Tag Archives: Thai visa application

Luang Prabang to Chong Mek 27 January – 16 February 2014

Farewell Laos. It’s been wonderful. We’ve shared rooms with large spiders, guessed at the origin or purpose of the various items being sun-dried beside the road, admired loads of lovely looking old VW Beetles in Vientiane, watched the sun rise over the Mekong, toured a coffee plantation, seen the French colonial influence in fiercely contested petanque games and experienced the full volume of the last day of a Buddhist festival.  And normally paid between £3 & £8 for a room for a night (often with wi-fi but more often without, and sometimes without running water as well).

Our experiences haven’t all been positive though. Like the rest of Southeast Asia, Laos has an obsession with plastic bags, and it’s starting to get to us. At stalls and shops you practically have to wrestle your purchases away from the vendor, gesticulating frantically at your rucksack or the re-used plastic bag already open in your hand. Even when buying a couple of ice-creams, clearly for immediate consumption, shop assistants insist on putting them in a brand new plastic bag for the journey from till to street. It’s infuriating. And of course, despite the fact that Laos has a, well, let’s just call it a ‘developing’ waste disposal system, which you’d think would mean that people would be used to taking responsibility for their own rubbish as they can’t rely on the local government to do so, people gaily drop their used bags into the rivers and fields without a care in the world. Do they actually enjoy living in squalor? We’re sick to death of cycling past trees festooned with plastic bags and grass verges buried under discarded bags and bottles. And it’s not like there aren’t that many bins –village streets are lined with them (cleverly made from re-cycled tyres) so why don’t more people use them? We’ve been told that when food was traditionally wrapped in banana leaves it was never a problem to simply discard the biodegradable wrapper in the street, and plastic bags are still a sufficiently new phenomenon that disposal habits have not yet caught up. But it’s hard to believe that. It feels like plastic bags have been ingrained in the culture here for much longer. There’s little we can do though but to continue our two person war against plastic by refusing and re-using as we go along, and trying to avert our eyes from the flapping roadside horrors.

The Asian obsession with plastic bags runs amok.

The Asian obsession with dropping litter.

Thankfully, there’s been plenty to distract the eye. While in Luang Prabang we pedalled out on a day trip out to admire the turquoise waters of the Kouang Xi Falls (where there is also a sanctuary for rescued Asiatic bears).

Kuang Xi Falls, near Luang Prabang

Kuang Xi Falls, near Luang Prabang

One of the residents at the bear rescue sanctuary.

One of the residents at the bear rescue sanctuary.

Then the route south from Luang Prabang to Vientiane took us through some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve seen. The hills are a bit of a slog, but the views make every pedal stroke worth it. We really pity the poor backpackers who take the overnight bus and miss it all. The hill villages are stretched out affairs, with houses perched on the thin strip between the edge of the road and the steep escarpment, and because most of the houses don’t have chimneys, fires are lit outside and daily chores are conducted out in the street – we got to see it all as we cycled through it. It must have been the middle of broom-making-season as all around us grasses were drying in the sun. Men, women and children would then roll the grass stems and then thrash them against the ground to remove the seeds before bundling them up into brooms.

Drying grass

Drying grass

Threshing grass

Threshing grass

Other activities include spinning, weaving, basket-making, childcare (we saw men looking after toddlers as often as women), food preparation, laundry and ablutions (under the single village tap).

Misty mountains

Misty mountains between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng.

At Vang Vieng, which we’d expected to hate due to its reputation as a party town, we were so enchanted by the soaring karsts that we stayed an extra night to take in the sunset one more time. Our stay was made all the more pleasant by finding an excellent economical guesthouse in the quieter southern end of town. Our friends Sue and Justin had ended up in the party area and wished they’d brought ear plugs. Vang Vieng was where we said our goodbyes to Sue and Justin as they carried on down to Vientiane and then sped on through Thailand and into Cambodia to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.

Sunset in Vang Vieng.

