at this amazing setting for lunch along the way which gave us the opportunity to try out our Life Straw filter.

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We reached Phnom Chisaur at 3.30 and headed straight for the 400+ steps which lead up to the temple at the top which boasts a sacred linga ($2 entry fee).

At the bottom of the steps there is a school surrounding a playing field and lake. We parked ourselves on the edge of the playing field and made some tea. Nobody took much notice so we agreed it would be ok to camp. 

After more than a few days, Paddy’s back is still covered in red spots and I’ve had an erruption on my back and upper thighs now too. We have been super careful to cover up while stopped and have come to the conclusion that the problem isn’t ant or mozzie bites at all but rather an extreme case of heat rash. I’m contemplating throwing away my cycling top and stocking up on white baggy t-shirts instead but the padded lycra shorts pose more of a problem.

The next day we continued to head north towards the wildlife zoo. Some great more scenic tracks – this ‘road’ was barely more than a walking path between cropped rice fields.

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The landscape continues to be dominated by canals and irrigation systems. It’s hard to imagine what it must look like at the end of the rainy season, the grazing cattle gone, it covered with lush green.

We get to the zoo at around 11am and climb the steady incline to the entrance (you pass quite a big wat on the way). It’s very quiet and we continue to cycle another km through beautiful countryside before we reach the start of the enclosures. It feels incredibly remote but as we park we instantly get bombarded by sellers offering bananas and potatoes to feed to the animals. Very different from London Zoo!

We instantly felt uneasy about leaving all our stuff – we just got a feeling it could be a bit dodge. In the end we agreed to leave it parked and tipped one of the boys to look after the stuff – although it is possible and maybe advised to cycle around what is quite a long tour of the enclosures.

Despite its slightly run down feeling we were generally impressed by the size and scale of the enclosures. Most of the animals, many of whom have been rescued from much worse fates, have a good amount of space even if they’re not particularly entertained. You are very much left to your own devises as you make your way around.
  
Tame monkeys rule over the whole site and follow you round expectantly. We enjoyed the crocs and had an exhilarating meeting with an agitated male tiger. Paddy also enjoyed the otters and spotted a very pregnant leopard.
   
   
We cooked up lunch on the lake near the entrance – a group of cheeky monkeys approached and managed to steal out bananas. They ended up getting farely agessive and we had to use the helinox chairs as shields to scare them away long enough to eat our noodles! There’s no end to how useful those chairs have been.
  
Back on the road we head to Tonle Bati arriving for 4pm – we instantly head to one of the stilted picnic huts on the lake. Its here we discovered we had lost (or had stolen) both our foldable knife and our leatherman set. Both items we use every day. 

At dusk we cycled into the modern temple complex opposite the Ta Prohm ruins and ask one of the monks if they would allow us to camp. 

We pitched with the sun going down on these.
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Our food bag got completely attacked AGAIN by black ants in the night. They bit through the black bin liner and proceeded to tear holes in the top of the Altura bag (we wonder if they’d get through our ortlieb bags?).
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Ants have been our biggest problem so far so if anyone has any good solutions to tackle this ongoing problem please get in touch!

A quick stop at the Angkorian Ta Prohm ruins were well worth it – the carvings are amazing!
   
 On to the mass grave site of Choeung Ek which is situated on the edge of the city. The site (1 of many) marks where thousands of Cambodians were systematically murdered and buried during the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. There are no words to describe it; you must visit but be prepared.

The last 10km into the city were easy – we followed the same tuk tuk right into the centre.

Welcome to Phnom Penh!

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Egg Surprise, Wild Camping and a tribute to David Bowie

January 13th 2016

This afternoon we reached Phu Quoc island after our two day, 130km cycle from Long Xuyen. 

It has been a great couple of days and we are settling into a good rhythm, managing more miles in less time. It has been completely flat the whole way which has been perfect for this first week – it’ll be interesting to see how we get on with some slopes, although this might not be for some time.

Our bums are still sore – on the second day we even tried the double shorts tactic.

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We’ve enjoyed a ‘varied diet’ including liver & kidney. During one lunchtime we enthusiastically pointed at what we thought were harmless eggs but they turned out to be fertilised, semi-formed ducklings… Paddy’s even had feathers, a head and a beak! He was encouraged to have a taste but the response I got back was ‘over my dead body’.

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Most importantly we saw through our plan to camp on the eve of the second day. Before our trip, we had read a couple of blogs which said camping was difficult or even impossible in Vietnam.

