It is the new year January 2nd 2018.
Rodger was reading an email he got from a friend about New Years. It seems last year this friend was wished a good year and prosperity. It also seems that the year was not good nor was it prosperous , so this year he is asking everybody to just send him cash or checks. He is also happy to take credit cards and Bitcoins.
This missive is being dictated on my Android phone and because I had not taken any notes over the last couple days it will wander about as I tell you about Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
This is our last day in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We pushed off 6 a.m. We push for the next hundred kilometers of riding. We will stay overnight about 100 km down the road and sometime around noon the next day we should be across the border into Thailand.
Angkor Wat was amazing! Hard to imagine this entire complex was built for one king to glorify him and him only. The Khemer Empire at its height must have been very powerful as it controled much of Thailand, Laos and parts of Vietnam.
The construction techniques, to build the temple are very interesting. At first glance it would seem that the entire Temple is composed of sandstone which is not true. Most of the base and lower supporting structures are made of a rock called laterite. It is a lightweight easy to carve material which is very abundant in this area, after building the inside structure the outside was clad in sandstone as can be seen in one of my pictures. You can see where the sandstone blocks have fallen away to reveal the laterite below. When you think about it, it is a very clever method of building a large structure where the material could be cut and shaped quickly and only the facade had to be carefully detailed. Unlike the Egyptian pyramids there are detailed records of how this Temple was constructed. Pure manpower and elephants moved the sandstone blocks great distances to build the temple. Some of the blocks within the temple are as closely fitted as the blocks of the ruins down in Peru. The entire Angkor Wat complex has been divided into two sections so that the government can charge a tourist $37 each per day if they want to see both sections. They are so restrictive about the ruins that when we tried to ride our bicycles around thr temple grounds we were not allowed in without a ticket even though we did not want to walk into any of the temples or go through any of the structures.
Both Rodger and I find Cambodia much more relaxing and enjoyable than Vietnam. The country is in general much cleaner with much less garbage along the roads and around the countryside. We don’t know if this has anything to do with beliefs about the country or the fact that there is just less money here to waste on modern things like plastic bags and bottles to be thrown away as in Vietnam. There are much less vehicles here on the roads both cars and motorcycles, but like Vietnam the motorcycle is the most ubiquitous of all vehicles. People in general in Cambodia seem to drive in a saner manner and since there are less vehicles on the road the roads seem a lot safer and easier to get down and travel upon. Rodger was having a little trouble with riding in Vietnam , if he road near the drainage ditch motorcycles would squeeze between him while passing cars and threatened to push him down into the ditch, sometimes just a grassy ditch some times rock and concrete ditches . I suggested that he moved closer to the white line so that less people were trying to squeeze between him and other vehicles traveling in the same direction and it which would also give him a safety margin to move over into if he should meet someone coming down the wrong side of the road which is very common practice .
Speaking about coming down the wrong side of the road this is common practice in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, it is also common practice in Thailand to have someone coming down the wrong side of the road on the safety margin. For a long time I didn’t clearly understood the etiquette of how this was done, people who are traveling in the proper direction are expected to travel near the white line marking the edge of the road in the beginning of the safety margin while those who are traveling in the wrong direction are expected to travel near the ditch. So people traveling the wrong direction on the safety margin are farthest from on coming traffic. Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia have felt a lot like home as all three countries travel on the right side of the road . The trike which I am riding seems to be a curiosity. It would appear that no one has ever ridden through Laos, Vietnam or Cambodia on a trike from the reactions I get.
Right now the running joke between Rodger and I is “Man you would think they never saw a Trek 520 bicycle”. We both know what is catching their eyes it’s the oddity of seeing a trike especially one with two wheels in front and one in the back which is just opposite of the delivery vehicles seen in the most places. Most people are polite about the trike and ask to take pictures which I don’t quite understand as it is just a three wheel bicycle. If they are a little curious I allow them to sit down so they can see how the steering bars work and the brakes . In Dalat Vietnam I ran into three young men who were being average teenage jerks . Because I was traveling without panniers in town one of the young men thought he had permission to plop down on the back of my rack and start bouncing up and down on the bike. My rack is designed for about 45 to 65 lb Max and this young man was heavier. I barked at him like a Rottweiler getting after an intruder and he bounced off the track really fast. I don’t like to be rude but if he had broken the rack my trip is done as there is no way to to replace the rack here and being aluminum is very difficult to repair in the field. Within the Siem Reap area English is spoken by most everyone, with some people speaking it very well. We will soon see in Cambodia how well they speak English as compared to Vietnam which was in general very poor. Outside of any major city in Vietnam English was very rare to be heard or understood. I have read articles supposedly stating that the government wishes to improve the quality of English understanding with their citizens , but in the same article they admit that 80% of the teachers teaching English today in schools cannot pass a basic teaching exam on the subject.
The thing that we found most disagreeable about Vietnam is the inconsistent policy of requiring you to surrender your passport into their keeping when you check into a hotel. I say inconsistent because depending on where you go you may not even be asked for it and other places ask you to surrender it, some will take a photocopy, and some will just take a picture with their cell phone and be happy with that, once the passport has been surrendered you have very little recourse if it has been lost or damaged by whoever you gave it to. Yes you can go get an emergency passport if you happen to be in a larger city and if you have the proper documentation and ways to prove that you originally had one and if you have the time to get it before your Visa expires not to mention the cost of getting it. Therefore I find it unreasonable for any government to ask someone to surrender their passport just to check into a hotel.
New Year’s Eve here was the usual bands playing to people in the streets full of bright lights and drinking, but in many ways a lot less rambunctious as compared to other countries. Exactly at midnight there were no fireworks, but concussion grenades and firecrackers started going off making a full scale invasion seem quiet. They were so loud you would think that someone was invading the hotel.
Being in this heat which is not all that hot as it is only 75 to 85 degrees is not that bad, but the high humidity reminds me of the first time I moved down to College Station, Texas to go school in August. I was literally dying in the heat and humidity it was not until about 6 months later before I could tolerate walking about in that climb without sweating so bad that I needed to carry half a quart of water to get a half a mile to campus.
I am enjoying the fruit in this country right now it is late lecha season, orange season, pineapple season, rambutan season and some other seasons I’m not even very much aware of. For an expat fruit is relatively cheap and I do enjoy it as it kind of helps keep things moving right along after too many days of noodles and rice. Coming down out of the Dalat we went through the foothills of Vietnam which is the coffee production area of the country. Everywhere flat you can see green coffee beans spread out on every flat spot you could think of drying. It was strange to see that someone had spread coffee beans all over a driveway of an entrance to a major road and that cars and trucks were driving over the green beans so they could pass into or out to their houses. I guess it just makes the process of shelling the beans easier later if they have been pre-crushed so to speak. There is a surprising number of Catholic churches still standing in Vietnam. I had thought that they might have been destroyed by the Communist Party when they took over the country yet thinking back about it many Vietnamese were catholic including people in the Communist party and in the southern part of the country so there are still many churches standing. On the other hand I only saw one Buddhist temple in the entire country the whole time we were visting VN.
We are 36 miles from the Thai border. Soon I will be able to order a meal without it sounding like a Laurel and Hardy routine of “Who’s on First Base”.
Disclaimer. Any and all mistakes made in this letter are the sole responsibility of Google voice to text.