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  #196  
Old 6 Mar 2012
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2/29 Leap Day Ride to Don Khong

Our plan for today was to ride south to Champasak to see the Khmer-era Wat Phu Champasak and then continue south to Don Khong, an island in the Four Thousand Islands region. Wat Phu is supposed to be one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Laos, located adjacent to a mountain, with excellent views of the Mekong valley. To reach Champasak, we would ride south on Highway 13, then take a ferry across the Mekong to the Wat. After taking a ferry ride back to 13, we would continue south to another ferry crossing for the island of Don Khong. The total distance should only be about 100 miles, but we wanted to get an early start in order to have time to see the Wat and get to Don Khong at a reasonable hour.

With this in mind, we woke up early, had coffee and watermelon for breakfast, and then hit the road at 8:15 am. After an hour or so, we arrived at the ferry crossing for Champasak and were greeted by a long, sandy hill to the water's edge. There was a large vehicle ferry at the dock that didn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. A local worker pointed across the river, we nodded, and he pointed to an area further up the riverbank, where small, motorcycle ferries were docked. Since we were facing 300 to 400 yards of sand to get there, I left Re with the bikes and walked there to get the info. The ferries consisted of three narrow canoe hulls, topped with an open-sided, wood platform approximately ten ft square. A small motor, similar to those on our boat in Kong Lor Cave was attached to the center hull. One of the boatmen told me it would be 20,000 kip per bike to cross. The price seemed a little high, but they have a boat, and we don't. The other bit of good news was that there was a firmer looking sand road that came directly down to this launch area from the main road. As I turned to walk away, I heard another of the boat men yelling at the man I spoke with, but I just kept walking. I came back and told Re about the other road, so we turned around and made our way back to the main road, and then down to the ferry. When we got to the bottom of the ramp, we were stopped by a different man, who now said the price would be 30,000 kip. I shook my head and said 20, but he insisted on 30. I know that tourists are often charged more than locals pay, but considering this should have been a 10,000 kip ride, I wasn't paying 30,000. The 120,000 kip that it would have cost us to cross the river would be 15 USD, and that's just too much. Re and I talked it over for a second and decided against Wat Phu Champasak. We turned our bikes around and started up the hill to the road. In my mirror, I could see our ferry driver run off his boat and begin yelling at the man who tried to overcharge us. For many years, Laos has had the reputation of treating tourists fairly when it comes to prices, but maybe that's beginning to change.

We rode back to Highway 13 and continued south. A couple hours later, we pulled up to the ferry for Don Khong. The large vehicle ferry had left recently and was part way across the river when we arrived. Further along the shoreline, I could see the pilot of another of the three hulled, open platform ferries motioning us down to the shoreline. I left Re on higher (and firmer) ground and rode down to check the price. 20,000 per bike was the price we agreed upon after a series of hand gestures. I motioned Re to come on down, and the pilot pulled his boat closer to the shore. He grabbed a wooden ramp, approximately three ft wide and five ft long, and put it between the shore and the side of the boat. While he steadied the boat, I rode up the ramp and onto the deck. He then moved over the ramp, so Re could ride on next to me. She looked a little nervous coming up the ramp, but then broke into a big smile when she made it safely. There was only about a foot of deck between our wheels and the water on either end, and the pilot was thoughtful enough to block our front wheels with a rock, so at least we wouldn't roll forward off the boat. He then cranked up the motor, and we rode the half mile or so across the river to the island.






We tried to snap a couple of photos on the way, but since we were sitting on our bikes right next to each other, they didn't come out very well. At the far shore, the pilot pulled the boat as close as he could and again, bridged the gap with the wooden ramp. You would think that the dismount onto the shore would be less nervous than riding onto an open-sided platform in the water, except that once we reached the end of the ramp on the island, we were riding into deep sand. I was the first to go, so I revved the mighty Symba, crossed the ramp, powered through the sand, and ten feet later, found firmer ground. Re followed me and fortunately, stayed on the power, too. Our little bikes and their lack of power certainly do make some otherwise mundane maneuvers seem exciting!

We then rode up the sandy hill to the paved road and continued two miles or so north into the town of Muang Khong. Because we skipped Wat Phu, it was only about noon when we arrived, so Re took the time to check out a few guesthouses before settling on the Done Khong Guesthouse. We got and A/C room at the front of the building, and our balcony looks out on the Mekong. Once we got our gear unloaded into the room, we checked the menus at many of the restaurants that are built on decks on the edge of the river. We chose our favorite and had a delicious and lazy lunch, watching the fishermen throw their cast nets. It was another stupefyingly hot day, so we went back to cool off in the A/C for a while before going out again for a walk. We stopped in to see the pretty, old Wat that was located on the edge of “town” and then went back to the guesthouse to sit on the balcony and do some reading. We plan to spend our time on Don Khong doing as little as possible, and today was a good start.

Later in the evening, we walked across the street to our guesthouse's restaurant on the river's edge. We enjoyed a Beer Lao while we waited for our meals to arrive and were treated to a bizarre spectacle swirling around the overhead lights. Since the sun was going down when we arrived, they switched on the overhead lights, and almost immediately, they were surrounded by a whirlwind of thousands and thousands of small, white moth-like insects. For the next 15 minutes or so, these bugs created a small tornado around each of the lights. More bizarre, was that after a few minutes the bugs began to fall out of the air and died shortly after landing. The waiter asked if we wanted to move inside the main building, but we declined since this was pretty fascinating to see. Most of the activity had “died” down before our meal arrived, so we were able to eat in relative peace. Before heading up to the room, we grabbed a couple more Beer Lao and continued with our reading.