Sunset in Vang Vieng

We made our way more sedately to Vientiane and spent a few days getting our Thai visa and also having some more ‘Threewheeling’ business cards printed. The Thai visa process here is not one we’d recommend. They open for business at 8:30 but apparently the queues start at 6am. We arrived around 9am and queued for ages just to get a form and a number. We completed the form then sat down to wait, and wait, and wait. There were around 200 people in front of us (and at least 150 more behind us) and it took well over 2 hours before our numbers were called. After we handed our forms over we were told to go to another building to pay. Whereupon we had to wait a further 30-40 minutes before we were allowed to pay, despite there being no queue at the counter and indeed little discernible activity behind the counter. All in all, having arrived at 9am, it was most definitely lunchtime before we managed to escape. The only redeeming point in the Vientiane process was the next-day turnaround (unlike the four days in Phnom Penh). So far Kota Bharu seems the best: next-day turnaround, cheaper than both Vientiane and Phnom Penh, and no big queues.

Vientiane's very own 'Arc de Triumph'

Vientiane’s very own ‘Arc de Triumph’

One of the many lovely old beetles we saw around town.

One of the many lovely old beetles we saw around town.

We toyed with the idea of getting a bus from Vientiane to Savannakhet as we’d heard the road was flat and boring, but Sue and Justin reported that the buses require your bike to be boxed (Really? Even when we’ve seen motorbikes on the roofs of the bus?), so we decided to pedal. It was, as expected, flat and boring, and the hot headwind didn’t really help matters, but you can’t have it breathtaking and gorgeous all the time, and we’ve done plenty of flat and boring before so a little bit more didn’t hurt, and it’s always more satisfying to have pedalled somewhere yourself, watching the daily lives of people unfurl around you.

Dried fish stalls alongside the Mekong between Vientiane and Savannakhet.

Dried fish stalls alongside the Mekong between Vientiane and Savannakhet.

And in any case we had the Dinosaur Museum in Savannakhet to look forward to.

Keith clutching a fossilized T. Rex elbow.

Keith clutching a fossilized T. Rex elbow.

It’s not a very large museum, just two rooms, and the exhibits are all labelled in Lao and French, but the curator is a very enthusiastic chap who speaks some English and gave us a guided tour. He opened up drawers and gave us all sorts of exciting things to fondle. I felt a bit bad and just trusted that he knew what he was doing. These artefacts are millions of years old. Shouldn’t we have been wearing gloves at least? Anyhow, it was pretty cool – how many of you have held a Tyrannosaurus Rex elbow in your sweaty mitt?

From Savannakhet we continued south along route 13 to Khongxedon where we’d intended to turn east on route 16 to Salavan, but it turned out that despite route 16 being marked as the main road on our map it didn’t exist, so we had to back track a few kilometres and take route 15 instead. Unfortunately route 15 is only sealed for around 30 of its 75 kilometres, the remaining 45km are on red dirt. On dry sections great clouds of dust enveloped us as other vehicles passed, but the alternative, we discovered, was getting stuck behind the water van that wets the road in an attempt to prevent the dust clouds. Sliding around on the slick surface, and then having to stop every kilometre to scrape mud out from beneath the mud guards was even worse than the dust clouds.

Salavan marked the start of our ascent up onto the Bolaven Plateau, Laos’ primary coffee growing area. We’d been really looking forwards to this. The climb was not too steep and we trundled along through acre upon acre of small coffee farms. It’s the end of the Arabica picking season and every front yard was spread with red and green coffee cherries drying in the sun.

Coffee beans being spread out to dry in the early morning.

Coffee beans being spread out to dry in the early morning.

We’d heard about a coffee tour run by a Dutch guy in Paksong so made our way there, however, the first coffee shop we came across was not the original one run by Cornelius (aka Koffie) but a new place run by a guy from Seattle. We had a cup of his coffee and listened to him pontificate about how his coffee roasting process is far superior to Koffie’s and how his coffee is made using 9g of beans per cup with water at 97C (Oh yeah? And how did you achieve that at 1300m altitude?), which drips through the grounds for between two and two & three quarter minutes; and how he is not running tours at the moment as it is the end of the picking season so there’s nothing to see but no doubt Koffie will take your money and just take you round his back yard. Basically he was so far up his own ass we couldn’t wait to get away, and the coffee he served left just as bad a taste in our mouths as his company had.

Just down the road we found Koffie’s coffee shop (we’ve suggested he updates his sign with his name to distinguish it from the place up the road as we were not the only ones to initially go to the wrong place) and booked onto his tour for the following afternoon. He also recommended the waterfall tour run by the Tad Fane Resort (where his own tour starts) so that was our day planned.

