Thursday, July 26, 2018

Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018 D1 - Welcome to Cambodia & Hello Phnom Penh!

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Cycling Cambodia & Vietnam 2018 Day 1: Welcome to Cambodia & Hello Phnom Penh!
Cambodia & Vietnam Tour Day 1: Tuesday, 10th July 2018 - Phnom Penh City & The Riverside
This is part of our cycling tour from Phnom Penh (ភ្នំពេញ) in Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh & the Mekong Delta (VietnameseĐồng bằng Sông Cửu Long, "Nine Dragon River Delta") in Vietnam:

Cycling Distance: 11.9+9.78=21.68 km.     |     Level: Easy
Time : 12:00pm to 7:30pm
Time Taken : 7 hrs. 30 mins. (including lunch at the Central Market, visits to Wat Phnom, the FCC, the Independence Monument, and many photo opps).

This is page 1 of a 10-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to Bikes On Planes        |       Go to Other Days    |             Go to D2 Areyksat >

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions!
    In Cambodia traffic is left-hand drive, so cycle on the right. Same thing applies when crossing the road, be careful and take note of the direction in which traffic is approaching from! Also do watch our for motor-cyclists who ride contra-traffic.

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
In Phnom Penh traffic is heavy along the main roads, try to ride along the quieter, parallel smaller roads or lanes, although one may encounter many junctions one will get to see more of the local life. At the rural areas traffic is very much lighter. There are no dedicated/shared cycling lanes; but at the Riverside, there are wide pavements to cycle on.
Do watch out for motorcyclists that ride against the traffic.

3. Navigation
    We also used Google Maps in Walking Mode for navigation but there is a lag when starting off, so one would have to cycle a bit to get the orientation right. Do note that often what are shown as roads on the map may turn out to be rough gravel roads or wet, muddy tracks, especially at the rural areas.

4. Weather
     Although rain was forecasted for the period we were in Cambodia, these turn out to be mainly light drizzle. We were only caught in heavy rain once. The drizzle and rain with overcast skies did make the weather cooler and our ride more pleasant; but do note that cooler does mean that one will not get sunburnt, so do cover up or apply sun-block lotions.
    Day temperature was 35°C and night's 25°C with a short one hour rain in the late afternoonUseful weather forecast sites for the Cambodia is AccuWeather. For more detailed weather, including cloud cover and wind speed, use Weatherspark and Ventusky.

5. Places of Interest
- The Central Market (Khmer: ផ្សារធំថ្មី, "Psar Thom Thmey", "New Grand Market") (GPS: 11.56955, 104.9209).
- Wat Phnom (GPS: 11.57608, 104.92318(Khmer: វត្តភ្នំ; "Mountain Pagoda").
- Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCC) (GPS: 11.56696, 104.93149).
- Tonle Sap Riverside Path (មាត់ទន្លេmeattonle) a 3-kilometre stretch along Sisowath Quay (Preah Sisowath), starting near the Siem Reap Boat Terminal (GPS:  11.57506, 104.92718) to the Kampong Chamlong Phnom Penh-Areiy Ksatr Ferry Port (GPS: 11.55847, 104.93922).
- Independence Monument (Khmer: វិមានឯករាជ្យ, "Vimean Ekareach") (GPS: 11.55641, 104.92817).

6. Food
Lunch: Noodles soup & iced-desserts at the Central Market Food Court (កន្លែង​លក់​អាហារ) (GPS: 11.56943, 104.92033).
Dinner: Fried noodles with fish/pork cake at Prom Saron Restaurant (ព្រំសារ៉ន លក់ស្រាសំរួលសុខភាព) (GPS:11.56978, 104.92696 ).

