Bangkok to Saigon

All the luggage arrived safely and the parents of Lucy's friend Pam waited for us at the airport. They had to wait while we cleared some issues and then we went home to their place. Pam's dad Visit was really helpful with al the luggage. We were accommodated in two bedrooms and Mama served us some nice asian food. We went to bed early.

         

Next day we went with them to visit Pam's sister at her work. She is doing marketing for health products. We had lunch at a small restaurant next door that she owns and manages too. Pim was happy being in Bangkok.

 

We went upstairs in the building into a shoppingmall and Nina became really happy to play at the indoor playground there. Lucy went looking for babyfood for Pim to have on the bike ride. In the afternoon I continued by bus into town to find a couple of guidebooks and came back rather late to the flat. Meanwhile Lucy had been looking after Nina and Pim and started to fit luggage into the bicycle panniers.

 

We stayed two days and three nights with Visit and Mama. Pim enjoyed crawling around, I assembled and adjusted the bikes and trailer. Lucy and me packed what we needed to take with us in the panniers and left the rest in a cardboardbox with Visit&Mama, to pick up in January again. Last thing I did was to take Nina to the neighbourhood swimmingpool in the morning. It was nice to have a relaxing swim.

 

We had a good, comfortable time with Visit&Mama. They were really helpful and nice to us. Now everything was prepared, we were ready to go. With Pim in the trailer and Nina in the seat we made our way some 15 km to a small railway station, were the train towards Cambodia stops. We had to make a detour because of knee deep water but still arrived as planned at the station, only to be told that we could not bring the bikes on the afternoon train. We had to wait for the morning train following day. What an anticlimax! A guy at the railway station was really helpful to us. He took us and all the gear on his pickup and dropped us at a hotel near the next station. We stayed overnight and went on the morning train to Prashemtakem. A nice train ride in the luggage wagon with excellent views of the countryside.

 

At Prashemtakem we connected the trailer again and put all the panniers back on. This is it, now our adventure will start! We rode 31 km on highway 33 to Kabin buri. Arrived early afternoon and checked in at a very nice hotel. The hotel personnel were friendly and came with cold drinks for us, while we rested outside the lobby.

 

The Kantary hotel did not lack any comforts. We first had a bath in the bathroom and then went downstairs to the restaurant to eat. Then we had another bath in the swimmingpool with a jaccuzzi attached. I finished the evening by taking a sauna. We all slept very well during the night.

 

Continued next day 41 km to Sa Kaeo and the River resort. They had fishes in a small pool outside that cought Nina's interest. We ate and played domino for a while. Took a rest and swam in the outdoor swimming pool after dark.

         

The room was really nice with a big comfy bed. We took the bikes inside the room overnight just to be safe. Had a big nice breakfast in the morning and got ready for the next leg. 51 km to Arayaprathet on highway 33. Now we started to get a routine to the riding and could go longer distances between stops. Pim started understand the rules of bicycle travelling. Sleeping in the trailer-get up and play-sleeping in the trailer-get up and eat-sleeping in the trailer, etc. It works well for all of us.

 

In Arayaprathet, near the Cambodian border, we found a hotel and took a rest day. Went with a tok-tok to a supermarket to stock up on baby food and nappies before crossing the border. Had an excellent dinner at a nearby restaurant. I made some adjustments to Pim's sitting position in the trailer.

 

We were ready for Cambodia. Went early in the morning to the border some 8 km away and went through the procedures with paperwork for all four of us. Started riding down the road when the rain came. Went quickly under a roof and waited there for an hour while heavy rain poured down. It stopped and the sun came through and dried the road instantly. During the afternoon we enjoyed the good condition of highway 6 and the beautiful landscape around. We stopped sometimes to take a rest. To me it is always interesting to see how they load their vehicles in southeast Asia. This one had all the cargo behind the vehicle instead of on it.