Posing on the waterfall tour.

Posing on the waterfall tour.

We were up bright and early, rolled 12km down the hill to the Tad Fane resort and spent the morning strolling through coffee plantations and then dense forest to see some waterfalls, and in the afternoon we were joined by an Aussie couple and, in his own inimitable and highly amusing style, Koffie told us all about how coffee is grown, how to tell the difference between Arabica and Robusta, how the soil affects the flavour, the different methods of growing, picking and processing and the impact that has on the final product, and finally, a really nice idea for a treat: go to a super coffee retailer and select some single estate beans that have been shade-grown, hand-picked, washed and sun-dried. 1kg will cost around 50-70 euro (ouch!). However, for a nice treat, you only need 100g. That’ll give you 10 cups of ridiculously good coffee and at just 5-7 euro is much cheaper than 10 cups of Starbucks. What a great idea!

Ripe coffee 'cherries'.

Ripe coffee ‘cherries’.

Hand-picking coffee cherries.

Hand-picking coffee cherries.

A lot of work!

A lot of work!

We finally left Tad Fane at 5pm and hurtled down the hill in a desperate attempt to reach Pakse, 40km away, before darkness fell at 6. We almost made it. But then it took us an hour to find accommodation – everywhere was full! The next day we discovered that there was a sports tournament on in Pakse, and just down the road in Champasak (our next destination) there was a 3 day religious festival taking place at Wat Phu. The information officer in the tourist office assured us there’d be no accommodation at all in Champasak. So we went there anyway.

And how glad we were that we did! Yes, it was a bit stressful finding a room, but we held our nerve and found the fantastic Vong Paseud guesthouse. Run by an avuncular, somewhat portly chap with a gap-toothed smile as wide as his waistband, the rooms were only 50,000 kip (about £3.70), and his restaurant, overlooking the Mekong, served cyclist-sized portions of delicious rice or noodles at cyclist-budget sized prices. Heaven!

We’d arrived in Champasak on the last day of the Wat Phu festival. The flyers suggested we’d see “candlelight processions, illuminations, traditional musics and comedies, music groups.” The reality was kilometre after kilometre of tat stalls with the nasal caterwaul of competing Asian pop songs blaring at ear-drum excoriating levels. The Wat did look quite pretty, illuminated for the most part by hundreds of tiny oil lamps, but the effect was spoilt a bit by the ankle-deep debris and retina-searing fluorescent strip-lights that I suppose were there to help illuminate the steps, but actually imprinted themselves on your retina so violently it was difficult to see anything at all. We stuck it for about an hour and then decided to come back the next day.

Wat Phu, as it was intended to be used.

Wat Phu.

We knew the site managers would have a big clean-up job on their hands so waited until the afternoon before returning, but they’d barely scratched the surface of the sea of plastic bags. It was pretty disappointing. This is a Unesco World Heritage site and apparently a place of huge religious importance to Buddhists and Hindus. We thought that a) people might have taken a bit more care not to mess the place up in the first instance, and b) that a bit more effort might have been put into the clean-up efforts. Plenty of monks get up at the crack of dawn to go out on the scrounge (sorry, Keith gets cross with me for that phrase, what I mean is receiving alms), so why can’t they, for one day, get up at the crack of dawn to go and help clean up their sacred site? It’s not like they seem to have much else on their agenda; maybe a bit of navel-gazing followed by sticky rice for lunch?

What a wat!

What a wat!

If you scrunch your eyes up to ignore the landfill-look, then Wat Phu is an impressive sight. The remains of two ornately decorated temples stand either side of a central aisle, which leads to a vertiginously steep staircase, enclosed by ancient, gnarled frangipani trees. The view from the top terrace is stunning, looking out over vast plains and the Mekong river, and it’s easy to imagine how awe-inspiring the site would have been in its 11th and 12th century heyday. Perhaps it was just our bad luck to visit it at festival time.

Gnarly old frangipani trees framing gnarly old steps.

Gnarly old frangipani trees framing gnarly old steps.

The view from Wat Phu's upper terrace.

The view from Wat Phu’s upper terrace.

The morning after - burnt offerings.

The morning after – burnt offerings.