100 miles in about 3.5 hours, including a short boat ride.
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  #197  
Old 6 Mar 2012
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3/1 Lazy Day in Don Khong

From our walk yesterday, it seems that the town of Muang Khong is made up almost exclusively of guesthouses and their associated restaurants. We didn't see a market or any kind of general store. Yesterday afternoon, Re asked our hostess if there was a market and was told that there is, but only a very early market. Re wanted to head there this morning, so when the alarm went off at 6:30 am, I stayed awake long enough to make sure Re got out of bed and then I rolled over to doze some more. About 45 minutes later, she returned with a watermelon but was apparently unable to find the market. She had asked several people along the way and walked quite a distance, but to no avail. So we had coffee and watermelon on the verandah overlooking the Mekong before heading downstairs to do an oil change on both bikes.

We wheeled the bikes to a shady, ant-free workspace a few hundred feet up the road. We unrolled the tarp, got out the tools, and got to work on Re's bike first. After removing the drain bolt, the sight of some fine, metallic bits stuck to the magnetic bolt made me a little nervous. Re then commented that the draining oil didn't look right to her. It did seem very thin and the color was slightly reddish brown. The red color made me worry that the oil was contaminated with gasoline, since the gasoline in Laos is the color of cherry cough syrup, but it didn't smell of gasoline. Maybe it's just due to the fact that it's a semi-synthetic oil, which I have never used in these bikes. I then removed the oil screen to clean it, and fortunately, there was no metal to be found here. After the oil finished draining, we refilled the sump with the Honda-branded, MA standard oil we purchased in Pakse. I also took the opportunity to check all the fasteners in the frame and engine, and all were tight. With Re's bike finished, we repeated the whole process with my bike. Again, there was a little swarf on the metallic drain plug, but in addition, when I wiped the oil off the drain bolt, it left a silver discoloration on the cloth. Hmmm. Again, the oil didn't look right and seemed thin. I have read accounts of counterfeit oil being sold in southeast Asia, but I bought this oil at a big name gas station and checked to make sure the seals on the bottles were intact. After my bike was buttoned back up and refilled, we drained the oil from the one gallon Ziploc back into the oil bottles for disposal. When the bottles were refilled, we seemed to be short a couple tenths of a liter in what we had drained from the bikes. I'm unsure what is going on here (if anything) but I will have to keep a closer eye on these developments.

We wheeled the bikes back to the guesthouse and then went upstairs to get cleaned up. We spent the remainder of the morning lounging on the verandah and reading our books. Our goal for today was to take it easy, and we seemed to be succeeding. Soon enough it was lunch time, so we walked along the river to the spot we ate yesterday. While we waited for our food, we watched a man spearfishing in the water directly below us. After a decent lunch, we returned to our spots on the verandah and continued our lazy ways.

Around 5:00 pm, we put on our helmets and went for a ride around the island. For being an island in the river, Don Khong is fairly large, at about 12 miles long and 5 miles wide. We rode north along the east side of the island as far as we could and then returned down the west to see the sunset over the Mekong.



The area we rode through was agricultural, with surprisingly large areas of rice paddy and many water buffaloes. Re stopped to take a picture of what must have been a very young buffalo.



His feet seemed two sizes too big for his body, and he walked rather unsteadily. We rode further south and came to a surprisingly large town with many stores and restaurants and a large market area.



We rode through the town to the river's edge, where we watched the sun set. After it dipped below the horizon, we cut through the center of the island and back to our guesthouse for dinner.

On our way north, I had spied a large motorcycle with aluminum bags and German plates, so we walked up to check it out. It was an Africa Twin covered in Touratech and Zega, and Re and I just smiled at each other. The more we ride our little bikes, the more we chuckle about this kind of “Charlie and Ewan” special. When you consider that the accessories alone on this motorcycle cost more than our motorcycles, it is kind of funny. We have now been through thirteen countries and ridden nearly 19,000 miles, and although it might take us a little longer, there's almost no place that these big bikes can go that we can't (and there are plenty of places we can go that they can't). To each his own, but I think that too many people spend a lot of money on their bikes and gear that they could instead spend on traveling and ! We walked back to our guesthouse, had another good dinner. Later, we grabbed a couple of Beer Laos and headed to the room and drank a toast to our last Beer Lao in Laos.


25 miles in about 1.5 hours. My clutch is much happier with the new oil.
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  #198  
Old 20 Jun 2012
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Hey! What happened to you guys? I've been barely hanging on waiting for another installment for what seems like months. Oh wait, it HAS been months! Hope you guys are okay and that you post soon!
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  #199  
Old 20 Jun 2012
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They have continued posting on ADVrider.com, and in fact are in northern California right now, heading for Oregon.