7. Accommodations
   For Phnom Penh, we pre-booked on-line two 3-person rooms at MYR33 per pax per night for two nights at Angkur International Hotel (GPS: 11.56887, 104.92767)

8. Bringing Bikes Onto Planes
   We flew Malindo Air from Kuala Lumpur to Phnom Penh, and from Ho Chin Minh back to Kuala Lumpur. For the routes we flew, Malindo Air fare include 25 kg checked-in luggage (inclusive of sports equipment) which was more than adequate for our bicycles. On the outgoing flight our Brompton bicycles were packed into Dimpa bags; while on the return leg we had a second Dimpa to pack our cycling gear (jerseys, zippable pants, etc) and also for shopping purchases. Seven kg. of allowable cabin luggage of two pieces (a normal cabin sized bag with another smaller bag); were also included in the fare. Malindo's fare also include free light meals, drinks and onboard video/music entertainment on demand on individual screens. The return fare was about MYR390/= which we booked on line just about two weeks before tour.
     A tip, simple but important. Ensure that you DO NOT carry your tool kits or any long/sharp metal objects in your hand luggage. Put your tool kit into your checked-in bike bags. I often seen friends forgetting about this, only to have their tools confiscated at the security checkpoints. Also note that power banks are not allowed to be checked-in.

9. Communicating with Each Other
    SMART 4G Pre-paid Traveller's sim cards can be bought for USD5/= at Phnom Penh International Airport. This has a validity of seven days comes with 2GB data, and unlimited data for Facebook, LINE, Viber, WeChat, and WhatsApp; and international calls from 3 cents/min. Get the vendor to set up the sim card for your phone to ensure proper connections.

10. Communicating with Locals
    The official language in Cambodia is Khmer (ភាសាខ្មែរ, phiəsaa khmae). Their words are not pronounced the way they are written, click on the Khmer words within this blog for their correct pronunciations.
    Most locals do not speak English. Hotels receptionist do speak some rudimentary English. The staff at Tourists information counters do speak pretty good English. Google Translate is a good app to use for basic conversation with the locals, it also have an audio feature to play the respective words/phrases. In this blog, click on the Khmer  words for their pronunciations.
  
11. Curency
      The official currency used in Cambodia is the Riels (KHR), but most locals do use the US Dollar for daily transactions. At tourist spots like the Central Market (ផ្សារធំថ្មី, "Psar Thom Thmey", "New Grand Market") and the Russian Market (Psar Toul Tompoung) do bargain down prices by at least fifty percent.
     
12. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads and the relevant tools. As many of the roads we muddy or dusty tracks, lubricant oil will come in handy; we also brought along a couple of spare tires.
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PRELUDE
Here we are at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport all in our yellow Happy Cycling T-shirts, a show of solidarity. Our garb did elicit some questions on whether we were a sports team. No, we were just Happy cyclists going for an adventure overseas.
Outside we looked very happy and inside we were even more so, overflowing with exuberance. Most of us have not been to Cambodia, whilst the couple of us had been there but years ago. I myself, who had frequently gone to Phnom Penh but not since three years ago, was curious how the city will be like. So here we go!

RIDE 1: FROM THE PHNOM PENH AIRPORT TO THE CITY
For ease of presentation, I have split our ride to two sections, below is our ride from the airport to our hotel. It's our first exposure to the traffic and life in the city.

Cycle routePhnom Penh International Airport>Phnom Penh (ភ្នំពេញ)>Central Market>Angkur International Hotel.
Cycling Distance: 11.9 km.     |     Level: Easy
The route is straight forward along the main road heading from the airport to the city centre, until it detoured onto quieter parallel roads, side & back alleys.

We flew in via Malindo Air; it's the first time that most of us are using this airline to fly overseas and we were very impressed by the comfortable seating, light meals, free flow of fruit juices and on-board entertainment provided, and the 25 kg. of allowable checked in luggage. And all these without any extra charges! At just below MYR400/=, it's a good deal when compared to some other budget airlines.