 

We reached Sisophon late afternoon after 60 km riding and stayed overnight at a guesthouse with aircondition and a big garage for the bikes and trailer. Next day we made 70 km to Battambang on highway 5. It was a nice day for riding, a bit cloudy, no rain at all the whole day and only sporadic traffic. Made a few stops along the way. There were plenty of road stalls offering cold drinks. We arrived already at 3pm and installed ourselves in a big modern room in central Battambang.

 

Following day we went in a tuk-tuk the outskirts of Battambang to go on the Bamboo-train. I have wanted to try this one for many years so I was a bit excited about it.

 

We boarded one of the platforms and sat down. The driver started the engine and off we went. A rather bumby ride in quite high speed with a noisy engine behind. It is actually the normal railway between Battambang and Phnom Penh being used for this. Previously these bambu-trains shared the tracks with the real trains, but operations came to a halt some 4-5 years ago. I went by passenger train here in 1999. It was a very slow and bumby journey. Now the rails are being rehabilitated and passengers services will commence again, probably next year romours say.

 

The clever part of the bamboo-trains is that when they meet on a single track, one of them can be lifted to the side to let to other one pass. This is also what they did when the big trains came puffing down the rail. During the 80's there were hundreds of these 'norry's' in use all over the network. We went half an hour down the track, had a look around a village and came back. A fun experience for both children and adults.

 

I think the idea of bamboo-train should be experted to DR Congo. They are now in a similar situation to Cambodia in the 80's. Very bad road network and normal rail operations has almost come to a halt. I went to Battambang railway station and had a look. I bought my ticket here in 1999 but now it was all closed and shut with weed growing over the tracks.

 

Next day we went by river boat to Siam reap. We put the bikes and trailer on the roof and sat below in the shade. It was a nice morning and there were several other tourists using the same boat. At first the river was open and wide......

 

.....then it turned rather narrow. We had to take the curtains down not to get branches in the face. We came out of the forest and then what happened. Where did the river go? It was green all over. The captain put the engine on full speed and pushed the boat through that green stuff blocking the way. Sometimes he had to reverse, gain speed forward and push through again. It said express boat on the ticket but it was well into the afternoon before we arrived at the ferry landing at Siam reap.

         

We went the 15 km into town by bike, checked in at a hotel with swimming pool and relaxed the rest of the day. We got a big triple bedroom. After a slow morning and breakfast next day we went to look at the ruins. On the way there we stopped to look at some monkeys next to the road.

 

Then we went to have a look at Angkor Wat, the famous old religious site in Cambodia. Lucy have had a wish to visit Angkor Wat for many years and now finally we were there. One of the important stops on our Asian endeavour accomplished.

 

We walked around the site for a while, amazed by the size of it all. Big! It was a rather hot day and the sun was strong. We walked slowly and took it easy. Nina struggled to climb up the stairs, as did we. A number of japanese tour groups came through with guides explaining things to them.

                  

We then continued to Angkor Thom, riding through the southern gate, to have a look at the Bayon temple. Nina and Pim fell asleep so we just rode around in the shadow waiting for them to wake up again. It was impressive with the size of it all. We exited Angkor Thom through the eastern gate and went to another temple.

 

Just as we arrived it started raining so we took cover under a roof. Sat there waiting half an hour and then went inside. Nature has started to regain its territory again. Big trees growing on the temple walls. Interesting to see in real life. By that time we had had enough of temples for one day and headed towards Siem reap again. Stopped at a bakery for cake and coffee and then arrived back at the hotel again after 35 km bike riding.

                 

Now we found out that the speedboat service across the lake and river to Phnom Penh has been suspended. We have to change our plans. Instead of riding from Phnom Pehn to Sihanoukville at the south coast, we will ride from here straight towards Vietnam. But how to arrange the Vietnam visa then? We took a rest day and I was surfing the web to make a plan for coming days. Lucy went shopping some food and nappies and I went with Nina to the swimming pool. We really enjoy the food at this hotel. Next day we took off early in the morning. It was 65 km to Kompong Kdei on a completely flat highway 6. Nina fell asleep and let go of her baloon but Lucy came behind and caught it and tied it to her bike.