They stopped posting here because they weren't getting nearly as much feedback as they do over on ADV.
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  #200  
Old 20 Jun 2012
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Originally Posted by brclarke View Post
They stopped posting here because they weren't getting nearly as much feedback as they do over on ADV.
Perhaps that's because they responded to only one person who posted in their thread, and that was in response to a question about whether they had a map. Never to anyone else. That's why I stopped following them about halfway through their thread. Seemed a bit full of themselves.
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  #201  
Old 21 Jun 2012
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Originally Posted by Blader54 View Post
Hey! What happened to you guys? I've been barely hanging on waiting for another installment for what seems like months. Oh wait, it HAS been months! Hope you guys are okay and that you post soon!
Sorry for not keeping up here. We ended up spending too much time online and not enough time enjoying ourselves, so this fell by the wayside. If people are still interested, I will keep posting!
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  #202  
Old 21 Jun 2012
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Originally Posted by joe strummer View Post
Perhaps that's because they responded to only one person who posted in their thread, and that was in response to a question about whether they had a map. Never to anyone else. That's why I stopped following them about halfway through their thread. Seemed a bit full of themselves.
Nice.
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  #203  
Old 21 Jun 2012
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3/2 Ride into Cambodia

It was already hot when we made our way downstairs at around 7:30 am for breakfast. While we were waiting for our food, we saw a motorbike ferry pull up to the town dock. When we crossed to Don Khong two days ago, we went to the vehicle ferry dock, which was about 2.5 miles south of town. I mentioned to Re that if this ferry was still here when we were ready to leave, that maybe we could take it instead. Several of the boat pilots gathered around while we loaded up the bikes, and I asked the one who spoke some English about the motorcycle ferry that was docked below. He motioned to another man sitting at the table who was suddenly interested to see us on our bikes. I asked how much, and through our go-between, the pilot said, 40,000 kip (5 bucks). That was what we paid coming to the island, so I quickly agreed to the price. Judging by the hoots and laughter from the other pilots, we were clearly overpaying. But, oh well. We rode the narrow, sand path down the hill to the riverbank, up the ramp, and onto the deck.



A closer examination of the ferry revealed that it only had two hulls and seemed even ricketier than our previous ride.



Our pilot fired up the engine, and we slowly made our way back across the Mekong. Re looked a little nervous riding back down the ramp and into the waiting sand, but she made it with no problem, and I soon followed.

We rejoined Highway 13 after a couple of miles and quickly rode the short distance to the border. Just shy of the border, we stopped to spend some of our remaining kip on fuel. Our bikes were nearly empty, so we filled them up and then put about eight liters in my jerrycan.



We arrived at the Laos side of the border at about 10:00 am, and then the fun began. The border crossing here is notorious for overcharging passengers, both on the Laos and on the Cambodia side. We made it through Customs with no issues and no bribes requested, but that all changed once we reached Immigration. The officers here demand a 2 USD “stamping fee” to stamp you out of the country. This is nothing more than a bribe, and we refused to pay. Over the next hour and a half, we repeatedly presented our passports to be stamped, and repeatedly refused to pay. We enlisted the help of some other bus passengers, who decided to join our “Occupy the Laos Border” movement, and seven other travelers also refused to pay. At one point, the officer tried to keep the passports of an older German couple who wouldn't pay, and then things got heated. The officer relented and returned their passports but was getting very upset. Since their bus was waiting, they decided to skip being stamped out of Laos and instead, headed directly for Immigration on the Cambodia side. Since they never reappeared, it apparently worked. We did not want to take our chances on the Cambodia side, since it's even more corrupt by reputation, so we sat and waited, occasionally pleading our case. I guess the officer got tired of seeing us there, because he eventually stamped our passports, no bribe required.

By now, it was extremely hot out, and we were sweating our butts off. We rode to the Cambodia side, where the overcharging began again. My resolve had been sweated away, but Re still had some fight left in her. We did pay the 1 USD each for the “health check” but refused to overpay for our visas. Initially, we were told it would be 23 USD for each of our 20 USD visas, but after 15 minutes or so, of smiling and saying we didn't understand why we had to pay extra, they relented and gave us our visas for 20 USD each. The final request for more money, more money, more money was at the final checkpoint, where they wanted another 3 USD each for a “stamping fee.” Re simply told them, “No,” and so they stamped our new visas without another word. In the end, it took us about two hours to cross the border, but we saved ourselves a few dollars and felt like we took a bit of a stand against these corrupt practices. While we were on the Laos side, we spoke with several other travelers who couldn't understand why we wouldn't just pay the two dollars. We explained that three years ago, it was no dollars, and last year, it was a buck. Now they want two, and how much will it be next year? We counted the number of people who did pay the two dollars on the Laos side, and in the hour and a half we were there, the corrupt officials collected nearly 150 USD, and they are just getting bolder. Cambodia's border crossings have been notoriously corrupt for many years, and we were sad to see Laos playing catchup.

But, no matter, we were now in our 14th country of this trip and riding south. And it was HOT. And ugly. This part of northern Cambodia is dry and dusty and brown. It seems to be an even more impoverished area than Laos. Once we neared Stung Treng and the Mekong, the landscape turned a little green, but a few minutes later, we left the river behind, and it all turned brown again. Our goal for the night was to reach the town of Ban Lung, approximately 80 miles east of Stung Treng. We turned off of Highway 7, which was a well-paved and fast road, onto Highway 78, which was not. At first, the dirt surface was reasonably smooth and hard, and we were able to ride at about 30 mph for the first five miles. Over the next five miles, the road got progressively worse. The dirt got looser, corrugation appeared, and traffic was surprisingly heavy with trucks and minivans making scary passes. As a result, our speed dropped to between 15 and 20 mph. Since it was now 2:00 pm and we had another 70 miles to Ban Lung, we decided to stop and talk this over. Neither Re nor I was enjoying this riding, and the route would require us to take the same road back, so we'd have to do 160 miles of these conditions. The only reason we were going to Ban Lung was to see a volcanic lake, which suddenly didn't seem so important. We decided that if we kept our speed at about 15 mph, we could make it, but the question was, why would we? Instead, we returned (slowly) to Highway 7. On the ride back, the wisdom of our decision was confirmed when out of the dust we saw an oncoming minibus overtaking a truck and coming right for us. It was shades of India, as we dove for the soft edge of the road, and I distinctly heard the clank of the minibus hitting Re's rear view mirror. Remember, our mirrors only clear the ends of our handlebars by about an inch... .

