The goodwilling but disastrously disorganized owner of Bungalow Village managed to book us and another two French women on a bus to Siem Reap after one failed attempt (and a resulting extra day in Sihanoukville – thankfully free, though). We’d inquired at a nearby agency and been given a better price, including pickup, for a non-stop sleeper bus to Siem Reap but decided to book with our hosts instead (it was going to be more or less the same deal, we thought) just to give them some extra business to repay them for keeping an eye on our stuff while we were off looking at old rocks.
Having left our stuff in a pile outside her room as instructed (there wasn’t a luggage store facility but the owner agreed to keep our stuff until our return in her own room) and our bikes locked to eachother behind the kitchen, we sat in the cafe terrace from an hour beforehand, waiting for the bus tickets. Fifteen minutes before the scheduled departure of the bus, and just as we were getting one of the staff to phone her mobile, the owner showed up on her motorcycle. We were marched to a tuktuk with the other two, the tuktuk driver had a brief argument with the owner about where to take us but resigned to her insitence and took us past Sihanoukville town to Serendipity beach. It was now the scheduled departure time and a different company’s bus was pulling away while ours was nowhere to be seen. The tuktuk driver had a look at our tickets and drove us back to Sihanoukville town, where in an inconspicuous parking lot a bus waited for us.
It was not a sleeper bus. It took off just as soon as the four of us were seated and made its way north, stopping here and there to pick up and drop off passengers. Around midnight the bus stopped again but this time we were the ones who had to get off. Us and all of the other touristy types. By the time we’d figured out that we had been dropped off at a bus terminal in Pnom Penh, the bus had vanished and the promised ‘change bus’ was nowhere to be seen – the terminal was deserted but for a swarm of tuktuk drivers who made tireless attempts to sell us their services. A Justin Timberlake lookalike (down to the white cap and figure-hugging wifebeater top) and one of the French women came forward and began dealing with the situation, tracking down an employee of the bus terminal. A few people including Dave listened in to the ensuing negotiations (it’s possible that we were first told to buy new tickets from Pnom Penh to Siem Reap, arguing ensued, eventually something clicked and the staff demanded everybody’s tickets so they got handed over) and helped collect everyone’s tickets. I slouched with the remaining few on the benches feeling drowsy and grumpy.
Some time later, our delegates returned bearing a new stack of tickets and the news that we were to be ferried by free tuktuk to a bus that will take us to Siem Reap. And so it happened, we piled into tuktuks in groups of four and rode through the empty streets of sleeping Pnom Penh. Me and Dave sat across from Justin Timberlake and discovered during our brief tuktuk ride that he was the proud owner of two sets of bungalows on Otres beach, Sihanoukville, and one of these establishments boasts a Star Wars theme, sporting design in the form of geodesic domes. I inquired how he came up with this fascinating idea, to which he modestly responded ‘I don’t know.. dreams?.. imagination..!’.
It was another hour or so until the bus departed, which gave me and Dave just enough time to have a cocktail in a swish establishment just across the road from the bus, and then we were off. Dave’s sleeper bed was shortened to accommodate the engine, or something, so he didn’t have the comfiest night but at least it was better than the last time, when he had the air-conditioning system gushing cold water all over him.
With the first rays of morning light, we arrived into Siem Reap, tumbled out of our bus and were greeted by a young local with chiselled features and a Rosy hotel sign bearing our name. So they’d got our message after all. Here’s how it works in Siem Reap – your hotel will provide you with free collection from your port of arrival, which is good advertising for them considering they don’t pay the tuktuk driver, who presumably volunteers for this job knowing that it will give him a brief opportunity to make a sales pitch of his services. The temples of Angkor are scattered over a swathe of national park at a scale that is not realistically walkable but for the most intrepid pedestrians with a 7-day pass. The rental of motorcycles to foreigners is forbidden in Siem Reap, so you’re left with few options, the most popular of which is to hire a tuktuk for the day (costs around $15 after bargaining, i.e. outside our budget). We weighed up the options and decided to DIY it, hiring rickety bikes from our hotel for $2 each.
