I am the original 'Uneasy Rider' .. not especially blessed with much natural motorcycling talent, nor am I a particularly courageous motorcycle rider.
Nevertheless I went 'Right Way Round' New Zealand (at least twice) followed by a wonderful ride around Australia.

Then it was up to southeast Asia, around Indo-China, across southern Central Asia to the Middle East, Asia Minor .. and finally into Europe.

Right Way Round - all the way home .. from New Zealand to England, 2-up on a Honda Transalp.

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PROGRESS SO FAR - Distance covered across Western Europe: 6,411 km [3,984 miles] - as at Thursday, October-22nd, 2015

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Bamboo and Bats Galore


Monday, 28th October 2013

With the Transalp reclaimed after its 6-month hibernation - from a dark and dusty corner in the centre of Phnom Penh - we took the short but frenzied 17 km ride to the outskirts of the city to visit Choeung Ek, the most infamous of the Cambodian genocide sites, collectively referred to as 'The Killing Fields'.

Altogether around 2–3 million people (no-one knows the precise number), approximately a quarter of Cambodia's population, were slaughtered between 1975 and 1979 under Pol Pot's bloody Khmer Rouge regime.


Within Choeung Ek a Buddhist stupa has been erected as a memorial to the victims of the Khmer Rouge, about 100 metres from the main entrance ..

 
.. which contains more than 5,000 human skulls.

I couldn't bring myself to enter the memorial, despite being invited to do so by a Buddhist priest 'keeping guard' at the entrance. It somehow seemed disrespectful to the wretched souls inside. May they all rest in peace.

Once upon a time, before 1975, Choeung Ek was a productive fruit orchard. Now the brances of its trees grow gnarly and twisted, which seemed quite pertinent to me.

Whilst on the subject of Choeung Ek's trees: this is a picture of the very trunk upon which hundreds, if not thousands, of children's heads were bashed open before their mass burial; bullets are expensive, you see. Better to kill the victims' children, as Pol Pot definitely didn't want to risk vengeful youngsters growing-up into adulthood. That's the perverse logic of a crazy despot for you.

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I have to say that spending a couple of hours on a self-guided tour wandering around Choeung Ek was another depressing experience. During the afternoon of Monday-26th, October, the ground was quite busy with dumbfounded visitors from all around the world. Total disbelief in all their faces.

And the silence was deafening.

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This is the second country of genocide that we have visited during this once-in-a-lifetime motorcycle ride. The first being East Timor (renamed 'Timor Leste' in May 2002) back in September 2011, where a similar story is told.

I mean, can you imagine 1 in 4 of your countrymen being viciously exterminated .. without any international outcry .. let alone intervention? Well I've now seen the aftermath of such events, first-hand, in two sovereign southeast Asian nations - and it ain't a good feeling.

Unfortunately such human catastrophes have happened many times during our recent history: think of the near wiped-out Native Americans during the 18th and 19th centuries; the Holocaust (Europe's Jewish population under Hitler) and Stalin's regime during the last century; the even more recent 'ethnic cleansing' ravages in Rwanda and Bosnia during the mid-1990s. There are others I could mention, of course.

AND I have no doubt it will all happen yet again during our lifetimes. What a profoundly depressing thought, eh?

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Tuesday, October 29th

On a brighter note, let's now talk about more constructive matters.

Right opposite our Phnom Penh hotel - Hilary's Boutique - is a building site. Moreover, the owner of Hilary's is in the process of doubling his accommodation capacity. We were, therefore, nearly surrounded by ongoing construction projects, which made for a lot of noise and commotion during daylight hours.


Notice the use of bamboo as scaffolding. Who needs steel tubing when there's so much bamboo lying freely on the outskirts of most towns and cities throughout the region?


It's the same throughout most of SE Asia as far as we can tell.

I snapped the picture on the left when riding through the Indonesian island of Lombok (East of Bali) during early October 2011.

Don't even mention Health & Safety at work enforcement. After all, how can you comment on a practise that doesn't exist?! 

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By 10:00am we're away, back on the road and heading north for the city of Siem Reap.

