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Kep, Cambodia

Motorcycle Diaries

With our focus set on Vietnam, we started our journey towards the border. Travelling from country to country by bus is usually, to be blunt, a really big pain in the ass. Anything we can do to make our eventual border crossing easier, we will usually add into our itinerary. Between Kampot and the border of Vietnam is a small town on the water called Kep. We decided to spend one night there, and to catch a bus the next morning to Vietnam.

At this point our group had expanded to 7 people. The usual 5 people, consisting of myself, the three Brits (Tim, Eddy, James), the Canadian (Sam), and another two that decided to join us from Kampot (Chris and Sarah) After arriving, and quickly settling on an itinerary for the day(Pepper plantation, caves, and dinner) we began to sort out our transportation around town. This isn’t the type of city where tour buses exist, and honestly, I hate tour buses anyways.

The Brits and Sarah split a Tuk-Tuk, while the rest of us decided to rent motorcycles. I had never ridden a motorcycle before, but I had been seeing old women and children riding them around, and fancy myself to be quite a quick learner, how hard could it be? After learning the complex workings of the bike, such as how to turn it on, and where the brakes were, we were off.

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We definitely made the right choice with the motorbikes. It’s a great feeling to be able to go wherever you want to go and not be restricted by someone else’s itinerary. After about 20 minutes of riding we hit our first landmark, a giant statue of a white horse. It was marked on our crude map by the hostel as “white house.” Veering to the right, we would start down the dirt road leading to the pepper plantation.

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Of course, they had Durian.

After leaving the plantation, we began the second leg of our journey to the caves. Kep is a very small town, but don’t think that means the roads aren’t hectic. Road laws pretty much consist of the following rules:

1. Don’t crash into anyone.
2. Honk, a lot, unless it would actually make sense to.
3. There is no “right” side of the road to drive on. Drive wherever there are no other people.
4. If someone isn’t going fast enough, abruptly pass them on the other side of the road, even if there’s a car barreling down on you.

At one point in our journey, a car was passing a motorbike coming the other direction. I moved over as far as I could to the right of the road, giving the car room to squeeze between us. At that moment, another motorbike came up from behind me, and went between myself and the oncoming car. Apparently this spooked me, because I went from about 50 km/hr to zero in an instant, as my bike and I went crashing to the ground.

The next thing I remember, I was scrambling off the pavement to get off the road, and checking myself to see if I was ok. Arms? Check. Legs? Check. Back? Check. Head and Chest? Check and check. Chris, a medic in the Canadian Army, was quickly over to me, checking for himself what I was hazily trying to confirm. Sam, who was up ahead of me, had seen over his shoulder the aftermath of what had happened, and also quickly came back to my aid. The townspeople were slowly trickling over as well. They don’t see very many white people, and they rarely see a white person who had just crashed a motorcycle.

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Attracting a Crowd

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Getting fixed back up

After making sure everything major inside of the motorcycle and myself were still intact, we did the only thing we could do: Rode on. Sam jumped on my bike so that I could take the automatic bike, a slightly easier ride. We hoped to run into our other friends at the caves, so that I could climb in the Tuk Tuk, and one of them could take the bike. Although I was still able to ride, I was certainly quite skittish.

After riding around for about 30 more minutes, we still couldn’t find the entrance for the caves. The townspeople did what they usually do when we point at a map and ask for directions, they bewilderedly stare at the map for a few moments, rotate it a few times in a nonsensical manner, then point randomly in one direction. We decided to head back, although I was not very excited about the prospect of an hour ride after just crashing.

Shortly after making the decision to head home, we heard some excited beeping behind us. It was the Tuk Tuk, with the Brits and Sarah. After a frenzied recollection of the day’s events, Eddy relieved me of my motorbike duty, and in my new chariot home I had the luxury of a driver, and a third wheel.

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The new wheels

I am extremely lucky that nothing serious happened to me during the crash. I could have easily broken my leg, or an arm, or something more serious. My one year trip could have quickly turned into a 3 month trip. Sarah happened to be a nurse (pretty good timing to have a crash, traveling with an Army Medic and a nurse). Her diagnosis? Probably a pulled back muscle, and possibly a cracked rib to go along with the scrapes on my right side.

It has been about 3 weeks since the crash (I know I know, I’m a little behind here), and the effects are slowly fading. The big scrape is now just a big pink blotch on my side. My back is almost healed (although the heavy diet of buses in Vietnam isn’t helping), the suspected rib is still quite tender, but it is getting better every day. Long story short, I dodged a serious bullet, and am so grateful that I not only was able to walk away, but that I had such good friends to help take care of me and ease the initial shock.

Small speed bump, but in the end I am left but nothing but a little soreness and a good story. “Did I tell you about the time I crashed a motorcycle while riding through Cambodia?” Yeah, no big deal.

So grateful to be able to say this: the show must go on. Next stop, Vietnam.

Posted by dpteitel 10:11 Archived in Cambodia Comments (2)

Can Tho, Vietnam

Một hai ba, YOOO!