After checking in to our tiny but neat top-floor room and spending some time basking in the hot showers, we ate breakfast and perused the borrowed guidebooks. The sheer number of temples and sights in itself is intimidating, let alone the amounts of information relating to all this. We gave up quite quickly, packed the books and cycled off towards the Angkor complex with the last and laziest of the morning rush, mostly young hungover-looking lads and lasses. Halfway to the complex we stopped at the ticked booths where we got photographed, stripped of $80 and issued with personalized tickets and stern warnings of what terrible things befall those who lose or sell on their tickets.
We started our visit at some of the lesser ruins along the ‘long’ circuit on day one, making our way north past Angkor Wat and through Angkor Thom, parking our rented bikes outside the perimeter of Preah Khan. What little I remember about this place suggests that it was built in the 12th century as a walled (and moated) city which existed more or less exclusively in order to service the expansive Buddhist (later Hindu) temple in its centre, once a hub of knowledge and spirituality. Much like the rest of walled cities in the Angkor archaeological park, the temple and other buildings of religious significance are all that remains – stone was a building material reserved for the gods, while the mortals had to make do with timber, which has over time devolved into mature jungle.
From there we moved on clockwise, stopping to see the tiny temple of Krol Ko, the fountain-endowed water temple of Neak Pean hidden in a mangrove swamp, then Ta Som with its dramatic sequence of portals, some crowned with giant peaceful faces others with tree roots, and on to the Eastern Mebon, what would have been a Hindu temple standing on an artificial island in a giant manmade reservoir. It had the structure of a mountain, with four long and increasingly steep staircases leading to the pinnacle, whence one can just about play spot-the-next-temple, and made us once again very aware of the sheer size of the archaeological site. Opposite the road from all major sites in Angkor, there will be a selection of stalls that will sell you anything from cool drinks and tourist-friendly food to umbrellas and toys. It was lunch hour so we succumbed to the cries and beckonings of one of the quieter ones of the shouting and beckoning stall owners, and sat down to a refreshing cool drink and an undercooked meal.
After this break, we got back on our rickety bikes and laboured on towards Prasat Pre Roup, which was very similar to the last temple, then on to the swimming pool of a certain Kavindrarimathana, Srah Srang, and through to Banteay Kdei, a beautifully ruined labyrinthine temple densely populated by touts. By this stage we were getting really quite tired, so we made a last stop at Prasat Kravan to quickly check out what turned out to be a blissfully tiny temple and pick up some cold beers on our way to Angkor Wat.
We settled just outside Angkor Wat on the eastern embankment of its substantial mote overlooking the bridge and the dense foliage into which the hot fat sun retired as tourists streamed out of the temple and onto their buses, while monks with shaven heads and orange robes made their way single-file towards a Buddha recessed into one of the external pavilions of Angkor Wat. We sat on stone blocks the size of a small room, weathered by centuries of tropical storms into a round-cornered rough-textured submission and warmed to a cozy glow over the course of the scorching day, overhanging the opaque surface of the water that reflected the changing hues of the sunset.
We cycled back to Siem Reap in the dark. After a quick shower it was time to seek out the ‘night market’, which turned out to have been multiplying uncontrollably and it felt like every corner of the town centre had a night market of its own – a maze of brightly lit stalls selling souvenirs ranging from regional arts and crafts to t-shirts and chocolates. There were quite a few massage parlours staffed with armies of keen uniformed masseurs, offering a 15 minute foot massage for one or two dollars, which seemed like a much more enjoyable experience than the even more ubiquitous dead-skin-eating-fish-treatment that was being offered literally on every street corner. Thus we spent a quarter of an hour in foot heaven, during which time we also had the chance to discover (there was a documentary on loop on the screen) that the big water moats that surrounded the temple cities actually acted to prevent the movement of the soil due to dry-season shrinkage and wet-season expansion, thus significantly bolstering the longevity of the Angkor buildings made of mortar-free stone. Clever.
I bought a scarf, we ate, rubbed shoulders with throngs of tourists on the main street lined with resort-style bars and went home early. There was another day of hardcore sightseeing ahead of us and we still had last night’s sleep to catch up with.