And so we came to the end of our Laos visa and the familiar final-day dash for a border. The Pakse/Ubon Ratchatani crossing is a nice easy one. Get stamped out of Laos, pay an ‘overtime fee’ of 1 US dollar, fill in an entry/departure card for Thailand, get stamped in and off you go. So, goodbye Laos; for the most part, we’ve loved you!

Stupa dupa!  Pha That Luang in Vientiane.

Stupa dupa! Pha That Luang in Vientiane.

Keith can't resist a nice orange.

Keith can’t resist a nice orange.

Anyone for petanque?

Anyone for petanque?

Dear Las bridge builders, laying your planks lengthways down the bridge is not conducive to carefree cycling.  Please put them crossways like everyone else.  Thanks v much.  T&K.

Dear Laos bridge builders, laying your planks lengthways down the bridge is not conducive to carefree cycling. Please put them crossways like everyone else. Thanks v much, the Threewheelers.

A praying mantis tried to hitch a lift with meerkat.

This praying mantis tried to hitch a lift with meerkat.

Recycling!  A used water bottle being re-filled with ‘laolao’ (Laos whisky).

Recycling! A used water bottle being re-filled with ‘laolao’ (Laos whisky).

Sharing the en-suite with this spider wouldn't have been so bad except the walls didn't reach the ceiling so later in the evening Mr Spider came prancing boldly into the bedroom.

Sharing the en-suite with this spider wouldn’t have been so bad except the walls didn’t reach the ceiling so later in the evening Mr Spider came prancing boldly into the bedroom.

Our guide on the waterfall tour spotted this above the path.

Our guide on the waterfall tour spotted this above the path.

Mekong sunrise.

Mekong sunrise.

 

Mui Ne to Phnom Penh 9 – 18 June

This blogpost’s highlights include: two very different capital cities (one former, one current), an easily-refused offer to shine Keith’s toes, a comical border crossing, two split tyres, quite a lot of rain, and a tent full of holes (nibbled by sparkling green beetles). As we cross from Vietnam into Cambodia Southeast Asia continues to surprise us.

Keith, surfin' the wind in Mui Ne.

Keith, surfin’ the wind in Mui Ne.

At the end of the last post we’d reached Mui Ne, where we were about to enjoy a day off from pedaling and blogging. Well, we couldn’t quite stay off the bike and used it to pedal around the non-tourist fishing village (Mui Ne proper and about 10-15km from the main tourist drag). It was a hell of a lot nippier without all the luggage. After we returned to the beach Keith hired a windsurf board for an hour, and reported that was harder than he remembered. We also had a lovely time chatting with a Russian-Kyrgyz woman working at the surf shop. It was quite an emotional conversation for both parties as we have such fond memories of Russia and Kyrgyzstan and she was missing her homeland a little. As well as windsurfing, Mui Ne is really popular for kitesurfing so we also had a nice chat with Drew, a Welsh kitesurf instructor, about expat life and the technical challenges of kitesurfing. It sounds like fun.

Catch of the day drying in the sun.

Catch of the day drying in the sun in Mui Ne village.

From Mui Ne we headed inland and picked up route 1 again, following it through field after field of dragon fruit all the way to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Along the roadside stalls sold nothing but dragon fruit, which at 5,000dong (about 15p) a kilo, immediately overtook lychees as our favourite snack.

Dragon Fruit - our new favourite food.

Dragon Fruit – our new favourite food.

A dragon fruit plant.

A dragon fruit plant.

Dragon fruit on the move.

Dragon fruit on the move.

Manfully navigating the Pino through narrow, crowded alleys in Ho Chi Minh City.

Manfully navigating the Pino through narrow, crowded alleys in Ho Chi Minh City.

In Saigon we headed for the cheap guesthouse area, which is a maze of tiny alleyways packed with hostels, guesthouses, noodle stalls, convenience stores, trinket stores, laundries, parked motorbikes and local people’s houses. It was practically impossible to avoid looking straight into living rooms that open right out onto the alleyway, which made us feel a little uncomfortable, but I guess the locals are used to it. Tourists and locals wove their way around each other, their lives criss-crossing but rarely meeting unless to conduct some pecuniary transaction. Washing was draped over any suitable post or pillar, saleswomen touted everything from cheap fans and bracelets to books and hammocks. Out on the main street, vendors cooked and sold a variety of foods from mobile kitchens precariously perched on the back of bicycles and motorbikes, and around it all, a thousand motorbikes beeped and honked and swerved and somehow avoided colliding with each other or the milling tourists. You could spot the new tourists in town by their frozen postures and ‘rabbit in headlights’ panic on their faces. Old hands just strolled casually into the melee and prayed that the bike riders were paying attention. Honestly, motorcycle display teams don’t come half as close to each other as the average bike rider on a Saigon street.