What a great feeling. The bike's humming as good as ever; never missing a beat despite the six-month layover in a dusty ol' storeroom located no more than 200 metres from Hilary's Boutique (which is why we chose to stay at that particular hotel for a couple of nights).

The Cambodian countyside, as we were expecting, was mostly flooded to every horizon. You can just make-out what I mean in the background of the above photo.

Ah yes, and back to the pothole dodging! A technique you must learn fast riding around this part of the world. Although I quickly stopped worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrated the journey instead!

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By late afternoon, with 245 km [152 mi] behind us, we were three parts towards our destination of Siem Reap. With the temperature well over 30°C, another refreshment break became necessary - the fourth (or fifth) of the day's ride at that point - just to take-on water, of  typically a half litre each.


We're only too aware that dehydration of as little as 2% results in physical tiredness, poor performance and sore eyes. Higher percentages affect concentration, brings-on headaches, drowsiness and lethargy. Symptoms you don't want to experience riding around unpredictable roads in a strange country .. where nobody has passed a driving test.

On this particular roadside break, down in a ditch, we met this fine old chap (in the above picture) wallowing in a slime-covered pond .. that reminded me of my crooked ex boss, who thought he knew it all. Unfortunately for our firm's clients at the time the word 'integrity' wasn't part of his vocabulary, and he simply couldn't be told a damn thing. Then, the following phrase sprang to mind:

Never try to teach a pig to sing; it's a waste of time, because it doesn't work .. AND it annoys the pig!

Maybe I'm being a little unfair to the pig?!

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Wednesday 30th -to- Friday 1st November

Three nights stopover in the same Siem Reap hotel as we stayed in during April this year.


.. only this time around the Lotus Lodge had a flooded-out front entrance and car park.

1-2-3: Feet off the pegs, legs outstretched!

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After the first night we discovered that not a lot worked in our allotted en-suite, No. 108. For instance, nearly everything was broken in the bathroom. Ellen complained and we were moved and upgraded, at no additional cost. YAY! a result.

Settling into No 201, feeling pretty smug, even a bit cocky with ourselves, within five minutes there was a knock on the door. Mutual embarrassment followed, for there was the maid gently waggling Ellen’s tube of KY jelly [oops!] – otherwise known as ‘once in a blue moon’ jelly – always hid under the pillow just in case a blue moon might arise and make an appearance.

Never get complacent when it comes to the KY .. that’s what I say!

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Siem Reap is the gateway to the Angkor Archaeological Park. The biggest, best preserved, and by far the best known temple of them all is Angkor Wat. Here (above) is the classic shot, full-on reflection in the water-filled moat included, which you can only see around this time of year.

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Another day, another temple.

Returning from Banteay Srey, another temple ruin situated 37 km [23 mi] northeast of Siem Reap - hounded to death by young touts and hawkers, we stopped briefly at Prasat Pre Rup - built as the state temple of King Rajendravarman and dedicated in 961.

By this time .. we're getting all 'templed out' - but nevertheless looking forward to returning to the enigmatic Pasat Ta Prohm, arguably the most popular (with tourists) of all the Angkorian temples, probably because of all the tree roots growing out of its ruins ..


.. and we found it in a state of turmoil and renovation.

Ta Prohm was a building site. Thank goodness we saw it in all its glorious natural destitution back in April of this year.

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We also spent a little time at the Cambodian Landmine Museum.


Defused ordnance lines the entrance. 'Made in America'


The aftermath of war continues long after the shooting stops.

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Friday, 1st November (White Rabbits' Day)

A 3½ ride - 166 km [104 mi] - anti-clockwise wide loop generally around Boeng [Lake] Tonle Sab brought us to the City of Battambang.

Thanks to its colonial architecture and very tangible urban 'esprit de corps', Battambang is emerging as one of Cambodia's leading tourist destinations. Along with its riverside waterfront and lush countryside to several hilltop temples, we felt that we couldn't just simply by-pass this fine historic city.

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Saturday-2nd

Aprons-On Day. I dunno why we haven't done this sort of thing before?  Roll-up our sleeves, I mean, and try our hand at a spot of local food preparation.