The next morning we had to move out. The hotel’s budget rooms were all booked up and we were too stingy to pay up for an a/c room, so first thing in the morning we went in search of a new place to stay. After trying a few places we’d looked at online it became apparent that Siem Reap is a very busy tourist destination indeed. Everywhere was booked solid. Fortunately, the last place we went to and the newest addition to Siem Reap’s budget accommodation scene, a Hostelling International outlet, had a lovely room for us that even came well within our budget. We chucked everything in our room and headed back outside – Angkor was waiting. Within ten minutes (8 of which were spent bargaining) we had engaged a tuktuk and were speeding towards Angkor Wat, our first stop for the day.
Angkor Wat, the archaeological crown jewel of Cambodia, was scorching hot. By the time we’d traversed the generously proportioned moat, inspected the gateway pavilions and travelled across what would’ve been the walled city but now an empty plain, punctuated only by two extraordinarily grecian looking library buildings, it was a relief to find refuge in the outermost rung of the temple – a shady corridor ensquaring the pyramidal temple inside. Along the inner wall, possibly several kilometres long in total, ran intricate carvings in stone, depicting epic battles, the gods and the kings of the ancient empire of Angkor in scenes of cosmological and mythical representations. The sheer scale of the effort was so epic that we had to stop halfway around for lunch (this time we’d been clever and brought packed lunch from the hostel).
Eventually we made it to the top of Angkor Wat, big mountain-like monument with a few more galleries, each smaller and higher up than the previous. There was an awful lot of Russian tourists, who appeared to only be noticeable when arguing loudly among themselves. Chinese tourists stuck together in groups, the only people organized enough to bring some serious sun protection – hats and umbrellas creating miniature islands of enviable shade.
Our tuktuk to Angkor Wat had been a one-way ride, so we had to carry on by foot. We walked north towards Angkor Thom, the biggest walled city of the Angkor area. It took us half an hour just to get to Angkor Thom’s moat bridge, flanked by stone demons carrying Naga, the seven-headed serpent, equally petrified. Later we found out that the reason a lot of these demons looked this well preserved was because the Cambodians had rounded up all the best-looking demons from around Angkor archaeological park and used them to replace the more battered original demons on this particular bridge. Tour guides obviously thought this was a good idea, as all tour buses pulled over and ejected crowds of snap-happy tourists onto the bridge. There was a portal in the city wall that ran along the inner side of the moat, and on this city wall we met a family of very unafraid chimps.
A little way down the road was a stall that promptly supplied us with a plastic bag full of miniature bananas. The moment this bag changed hands, the ten or twenty chimps who were previously scattered around either side of the road minding their own business, got up and advanced determinedly towards Dave, who was just about able to tare bananas from the bunch fast enough to throw them at the nearest monkey all the while backing away at full speed, to prevent what horrible thing would no doubt had happened if the monkeys reached him from happening. The chimps caught the bananas in mid-flight, expertly skinned them and injected the flesh into their mouth all in one fluid motion, without stopping their advance. I in the meanwhile was charged with photographing what was meant to be a happy-clappy isn’t-this-cute slow and mellow monkey feeding session. Instead, I was scared and then it was over. Within seconds, the banana bunch had ran out and the monkeys dissipated as quickly as they’d come. We sighed relief.
Onwards and upwards, we ambled for another half hour or so until we came to the central area of Angkor Thom, where a number of surviving monuments were scattered in the jungle and in the surrounding parking lots. Yesterday we’d seen small (well big, but small for an elephant) leathery black elephants ferrying happy tourists around on their backs. Instantly, we wanted to be the happy tourists on their backs. Unfortunately, the elephants were nowhere to be seen and even the mounting platforms (staircase to nowhere) were unmanned. Oh well. Maybe some other time.
We’d saved the best for last. After exploring the monuments of Angkor Thom, we set out east towards Ta Prohm, better known as the backdrop to the busty videogame and film character of Lara Croft. When restorations of the Angkor ruins began in the beginning of the 20th century, this temple was singled out to be left ‘untouched’ as ‘a concession to the general taste for the picturesque’. And picturesque it is, with gigantic trees enveloping whole structures with their muscular roots. The angled late afternoon sun filtering through the canopy of the surrounding jungle helped lend this already theatrical stage set a truly dramatic quality.
