At 9am sharp our boat left to bring us back to the mainland. We did some grocery shopping and hit the road again – for about 30km along the beautiful coast and then back to the four-lane highway aiming for Chanthaburi. Despite our late start, the constantly changing wind and a long lunch break to avoid cycling in the heat we managed to arrive in Chanthaburi before dusk and went straight to the river guesthouse, where we had quite some fun.
It started with a sick receptionist who hardly managed to help us because she constantly had to run to the bathroom to throw up. The poor thing came back, sweat all over her face to answer one of our questions and then to either go directly back to the bathroom or to lay down on the nearby couch. As we always look at the rooms first before we rent it, Johan got a key to one of the free rooms. He came back asking the receptionist if he could see a room with a bigger bed as the two of us don’t manage to sleep in a single-90cm-bed. So he got another key to a room with a single-100cm-bed – still too small for us! Back again, he asked if there were other rooms available with bigger beds or with bigger bet, but the receptionist denied. When we asked if there were rooms with two beds, she gave Johan another key to look at the third room. You need to know that we cycled 110km that day and all rooms were on the third floor with six flights of stairs to walk up and down at around 32 degrees. The rooms Johan looked at had about 50 degrees, we noticed that when we finally managed to get a room with two beds facing each other and opened the balcony door to feel the fresh breeze outside ;-). The room was tiny but clean and with air con, so within 30min the room temperature was bearable. The downside of this room was that it faced the highway but we thought better some noise from the street than not sleeping at all in a mini-bed. We should have known better!
When we switched on the air con it made an enormous noise and at first we thought it would ‘slow down’ as soon as the main work was done. Well, that of course didn’t happen and it continued to be as loud as a running truck engine, and unfortunately I chose the bed underneath the air con, which meant for me a loooooong night with hardly any sleep. The next morning I didn’t even hear the alarm go off. This has never ever happened in my whole life! On the positive side, we couldn’t hear any street noise and Johan slept extremely well and woke me the next morning full of energy. This is also one of the hotels that pack mattresses in plastic before they put the bed sheets on.
Friday was an exciting day for us as we would cross the Cambodian border. In the morning I checked once again if the border we were aiming for was open and if we could get our visas there as I read that they close it from time to time if there are shootings!!!! Cycling was great, even though we had strong headwinds the first half and cross winds the second half.
Thailand has been country number twelve on our trip and we cycled 359 km in total. I have to say that Thailand is a fabulous cycling country. I know we haven’t seen much of the kingdom but so far all roads were in great condition with wide shoulders on even tertiary roads. Sometimes the traffic can be a bit heavy, that’s the only downside so far. There are food stalls or 7-eleven supermarkets everywhere, which meant for us we never had to bother much about buying food in advance. I am already looking forward to the 7-eleven raisin-almond rolls when we’ll be back in a few months. For all cyclists, if you can cope with the heat, Thailand is your country.
We crossed the Thai/Cambodian border effortless, the Thais were happy to see us leave and the Cambodians were happy to take our dollars, let us fill in a few forms and stamp our passports.
I find it always so much more exciting to cross a border over land than to arrive on an airport. What amazes me the most is that you immediately see, feel and smell the difference. The contrast between Thailand and Cambodia could hardly be starker. On the Thai side we cycled the last 40km through jungle with huge palm trees, banana trees and other foliage plants you usually only see in European living rooms. At times the crickets were singing so loud we couldn’t hear ourselves anymore. Cambodia on the other side had been completely deforested and cultivated while the fields were either brown as everything was dry and harvested or black from controlled burnings. People again yelled and waved at us from far away. A short minute I thought we were back in India. But the big difference is that mainly the children wave at us and scream their ‘hellos and bye-bye’s’. Some are even clapping their hands and give us their thumbs up, very cute. The nicest are their genuine smiles when they see us. Their faces light up and a welcoming hello comes out of their mouths. Not a single time we were asked for money or anything else. We are also fascinated by the lady’s sense of fashion: they are wearing colorful pyjamas with Mickey Mouse or animal or flower prints. At first we thought they were just coming out of bed, but there were too many wearing this style of clothes. Looks a bit childish and funny, but must be really comfy, maybe I should consider this outfit if my shorts continue to cause trouble :-).
The saddest difference is the sudden poverty as Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world. People along the road live in small huts or stilt houses where life takes place under the houses in the cooling shade. Today’s modern Cambodia still faces many challenges and despite international support the country’s infrastructure improves only slowly in no small part due to the corruption. Even though there are some improvements in cities the majority of Cambodians neither have clean water nor electricity. Healthcare remains inadequate and land mines and unexploded ordnances are still an issue. This summer’s elections will see what the future will bring.
And by the way we got some more online coverage on our trip, this time from the Dutch online cycling website Sint Christophorus.
Next time I will update you on some dark chapters in Cambodia’s history. Stay tuned if this interests you.