Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nick's perspective - leaving Phnom Penh, going to Siem Reap

Here's the video of the Cambodian traffic.

Danny's in orange.
Charlie's in the white helmet (highlighter jacket).

(The first sentence is a link, click on it and it will take you to the video)

Day 7: In Battambang

I think I spelled this city correctly. Our guide book got shaken off my bike last night, along with our one good map, so we're kind of traveling blind right now.

This place is a French colonial city that is pretty big, but not really touristy at all, which is great. This city seems to be on the cutting edge of Cambodia, lots of "fasion"stores and generally very little cheaped goods. It really has a different feel to it. There also seems to be a ton of pharmacies, not sure why. We got here around 11 am and immediately checked into a Guest House and settled down for a low key day. Hence why we have so many posts today.

For tonight, we're headed to get another massage, then to dinner. Then probably going to bed early.

It appears that we have a big ride tomorrow.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 6: Where are we?

Caution: long post, long day

Day 6 started with so much promise. We were riding high after our day at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom (Day 5) and had an off-the-beaten-path adventure planned, courtesy of Danny's Motorcycle Cambodia book. Look how happy we are before we start!

Charlie, Nick, lady from Two Dragons guesthouse, Danny

We sped off from Siem Reap around 8:30 and hit our first single track dirt road about 45 minutes later. I was leading the charge early on when dirt turned to sand faster than I could react. Crash 1. No problem. It's sand. No blood, no foul. Lesson learned. 60 seconds later. Crash 2. Still no problem. It's sand. But I'm starting to feel like an idiot. And I busted my helmet face guard. Luckily Charlie bit it a couple minutes later, so I started to feel better about myself. Not to long after that we encountered our first major obstacle: a creek. After some reconnaissance, we decided that there was only one way across - straight through. With our shoes off and pants rolled up we walked each bike across. The water level was just below the engine. Carry on. Another 1k later, we ran into a family of 4 walking in the opposite direction. Despite the fact that we know 3 Khmer words and they knew 0 English words, they were able to explain to us that an impassable creek crossing lay ahead. So we turned around, followed them and recrossed the previous creek. Net creek crossings: 0. After we got a further explanation about how to get around the creek, we parted ways with the family. The little girl was so cute that I had to find a gift to give her. I gave her a bell that I attached to my bike on day 1. My aunt gave me the bell as a good luck charm. She loved it. I'm not sure if it made her or me happier.

Back to the adventure. We got off the single track trail and back onto a "main" road. There was no relief from the sun or the dust and we were already approaching midday. So we decided to alter our adventure. We headed back out to highway 6 towards Battambang. We stopped for lunch near the intersection of highway 6 and route 68. The owner of the restaurant informed us that is was a 50k trek north to route 56 and then a 50k trek W/SW to Sisophan. By this time it was 2:30. We figured this was a doable before sunset. But we hadn't applied the Cambodian actuarial adjustment factor of 1.7 to any estimate of time or distance. 85k of dusty, bumpy road later, we reached the intersection of route 66. It was an amazing ride through the Cambodian countryside, so we weren't too upset about the extra distance. Danny got some pretty good footage on the helmet cam and we have a bunch of pics of the rice fields.
It was approaching 5:00 when took a little gasoline/Fanta break break. We had a sense that we were in for more than 50k again.

About an 45 minutes down the road we were forced to pull over to watch the sunset. Even though we were a little nervous about being far from a major town in a foreign country at dark, we couldn't help but be grateful for the amazing view.

Charlie at sunset. Romantic, isn't it ladies?



Cambodian sunset

Another 45 minutes. Still no sign of Sisophan. But we did find a sign in Khmer that probably told us where to go.

Where is FreeTranslation.com when you need it?

As we were pondering our next step, a boy on a scooter pointed us in the right direction. So we forged onward. More dusty, bumpy, dirt/gravel roads. We pulled over around 7:00 for a little breather and to take in the view. I don't think I've even seen the stars brighter and clearer than I saw them last night. It may have been hallucination because I was completely exhausted and dehydrated after 11 hours of riding. The same boy as before passed us by again and informed us that we had less than an hour to go. By now, we understood that in Cambodian time, this meant at least 90 minutes. We continued on. Dusty. Bumpy. Dark. Bumpy. We pulled over again around 8:30 when we passed a roadside stand. The man spoke no English, but wrote 2kk on a piece of paper. He turned out to be correct. We rolled into Sisophan shortly after 8:30 and stopped at the first guesthouse we found.

Relief overcame exhaustion initially. We got a room and unloaded the bikes. A more careful look around our room and the guesthouse revealed that this guesthouse was the creepiest and most bug infested place we've ever seen. But we had no choice at this point. We couldn't find another guesthouse and didn't have the energy to go any further. So Danny sprayed Deet around his entire mattress, I quarantined my bed with upside down duct tape to trap any would-be insect attackers, and Charlie slept in his mosquito net.