By the time we emerged from Ta Prohm there was no doubt about it – we were all Angkor’d out! The place really was magnificent but it was physically and mentally exhausting. Plus, it felt like it would have been hard to beat the dramatic last impression that Ta Prohm had left on us. With a sense of accomplishment and also quite happy to get away from the sightseeing overload, we headed home. A breezy ride back sandwiched on the back of a moped (excellent value for us, not so much for the local who really ought to have his suspensions replaced after that) and we were in the buzzing touristy haven of Siem Reap once again.
We headed straight for the little square in the middle of town that functions as a kindergarten playground by day and densely packed street food restaurant by night. The only member of staff not wearing a uniform was the grill chef – a tall lad made even taller by his high-heeled shoes. The other two chefs manning the outdoor kitchen looked well under 16, but then it can be very hard to guess the age of slight people. We ordered lots and paid little, had a yummy feast washed down with a variety of street cocktails priced at about two dollars a pop, and left, feeling positively too full to even attempt fighting the day’s tonne-of-bricks fatigue. It was home time.
The next day we slept in, knowing that the third day on our Angkor tickets would remain unused and feeling pretty good about it. We had a slow day, writing blog posts and wondering around the deserted streets of Siem Reap. Everyone was out sightseeing. In the early evening, the bus company had a tuktuk fetch us from the hostel and deliver us to the bus, stationed just over the river from the hostel. This time we weren’t made to change buses and just slept through until dawn, when the bus rumbled to a halt in Sihanoukville bus station.
We fought our way past the tuktuk drivers and, rubbing the sleep out of our eyes, ambled towards Bungalow Village. It wasn’t far and we were soon lounging on the terrace that functions as a bar, restaurant, reception desk and admin office all in one. Nobody else was about -it was still very early. Me and Dave took turns showering in an outhouse behind the bar and changed into our cycling gear. Not too much later we succeeded in procuring a hot breakfast and all of the stuff we’d left with the owner, including our bikes. Well before noon, we were back in the saddle.
Sihanoukville is essentially on a peninsula and most of the traffic that comes in, comes back out via the same road that it took to get here in the first place. We were less than keen on doing that, especially since there would be quite a number of hills involved, so we decided to loop around via a smaller road that rejoins the main road just after the point we’d originally turned on to it. The road took us past a ferry terminal, then a fishing village with tiny jetties projecting into the sea from every other house and clusters of homes seemingly floating on the water some way out, past a few large plots of land fenced off for development, a giant refinery and a string of plots with ‘land for sale’ signs in English. Then we were well and truly back in Cambodia – probably the most sparsely populated country we’d seen on the journey, with a very complex relationship with the land indeed. What on Google Maps appeared like a settlement equivalent in size to, say, Nottingham, in reality turned out to be a village of a few houses and a stall selling the very basics of supplies, if you’re lucky.
We cycled through most of the scorching hot day, stopping only for lunch, another couple of quick breathers and in a village to buy some food for dinner. It rained, but that only took the weather from scorching hot to scorching hot and sticky humid, to the point where the air became heavy with water.
Finding a camping spot in Cambodia had none of the challenges of, say, Vietnam or China where an unused scrap of land is almost impossible to come by, but presented us with a whole new challenge – the fear factor. All the guidebooks we’d read, the landmine survivor orphanages and museums advertised as tourist attractions in Siem Reap, the landmine survivors themselves begging for money in tourist spots, everything silently screamed of the possible repercussions of straying off the asphalt. We knew the chances of us stepping on a landmine would be smaller than a number of things we’d braved during this trip, but there was still very much an air of giddy terror as we pushed our bikes off the road and into a clearing in the forest all of 10 metres from the road, and set up camp just as it got dark. Even as I turned in the tent, waiting to fall asleep, my mind churned out scenarios of limbs lodged in tree branches in a ten metre radius. Fortunately we’d splurged on a bottle of Cola to mix with our Thai rum and the remnants of a giant ice block we’d got sawn off from a truly epic ice block in the last village. This helped and soon both of us were sound asleep.