12:00 pm - With my past experience in Cambodia, I was the unofficial guide and led the team from the airport to the city. Traffic was heavy but we soon got the hang of the traffic beat and the warmth of the afternoon heat. Other than the usual rush traffic, we were attracted by the casual traffic of hawkers on the tri-motorcyles, of school children cycling back home and even of the occasional motor-cyclist riding contra-flow. AND something new, there wheeled motor-taxis something similar to the auto-rickshaw of India... in fact these were imported from India.

.... and then, "Hey! There's a flyover!". Phnom Penh have changed much, now there are several flyovers, and many new high-rise buildings were sprouting up even at the outskirts of the city. We decided not to ride up the flyover and instead to went on the quieter slip road beneath which led to a busy multi-road junction.

Sin, the ever-adventurous one suggested that we try riding on the parallel streets and side lanes instead of continuing on the main road; there should be more interesting things to see. So out came the phone, and with the help of Mr. Google Maps, we detoured away from the busy main roads. Sure enough we ended up cycling at a quieter part of the city, so close to the main streets and yet a serene, colourful alter-ego. Some of the lanes were so narrow that  it could only fit a bicycle width!

Children came out to wave at us and eagerly pose for photos. And somewhere along a lady was unabashedly washing her clothes and drying out her undies... Whoopsie!

The back-lanes were not devoid of commercial activities, sporadically food stalls line the back-doors of shop-houses. They looked quite inviting, but we had another eats destination in mind..

1:00 pm - Arrived at the heart of the city, the Central Market. At the Food Court on the eastern side we had our first taste of Cambodian Food - noodles and broth and to go with these Angkor Beer (not Anchor Beer). It's a very light pilsner, just the right thing for a hot afternoon.

Around us were other stalls selling all sorts of foodie stuff, like these large river snails, a delicacy to the locals, an influence from French colonial days....

.... the burnt smell of barbecued cuttle-fish and prawns wafted through the market.

From another stall we ordered iced desserts. The were an assortment of choices: agar-agar, bitey sago, crunchy groundnuts, sweet nipah seeds, black grass jelly... and our favourite, boiled pumpkin. The pumpkin was boiled whole, and it's flesh scooped out on demand.
Where did we park our bicycles? At an adjacent motorcycle park within sight; parking cost was 1,000 riels each.

As we rode a couple of loops around the market, Soo Ying was like the queen of the road, going on nonchalantly without a worry about the traffic zooming by. Yes, she was getting the hang of the traffic.

That's our hotel upfront, the one with the gable roofed entrance. Staying here at the belt between the Central Market and the Riverside is convenient, most the city's attractions are nearby.

RIDE 2: CYCLING THE STREETS OF PHNOM PENH

Cycling Distance: 9.78 km.     |     Level: Easy
Time : 3:20pm to 7:30pm
Time Taken : 3 hrs. 50 mins. (including drinks break the FCC, visits to Wat Phnom, the Independence Monument, and many photo opps).

3:20 pm - After checking into our hotel and a short rest we are out again to explore the streets of Phnom Penh; and also to purchase bus tickets from Giant Ibis. As we rode out, there were these giant puppets walking down the street followed by a couple of men with a large cone loudspeaker on a bicycle; I am not sure what they were promoting but it was a unique old style way.

A road-side stall was selling blended fruit smoothie, the display of fruits adding colour to the street-scape.

We reached the Giant Ibis office and station at Street 90 and purchased our express limousine bus tickets for the Phnom Penh-Ho Chin Minh route for two days later. The bus was already rather full and our seating was apart from each other. A lesson learnt here, it would be better to book on-line earlier.
Cambodia will be having its national elections at the end of the month, and nearby, next to the National Library, a stage had been set up for a political rally talk. Conveniently, the were Cambodian flags there was us to take photos with.

Up next, just round the corner was Wat Phnom. Entry to the temple is USD1/= but there is a park at the bottom which is opened free to the public. At one corner was a metallic sculpture of a peace dove with a lotus bulb in it's mouth.

The unique thing about this dove is that it was made from old used machine guns, real ones recovered form Cambodia's civil war. It's a realistic reminder of the ugliness of war.