 

Nina and Pim likes sleeping while we ride. There are many road stands offering cold drinks along the way. We ride about one hour and then stop to rest and then continue another hour. It works well. At this place they had fresh coconut to drink.

 

We stayed overnight at a simple guesthouse in Kompong Kdei with a restaurant attached and continued the next morning. We arrived Stoung already by 10am and had breakfast. Here we had to decide weather to stay or continue all the way to Kompong Thom. It was a nice day and we felt strong so we decided to continue. After one kilometre the rain came. We stopped under a roof and waited. An hour later we continued in high speed and managed to come a long distance before Pim woke up. We took a rest and a lot of children came to look at us.

 

Late afternoon we arrived Kompong Thom and stopped at the playground. The meter showed 90km today. Checked in at a nearby, rather classy, hotel, had showers and went downstairs for nice food in the restaurant. Slept well after a long day in the sun. Next day we slept in and had a late breakfast. It was past lunchtime when we continued towards a resort I had read about.

 

We crossed the river at Kompong Thma and continued to Bronze lake resort, only to be told they did not have electricity so not possible to stay overnight. They were open for daytime use only. We had to back track 4,5 km to Kompong Thma and checked in at a good guest house with a big triple bedroom. Decided to take a rest day there and handed in laundry for them to deal with in the morning. Distance today: 49 km.

 

In the afternoon I took Nina with me to the resort. A pity it was not functioning because there were a lot for children to do. Bumper boats, swimming pool, water slides, etc, etc. The bungalows were scattered all around the lake.

 

We got the laundry back in the evening and prepared the panniers for an early start. We stocked up on water and food took road 71 towards Kompong Cham. After an hours ride we stopped to have breakfast. Sporadic traffic passed on the road but this is definately more countryside than Highway 6. Some villagers came by with a 'Kosovo-Harley' full of wood. Those kind of vehicles were also used in Kosovo when I was working there, but here in Campodia they are better at loading them to their full capacity and beyond.  

 

We continued with a slight tailwind in high speed through farmland on both sides. Cambodia has been all flat so far but here we actually saw a small hill at a distance. We stopped for lunch when Pim woke up. 

 

Then we joined Highway 7 for the last part of the journey and arrived at Kompong Cham by mid-afternoon. 80 km riding in good speed today. Checked in at a hotel and had showers. Nina laid herself on the bed playing with crayons. 

 

From our room we had a terrific view of the Mekong river and enjoyed the food at the nearby restaurant. It was friday afternoon when we arrived and we needed to sort out visa for Vietnam before we could continue our ride. 

  

The solution was for all of us to have a rest day on saturday and then on sunday morning I took the bus on my own to Phnom Penh and changed for a second bus to Sihounukville. Arrived in the evening and located the Vietnamese consulate, known for making Visas as you wait. I stayed overnight at a gousthouse across the street and went to the consulate when they opened monday morning. I filled in all the forms, handed over passports, photos, and the fee. 20 minutes later I had the passports processed in return. Went back to the bus terminal and bought a ticket for next bus to Phnom Pehn. Went across the street and ordered breakfast for take away. The chef was slow however, so when I finally recieved the bag I raced across the street and jumped in through the door just as the bus started rolling. In Phnom Pehn I had 20 minutes to change for the last bus to Kompong Cham and arrived back after sunset. Mission completed! Now we were all clear for Vietnam.

Early morning we crossed the Mekong river on a big bridge and continued our journey east. The first couple of hours there were some heavy traffic passing by. What I have noticed on transport in Cambodia is that most heavy transport is carried out using five -axle vehicles of Hino, Nissan, or Mitsubishi. They seem to prefer this setup instead of using truck and trailer. They look pretty massive at 14-15 meters length, double axles in front and triple axles in the back.