In fact so sound asleep, that by the time we finally got up, breakfasted and got ready, it was approaching noon – the sun was absolutely beating down to a point where even cowering in the shade of a makeshift parasol (our tent footprint) failed to provide relief from the sweaty heat. This is when we convened and decided to go native – to go against all intuition and wear trouser legs, hats and long sleeves. In order to pull this off we had to spend some time and finally put that fabric glue we’d brought with us to use – we cut up our Snoods and I used mine to make a pair of sleeves (my white ones had gone missing) while Dave used his to make fingerless gloves and a flap for his helmet to shade his neck from the sun. At a shop just down the road I was able to procure the Cambodian apparel masterpiece – the wide-brimmed baseball cap with swathes of fabric that shield everything between your eyes and torso from the sun at every conceivable angle.
And so we set out into the hottest part of the day. The road wove solitarily through forest and the occassional village, climbing slowly into the southern reaches of the Cardamom mountains. This area is another one of Cambodia’s swathes of land designated as national park. We stopped at a village that had put together a makeshift tourist information centre, where the schoolchildren had painstakingly drawn a map of the vicinity detailing where the cashew trees grew and where one could take their rented bicycle for a ride. In fact we ran into an Eastern European couple who were pottering about on their rented bikes, extatic about the ecotourism adventure they were having here.
There was a lot of posters lining the road showing a poacher behind bars. We hoped to see or at least hear elephants but all we heard (Dave saw them too) was some monkeys in the treetops just as it was getting dark. We rolled into the next village and sat down for dinner in an eatery by the road. The woman serving us inquired whether we were sleeping here and when we nodded frantically, she called over a man from next door who was apparently responsible for running a community tourism scheme that included but was not limited to a community homestay scheme. It was still in its pilot stages but they’d already had each of their ten host households involved at least once or twice. Part of the proceeds go towards the community’s efforts to raise awareness and curb poaching through positive action. It was all very noble and I would really encourage anyone needing a holiday to look into Cambodia’s budding community-driven eco tourism. It’s cheap, its pristine, there’s a lot to do and a lot to see and a real opportunity to learn how these people live. If you don’t like living in someone else’s house, there’s a few hotels in the area that also specialize in eco tourism and adventure tourism.
We told him about the monkeys we’d seen and he told us there was a group of chimps recently released from the zoo that had a habit of hanging around the roadside and begging for scraps much the same way they used to at the zoo. Things must’ve been getting tough though because they’d recently got so desperate as to jump a French cycle tourist and made him tumble. Doubt they got any food out of that.
We stayed in a single-storey concrete house with two bedrooms, a bathroom with a big tank of water and a plastic ladle, a big pantry of a kitchen where all the cooking was done outside on a coal/wood-fired stove. Our hosts spoke no English, so me and Dave spent the evening washing our clothes in a giant aluminium bowl out in their garden by a group of water barrels, connected by a hose to a pump atop a well. By morning of course nothing had dried, in fact our laundry seemed even more damp than when we hung it up. We bungeed the wet clothes onto the top of our baggage and set off towards the tallest mountain we were going to climb in the Cardamoms.
On the way up we ran into a cycle touring couple from America. They were dressed in lycras and were shocked to see us clothed from head to toe. We told them that we really felt cooler cycling fully clothed as it stopped the scorching sun from hitting our skin while the breeze generated by ourselves cycling seemed enough to provide some evaporative cooling too. I don’t think they believed us. Even though they were sweaty on a downhill while we weren’t on an uphill. Well it is a rather counterintuitive notion to be fair.
Eventually we got to the top of the mountain, rolled down the other side, back up the next hill and down again, then several more times in diminishing magnitude until we were on a straight and narrow to Koh Kong, the frontier town to Thailand. The sun was setting as we got into town and we quickly abandoned any hope of getting into Thailand today. Instead, we stocked up with provisions from a supermarket (first since Sihanoukville) that carried quite a lot of imported goods and had price tags in Baht as well as Rial. In the supermarket Dave got chatting to a tourist who recommended a hotel, which is where we headed next. It was indescript but inexpensive, and we were able to roll our bikes in and park them in the superwide corridor just opposite our room, saving us the usual hand-hauling of panniers up and down stairs.