Due to the Delta area being intensley irrigated and farmed, finding a camping spot was a little tricky at first. Finally we passed a small patch of forest next to the road which turned out to be pretty perfect. The only slight irritation were the red fire ants but long socks and our helinox chairs soon sorted us out.

WE ARE SO GLAD WE BROUGHT THE CHAIRS!!!

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It was good shopping for supplies and cooking our own dinner and breakfast. The Optimus stove has been great.

  
It was way too hot to sleep under the fly sheet but we were still protected from the mozzies without it and enjoyed the added bonus of star gazing before falling asleep. We both had minor irrational panics during the night – convinced we were going to be eaten (!?) or discovered – other than that we slept soundly until dawn. 🙂

  
After camping we set off for Ha Tien and on the way we were passed out by the Tour of Vietnam bike race (that’s not it’s official name but it’ essentially what it is). We got a lot of attention from the race photographers and friendly support crew.

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Finally we rolled into town around 2pm and enjoyed a few beers and a good night sleep.

We logged onto Wi-Fi for the first time in two days and read the news about David Bowie. Devastated. What an artist. We enjoyed watching videos and interviews of him over our beers.

We’re writing this on the ferry to the paradise island of Phu Coc where we’ll celebrate Annie’s birthday tomorrow.

Fully Loaded

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Packing light and buying the right gear for the particular conditions we will be facing has been an important and really exciting part of our planning. We have spent MANY hours researching and buying our gear and we’ve enjoyed doing this together.

It seems not all cycle tourers invest in brand new, lightweight gear. In their blogs, many claim to have invested in a good set of panniers and not much else. You don’t need to spend a huge amount of money but packing light has been important and a huge advantage for us.

Deciding to travel by tandem means you are seriously limited for space especially if you decide that taking a trailer isn’t for you. We are really excited at the prospect of getting rid of all our possessions for a year but I’m sure there would be many ultra-light tourers who would look at our list and scoff! I guess it’s about finding what’s right for you. For example, having a good tent set up and being comfortable while camping is important to us. Some may say our travel Helinox chairs were a ridiculous luxury but we know that we will value relaxing in them after a long day of pedalling (read our review here).

We have planned our trip over a series of months and we couldn’t have done it without the range of blogs, reviews and online articles that have already been written by other cycle tourers online. The list below is another small contribution to this ever growing online resource – we hope it’s helpful to future tourers. We have also tried to talk in person to other cyclists who have done similar trips already – being members of warmshowers.org has been a great way to do this!

You might also want to check out: Travelling Two, Adventures by Tandem,  The Touring Tandem, Tandem Revolutions, Crazy Guy on a Bike, Family on Bikes, Pedalling About, Bicycle Touring Facebook

Front Left Pannier  (Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic 40L)

Annie’s Clothes:

Annie’s Toiletries: moisturiser, tweezers, razor, mascara, toothbrush, mooncup, nail file, monthly contact lenses and bottle of solution, 2 weeks of daily lenses, glasses, earrings

1 x quick dry towel, 1 x money pouch, 1 x roll up backpack (Quechua)

2 x cycle shorts (b-twin), 1 x padded underwear (VeloVixen) – don’t buy these!, shoe covers (Shimano), 2 x cycling gloves (long and fingerless), snood, warm hat, 1 x waterproof jacket (worth investing in a proper Gortex one), 1 x waterproof trousers

1 x leather sandals, 1 x North Face Goretex walking trainers, 1 x belt, 1 x down jacket (Quechua)

1 x convertible trousers (Craghopper Nosilife Stretch), 1 x shorts (Howies), 1 x cotton knee-length dress (Sea Salt), 1 x yellow cycle jersey (I threw this out early on), 3 vest tops (Howies),  1 x cotton shirt, 1 x long sleeve cotton top (Joules), 1 x merino leggings, 1 x merino long sleeve top (Howies), 1 x bra, 2 x mesh sports bra (Patagonia), 1 x bikini (threw after Thailand), 4 x underwear, 4 x merino socks

Would have made a 100% cotton Longhy to use as a towel instead which also would have doubled up as a long skirt for visiting temples. I need more warm base layers for China and the stans – Helly Hanson is the best.