A couple of Canadian co-guests stopping at our Battambang-based lodgings -  Sangker Villa* - recommended that we should 'have-a-go' at attending a morning's cookery class, as they had done, at the Nary Kitchen.

And why not, eh? No time like the present.


* Incidentally, I highly rate the spotlessly clean Sankler Villa, owned and operated by its Swiss owners, Marco and Nathalie, who could not be any more friendly and helpful. Probably the best 'mid-range' accommodation in the whole city.

09:00am. Firstly, even before tying our apron strings, we all (group of seven students) visited the bustling local market to buy some fresh ingredients.


Time also for little 'people watching' - just going about their everyday business in the burgeoning heat of the day, amongst an emanating cocktail of spicey aromas and funky fetor. A fabulous invasion, from every direction, on all your senses:


WITH SNAKES ready for the pot ... !!

photo courtesy of an amigo, Robert Carmack

.. and (below) a VIP Khmer, our host and 'chef de partie' for the morning called 'Toot' ..


Got to take your hat off to Toot, who from driving a cab around Battambang, self-taught himself very passable English by striking-up conversations with his tourist passengers. Then, with the little savings he managed to scratch together, opened the Nary Kitchen & Cookery School, which appears to be quite a success story.
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After about an hour, we're back inside the Nary Kitchen.

We then spend about another hour or so preparing the strange (at least to me) ingredients.

.. and grinding down herbs and spices in a pestle and mortar.

Oh, and see the two guys to the right of me - and there's a third out of frame - who also attended the cookery school? I say more about them below.

.. busy chopping

.. and frying .. and steaming.

Here's the end result. Three classic Khmer dishes:
  1. Fried Spring Rolls
  2. Fish Amok
  3. Beef Lok Lak
I would definitely recommend The Nary Kitchen School of Khmer cookery as a fine way to spend a morning in Battambang. Lunch is thrown into the bargain too - your own dishes of course - which makes the US$10 experience terrific value-for-money.

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We spent the rest of the evening, and night-time - through 'til 1:00am the following morning - in the brilliant company of The Three Amigos: Philip (British ex-pat living in Bangkok), and Morrison and Robert (touring aussies).

Together with a couple of local lads - at bottom of the picture on the right - who strung-along too. Shame on me for not remembering their names.

We drunk a lot of beer, and ate some delicious spicey dishes, over the course of  6-7 hours, at a cost that was all far too cheap to mention.

What a great day out!

Thanks fellas. ;-)

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Sunday-3rd

A visit, by tuk-tuk, to the the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau.

But first, a little 'free' wine-tasting on the way at a local vineyard .. at a cost of a dollar per sample.

It's free, so we found out, only if you end-up buying a bottle or two!



Phnom Sampeau. Another gruesome reminder of yet more indiscriminate Khmer Rouge butchery on a hill 11 km [7 mi] southwest of Battambang.

Now a place of pilgrimage.











[Panorama - click to enlarge]

But the view from the top of the hill is impressive.

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5:45 pm

At dusk on the way back to Battambang, about 100 metres or so up a rock face, every evening, you can witness a steady stream of bats exiting their cave.



It takes about 40 minutes for all the bats to leave and fly-off for their night-long feeding. Some locals say there are over 1 million bats, our tuk-tuk driver reckons a billion, but who knows? Whatever the number is, it's an amazing sight.

From the main road, the bats form various formations in the sky. A spectacular sight.

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Monday, 4th November

We headed south for the Thai border .. where it all got a little awkward with the Cambo Customs officials. The bike, apparently, had spent its six months hibernation in Cambodia illegally!

But they let us go through anyway. Didn't even need to pay a bribe fine. Top blokes!

A total of 270 km [168 mi], including a ferry ride, eventually brought us to the idyllic island of Koh Chang. Perfect beaches and cheap beer.

I can think of worse ways to spend a week, can't you?!

Stay tuned. I'll be posting another update again in about a week's time.

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From Ellen's journal: click on this link → Cambodia Revisited

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