Sometime around this time was Chinese New Year, which expressed itself in loud fireworks popping and big gatherings in buddhist temples, as well as a mass migration of Cambodians into Thailand for holidays, which we discovered the next morning as we tried to cross the border into Thailand. Even though the border consisted of two booths and a few links of movable fence on the road, it took us in the region of two hours to get through. The people working in the booths had clearly decided to give themselves a day off despite being in the workplace and four out of five officials on the Thai side could be seen using Facebook, playing computer games or chatting with eachother as the fifth official leisurely processed the ever-expanding queue of incoming tourists.
Eventually we emerged on the other side, right into a busy shop-lined street that appeared to be filling with stalls for a festive street market. Then we realized that the traffic in Thailand was on the other side – on the left as opposed to Cambodian right-side traffic. Diligently we proceeded to tackle Thai roads. They were remarkable in that the freshly laid asphalt made no effort to level itself horizontally, instead following every hill curve up and down like a crazy rollercoaster. And there were a lot of hills. We stopped for lunch in a fancy restaurant that had an italian coffee machine that the staff didn’t know how to use but were otherwise lovely. While we lunched there was a torrential downpour.
In the afternoon the weather was bipolar, pouring down one minute and dry the next and then pouring down again. As it was getting dark we found ourselves hiding in a bus shelter from the heavy rain. The chief mode of public transport in that area seemed to be pickup trucks with seating and railing welded into the back. For a while we tried to flag one down and charter it to deliver ourselves and our bikes to the next town down the road – Mueang Trat, but that didn’t work out so we had to wait till the rain was tolerable and just cycle it ourselves. By the time we got there, it was pretty dark and pretty dry. We found a large assortment of attractive-looking backpacker-oriented hostels here, all booked up to the eyeballs. Eventually we found a hostel that was very new and consisted of three rooms and the family accommodation upstairs with a cafe/bar, bathrooms and kitchen downstairs, all set into a beautifully crafted light-as-a-feather timber house with an internal courtyard.
We met the occupants of both the other two rooms that night – the British gap-year girl teaching English we talked to before we went out for food, and the male half of the French couple we met after, when he was forced to get out of bed, come downstairs and unlock the door for us – we had overstayed the 11 o’clock curfew by 10 minutes and spent another twenty knocking and trying to break in.
In the morning despite our best intentions, we didn’t start cycling towards Bangkok or even do anything of touristic merit. We went to the market (which was an absolute marvel of health and safety – no flies or puddles of goop underfoot), had some food, bought some treats, begged a bagful of ice shavings from a corner shop which consisted of three men in rubber boots and gloves who were feeding giant blocks of ice into a woodchipper and shovelling the resulting ice shavings into black bags. By the time we’d got back to our room, set up the stove, boiled some water and dripped it through our Vietnamese coffee, there was just about enough ice left to make our coffees lukewarm instead of hot. It was still delicious though.
The next day we were up and on the road so early that we were 70km down the road in Mueang Chanthaburi before lunch. We stopped for pre-lunch coffee in an expensive roadside cafe that served proper Italian coffee and free internet. There was an awful lot of overengineered exposed timber in the garden furniture and a shoe rack full of slippers next to the door to the main cafe and another one outside the toilets, which as a result were the most pristine public toilets EVER. Dave was sorting out his work-related paperwork for which, it turned out, he needed a printer and a scanner so we headed into town and found an internet cafe. Eventually we turned our sights to lunch and lo and behold Carrefour was at hand, so we parked our bikes with all our stuff but the backpack, in the supervised parking lot. It was even more convenient than I’d expected as there was a food court in the same building so we ate first, then went shopping.