Oh, and a quick aside, if you’re wondering why the blog started by referring to Ho Chi Minh City but then swiftly lapsed into using Saigon, it’s because it’s quicker to type. We saw both names being used (usually HCMC on road signs, and Saigon on business premises) and asked a local which was preferred. He said using either was fine, so there you have it.

Reunification Palace.

Reunification Palace.

We did the usual tourist sightseeing, including a visit to Reunification Palace (a 1960’s architectural delight frozen as it was in April ’75 when the tanks of the communist north Vietnam troops drove through its gates), a gruelling afternoon at the War Remnants museum, a traditional water puppets show, and a stroll round the bustling market, where we met Lynn from LA who joined us for beers later that evening. Her boyfriend arrived the next day and they invited us to see a Cuban band that evening and treated us to a beer – thanks JJ, very much appreciated. It was one of the few relaxing moments we had in Saigon, which is a rather ‘in-your-face’ city. When walking around, or even sitting at a bar having a ‘quiet’ drink, you’re constantly having to fend off offers of a motorbike ride, a massage, crappy trinkets, hammocks, books or a shoe-shine. The last one particularly amused us as Keith was wearing fabric sandals. The guy wouldn’t give up even when we pointed out the incongruity of his offer, in the end Keith asked him to buff up his left toe a bit and we walked away laughing.

Water puppetry in Saigon's History Museum.

Water puppetry in Saigon’s History Museum.

One of the many moving exhibits at the War Remnants Museum.  An American vet presented his war medals to the museum, mounted with an inscription reading: To the people of united Vietnam, I was wrong, I am sorry.

One of the many moving exhibits at the War Remnants Museum. An American vet presented his war medals to the museum.

We left Saigon on the day our visa expired, and the plan had been to try to squeeze in a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels en route to the border, 80km away, but a slightly late start, and also the realization that the tunnels are actually about a 20km detour from Cu Chi meant that we ran out of time. We meandered down little lanes trying to work out where we were in relation to the appalling map on the tunnels leaflet, but after having detoured for almost an hour with the tunnel sites still some distance away we decided to scratch that plan and return to route 1 to head for the border.

We’d allowed plenty of time for the border crossing as they can be unpredictable affairs – sometimes you breeze through in 20 minutes, sometimes you queue for hours and are shunted from pillar to post before being released into fresh touring territory. As it happened, the Moc Bai/Bavet crossing was pretty straight forward. The Vietnamese side was pretty hilarious to be honest. We entered a large building (via what was marked as the exit but was clearly the entrance) and were confronted by four desks, surrounded by glass, and with metal railings dividing the queuing area in front of them. There seemed to be little structure to the actual queuing though and after a few moments spent studying the process we worked it out. Step one, pick a desk, it doesn’t matter which. Step two, barge your way through the ‘queue’ of people packed in between the metal railings and deposit your passports on the pile of passports already on the desk. Step three, try to find somewhere to stand either between the railings or immediately in front of the desk so you can keep an eye on your passport but also allow other people through to deposit their passports. Step four, by the time your passport has been checked the constant movement of people to the front means you’re now a bit further back (it’s a bit like emperor penguins in the Antarctic winter, constantly moving from the cold outside to the warmer interior of the huddled colony and displacing those in the middle until they find themselves on the edge again), so you have to barge your way through the crowds to reclaim your passport and then pop like a cork from a champagne bottle out of the small gap beside the glass-surrounded counter. Show your stamped passport to the man lounging near the (real) exit and then off you go – Cambodia awaits!

