The sun sets on our 21 days of adventure in Indochina. 900 Km and 45 hours cycling, 3 countries and 2 new friends. Along with tired muscles we take away new understanding and memories that will last a lifetime. Thanks to our readers for joining us on the journey. See you soon.
The Laos we saw is the most prosperous of the regions we visited on this adventure. Fewer motorcycles, more cars, newer homes. It is trying capitalize on “ecotourism” and several hydroelectric projects. Surprisingly, the subsistence farmers and their families in the less affluent areas seem happier, spontaneously smiling and welcoming. Maybe it’s true: “money doesn’t buy happiness”!
The Mekong River: originates in Tibet, is 4,350 km long, feeds the 5 nations it traverses by flooding rice fields and providing a harvest of (apparently) inexhaustible fish, rises a dozen feet each year during the rainy season and swells to twice it’s width, is at points aquamarine, brown or yellow and both divides and unites nations. Oh, and is the backdrop for the most amazing sunrises!
We would ride 500 miles, and we would ride 500 more, just to be the team that rides a thousand miles to fall down at your door! So far closing in on 800 km!
Over 90% of Cambodia practices Hinduism or Buddhism or a combination and since the Khmer Rouge revolution ending in 1978 the schools and temples have often been closely associated. During the Khmer Rouge, monks were exterminated. As we ride closer to the border with Laos, we see mosques (weirdly also on stilts to avoid animals) and girls and women wearing head coverings including burkas in 34C temperatures. All the children run out to greet us and make us reply to “Hello!” or “where are you from?”
The relative prosperity of Cambodia vs Vietnam is evident everywhere. Currently the average Cambodian worker earns $135/month. That will change soon as minimum wage legislation kicks in and $250 will be the new minimum. We will have to pay more for our ethically produced products. Cars and big pickups are starting to fill the narrow roads and cost as much as they do in Canada as does gasoline to run them. Beer cost $0.5 but can cost tourists $2.50. A typical 4m x 20m lot to build a house is $10k and house on it $50k. The wooden ones here are vintage (100 yrs old).
Bugs. What’s the most dangerous animal to humans? You guessed it: the mosquito! We haven’t seen much of them here until now because we were either in a hotel (where they spray), moving down the road to fast for them to keep up, or in a city (less prevalent). But more Cambodians die of malaria, carried by mosquitoes, than any other cause. Now we are in the countryside we are wearing lots of repellent spray and taking our anti-malarial drugs. They’re awfully small. So instead we’ve got a photo of a rhinoceros beetle which came for lunch and a 6th century temple. Cheers to everyone!
Frogs (see picture on left, below), dogs and hogs (snout to feet to tail). If it swims, flys or slithers, Cambodians will eat it . Rice 3 times a day, fresh beer a every meal is feast. Oh, and when it becomes too much there’s pizza!
Adapt! Tonle Sap Lake dominates central Cambodia. During the rainy season April-October it more than triples its size and the fishing communities on its shores must be prepared for 3+ meter rise in water level. Maybe seaside communities around the world can learn something from these resourceful people!
We are honoured to have a few friends who follow a religious tradition quite different from what we were raised in. But most who are religious are Christian practitioners and “go to church” to pray, be christened, married and even be honoured in death. Cambodia is largely Buddhist, and their religion is as much a social experience as a practice of traditional rites, and is brought into the home and into the community.
It’s a great time to visit Cambodia! After a thousand years of civil war it is having a period of relative peace. A thousand years! Thanks to our ride buddies Alan and Jim for the companionship and also some great pictures.
Communist party rule in Saigon/Vietnam has not encouraged international investment but “democratic” government in Phnom Penh/Cambodia has, including all the benefits and risks that entails. In Vietnam every home and public space has a concrete bench with the party slogan and in Cambodia public benches all bear commercial advertising.
Such a contrast of realities! In a place, in Vietnam, where the Cambodian (Kampuchea) regime of “Pol Pot” called the Khmer Rouge slaughtered over 3,000 men, women and children as recently as 1976, we meet and play with all these fearless and friendly kids An entire generation is missing: but the future is bright!
You name the protein and vegetable and you will find it at the floating and dockside markets, we leave the Mekong delta today.
Like many developing countries we have seen, which didn’t have an investment in first wave land line based technologies, Vietnam has leapfrogged directly into mobile cellular tech, and the service is ubiquitous. But one change affecting society is the effect on youth. Children can, and many do, leave school after elementary education. The expectation is that they will help out with the family farm. Instead, they can be found in the electronic gaming places.
Our tour leader, Nit, was educated in this monestary and earned a degree in linguistics. Unlike some communist countries, Vietnam has embraced its religions since reunification in 1975 and they provide a moral compass for many. Our Scottish Nationalist compatriots on this ride: Alan and Jim.
Our first day on the road and now out of Ho Chi Minh City. Mekong River delta with fish farms and coconut harvest. Pigs, chickens, goats and very welcome shade from the sun and cover from the warm rain.
The communist government owns 40% of economic activity including our hotel in Tra Vinh. The name (seen from behind in this photo) variously interpreted by google translate means “guest house” or “brothel”, but in any case the hospitality business would be better left to the private sector!
We’re thinking about Bruce’s cousin Carmen Olson (Kleeberger) who lost a courageous fight to cancer this week.
Today, one of huge contrasts where we confront the limitless ability of people to resist aggression and the futility of the “Vietnam War” at the Cu Chi tunnels and resourcefulness in living among the abundance of the Mekong River delta. Snake wine and honey tea!
Silvia’s Fitbit confirms we are covering distance: so far on foot. In Canada, a Vietnamese restauranteur advised us to study “how to cross the street”. And we did! At home, our big, often single occupancy vehicles are contained by rigid traffic rules. When they are broken, chaos ensues. In Ho Chi Minh City the mopeds and motorcycles outnumber the cars (100:1?) and thousands pass per minute in some places. The rules are those if cooperation. Not a single incidence of road rage.
Ironic and so appropriate that we spend some time on Remembrance Day in the “War Remnants Museum”. Today we were thinking about how fortunate we are to live in a country not yet scarred by war and enjoying freedoms earned for us by our valiant veterans. Vietnam has endured so much and it’s resilience is an example to us all. Seeing the sights topped off with a guided foodie tour. Eat your hearts out chow hounds!
Street food market right across the street from our AirBnB offers as much a mix of international visitors as it does a sample of food from around the world with “Vietnamese characteristics”. Everyone is on a journey and most are ready to share their experiences. If you just ask.
Silvia and Bruce are ready for their departure on a 3 week voyage to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. We’ll be blogging here so please return soon for more!
Google Maps outlines the voyage
“Smooth” is our 20 year old tandem bicycle. It’s been to England, Wales, France, Germany, Hungary, Cabot Trail, Spain, Italy, Cuba……pictured here with the box it will be disassembled and put into for travel.