At the till we discovered that we no longer had a wallet. It had vanished from Dave’s backpack (zipper ajar) in between the foodcourt and the checkout counter. It wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences but it could certainly have been worse. There was a great deal of cash in the wallet and all of Dave’s cards, but fortunately I had some emergency cash and my own cards tucked away, so a few frantic phonecalls and a visit to the police station later, we had the documentation necessary for our insurance company and access to money to fund what little remained of our trip. By the time this whole ordeal was over it was late evening and we needed rest. Unfortunately Chanthaburi isn’t quite there yet as a tourist destination (even though they have a charming waterfront old town with signs in English and everything) and appeared to only have two hotels – one that was way too expensive and one that was way too crap, even for us (it came recommended by Lonely Planet nevertheless). As we were circling the city centre trying to chance upon a miraculous middle ground, we were approached by a young French couple who turned out to be cycle tourists on a lengthy escapade from France to Austaralia. They walked us to their hotel which was a great deal, helped us with our stuff and took us out to a stylish cafe to use the internet.
The next day we cycled together. It was only 60km to Klaeng, where we parted ways, but I managed to fill the day with coffee breaks and toilet breaks so that by the time we arrived in Klaeng it was concievable to stop for the day and camp together, which I love. We were stood considering the options when an old lady approached Dave and told him that we should go sleep in the Buddhist temple just over yonder. And so we went just over yonder, which turned out to be a spatious monastery complex adjacent to a school in typical Buddhist manner (well I don’t really know but we’d certainly seen quite a few schools attached to Buddhist temples). There were very few people out and about but we eventually found two monks and asked them if we could camp somewhere in the temple grounds (we had our eye on a thin grove just outside the temple’s fence).
Unexpectedly, he said no. Ok, so I guess it was meant to happen at some point, etc. As we wheeled around and made to leave, he equally unexpectedly changed his mind and beckoned us back. He showed us to a sheltered area – apart from not having walls it was like a fully habitable guest space – there were toilets attached, a shower room and sinks, plugs, lights and even fans overhead as well as a few tables. Me and Dave set up the inner of our tent for protection from the insects on the floor while the French couple hung up a mosquito net above a table and slept on the table.
In the morning we popped to the shops and bought some eggs to fry, all the while wondering if Buddhism objects to the eating of unfertilized eggs. By the time we’d finished breakfast, the monks were out and about. At some point one of them had informed us that a monk had died in the night, but we weren’t quite sure what to do with that information.
Then the monk who had allowed us to stay came over and decked our wrists with an incredibly awesome woven bracelet (with a bullet shell woven into it) each (colourful for the girls and black for the boys), with the words “from Buddha”. Then they came and beckoned the boys away, and just as we sat there letting our imaginations run riot with the possibilities, they returned carrying a big plastic bowl full of food. Also at some stage lots of water bottles had appeared. We thanked them profusely, took some of the food (some of the bestest and most unusual food on the whole trip!) and returned the rest, packed up and got going, all the while trying as best as possible to verbalize the extent of our gratitude.
Me and Dave cycled over 120km that day, failing to find accomodation in Mueang Chonburi as intended but settling instead for a last night of camping within sight of the motorway that extended on two storeys towards Bangkok. From there it was only about 30km to the airport (in the vicinity of which we’d intended to find accommodation) and about 60km to central Bangkok (where we ended up staying in a humongous and very formal hotel but at an absolute bargain from an online booking website). The complex system of roads, with highways both on ground level and lifted above ground, was not the easiest to navigate but by late afternoon we were locking up our bikes in our hotel’s parking lot and getting ferried by golf buggy, a few personnel and a luggage trolley, towards our room on the xteenth floor.
We stayed in Bangkok for two or three days, doing very little in terms of sightseeing, short of visiting the house of Jim Thompson, an American silk merchant trained as an architect, who collected and collaged a large number of vernacular Thai houses from across the country to form a generous enclave where he and all his house staff lived, until he mysteriously disappeared in the Malaysian jungle. We wandered and cycled around the city, ate in its foodcourts, checked out its malls and the Chinatown Sunday market, and thought about the end of our trip.
On Tuesday the 31st of January we cycled to the airport, checked in our bicycles and flew to Singapore, ending a six month journey of discovery, endurance and chance, to begin a brand new chapter in our lives. Thank you for your support and we hope you’ve enjoyed our story!
Please check back for updates to some of the feature content (facewatch etc. plus an exciting video coming by the end of next week, sunday the 22nd of april, hopefully sooner).