The Cambodian system is a bit more organized. A small office outside the main buildings is marked as a visa service – fill in a form, hand over $20 dollars and get a visa. Nice and easy. Proceed into the main building and queue in an orderly fashion. When we got to the front we were told we needed to fill in an entry/exit card, which we’re not sure if we could have got outside when we were getting our visa – it would have been handy if we had. After filling in the entry/exit form we rejoined the queue (which was very short and moving quickly) and within a few minutes were stamped into Cambodia. We were waved through customs and that was that. Hello Cambodia!

The roads are quieter than in busy Vietnam, and although there are many things that common to SE Asia in general (noodle stalls and extraordinary things attached to motorbikes), a few sights and practices have struck us as particularly Cambodian:

Outrageously large trailers towed behind feebly straining motorbikes;

Outrageously large trailers towed behind feebly straining motorbikes;

Passengers sitting Buddha-like on the mini-bus roof;

Passengers sitting Buddha-like on the mini-bus roof;

Cattle truck buses;

Cattle truck buses;

Gloriously pointy rooflines;

Gloriously pointy rooflines;

A curious mix of currencies.

A curious mix of currencies.

This last one needs a bit of explanation. The official currency of Cambodia is the Riel (exchange rate currently around 6,000R to the British pound, or 4,000R to the US dollar). However, you cannot get Riel from ATMs, they only dispense USD. To get Riel, you have to look for a shop advertising a money-changing service (often by sticking some photocopied dollar bills in the window, or just look for stacks of cash sitting around in elastic-banded bundles). Jewelers are a good bet, but some convenience stores and market stalls also do it. You can now change you dollars into riel…..but don’t get rid of all your dollars, you’ll need them!

Prices for small items (lunch at a market stall, a can of fizzy drink, some fruit from the market) are usually, but not always, quoted in riel. Larger items (hotels and restaurant meals) are usually, but not always, quoted in dollars. Sometimes the menu can be in dollars but the bill comes in riel. You can often pay in either currency, but it depends on the vendor, and if you are given change then don’t be surprised if it comes in a mix of currencies. For instance, if lunch for two comes to $3.50, you might hand over $5 and be owed $1.50, in which case you will receive either $1 and 2000 riel as change (there are no coins here, only notes), or perhaps 6,000 riel. Our heads are aching as we try to get a sense of how much we’re paying for things and work out if we’re being ripped off or not. Is that item more than it would have been in Laos or Vietnam because we’re now in Cambodia or is it because we’re tourists and look like easy marks. Are those lychees more expensive because the season is changing? How many dollars to the pound? Or riel to the dollar? What did we pay for that in dong back in Vietnam (30,000dong to the pound). Arrrrgh!!! Luckily, Cambodia is not as frenetic as Vietnam so even in the capital, Phnom Penh, we have a little more thinking time when conducting transactions, but it’s still a struggle.

It was only a three day ride from Saigon to Phnom Penh so it seems quite soon to be in a hotel again, but we’re spending 4 nights here waiting for our Thai visas. If we’d flown into Thailand we could have had 30 days visa-free, but crossing a land border you’re only allowed a paltry 15 days visa-free entry (which you can only extend by a further 7 days once in Thailand). So we’ve applied for a 60 day tourist visa in advance, which we can extend once in Thailand by a further 30 days if needed. The form is fairly standard: name, address, passport details, reason for visit, date of entry etc. You must also put a proposed address in Thailand – we just picked a hotel at random from the Lonely Planet, much as we did when applying for our Kazakh visa back in Omsk. Our biggest problem came when we had to put our mode of entry: bus/plane/car etc. We, of course, put bicycle. Oh dear. “What do you mean you’re crossing on a bicycle? That means we need to see your most recent bank statements.” We just hoped they’d be less stringent than the Russian visa authorities who, when we applied back in the UK at the start of the trip, needed to see original statements stamped by our bank. Photocopies would not do! Now we’re itinerant cyclists we don’t even have any recent paper records outside the UK…all our banking is done on line. Luckily Keith’s own handwritten transaction record and balance details seemed to suffice. We pedaled around a few streets until we found a photocopy service (the embassy wouldn’t do it for us) and then returned to the embassy and got our applications in by the 11am deadline. Any later than that and we’d have to return the next morning (Tuesday) to hand in our applications, and we’d already been told it would be Friday before we’d get our visas. We’d really hoped for a faster turnaround as we’re meeting a friend in Bangkok (700 km away) on 28 June, and to be honest we’d really like to take a slightly longer route and see Angkor Wat on the way, so we smiled our best smiles at the embassy lady and despite them being ‘very busy’ at the moment she eventually said she could get the visas done by Thursday. We think if we leave here on Thursday afternoon as soon as the visas are in our sticky mitts then we can just about squeeze in a day at Angkor. Fingers crossed for good roads and not too much wind.