The entrance stairs leading up to Wat Phnom. Tourist can be seen happily posing for a group photo; and in stark contrast, a one-legged man stand nearby. He was a victim of a land-mind explosion, selling self-painted postcards.

Up at the first landing, the girls posed with a wall panel art of an Cambodian aspara.

Wat Phnom, up close, with Camodian lion temple guards and asparas on column tops holding up the roof eaves.
The temple sits on an man-made hill 27 meters high, which does give it a fairly good view of the river and surrounding areas. Legend has it that in 1373, a lady raised funds and together with the locals created a hillock and built a temple in front of her house called Phnom Don Penh. In 1434, King Ponhea Yat (ពញាយ៉ាត) established a city around Wat Phnom and called it Phnom Don Penh which soon after became Phnom Penh.

The temple is not a large one but it does have a strong historical significance. Inside was an altar with many Buddha statues and on the walls and ceiling many beautifully painted Buddhist murals.

After saying some prayers for a safe cycling tour, we rode down Preah Sisowath Quay which runs along the Tonle Sap River side and rode pass the Ounolam Temple, which stood out with it's many conspicuous stupas. It's getting late, so no time to visit it - no worries though, we will do that another day.

It started to drizzle and we rode fast for our next destination, the Foreign Correspondents' Club and was most fortunate to reach it before it started pouring heavily - our prayers at Wat Phnom must have been answered 🙏🙏🙏.
We took a reprieve up at their first floor balcony, sipping drinks while having a very good view of the Tonle Sap River.

The rain stopped, but we were reluctant to leave and we continued sipping our drinks as we watched the sunset on the opposite river bank. That bank now has several tall buildings, how Phnom Penh have grown these last three year. It's a busy city now, but I yearned for the quieter old Phnom Penh; one that I used to come frequently for work and at the same time as a rejuvenating reprieve from hectic days in Malaysia.

And then a large, colourful rainbow sprouted out over the opposite Sangkat Chrouy Changva penisular. Arching beautifully across the sky, we did hope that it herald a safe trip for us in days to come.
 The peninsular sticks out into the river, at its extreme pointed southern tip, the Tonle Sap River joins the Mekong to form one of the widest part of the mighty river, almost two kilometres wide.

6:30pm - Well rested in mind and body, were rode out on the wide cycling Tonle Sap Riverside Path that hugged the banks of the river.

I was surprised to see that the riverside path led to the Kampong Chamlong Phnom Penh-Areiy Ksatr Ferry Port, previously it ended about a kilometer away and one had to cycle onto the main roads to get to the ferry port.  Even at this dusk hour, the ferry was busy loading/unloading vehicles.

It's back to the main road again with zooming motorcycles, to our front left is the Samdech Chuon Nath Statue sitting below a brightly lit mini pagoda, and to our rear is a bridge that connects over to Koh Pich. It is at this bridge that in 2010 the Phnom Penh Stampede occurred resulting in the death of 347 people with another 755 people injured.

Our last destination for the day - the Independence Monument. It was built in 1958 as a memorial to Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953. The monument was designed by Vann Molyvann, an influential Cambodian architect, he has also designed the Olympic Stadium and many other buildings from the 1960-70s in Phnom Penh. The Independence Monument is designed in a Angkorian style, shaped as a lotus-shaped stupa that consists of five levels and every level is decorated with snake heads. The monument is at its most impressive later in the afternoon when the shadows are highlighting the complexity of the design. At night time, the monument is beautifully lit up by red, blue and white floodlights, representing the colors of national flag.

Back near the hotel, a simple fried noodles dinner. It's something like Loh see fun fried with bean sprouts, Chinese chives and round cuts of tasty fish cake.

រាត្រី​សួស្តី
(That's reatrei​ suostei, meaning good night in Khmer)

(For more photos of the dayClick Here)
This is page 1 of a 10-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to Bikes On Planes        |       Go to Other Days    |             Go to D2 Areyksat >

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