 

After an intersection we had the road almost to ourselves. It was a nice day for riding, a bit cloudy but still a clear view. We stopped at a guesthouse in Kreak for food and sleep after 62 km riding. Nina found a friend there and played all evening. They climbed a pile of sand up and down for a couple of hours. I found them later sitting in one bowl of water each on the ground, with the girl's mother cleaning them and their clothes with soap. They had fun! In the morning we continued to Vietnam border, used our last Rial for breakfast and went through the customs procedures.

 

It was a relief to start riding on the other side. Roads of a completely different standard and better cafe's to stop at. We went to Tay Ninh and after some search found a good hotel to stay at. Triple bedroom, modern and nice. Distance: 62 km.

 

I have found a better way to carry my panniers in the front. Tried to connect them at the lower level and it improved stability dramatically. So the panniers will be hanging there from now on. I also put longer flaps on Lucy's bike to extend the mudguards. The front one is mainly to limit the dirt coming on her feet when the road is wet.

 

Tay Ninh is known for the big Caodai temple. Caodaism is a funny religion unique to southern Vietnam were they have mixed a little of many different faiths to come up with something new. It was invented in the 1920's and has grown to a strong and important organisation in these neighbourhoods. We went to have a look at their most important temple.

 

Since we were in a new country we had some issues to sort out. We had good help from Jacky and his friends at a local restaurant where we went for breakfast. He advised us on how to get a sim-card with 3G for Vietnam and where to go to stock up on cash, nappies, and babyfood. At the supermarket Nina found a childrens corner to play at for a while. Came back to the hotel after 15 km riding without luggage.

Following day we headed for Cu Chi town, using the small backroads. With GPS in the smartphone it went fine. It was a really nice day and we often had shade from the trees along the road. Quiet and nice going through small villages. Bike riding as good as it gets in southeast Asia! Stopped for lunch at a place where Nina found a friend to play with. We stayed there a long time, enjoyed food, drinks and a rest. 

 

Continued through the beautiful landscape with rice fields all around. At one place we spotted a long aquaduct(?) for transporting water long distances. Impressive! After 62 km riding we arrived at Cu Chi town and found a good hotel to stay at. I went to get food for take away and we ate in the room. I asked several locals for directions for the Cu Chi tunnels that we planned to visit next day. All of them know about Ben Douc but none of them knew about Ben Dinh, even though it should be nearby. Strange?I googled the internet at lenght but could not find any proper directions there either.

 

We managed to find it in the morning, some 15 km away, by asking people in the nearby villages. Plenty of tourist buses coming there to drop off people from all over the world. How come the locals in Cu Chi do not know about it? We had breakfast and went in. Viet Cong soldiers sat there to greet us. The whole set up was really nice made with exhibitions of houses, tunnels, clothes, weapons, traps and other equipment the Viet Cong used to fight first the French and then the Americans. 

        

There was a tunnel opening to try out. I went down first while Nina was watching. The tunnel network stetched across a vast area in several levels and was used from the 1950's to 1975 when the americans left. Thousands of people lived theirs lives down there. Children were born and raised in the tunnels. Soldiers and civilians were fed and equipped down there. The americans built their main military base right on top of the tunnel network. The Viet Cong took advantage by doing surprise attacks at night, right inside the base, and then disapeared quickly again

           

There were also tunnels arranged for tourists to try out, in bigger size than the original ones. Nina enjoyed a lot to run and climb through the narrow tunnels with her dad struggling behind. We finished the visit with an icecream and then headed for Saigon.

                

We stopped for food at a restaurant just before crossing Highway 1 and had a rest. Checked the map properly and then took a deep breath before making our way through the Saigon traffic all the way to a hotel next to the railway station. We shared the roads with thousands and thousands of motorbikes. Truly amazing but rather uncomfortable with such heavy traffic. We had take away food in the hotel room and fell asleep. We rode altogether 59 km during the day.

 

This is the route we took from Bangkok to Saigon. Bike riding was some 780 km.

 

Red = By bicycle      Black = By train      Blue = By boat