In the meantime we’re enjoying the sights and sounds of Phnom Penh. Today we strolled round the beautiful Royal Palace and tomorrow we’re going to pedal out to the rather less relaxing site of the Killing Fields. We’ve also been forced into doing some repairs, both to the bike and our tent.

As we approached Phnom Penh we stopped to investigate a strange noise (the trailer had come unhitched on one side as we’d somehow managed to lose the retaining pin, possibly at the jet-wash earlier in the day) and whilst sorting out the trailer we noticed that the rear tyre was bulging and starting to split where it meets the rim. This is a fairly standard problem for a loaded tandem. If we pump the tyres hard (eg 90+psi, for improved rolling resistance) we find they can split near the bead very quickly indeed (within 1,000km!) so we try to keep them at around 70psi, which gives us around 6,000km….and we’ve done over 6,000km since the last change so it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but hey, time flies, who’d’ve thought we’ve come that far. Of course, the god of cycle inconveniences dictates that most problems will occur at the most inconvenient times, and having left the micro-climate of the Vietnamese coastline and come inland, we‘re now in the grip of the tropical rainy season and were being drenched by a torrential downpour at that point. Rather than change the tyre we just let a little air out and rolled on, dripping, towards Phnom Penh.

On the city outskirts the front tyre began to go soft, and whaddaya know…the tyre wall had split on that too! We sheltered from the rain on a garage forecourt and changed both tyres and the front tube (twice because the first spare promptly deflated with a duff valve….grrr.). Fellow cycle-tourist, Ian, who we met on the road back in Vietnam, recommended a bike shop in Phnom Penh so we headed there today (Giant bike shop #23 on street 169) and bought a new inner tube, a new chain and a large can of lube (which we’re going through rapidly in the rain). They didn’t have any Schwalbe Marathon tyres so we’ll have a look for those when we reach Bangkok. We’re not worried about that though as barring disaster we’ve got about 6,000km before we need to start to worry about replacing tyres. Another bit of bike fixing has been some work on our stand. A spring usually holds the stand folded away when not using it, but a week or so ago the weld holding one of the spring’s attachment points failed, so we’ve been having to laboriously bungee the stand in place every time we move off, which has been pretty annoying. To our great relief (it’s the little things like that that can really bug you) Keith got that re-welded today whilst I’ve been typing this blog.

More frustrating have been the repairs required on our tent. Because it packs away all-in-one (flysheet, inner and footprint remain attached to each other), we sometimes get the odd insect trapped between the layers. It’s never been a problem before and we’ve just flicked out the carcass the next time the tent’s out. This time though, twenty or so beautiful, sparkling-green beetles found their way inside, and rather than quietly dying they set about munching a series of holes in both our flysheet and inner tent. We are not impressed. I’ve sewed some patches of spare mesh over the holes in the inner tent, but we’re not sure yet if we’ve got enough tent-patch and seam-grip with us to repair all of the flysheet holes….we keep putting the job off. We’ve got to get it done though as the last two nights of camping were in torrential rain and we won’t be happy with a holey tent.

Some of the many holes in  our tent.

Some of the many holes in our tent.

The tent-muching culprit.

The tent-munching culprit.

And finally….a few pics from Phnom Penh:

Ice at Phnom Penh's Central Market - it was fed into machines that crushed and bagged it, and it was then sold on to bars and restaurants for putting in drinks.

Ice at Phnom Penh’s Central Market – it was fed into machines that crushed and bagged it, and it was then sold on to bars and restaurants for putting in drinks.

In the grounds of the Royal Palace.

In the grounds of the Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace.

A stupa in the grounds of the Royal Palace.

A stupa in the grounds of the Royal Palace.

Lotus seed pods.

Lotus seed pods.

Pop the seeds out and skin them.  Taste OK but a lot of work for not much reward.

Pop the seeds out and skin them. Taste OK but a lot of work for not much reward.