Once back on Highway 7, we continued our fast ride to Kratie. Kratie was going to be our second stop in Cambodia because of its proximity to an Irawaddy dolphin viewing area. On the way, Re motioned to her bike, so we pulled over to see what the issue was. She said it was making a loud, funny noise, so we swapped bikes so I could check it out. The noise was from the chain area, and the bike was gently lurching. Awesome. We hopped off, unpacked the tools, and I removed the chain case, to once again, try to figure out what's going on. Her chain has a distinct tight spot, but adjusting the chain loose enough causes the rest of the chain to oscillate. We did loosen the chain slightly, and we will have to look into it more tomorrow. We pulled into Kratie at about 5:00 pm and stopped at the first ATM we spotted. Cambodia does have its own currency, the riel, but almost all prices are given in USD. Consequently, when we hit the ATM, it gave us our money in USD. Re found a nice, small hotel across the street from the Mekong and the market. The other nice feature of the hotel is that they would let us park our bikes in the lobby overnight. After unloading our gear into the room, we walked out to the market and had a delicious meal of freshly grilled beef, pork, sausage, and rice on the riverfront. We washed dinner down with a couple of Angkors, the local brew, before heading back to the hotel to shower off the quarter inch of dust we'd accumulated today.


160 miles in 6 hours including better than an hour to cover 20 miles of dirt road. I'm puzzled by Re's chain. We'll install our spare sprockets tomorrow to see if that makes a difference. Border costs: 40 USD for visas, and 2 USD for “health check.”
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  #204  
Old 21 Jun 2012
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3/3 Sprockets and Dolphins



After breakfast of fresh fruit and coffee, we unrolled the tarp on the sidewalk in front of our hotel and got to work. We did bring a set of spare sprockets with us, and I decided that swapping them might help us figure out what's going on with Re's bike. I've read several reports on the internet about how some Chinese sprockets aren't as concentric as they could be. Obviously, our bikes are from Taiwan, but I figured it couldn't hurt, and it would eliminate one variable. We removed the chain case halves, and the front sprocket. I compared the new front sprocket with the old one and could see no discernible wear on the old sprocket and they appear to be identical in every other respect. We reinstalled the sprocket using blue Loc-tite and then removed the rear wheel. When I lifted up the back end of the bike so Re could slide out the rear wheel, her rack made some ominous sounds. After I set the bike back down, we looked underneath and could see that not only had the old cracks reappeared, but there were at least four new ones. Ugh. I know they say not all crack is bad, but... I was at least glad to see that Re's rear sprocket was still firmly attached to the hub, but the blue Loc-tite we used on the bolts last time made removing them difficult. Once we removed the sprocket, Re noticed that one of the bolt holes wasn't exactly round. I looked at it, and sure enough, the metal was deformed on one side of the hole, and the hole, indeed, was slightly elongated. We surmised that this must have been a result of the bolt backing out and catching the chain case mount when we were in Namibia.



It makes sense that an impact strong enough to bend that sprocket mounting bolt as much as it did could have also affected the sprocket. (The photo above is from the incident in Namibia, showing the bent bolt) Other than that, the sprockets appeared to be identical, so we installed the new one before reassembling the rear end. We left the chain adjustment slightly loose, as the tight spot seemed to be better, but unfortunately, it was still there. Next stop: new chain. Since we haven't seen any bike shops in Kratie, Re will have to live with this chain for a little while longer. While we had the tools out, I also adjusted Re's front brake and clutch. After packing up the tools and rolling up the tarp, it was shower time.

Before lunch, we took the opportunity to catch up on some emails and work on our Cambodia itinerary a little. Re walked off to the market and returned with baguettes and iced coffee for lunch, which were delicious. In the early afternoon, we uploaded some more photos to our Smugmug account, worked on some writing, and firmed up our Cambodia itinerary.

Our big plan for the afternoon was to ride to Kampi and take a boat trip to see the endangered, freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins that live in the Mekong in that area. Recommendations are that you go later in the afternoon when it's cooler and also make a stop on the return journey at Phnom Sombok to see the sunset. Around 3:00 pm, we hopped on our bikes and rode approximately 10 miles to Kampi. The ride was scenic, running along the Mekong, but the pavement was uneven, making for a bouncy ride. We arrived in Kampi, found the site from which the dolphin boats leave, paid our 18 bucks for tickets, and headed down the riverbank for our boat. As our captain drove the boat towards the group of boats already out on the river, we could see dolphins surfacing in the distance. Over the next hour or so, we moved to various observation points in the river and sighted dolphins many times.



