Saturday, July 30, 2016

CAMBODIA

Leaving the small Thai town of Chachoengsao on the 29th of July, we did a 2-hour cruise on dry roads to the bustling border of Aranyaprathet Thailand/Poipet Cambodia where the skies promptly opened up and dropped a deluge on us - the first since leaving Phuket 6 days earlier. We couldn't complain though as we were travelling during the rainy season.

We had tried to enter Cambodia last year at a quiet border crossing from Laos and were denied entry with the motorcycle, being told that before foreign registered vehicles can enter, a special clearance permit would have to be obtained and that permit was only issued at the capital Phnom Penh, a long ways inland. Could this unusual and complicated requirement be true?

Now we were about to find out if this border's officials mandated the same. So as we were making our way through the officialdom which involved running the gauntlet of "facilitators" of questionable status and fees, it was suggested by some that as there was no control at Customs, we could avoid checking in with them and just go on through and hit the road.

As we didn't want to skirt the law or encounter any future problems, we voluntarily went straight to Customs where it was confirmed that we DID need a permit and it was only issued at the capital. A kindly Customs official said we could leave our motorcycle (with no charge) behind locked gates at the Customs building as we would have to take a 6- to 7-hour bus trip to the capital Phnom Penh to get this permit.

Recent Cambodian history has been cruel (an understatement) to its citizens and even today they are struggling in penury in an underdeveloped country, unsupported and ignored by their civil servants. This was evident in the immediate scenes that hit us, where huge overloaded carts were pulled by hand on dusty, horn blaring streets or the hustlers trying to depart you from your dollars. But it's with empathy we say, it brings out the worst in some, and with admiration, the best in most others.

Cambodia chaos

Once finished with border business and as it was still early in the day, we hopped on a bus heading towards Phnom Penh but with a stop for a day in Battambang, a place we wanted to visit. It was an older bus and didn't make very good time dodging all kinds of traffic on a 2-lane road that's muddy when it rains and dusty when dried. But 3 hours later (118 km), we finally arrived and took a tuk tuk to a cheap but adequate hotel room.

The next morning, we took a tuk tuk out into the country to the infamous Bamboo Train. It's actually a number of individual small flat cars with flat beds of bamboo slats, 3 m long, and they run on an abandoned rail line. Up to 15 persons can ride on the flat bed with the driver manipulating the motor. But we only saw 2 to 4 persons on each flat bed.

All aboard!

We were propelled down warped, misaligned tracks, hair blowing in the breeze, listening to the multitude of birds chirping and through small clouds of butterflies, through the ubiquitous rice paddies for about 20 minutes before stopping. We stretched our legs where the villagers offered drinks, snacks, and souvenirs.

Dismantled trains at rest stop

Click on our YouTube video to see drivers taking the trains off the tracks while waiting at the rest stop:

https://youtu.be/oIH7TyFLtio

Then back on the train for the return trip of maybe 20 minutes. Maybe, because if 2 cars meet on the track, the one with the least number of people would have to dismantle and heft it off to 1 side letting the other train pass. Our car stopped to help several others get put back together so it was much slower to return.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

On the road again!

Every time we head out on a road trip, Willie's song On the Road Again plays in our head. He must have been a travellin' man. Our Thai Visa expires on July 30th so we are going to Cambodia and southern Vietnam. This will complete our tours of Asia.

Leaving Phuket on the 23rd on our motorcycle, it was an easy 2-day, 850-km run to Bangkok; here we applied for a Vietnam Visa which takes 4 days to process. Not wanting to hang out in busy Bangkok for that long as we had been there several times in the past, we made tracks to the touristy beach City of Pattaya to visit a friend from my hometown and do some sightseeing.

Jeff runs Pattaya Bungy Jump where we each, 1 at a time, took his exhilarating "slingshot" ride. We were strapped into a harness that is attached to long bungy cords that are attached to 2 tall poles. We were pulled back many yards till the bungies were stretched achingly taut and then released. We have never experienced any G-Forces as strong and instant as this thrilling ride as we were shot out like rag dolls then back and forth till we caught our breath.

