Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Rendezvous-ing in Phnom Penh

No handgun allowed on buses... thank goodness!

The 830am bus ride from Siem Reap was arduous, no thanks to some sections of the highway that disintegrated. Reaching Phnom Penh at 3pm, we all were so glad to get out of the coach and into our comfortable hotel - The IndoChine2 at Sisowath Quay. As we had a total of 7 bike boxes/suitcases, we took 2 different bus companies so we would not have to pay ridiculous surcharges of US$5 per box.

It was really nice to be welcome so warmly once again and Miss Yabee saw to it that we were properly and comfortably settled in. Chris and Coleen arrived from Singapore earlier and it was great to rendezvous with them at the hotel. What I love about IndoChine2 is how bike friendly they are. There is safe parking at the back of the hotel and our boxes/suitcase are stored in their huge store room. The hotel rooms too are very clean though simple. At US$25, its unbeatable value for money. O yes, breakfast included too.

The excitement of the upcoming ride got everyone attending to the most important order of the day - assembling our foldies. All of us wasted no time to do this and some preferred to do so in the streets. Needless to say, this attracted lots of attention. I was the last one to put together my Bike Friday Expedition but then again, I have had lots of practice so it was no drama.

We met my lovely young Cambodian friends for dinner and we ate together at the riverside restaurant, Titantic. They offer the best views! It was nice to catch up with these kids who I have known for the last 10 years when they were poor orphan kids. Now, they are bright university students who are so full of life and vigour. They brought us to the Night Market and more of their friends joined us!

All of us went on for a pre-trip massage in anticipation of the long and dusty ride ahead to Takeo tomorrow. The Islands Spa never had so many people come at the same time, more than 17 folks - our team + extended family and friends.

It was great to rendezvous in Phnom Penh and most of us could not sleep well due to the excitement of the start of our epic ride!

Photo credits - CW

Friday, February 22, 2013

Reap while you can...

Nothing beats an introduction to the heritage and richness of Cambodia than seeing the beauty and magnificence of the Angkor Wat temples first hand. That explains the starting point of our trip to be in Siem Reap and we had 9 team members + 3 more from Ying Chang's family all having an exciting pow wow there. Once again, the Auberge Mont Royale took care of us exceedingly well and I have Mr Prim, the Cambodian Canadian owner, to thank for his exceptionally warm hospitality.

I had earlier planned to just meet the group in Phnom Penh on Sat but I had managed to finished my teaching so it was fun to go up there to surprise my mates. Pete flew to Spore from Perth and joined the rest of the boys onward. They arrived into Siem Reap at 330pm while my bus arrived an hour earlier. It was easy to spot them a mile away as they all came with Samsonites suitcases and boxes, all excited like children.

Dinner that night was at Khmer Kitchen. Good traditional Cambodian cooking which we all enjoyed followed by a visit to the famous Night Market. Siem Reap is very much alive and vibrant with all sorts to offer. Pubs, restaurants, shopping and even an open air under the stars spa. Pedicure/Manicure starts at US$2!

During Happy Hour, draft beer can be as low as $1! There are also very nice French restaurants to romance the evening away if one wishes. However, the gang had to retire early as the Angkor Wat tour required an early start to the tune of a 530am set off. Thus, breakfast had to be taken at 510am and the wonderful Auberge kitchen staff obliged with bright smiles in the darkness of the morning. I however had a leisurely breakfast during normal hours and they do it so elegantly.

As I have been to the temples countless times, I decided to do my own little excursion. Rented a cheapie bicycle and rode 17km out of town to see the floating village of Chong Khnies. It was very special to ride pass green rice fields and small villages in the cool, crisp morning. I passed a European cyclist along the way and she was in no hurry. It took me about an hour to get there. The end point was very well organised with facilities built to accommodate tourists going for cruises.

It was nice to meet up with Papa back in Siem Reap town at the Red Piano. He was out shopping and we caught up over cold drinks and snacks. This pub is also known as the Tomb Raider Pub as Angelina Jolie is said to patronised here during her filming session.

Anyway, the rest of the gang, all tired from climbing Angkor Wat soon showed up and we had a merry time exchanging stories. Roland, being the avid photographer, took some awesome sunrise shots!

I spent the afternoon doing some shopping and spa. Dinner was at the famous Touich Restaurant and it was by grace that we could get a table. What attracts is the adventurous bumpy journey there in the dark, passing by even creepy tomb stones. The service and food were marvellous and no wonder they are doing so well.

After dinner, it was back to the night markets once again for us. I love lying down under the moonlight and stars at Baray Spa having a foot massage, and one cannot have too many of these. As they say, we should reap while we can...

Cambodia-ing to Vietnam - Introduction

In Dec 2011, I made a visit to the French provincial riverside town of Kampot and fell in love with it. Situated by the Bokor Mountain range, the Kampot River and a stone's throw from the crab capital of Cambodia, the thought of putting together a dream cycle trip was sparked. So this adventure had its roots 12 months ago and there's nothing more satisfying than turning a plan into reality.

Our ride attracted a huge team of 11 folks, 2 from Australia. This is usually more than I am comfortable with but I found it hard to say no to such lovely people. Leading the Northern Thailand Winter ride in Jan 2012 with my buddy Chris Wee gave me the confidence to do this, and it helped that Chris was coming for this one too.