We tried to take some photos, but since our camera is still broken, all we ended up with was pictures of the water. Re did remember to bring our binoculars, so we were able to get some decent views of the animals when they broke the surface.



Irrawaddy dolphins are kind of funny looking animals. Personally, I think they look a bit like penises. Re had read that the river people believe that spirits of the departed inhabit the dolphins. There used to be many more dolphins in Cambodia until the Khmer Rouge started a program to exterminate them, apparently in an attempt to extinguish these animist beliefs. The good news is, conservation efforts are paying off, and in recent years, there's been an increase in their numbers.

Having seen enough dolphins, we headed back to dry land and south to Phnom Sombok. When we arrived at the base of the hill, we saw the staircase that would take us 70 meters to the top of the hill. That seemed like a lot of steps. Lucky for me, I had spotted a sign that seemed to point to a road that went up the hill before we pulled into the parking area. We turned the bikes around and rode up what turned out to be one of the steepest hills we've ridden up yet. At the top of the hill, we found a small parking area, but we still had over 300 steps to the top of the hill. We climbed to the top and watched the sun sink over the Mekong and the fields below. Not wanting to descend that hill in the dark, we left before dusk and made our way back into town.



We did see the sun set on our way back.

Before dinner, Re did some research on hotels and restaurants in the next few towns we would visit. For dinner, we had decided to return to the same market stall as last night, but when we got there, we found an empty space in the line of food carts. Bummer. Since we had no plan B, we walked up and down, looking at our options, before settling on a noodle stand with an enthusiastic proprietress. When the food arrived, I had another one of those premonitions that I should not eat this, but instead, I did. The meal wasn't sitting very well, and to make matters worse, when we went to pay for our food, the bill was much higher than it should have been. Shame on us for not asking, but whereas every other stand's price for was 2500 riel, here our friendly, smiley cook was charging us 4000 riel. It's not the money, since the difference is less than 1 USD, it's the feeling of being taken advantage of. And the funny feeling in my tummy. Later in the evening, my tummy wasn't feeling very good, and just before I went to bed, I had to make a mad dash for the bathroom. Son of a bitch.

30 miles in about 1.5 hours. Re says that chain is making less noise and is less jerky, but that there is still a problem.
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  #205  
Old 21 Jun 2012
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3/4 Ride to Kampong Cham

After the trouble before bed last night, I also got up twice during the night and made the mad dash to the toilet. And twice again this morning while we packed up and got ready to go. Re left me whimpering in the bathroom and went down to the first aid kit on the bike to get our last course of Azithromycin for me. After I took the Azith, Re cut up a pineapple she bought yesterday for breakfast. Since I wanted to see how it would sit in my stomach before we hit the road, it was after 10:00 am when we finally started riding. While I rode to the gas station to get fuel for the day, Re exchanged the Lao kip that we had forgotten to exchange before leaving the country. Since kip cannot be changed outside of Laos, we got whacked with a really bad exchange rate. Oh well.

Our goal for today was Kampong Cham, a city further down the Mekong. Not much to say about the ride today, other than it was again hot, ugly, and boring. We stopped for fuel and lunch somewhere near the Vietnam border. Since I wasn't feeling confident enough in my sphincter strength to risk eating much, we made do with Diet Cokes and Alaskan King Crab-flavored chips (made in Vietnam?) from the gas station. We only had a couple of hours to go after lunch, and the scenery remained largely the same. The only change was that traffic got more aggressive as we neared Kampong Cham. We crossed the Mekong and rolled into town around 3:00 pm and found a very nice room at the very nice Mekong Hotel, with a balcony overlooking the river. I was not feeling particularly well, so Re left me to take a nap while she went out and explored the town.

Later that evening, I was feeling much better, so we went out for dinner and both had some delicious Khmer dishes. After dinner, I felt much better. The Azithromycin seems to have worked as advertised this time. After a dessert of cookies and watermelon, we decided to take the evening off and actually watch some English-language TV for the first time in a couple of weeks. We watched about 15 minutes of CNN before switching over to something else better for my blood pressure.

160 miles in about 5 hours. We're definitely going to need to change Re's chain soon.
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  #206  
Old 21 Jun 2012
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3/5 Ride to Phnom Penh

Last night, we decided that our next stop would be Phnom Penh, where we could hopefully sort out Re's bike once and for all (or at least, for a little while). But before we headed to Phnom Penh, there were a couple of sights we wanted to see in Kampong Cham this morning. After finally rolling out of bed at around 7:00 am, and having a breakfast of fruit and coffee, we said goodbye to our nice room, loaded up the bikes, and hit the road.



Our first stop was the bamboo bridge that runs from Kampong Cham to the island of Koh Paen, in the Mekong River. The bamboo bridge is an elaborate, maybe, half mile long bridge that connects the island to the mainland during the dry season. Every year, they disassemble and reassemble the bridge when the river is low enough. We found our way to the dirt road that leads down to the bridge, then slowly made our way onto the bamboo surface.



The bridge is kind of spooky to ride on because the surface is covered with split bamboo that bounces when you ride over it, making a very strange noise. The other scary thing about it (for me, at least) is that the surface isn't exactly level, and there are only short bamboo uprights between you and a big splash.