Watch this video to see my experience.

https://youtu.be/t5M5HzOKhYc

It was suggested that we visit the Nongnooch Tropical Gardens. The Gardens cover a huge area consisting of several different themed sections such as orchids, bonsai, cactus, French, Italian, bird aviary, mini-zoo, etc.

Not real elephants!

Throughout the Gardens, you could walk on the shaded upper level boardwalk for great views of all below or you could stroll at ground level through and up close to the vegetation.

Where French meets Asia

It also had an area of amazing pottery designs...

Potty mouth

An avid car enthusiast, Al Baan Hawk, displays his very impressive car collection in a large room of the Gardens. Jordan, who knows his cars, said there were some there he had never seen or heard of before. But his favourite, the Lotus Super 7, was featured.

KTM: have you ever seen this car before?

The next morning, we went to check out The Sanctuary of Truth. This is an amazing all-wood temple building filled with an intermingling of Buddhist and Hindu statues intricately and labouriously carved beyond belief. We were in awe of the detail and the scope of the work.

The Sanctuary of Truth

Every square inch of intricate detail

The Sanctuary was started in 1981 but it will probably never be finished as new carvings are always being added and the older carvings are constantly being rejuvenated by dozens of artisan workers.

Statuesque appearances

Employing artistry

To watch the artisans at work, click on our short YouTube video:

https://youtu.be/CBMQg8N-cCA

Returning to Bangkok, we picked up our passports with Vietnam Visas and immediately headed east towards Cambodia, stopping along the way at the small town of Chachoengsao to retire our weary bodies before tomorrow's entry to Cambodia where Visas can be obtained at the border crossing.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Last days of Nepal

Our last few days in Pokhara were uneventful. We wiled away the time wandering the town shops and stopping here and there for coffee and bites. At 1 stop at a little street cafe, the young proprietor explained that Pokhara was a part-time home and his other enterprise was guiding on Mount Everest. He had summitted twice and when we asked him if he knew Tenzing Norgay, he said "Oh yeah, he was my neighbour up there." (Tenzing Norgay: With Sir Edmund Hillary, he was 1 of the first 2 to reach the summit.)

It was the looming wet and overcast that kept us close to our hotel and the "Delhi Belly" even closer to it. After a day of expelling fluids, and with our departure date looming, I checked into the small tourist hospital for some intravenous rehydrating, tests, and the prescribed remedy meds. Judy stayed at my side, waiting for my recuperation. I was barely stabilized in time for the return to Kathmandu.

Hydrating in the hospital

It was unfortunate that the weather didn't cooperate to expose the dramatic mountain scene that is the highlight of this place, however we did get some glimpses on our bus ride back to Kathmandu.

The first half of our last day in Nepal had us wandering the back alley shops in Kathmandu.

Crowded street-alley

Pallet of bright wool colours

The last and most pleasant venue was our juxtaposed visit to the Garden of Dreams. Here, stepping through the entry gates was like travelling through a portal from 1 extreme world to an opposite extreme.

Outside the Garden walls was Kathmandu's chaotic street scene complete with the din of honking, jostling traffic of all sorts, incessant horn blaring, barking dogs, fumes from exhaust and who knows what else, and hemmed in by buildings lacking any architectural merit let alone any code compliance!

But stepping into the serene Gardens, it was as if time slowed down. One could easily imagine royals of days gone by, lounging in the tranquil setting.

Garden of Dreams

Serene lotus pond

The meticulously maintained grounds featured cloistered walks, lotus ponds, tastefully planted greenery, terraces, and benches that invited quiet contemplation. There was a chic little cafe set in 1 of the Garden's classical buildings where on the raised veranda we lazed over a light lunch welcoming a respite from the world outside.

Most peaceful terraced cafe

There were extremes in Nepal to be sure, and it's good to experience all types, but it was nice to get back to Sea Turtle in Phuket Thailand where our real life and story continues.