We successfully crossed the border from Cambodia to Vietnam, and began our journey up the long, narrow country. Listening to one of our guide books, we decided to spend a night in the border city, Ha Tien. I should’ve known better than that. Border cities, in every country I’ve been to so far have been terrible. They are a means to an end, a way to get into the other wonderful parts of a country. But I’m not going to spend much time discussing a city that I didn’t like, I’d much rather talk about its lovable neighbor to the north, our second stop, Can Tho.

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Arriving in Can Tho was a breath of fresh air. When I first get to a city, my favorite thing to do is get lost for a little while. Walking around for 30 minutes gives me a better feel for a city than any guidebook ever could. Can Tho’s charm immediately came pouring off the streets. We walked through the crowded fish market, getting a first glimpse into the quality of the seafood we would enjoy for the next few days. The best part though, was that the scowls we were getting in Ha Tien were switched out for smiling, welcoming faces all over the city. After an incredible and cheap dinner of fish cooked in a clay pot (top five meals of the whole trip, and cost about $2) we booked a river tour down the Mekong delta for the following morning. We knew it would be good, but little did we suspect that it would turn out to be one of the most entertaining days of the entire trip.

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The Market

We awoke around 430 in order to catch the sunrise over the delta. We were introduced to our boat driver, who at the time seemed like a perfectly normal person. He wore a baseball hat to go along with a slightly tattered button down shirt, and had a sort of boyish playfulness behind his semi tooth filled smile. Oh, and he is probably the happiest semi-alcoholic I’ve ever met.

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Fearless Captain

The day began simply enough. The sun would rise, and would be beautiful, as sunrises tend to be. We would visit two floating markets, selling all kinds of food from coffee to pineapples. We picked up a few pineapples, that over the course of the day would be so much more than just pineapples, serving not only as food, but as microphones, and as a paddle.

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Early

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One floating market

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The boats hang whatever they are selling from large rods on the boat.

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The Pineapples, which would prove to be quite the versatile fruits

We followed up the markets with a stop at a noodle factory. This factory consisted of three hard working Vietnamese, working vigorously to produce one of the staples of an Asian diet. One would scoop out a mixture onto a heated plate, and as it hardened, the other would gently pull them off and place them out to dry. The third would collect, and cut. These three people, and this process, produce around a hundred pounds of noodles every day.

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We drifted lazily along the delta for the next few hours, all contemplating naps after our early rise, and waving at the children running with us along the shore. We got out of the boat while the boat driver attempted to navigate through an increasing amount of river plants. Sam and I ran into a group of Vietnamese eating lunch on the shore, and In exchange for taking their picture they insisted I take a shot of their random home brewed liquor. A shot for a shot, I suppose. Although it tasted terrible, I smiled, thanked them, and headed on my way. This would not be the last I would taste of this mystery brew.

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Stuck?

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The bridge

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"Take picture!"

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Sam showing how to use the local toilet

We stopped for lunch at a small, predictably overpriced restaurant on the delta. During lunch, we were told that the boat driver wanted us to join him in the back of the kitchen. Upon entering, we were greeted by a circle of smiling, slightly flushed Vietnamese men sitting on the ground. There was a tray of food in the middle, and they were passing around a clear, liter sized bottle filled with something that was probably quite strong. They proceeded to show us their ritual. Someone pours you a shot, they all shout “Một hai ba, YOOO!” (Vietnamese for one, two, three, DRIINNKKK!”) Then you take the shot, eat a piece of fried egg dipped in salt, then eat a piece of deep fried pork. Since we got to the game late, they insisted we each start by doing about four rounds of this. This proceeded for a quite a bit of time, either an hour, or four clear liter sized bottles long, whichever metric you prefer.

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We finally were able to work our way back to the boat after thanking our hosts. A minute or so later, our boat driver stumbled out with an even bigger bottle of the mystery fluid. It is really hard to capture the feeling of the ride home with words, so I’m going to try to let the pictures do all of the talking.

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Pineapple Microphone. "I'd like to thank God, the Queen, and Usher."

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Pineapple Hat

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All hail, the almighty pineapple

Shockingly, we ran out of gas on the way home, and for a few minutes or so decided on the best next move. Instead of asking the passing boats for gas, we would sing, while the driver played air guitar on the one paddle we had. I then decided I would save the day, and quickly jumped to action using the pineapple as a paddle.

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We would eventually find more fuel, and as we loudly pulled into the dock with an empty, clear bottle lying on the deck, we staggered off of the boat, still trying to figure out how a Mekong Delta sunrise cruise turned out to be such a party. Just the standard boat ride would have been a very fulfilling day, however the friendly Vietnamese men’s willingness to let us into their Saturday morning festival pushed it over edge.

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We made it.

A long nap later, we would end the night at the same restaurant as the previous night. No one was really sure how that morning happened. It started so innocently with the markets, the children, and the noodles, and ended in a way that none of us could have expected. A superb beginning to my Vietnam tour, and a great reminder to go into every day with an open mind, as the best experiences generally occur due to an unexpected twist or turn.

Satisfied with the Mekong, it is time for somewhere a bit larger. Next stop, Ho Chi Minh City, AKA Saigon.

Posted by dpteitel 12:43 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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