The other freaky thing is that the bridge is only slightly wider than one normal lane, and occasionally, you may meet an oncoming car, or more likely, a donkey cart loaded with wood or cured tobacco. We both made it across fine, but then ran into the fare collectors, who grossly overcharged us. We paid the toll and then rode across bamboo mats that covered the sand until we reached firmer ground. The island itself is very large. We rode for at least 10 to 15 minutes and never came to the other side, and in fact, my GPS showed a network of roads (floating magically in the water, since my map doesn't actually show the island).



After riding through small towns, past a couple of wats, and through rice paddy, we turned around and headed back to the bridge. The return trip was no less nervous for me, since the right side of the bridge seemed to be even less level than the left.

Safely back on dry land, we headed to Wat Nokor, which is an 11th century ruined temple made of laterite and sandstone.



The construction was similar to the temples at Angkor, but these were built by Mahayana Buddhists. We pulled into Wat Nokor, parked our bikes under a big tree, and then explored the grounds on foot.



A modern Buddhist temple has been built in and around the ruins, so it's a bit of an odd juxtaposition.



We spent 30 minutes or so walking around and sweating our asses off. Since it was getting too hot to stand around anymore, we hopped back on the bikes and rode off in search of some air flow.

It was now around 11:30, so we headed for Phnom Penh. Today's ride was only a few hours, but the landscape did change fairly dramatically during the ride. We came to our first real areas of organized agriculture and rode through large groves of trees, ponds of lotus flowers, and expanses of rice paddy. The other change for the day was that the roads were in fairly poor shape, and traffic was increasingly aggressive and unpredictable. After weeks of easy riding in Thailand and Laos, it felt at many points like we were back in India. My GPS guided us into the city and to the front steps of the Sunday Guesthouse. We stayed at the Sunday last time we were in Phnom Penh and found it to be a good combination of price, location, and amenities. Funnily enough, the room we are staying in is one of the rooms we stayed in last time as well. We parked our bikes, unloaded our gear, changed our boots for sandals, and walked up to the Sorya Market to look for a new camera. We found several camera stores in the Sorya area, and found a couple of options for cameras. The good news was that the two models we were interested in were more than an hundred dollars less than they were in Bangkok, but the bad news was, we couldn't decide which model to buy. So we walked the three quarters of a mile back to the guesthouse, empty-handed.

Phnom Penh is one place we don't need to discuss where we're going for dinner, since we've both been fantasizing about tonight's dinner for weeks. Last time we were here, we found our favorite restaurant in Phnom Penh- Nike's Pizza House. Cheese and expert preparation is what makes Nike's special. Cheese is a rare commodity in most of the countries we've visited recently, so if you get any, it's usually not much. Cambodia, or at least, Phnom Penh, is a different story. They import cheeses from all over the world and they are not afraid to use them. We walked the familiar route down to Nike's and ordered the best thing on the menu: the calzones. Re ordered hers filled with spinach, blue cheese, mozzarella, garlic cheddar, parmesan, and tomato sauce. I ordered mine with salami, tomato sauce, ham, mushrooms, blue cheese, and mozzarella. They can cook them one of two ways: baked or deep-fried. Guess which we went for? Oh yeah, deep-fried. When the crispy, brown, fried footballs of love showed up on our plates, we did what we usually do: cut them down the center and swap them half for half. As soon as our knives sank into the crust, cheese started to ooze out and pool on the plate. Oh, the cheesemanity! They were as good as we remembered, and we washed them down with an Angkor. After dinner we stopped at the Lucky grocery store for some pastries and . Re also picked up a box of her “natural” hair color to take care of the two inches of roots she's been showing. Back at the room, we kicked on the A/C and enjoyed our pastries while we caught up on some emails.

80 miles in about 2 hours.
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  #207  
Old 21 Jun 2012
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3/6 Camera Shopping

After we finally rolled out of bed, Re walked up to the local market for iced coffee, baguettes, and a watermelon. Back at the room, she sliced up the watermelon, and we took our goodies up to the lounge where we chatted with Torsten and Marin, a German couple who are in the midst of bicycling from Germany to New Zealand. They are a fascinating couple who have already been on the road for a year and a half and have ridden through Iran, the Stans, and China, just to name a few. We spent a couple hours talking about our experiences on the road, and I must say that Re and I were more than a little jealous of some of the places they've been, but certainly not jealous of all the pedaling.

We finally realized it was nearly 11:00, and we needed to get a camera today. We jumped in the shower and then promptly went to lunch. I have been jonesing for a hamburger for a month now, and I knew just where to get a good one. We walked over to the Java Cafe near the Independence Monument and were glad to see that it was still there. The Java Cafe is a bit of a splurge for budget travelers, but it has a nice atmosphere and the food is excellent. For some dumb reason, Re ordered the quiche and a salad, which was apparently very good. But I went for the burger. They grind their own meat, bake their own buns, and the burger came covered in a mushroom and cheese sauce. It was definitely the burger I have been daydreaming about.

After lunch, we walked back up to Sorya Market area and hit the camera shops again. But no one was bargaining. As I said yesterday, their prices were very good, but they can always be better. Re tried negotiating at several shops without any success, so we took a break, went into the Sorya Mall, and cooled off in their A/C for a little while. Over an ice cream cone, we decided that Re would give it one more shot on our preferred model, but we would pay their asking price if we couldn't do any better. Re made one more run at the store and was able to finally negotiate a 10 USD discount. Yay! So ten minutes later, she walked out with our brand-new, Panasonic Lumix TZ18, 16X optical zoom, 14.1 megapixel, new camera. And then we walked the three quarters of a mile back to the guesthouse. This had actually turned into an all day trip since it was nearly 4:00 pm when we finally made it back to the room. While we cooled off, Re worked on some writing for a while, and then we returned to Nike's, this time for a couple of their excellent pasta dishes and some garlic bread. After dinner, it was time for some more writing.