Stats on the day:
250k+
4 wipeouts
3 creek crossings
1 broken facemask
1 flat tire
-1 bell
-1 JT t-shirt
3 very tired actuaries

Day 6 in Pictures

Below are my pictures from Day 6. All and all a pretty epic day.

Filling up

Starting the day with a little Johnnie Walker in the gas tank (bottle was used to store gas).


Success, then Failure

We made it through our first water crossing without damaging the bikes, but had to turn around a few minutes later. See Nick's post.


The Open Road

Danny and Nick exiting a dust cloud kicked up by a passing car.



Filling up again

It's about 4:30pm, we're in Samraong and have a long way to Sisophon.


Bike and Rider

Nick: After traveling on dirt roads, in blistering heat, for about 5 hours with no face mask. We had 7 hours to go.


Myself


Danny


Tractor Trailer and Farmer

The vehicle pictured below is a common sight. Hopefully I can convince a local to let me try and operate one. The controls are significantly different from any vehicle I have seen.


Action Shots

Action shots of Danny and Nick, courtesy of me.



Nick tearing it up.


Rice Paddies

Danny and Nick...


My bike...


Looking East...


3rd Water Crossing

We had to make our 3rd water crossing of the day. Sun is setting in the background.


On the left a tractor got stuck. Maybe I could have freed it if they let me take the controls.


Danny went first, with Nick's assistance.


Success

But, it's getting dark. (In the photo Nick is about to cross the washout. He had no problem.) We had 3 more hours of travel on somewhat treacherous dirt roads, in the dark.


The Roach Den

After traveling in the dark for 3 hours, we reached our accommodations for the night: The Roach Den. (Hopefully I don't get sued for slander.) Thank god I brought a mosquito net. Nick showed off his duck tape around the foot of the bed trick from his slum tenant days.


Ravaged

This is what you look like after riding a motorcycle through NW Cambodia for 12+ hours.

Day 5: Angkor Wat Temples

Wow, what an amazing place.  We rented a tuk tuk and he tuk tuked us around for the day from temple to temple.  Its really hard to describe what Angkor Wat is like.  Literally a series of temples and other ancient ruins in various conditions. 

I'm not sure where I read about the tranquility of this place because it wasn't that way at all.  With all the tourism, naturally, there are many locals trying to sell cheap goods.  With every temple we saw, we had 50 young girls asking us to buy guidebooks, postcards, etc.  Most were pretty friendly and generally were not very pushy, but it was a little much.

Coincidentally, I think we all thought that Ta Keo and .........(I can't think of the name) were the best.  These two also happened to be the two that we could climb all over the most.  I'm guessing that had something to do with it.  Here is are a couple pics of the two temples:



We also got a massage later that night, hit the old town of Siam Reap, ate at a food stand where the electricy kept going off.  This caused me to unexpectanly eat a hot pepper that was hotter than hot.  We also walked to the night market.  On the way, we were all solicited to see if we'd like to participate in some lewd acts.  I think the best was when Charlie was asked if he'd like to get with a girly boy.  I think this made Charlie blush a bit...

On a side note, one crazy and definitely expected thing about this place is the women here are going crazy over Nick.  They all comment on how he has a great nose and some even chase after him!  I was fortunate to capture this at Angkor Wat.

Angkorian Obstacle

As Nick described in his post, we rode on an old Angkorian Highway for a while, here is one of our obstacles:
video
And we hit a few difficult areas:

Day 5 in Pictures

Below are a few of the Day 5 photo's from my camera, in reverse chronological order.


Leaving Angkor Wat



Courtyard of Angkor Wat



Nick and Danny inside Angkor Wat

I managed to climb up to them shortly after snapping the photo. Lots of things to climb...



Entering Angkor Wat



Me in Ta Prohm



Danny looking stylish in Ta Keo

Ta Keo was my favorite temple. Great views of the surrounding area and level after level of ruins that were easy to climb on.


Me climbing around Ta Keo



Danny and Nick climbing around Ta Keo



Nick draws a crowd

The shade outside of the "Terrace of the Elephants" was monopolized by merchants, who couldn't get enough of Nick.




The three of us in front of the Terrace of the Elephants



Bayon Temple



North Gate of Angkor Thom



Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day 5 - Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, etc.

I'm paying 10 cents to use this computer for 15 minutes, so I need to be quick.  We're in Siam Reap and headed to the temples today.  I'm super excited to experience these ancient monuments and historical sites.  Especially interested in experiencing the tranquility the our guidebooks keep talking about.  We're renting a tuk tuk for the day ($15 w/ driver).  We only have one day to check out the sites around here, which is not nearly enough time, so we'll hopefully get as much in as possible.