Front Right Pannier (Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic 40L)

Paddy’s Clothes:

Paddy’s Toiletries: shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, nail clippers, wet wipes, ear plugs

1 x quick dry towel, 1 x money pouch, 1 x roll up backpack

1 x warm hat, 1 x snoodshoe covers, 2 x cycling gloves, 2 x cycling padded short inserts, 1 x Gortex jacket

1 x sandals, 1 x cycling shoes, 1 x down jacket (Quechua)

1 x cycle jersey, 1 x merino t-shirt (Alpkit), 1 x long sleeve merino top (Alpkit), 1 x cotton shirt, 1 cotton t-shirt, 1 x shorts, 1 x convertible trousers (Craghopper Nosilife), long johns and matching top (Helly Hanson), swimming trunks, 3 x pair of socks, 3 x boxers


Handlebar bag (Arkel: Large)

A great bag (solid, completely waterproof) and would recommend over ortlieb especially if you are on a tandem – we got the biggest size and hold a lot of stuff in it. What’s very useful is it has zips instead of clips which means you can padlock any unneeded valuables (e.g kindles) while you go off without the bike to do a two day hike etc.

1 x Canon 650D DSLR Camera + 3 batteries and 2 lenses

1 x ipad in waterproof case (armour-x)

1 x iphone in waterproof case (armour-x) – – normally mounted to handlebar while riding

1 x Samson Galaxy phone – normally mounted to handlebar while riding

2 x wallet, passports, notepad

2 X sunglasses

2 x kindles, 1 x ipod

Front pocket: snacks, pen, bike keys, small padlock (useful for locking bag when handed into ‘left luggage’ at a hotel/hostel.


Back Left Pannier (Altura Orkney 56L)

1 x large mosquito net (never used as our tent was the best net)

1 x rechargeable LED tent/camp light – also charges your phone (great buy!) – (Lampray from Alpkit)

Gravity water purifier (LifeStraw) and UV SteriPEN ultra –read our gear review here

Dice/cards/embroidery, sowing kit, clothes line and 9 pegs

1 x toilet roll and baby wipes in dry bag

2 x emergency dry meals (Expedition Foods 800cal)

Cooking Gear

1 x multi-fuel stove and wind shield (Optimus)

1 scrubber/scraper, 1 lighter, 1 matches, 1 tea towel, 1 pen knife, 1 kettle, 1 pots, 1 frying pan, 2 plates, 2 x cups (Summit), chopping boa, serrated knife, peeler, grater, scissors, tin opener, wooden spoon, spatula, knives, forks and spoons. Salt and pepper, spices, hand sanitizer, washing up liquid, plastic bags, tuppawear box, elastic bands, bag clips.


Back Right Pannier (Altura Orkney 56L)

Box of bike tools

Spare bike parts: spare tyre, spare spokes, chain link, spare brake pads etc

Two man lightweight tent and footprint (MSR NX Hubba Hubba)

Gaffa tape (lots)

Medical Kit in dry bag:

3 x needles and syringes, antibiotics, diazepan, Naproxen pain killers, malaria tablets, thrush tablet, dressings, bandages, burn treatment, antibac wipes, cling film roll, ear plugs, plastic gloves, paracetamol and ibuprofen, rennies, constipation tablets, thermometer, cystitis sachets, dyorolite, eye wash and ointment, e45, savlon, barocca, caneston cream, allergy tablets, bite cream, plasters, cyprofloxin antibiotics

Electronics in dry bag:

camera charge cable, ipod/ipad/iphone charge cable, kindle charge cable, 2 x universal adapter, battery pack (A5 Zendure), SD card reader and SD cards, headphone splitter, sat phone

Papers etc:

Many passport photos (including head covered ones for Annie’s visas in Iran and Central Asia) papers, note book, pens, injection books, maps, insurance, passport copies, visa copies, spare bike/padlock keys


Back Rack Bag (Ortlieb 31L)

2 x bungey cords

3 X carrabena clips

1 x down double sleeping bag (Big Agnus: King Solomon)

2 x single air mattress (Quechua) (slip into Big Agnus sleeping bag to create bed)

1 x double duvet cover

2 x inflatable pillows (Quechua)

tent poles and pegs


Small Frame Bag  (Alpkit)

2 x head torches (Petzel elight)

1x leather man/Swiss army knife, Biker’s Balm – For All Your Moving Parts, Vaseline, Whistle, Pencil, elastic bands, emergency pain killers, rennies


Medium Frame Bag (Alpkit)

Insect repellent and bands, head phones, tissues, Compass, hand sanitiser


Saddle Bag

Sun screen, 1 x Spare inner tube, puncture repair kit, set of Allen keys, bike lights, Annie’s gloves


Bike Frame

2 x foldable lightweight chairs (Helinox)

3 x water cages

0.6L Optimus Fuel Bottle

1 x fog horn

1 x tablet bike mount (Multifunction Armour X mount)

Bike pump 

Mirror

Cable ties

Bike lock

Spare Spokes