0 miles.
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  #208  
Old 21 Jun 2012
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3/7 Visas, Carburetors, and Re's Rack

Since yesterday's breakfast was so enjoyable, we repeated it today. Fruit, coffee, and baguettes in the lounge with Torsten and Marin. About an hour into our conversation, Torsten mentioned that they were going to pick up their Thai visas today. Whoops. Guess what we forgot we were supposed to be doing while we were in Phnom Penh?! One of the big things we meant to do here was get our visas for our return to Thailand. Torsten told us that they had to wait for five days to get their visas(!) and that the Consulate only accepted applications until 11:30 am. Since it was already after 10:00, we excused ourselves and ran for the shower. After we got cleaned up, we got together all the necessary photos, money, and passports, and went down to the bikes. Since the Thai Consulate appeared to be about 2 miles away, we decided to ride.

Re's bike started up fine, but for some unknown reason, mine was very reluctant to start. Eventually, it did start, but it wasn't running cleanly. We pulled out onto the road and over the next ten blocks or so, my bike ran progressively worse. It eventually stalled and wouldn't restart. Of course, by now it was 11:00 am and hot, hot, hot in the sun. I pulled out my Swiss Army knife and opened the drain on the carb bowl. Plenty of fuel spilled onto the ground, so I pulled the sparkplug, which appeared fine and sparked brightly. Huh. Since it was now after 11:00, Re made for the Consulate, while I pushed my bike back to the hotel. Before she left, we made sure she had all the paperwork, but I forgot that she also had the room key. So after pushing the bike back to the hotel, I was now sweat-soaked and locked out of the room. I was able to borrow the housekeeper's key to get into the room and cool off for a while.

After an hour or so, Re returned with the good news that not only was she able to forge my signature on my visa application, but also, she was able to sweet talk the official into having our visas ready in only two days. Sweet! We headed out for lunch and then returned to see what was wrong with my bike. We unrolled the tarp, got out the tools, and dropped the bowl off the carb. In the bottom of the bowl, there was a drift of fine, whitish powder, and we also found that the pilot jet was partially blocked. We were able to clean the jet and then reassembled the carburetor. A quick thumb of the starter button, and my bike started up and settled into a nice, even idle. I am puzzled by the crap in the bowl, because we just installed a new fuel filter that claimed to be a genuine Honda part less than a month ago. Oh well, as long as it's running.

Since we already had the tools out and were grubby, it seemed like a good time to get Re's rack welded. We removed her top case and undid the four bolts that secure the rack.



Once we removed it, we could see the extent of the damage, and it was bad. One of the men who works at the hotel pointed us in the direction of a welder, so we walked out to find him. A few blocks from the hotel, we found an area where old motorcycles are made into new motorcycles. Many small shops here take the best parts out of five bikes and make four very good looking bikes out of them. Everywhere, people were painting, polishing, and cleaning up secondhand underbones. We spied a man sitting on the side of the street making a crashed kickstand look like new. Once again, our welder spoke no English, but understood what we needed done.



After he finished the kickstand, he immediately set to work on the rack, and 20 minutes later, he handed us back a freshly welded rack. This time, the repair cost a whole 2.50 USD. Cambodia is very expensive! We tromped back to the hotel and reinstalled the rack and top case. When it breaks again, we'll have to get some steel added, since there's not much left to weld. We headed back to the room to get clean and dirty and then spent some time doing some writing.



Later that evening, we went back out for some more fried calzones before returning to the hotel for a relaxing evening.

4 miles for Re, less than a mile for me.
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3/8 Tuol Sleng and the Russian Market

Re returned this morning with iced coffee, fruit, and still hot from the fryer, fried dough sticks. I walked upstairs to look for Torsten and Marin, but they had already left, so Re and I dined alone. After breakfast and a shower, we rode the bikes down to Tuol Sleng. The Tuol Sleng Museum is an old high school that was transformed into Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge used S-21 as a detention and torture facility for suspected enemies of the cause. After the prisoners were tortured into outlandish confessions, they were transported to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, where they were murdered. By the late 70s, they were killing as many as 100 victims a day. We arrived in time to watch a French documentary about the Khmer Rouge before touring the grounds. The movie and museum were sobering, and I kind of wish I had not come here. On display in some of the old classrooms were the bedframes that the victims were chained to while they were tortured, and many of the original pieces of torture equipment were also on display. But the most haunting part of the museum is the, literally, thousands of photographs of the victims that were taken the day they arrived at S-21. When you consider that only seven prisoners left this place alive, it is very sad to see the faces of the people who did not. I expected to see the faces of adult men, but what I was not prepared to see was the women with babies in their arms, and children who appeared to be as young as five years old. All enemies of the state, and all murdered.