After the temples, I'm hoping to get in one of these massages that all Westerners dream about.  (Keep the comments to yourself Ken)  Don't worry, Í'm going to one of the places in the guidebooks, so there definitely will not be any funny business.  Just a good massage to get rid of some of the knots that developed on our ride last night.  If time allows it, I'll also try to check out this town a bit.

We're staying at a great guesthouse.  People are really friendly.  I've developed a strong appreciation for Angkor Beer.  Cambodia is an amazing place.

Road to Siem Reap




Today we rode our bikes from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, about 320km. It took all day to make the journey -- we left at about 10:00am and got to our guest house after 6:00pm. Maybe it was just me, but everyone seemed pretty exhausted and ready to get off the bikes.

Getting out of Phnom Penh was hectic. A slow moving swarm of trucks, cars, and motorcycles. As we left the city the motorized traffic let up, but stray dogs, cows, water buffalo, donkeys, chickens, and people took it's place. Most of the cows we saw were tied to a tree next to the road. The water buffalo were typically working -- pulling a cart or dragging a plow. A large portion of the farm animals were just roaming around, unattended and unpredictable.

We each had a close call today: Danny found himself traveling on the wrong side of the road just outside of Phnom Penh, starring down a tuk tuk, a car, and a few motorcycles. Nick skidded out on some gravel next to a construction site, and almost wiped out. I came within inches of hitting a stray dog.

We all made it safe and sound, and I think tonight will be an early one. Traveling in the heat and sun zaps the energy out of you, not to mention navigating through an asteroid field for 8 hours.

I've included a few pictures:
1) The first place we stopped to take breather and get some gas. Gas is sold by the liter at just about every roadside shop (no pumps - you literally take as many 1 liter glass bottles as you need).
2) Getting gas and studying our guidebooks in Kampong Thum.
3) Me and my bike on a bridge between Kampong Thum and Siem Reap.

I also managed to post a video of the area outside of Phnom Penh. Nick's driving, Danny's in orange, and I am nowhere to be seen.

video

Friday, November 26, 2010

First ride in Phnom Phen!


video

Danny's perspective on our first ride in Phnom Penh! Charlie's in the white helmet and Nick's got the black helmet. Enjoy!

Days 1,2,3 - Long flight, Phnom Phen, amazing hosts, thrill ride

So much to say, with so little time to say it.  First off, hello (herro), we're all safe and doing well.   So to summarize some highlights so far:

  • Asiana airlines contemplated not sending us out of Seattle b/c we didn't have a return flight home.
  • Nicks friend's family gave us the most incredible first day of a trip ever.  
  • Charlie managed to go to the restroom in the women's room and ask for directions at a brothel, all on the same day.
  • Our one checked bag of luggage did not arrive in Phnom Phen.
  • Cambodian people are incredibly nice.
  • Motorcycle ride through Phnom Phen during rush our traffic gave all of us a thrill of a lifetime.  Driving here is definitely different. (will try to post a video)
  • I ate, frogs legs, fried duck tongue, and snail.  All in the same meal. (going to try to eat fried tarantulas today.)
  • Rental place instructed us to not stop for the Police if they try to stop us and to flee the scene of any accident, no matter what happened.  (They target westerners and blame them for any accidents, no matter what happened..  We all feel very comfortable on the bikes.)
  • It is humid here.

Organized chaos

We rented our bikes a few hours ago and decided to try the bikes and our riding skills out in evening rush hour traffic. Organized chaos is really the only way to describe the traffic in Phnom Penh. Rules like riding on the right side of the road and staying in lanes are loosely - if at all - followed. After we set out on the bikes, we quickly discovered that riding together was not an option. So the plan was to meet back at the hotel by 6:00 pm. So far Danny and I have made it back to the hotel safely. We know Charlie is still alive because our contacts in Phnom Penh (Sopagna's family) drove by him a few minutes ago. They said he was driving cautiously and looked very out of place. While his riding skills are up to snuff, it appears his navigation skills are lacking. Thus, we have a few minutes to kill while we wait for Charles to find his way back. We'll post more later and hopefully get the first helmet cam video up for your viewing pleasure.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Day 1 - Its freakin cold in Seattle and 90 degrees in Cambodia

Unbelievable, the trip is finally here.  Our flight is at 1:20 this afternoon.  We have 12 hur flight through South Korea, then a 6 hour flight to Phnom Phen. 