The plan was to first fly everyone to Siem Reap to savour the magnificent Angkor Wat, as this is truly a must see. Then take a 6 hr bus down to Phnom Penh and making it our base. There, we could store our bike boxes in the hotel making for easy packing when we fly home. Planning the route to Kampot was straightforward, down Highway 2 to Takeo 90km away, then onwards 80km on Highway 3 to Kampot. What to do after that proved challenging...

2 options were available. Return the same route via bus or bike back - but this would go against my belief as life is too short for repeats. Toying with the idea of moving onwards to Vietnam, the problem was time. A ride to Ho Chih Min could be fun but needed another 5 days and time was not on our side.

A quick research proved God sent. There are regular ferries that leave Chau Doc, a small town along the Mekong River, all the way back to Phnom Penh at 730am daily. US$34 was all it took for the scenic 5 hour boat ride. So, this was to be and we used the Hang Chau Express Boat. The Blue Cruiser boat charges more for somewhat the same service, I'm told. Chau Doc is only 170km away from Kampot so very manageable indeed and the ride hugs the Cambodia/Vietnam border. The added bonus of crossing the international border into Vietnam proved exciting too!

Booking the hotels also was to be a bit of a challenge especially in Vietnam and I am blessed to have Huong, a Vietnamese friend in my Singapore church to help us. They require downpayment and the only way is to directly debit into their local bank account. The rest was fairly easy save for Ha Tien where we took a chance.

All in, the one week's ride across Southern Cambodia and into North Western Vietnam proved an amazing trip. 430km of bliss across a wide range of road conditions, from blistering dusty, pot-holed highways to billet table smooth roads with the most beautiful scenery. What a memorable pre-Chinese New Year ride we all enjoyed from Jan 13 - 20!

Do hope you will enjoy experiencing this Lovethefold adventure online...

Friday, February 15, 2013

Will be back soon! Busy touring...

If you have been following Lovethefold and wondering about the deafening silence, I must apologise as it has been very busy for me visiting Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam for nearly a month. Of course riding foldies was a major part of the trip and here is a snippet of what I was up to. I'm still in Singapore and that means a very filled calendar, mainly eating!

Will be feeding the blog soon. Thank you so much for staying in touch! Wishing you all a very blessed 2013 ahead. May it be filled with lots of joy on and off the saddle. God be with you each and every day!

Exploring the deep south of The Riaus - Final Day, Karimun for 90 mins

Darren woke up feeling great! That set the tone for the whole day and we wasted no time to enjoy a hearty breakfast. One of the delights of Tg Batu is the excellent Chinese food available thanks to its size-able population of Teochew and Hakka migrants. Near our hotel each morning, there is a street with a row of shophouses that sells all the wonderful food like Chai Tau Kway (fried radish cake), Wanton Mee, Kuey Chap, Chicken Rice, Fishball Noodles, Soya Milk and so much more. The quality is second to none, and our breakfast for 4 costs us only US$5! If this is the only reason to come to Tg Batu, it is a very good reason.

Having filled our stomachs to the brim, we forced ourselves to head north, target - Urung some 20km away. We were glad that Darren recovered and could do the ride, though we took it easy, cruising at a leisurely 20-23km/h only. The journey to Urung was a very familiar one for me, having done this for the 3rd time. Quiet, flattish roads, passing by small friendly villages. One father on a scooter with his son in front, came alongside us for a bit of a morning chat. Such is the warmth of the kampong folks and we felt very honored with each wave and greetings we received from young kids to seniors.

The big pineapple greeted us at Urung and we veered right towards the jetty. Here, there is a ferry that goes to Tg Balai, Karimun. We spend some time soaking in the experience and ended up having morning tea and cakes in an old coffeeshop there. KC stopped to buy some dried anchovies and I got some too. They were delicious, and I should have gotten some more.

The weather started to get hotter and poor Darren struggled on as we made our way to Asam, some 25km away. Traffic was non-existent as we cut through the central north of Kundur, making for a very pleasant ride. It was a real blessing that the route was relatively shady. A real surprise was when we saw a wild deer. It ran across our path in all its splendour. We finally reached a provision shop in Asam and watered ourselves well with ice cold drinks. It felt really tough somehow and we took a long rest, feeling very concerned for Darren. We had hope it wasn't Malaria as one sign was the off and on fever.

After making sure Darren was well enough to carry on, we press on to the northern jetty of Selat Belia. We all seem to have our 2nd wind and rode briskly. Its amazing what a bit of rest and refreshments can do to revive our bodies.

Catching the hourly ferry to Karimun Island was a breeze and our timing was seemless. It was nice to be on the boat once again. The porters did a first class job of securing our foldies on the roof of the boat, all tied down safely.

We arrived at Karimun at about 1pm and that gave us plenty of time for a delicious Nasi Padang lunch at my favourite restaurant before we hopped on the 230pm ferry back to Harbourfront Singapore. The celebration lunch was fitting as we piled up the plates with all sorts of spicy dishes. It was sad that this was to be the last meal after such an amazing adventure in the Riaus.

But there will always be another time to come again, and something tells us that will be sooner than later. We comforted ourselves with that thought as we sat quietly in the Penguine Ferry back home, feeling a little despondent to be leaving bicycle paradise, and the great mateship we enjoyed over the last few days.

Photo credits - KC :)