After touring the museum, we rode a little further south to the Psar Tuol Tom Pong Market, which is also known as the “Russian Market.” We visited here on our last trip and knew it would be the best place to find cheap, cotton boxer shorts to help soothe our barking butts. We also recalled that there was a large section of the market devoted to new and used motorcycle parts and accessories. As we rode to the market, my bike started to cough and sputter, but was running well enough at small throttle openings to allow us to keep going. We spied several motorcycle shops right outside the market, and I went into one of them to look for a chain. Apparently, there are no 420 o-ring chains available in Cambodia, because the English speaking shop assistant told me he'd never seen one. He did, however, have a non o-ring chain that I purchased for the exorbitant price of 4.50 USD. See, I told you Cambodia is expensive! The bad news on the chain was that it was 100 links, and we need 96 links. And of course, I didn't pack a file in our tool kit. I'm sure somebody can solve this problem for us for a dollar.

Chain in hand, we went into the market itself, where the first order of business was finding some lunch. After soup and some fruit shakes, we made our way into the warren of clothing stalls. There, Re found us some “genuine” Calvin Klein cotton boxers. Stylish! I wandered off to look in the tool section, while Re purchased herself a new krama (a traditional Khmer scarf that can be used as a sarong, headwrap, or dust blocking scarf). Riding back to the hotel, my bike coughed and bucked the entire way, but did make it under its own power this time. Sigh. Since it was hot again today and the sky was getting dark in the distance, we decided to put off working on my bike, and instead, opted for a repeat of yesterday afternoon.



Later, we grabbed our rain jackets and walked out to the aptly named, Chinese Noodle Restaurant. Here, they unsurprisingly make Chinese noodles, delicious ones at that. After they hand stretch the noodles, they either fry them or put them in soups with a variety of accompaniments.



We watched the guys pulling and stretching the dough while we decided on what to order. We had one plate of fried dumplings, one plate of fried noodles with beef, and one plate of green beans and black mushrooms. These dishes plus two Diet Cokes cost 7 USD, and they were damned tasty and worth every penny. While we were eating, it did begin to sprinkle, and there was lightning in the sky. On the walk back, we stopped for some pastries at the Bayon Bakery and some at the Caltex. High class all the way.

5 miles. WTF is up with my bike?
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Old 21 Jun 2012
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3/9 More Bike Maintenance, Visas, and No Museums.

After breakfast, we once again sat down bikeside and got to work. Once again, we pulled the bowl off my carburetor, but this time, we found no schmutz in the bowl. A glance through the pilot jet revealed no problem there either. Today, the main jet was the culprit. It was nearly completely plugged, so we blew it out and put everything back together. Once again the engine fired up immediately and settled into a nice idle. I sent Re out to have her new chain shortened while I removed the chain case and the old chain. Re returned a few minutes later with a 96-link chain and a story of a novel way to remove a link. Apparently, the mechanic to whom she entrusted the job, had a small, metal plate with a nut welded to it. He placed one end of the pin that needed to be removed in the nut and then pounded on the other side of the pin with a hammer. Once the pin began to move, he then used a small screwdriver as a punch to pound the pin through the rest of the way. The price for such mechanical precision? A mere 50 cents. And here, I thought you needed a grinder or file. The chain didn't look any worse for the wear, so we installed it with a new clip-type master link, and adjusted the chain. The rear wheel now spun easily, with no apparent tight spots to be found. We reinstalled the chain case and lubed the chain.

Our plan for the rest of the morning and early afternoon was to tour the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda near the riverfront of Phnom Penh. Something just didn't seem right about the plan, so I checked the listing for the sights in the Lonely Planet. Sure enough, they are closed from 11:00 am until 2:30 pm for lunch. Since we need to be at the Thai Embassy at 3:30 pm, it doesn't look like we'll be doing any touring today. Since we had plenty of time on our hands, we decided to try a restaurant a little further afield than our usual haunts. This place was supposed to have Malaysian and Padang food, and we are big fans of both. So we grabbed our hats, water, and map, and set out on foot. We found the street easily enough, but when we arrived at the address listed, we found a bicycle shop. We walked up and down the street looking for the restaurant, to no avail. The only other thing we had to do today was hit the ATM, and the nearest branch of the Canadia bank was as the Sorya Mall, so we headed there instead. We got a bit lost, but eventually found our way. In addition to the ATM, Sorya also has a food court on the 4th floor, where we had loklak and fruit shakes for lunch. Since the mall was cool, and outside the mall was really hot, we were in no hurry to leave. Eventually, we made the long, hot walk back to the hotel, where Re did a little writing.

Shortly after 3:00 pm, we fired up the bikes and started riding toward the Thai Consulate. Within eight blocks, my bike started running shittily again. We continued to the Thai Consulate, but by the time we got there, my bike was barely running. While Re waited to pick up our passports and new visas, I again checked to make sure there was fuel in the bowl and bright spark. Since two miles is a long way to push a Symba, especially on a very hot day, I rode the lurching and bucking beast back to the hotel. Thoroughly pissed off at the bike (or more accurately, at my diagnostic and wrenching skills), I parked the bike and decided I needed to think about it a bit more. While Re worked on some writing, I paged through the Symba shop manual pdf to see where else crap could be entering the system. I dunno.



We decided to return to the Chinese Noodle Restaurant for dinner tonight, where we had bowls of noodle soup and some more of the delicious green beans with black mushrooms. We picked up some pastries at the bakery and some shoju for the drinkies. Back in the room, Re worked on some more writing while I watched River Monsters.

5 miles. Okay, seriously, WTF is wrong with my bike?
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