I think all of our excitements have been tempered by being extremely busy with work and life, but all three of us are leaving that now, so let the excitement begin!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Corrections to Danny's original blog description

We are Nick, Charlie, and Danny. True. Three actuaries going on a motorcycling journey to Cambodia and Vietnam. Also true. Do we know how ride a motorcycle? No. Technically, we all know how to ride a motorcycle. We've all been licensed within the past 3 months. But I'm willing to bet that at least one of us will be laying face first in Cambodian soil at some point. Can we speak any of the languages? No. Still very true. Do we know what we are going to do there? No. Still mostly true. We've got a few ideas, but no real itinerary other than riding around aimlessly on 250cc dual sport Hondas. Do we know when we are coming home? No. We all bought return tickets this weekend. I guess the only thing that we do know is that this is going to be a trip of a lifetime. It will still be an awesome trip - just slightly less hardcore than the initial billing.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Salsa in HCMC

Instead of researching trifling matters like motorcycle rental in Cambodia or return flights, I've been spending my time looking into salsa dancing in HCMC. I'm not really sure why the thought even crept into my mind. SE Asia doesn't seem like it would be a mecca for Latin dance. Nonetheless, I ran across this site: http://www.salsaigon.com, which seems to indicate that there is at least one salsa club in HCMC. Charlie and Danny have (begrudgingly) agreed to add this to the HCMC itinerary. Is it easier to dance in motorcyling boots or sandals?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Motorcycle Jacket

Got my jacket.  Its not the color I wanted, but it will do.  Here is a pic:
To make it even better, Nick decided to get the same jacket in blue.  So we'll both be riding in style in Vietnam.  (Charlie already has a jacket, so he didn't get included in this).

I also bought a pair of riding pants that should give me some extra protection on my legs.

BTW, if you're looking for some motorcycle gear, the salesman at http://www.atomic-moto.com/ is super friendly and extremely helpful.  He kind of reminded me of my brother in law (in the sense he got me to buy a couple extra things).

I think these purchases are pretty much the last of the things I wanted to buy for the trip!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Motorcycle Jacket?

I learned a lesson today.  I finally found a jacket that I liked that is perfect for the trip and for around Seattle.

I searched around, found the cheapest website selling it and ordered it.  Unfortunately, an hour later, I received an email from the website saying "that it is out of stock".  (Why is it available on your website then!)

So, no problem, found another site, ordered it.  Two hours later I received a call.  "The item you purchased is on backorder, we can get it to you by December 5th."

Can you ship to Vietnam?  No.

So, from there, I called the next website, and the next one, and the next one, and the next one.  None have it in stock, but they can all get it to me by December 5th.

So, lesson learned, when ordering from a motorcycle gear website, call and ask if they have it in stock. 

Now I need to find another jacket....

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Getting from Phnom Penh to Saigon

Fast boats leave every day from Phnom Phen around 1 pm daily.  They arrive in Chau Doc five hours later.

Chau Doc is on the border between Cambodia and Vietnam. 

There is also a bus, but taking the Mekong River seems like the best option by far.

Central Highlands - Vietnam

From the Lonely Planet Guidebook:  "It's easy to get off the beaten track in this wonderfully scenic part of the country.  Only Kalat makes it on to most tourists' radars, meaning that the rest of the region still allows an element of adventure.  This is a great part of the country to see on the back of a motorbike - stopping at will to admire an amazing mountain view, to explore a wild waterfall or to interact with villagers from the local hill tribes.  The cooler climate also makes a good respite for those not used to tropical climates.

Mui Ne Beach - South Central Coast of Vietnam

This one is specifically for Charlie:

Mui Ne has a developing reputation as the action capital of the coast.  When Nha Trang and Hoi An get the rains, Mui Ne gets the waves.  Surf's up from August to December.

Malaria

I went and talked to a travel consultant/doctor on friday at the UW.  Received a typhoid, Hep A and Flu Vaccine.  Also received some malaria pills, diarrhea pills, and sleeping pills for the flight.

I originally was pretty determined to not take any malaria pills (they have side affects), but after consultation and looking at that map above, I think I'm going to.  One shitty thing about them is they cost $7 per pill.  Which I guess is cheaper than getting the disease. 

One other sad thing I learned is that its a good idea to stay away from monkeys.  Some can be aggressive and they could have rabies.  So if a monkey comes near us, I'm going to have Charlie protect me (after I take a photo of it).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ouch

Been a busy few days. I got my vaccination shots yesterday morning. Last night Danny and I cruised around the city, made a pit stop at Zoka Coffee (pictured) in Tangle Town to warm up, and drove on Aurora and on the freeway (briefly). I got New Black up to 60mph, which seemed like a feat to me, but pales in comparison to Nick doing 70mph while preforming a River Dance number.

Today we had a corporate-style meeting in Danny's office and divided up some of the trip related duties that need to get done in the next few weeks. Nailing down our itinerary is on the list, so some posts on that to come soon.

12 days until lift off. Until then, hopefully the nice weather will hold on here and the rain will let up in Cambodia.