28 January 2014

Bikes, Bugs, and Blood in Campuchia

A few months ago, while researching places to stay in Cambodia, I ran across some information on a place called Soria Moria. In addition to the 51% employee ownership, the property makes a lot of donations to, works with, and sells hand-made products for, a number of charities. I immediately decided to stay there while in Siem Reap.

During my check-in at the Soria Moria, I asked about the possibility of renting a motorbike. This adventure was originally designed as a motorcycle adventure and I felt the need to ride in Cambodia for at least a little while. I was given a brochure for Khmer Ways Moto Adventures that, in addition to full-day and customized tours, offers a guided half-day tour of "beautiful spots, back roads and tracks through villages, picturesque scenery, and... an impression of the daily life of the inhabitants surrounding Siem Reap." Sign me up!

At 2 p.m., shortly after my return from the Angkor National Museum (skip the Snack Bar's cookies), my guide, Veach, arrived with a tuk-tuk to take me to our starting point. As the brochure says, "...we do not rent motos--prohibited in Siem Reap by law." From what I was told, a number of tourists were injured, some seriously, because they, as so many others before and since, somehow thought that it has two wheels like a bicycle and I can ride a bicycle, so...

If only they taken the time to consider two things taught in the most basic motorcycle beginners' class:
1) Unlike a bicycle, the motorcycle weighs more than you do
2) The dynamics change significantly around 23 kph (15 mph)

If the publicity didn't hurt tourism (people hear that tourists died, and they tune out the part about they were way out of their depth), I'd be all for letting them rent motorbikes. As my friend Gus taught me almost 40 years ago, things like this help purify the gene pool. 

Back to Veach and the motorbike. Because I read the words in the brochure and didn't look at the photos, I thought that we'd be riding a real motorcycle. Nope. It was my first time on a semi-automatic bike, though, so I took it for a short ride to see if it had any huevos (nope) and to try a few clutch-less shifts. No problem, let's roll!

After a bit of paved road riding, Veach gave me the pre-determined "stop" hand signal. He told me that we would now do some dirt and mud riding on the way to the temple we would visit. Okay...

We took a right onto a dirt road that, after 100 meters or so, had a thick layer of silt or sand or powder or something. Let's call it powder that rides like sand. We spent much of the next hour riding through and past village after village, slipping and sliding. Again, if I'd read between the lines in the brochure, "...back roads and tracks..." in Việt Nam means no pavement, so it probably means the same in Cambodia.

Although I was tired and the fun factor was creeping into the negative, I stuck with it. Veach saw that I was unhappy and apologized. It wasn't his fault, though I did tell him that I wanted to get back to pavement as soon as possible.

After a short break for a beverage, we rode another five minutes (back on pavement) to the bottom of a steep hill, dismounted, and started climbing toward the temple.

Unsure why, but I thought the temple was an active one...


Called Chou Sripy Vebol, these ruins are among the oldest in the area. Veach did a good job of explaining things. A bit of this temple has been braced to help arrest further deterioration, but no real reconstruction is visible. 

Veach explains the Chou Sripy Vebol temple

On the way back to town after the temple visit, I finally convinced Veach that he could pick up the pace I and could and would keep up. The ride back was much more fun at speed!

Upon my return to the Soria Moria, I tried to transfer photos to my SD card so that I can put them on my iPad. Unfortunately, either on this computer or the previous one I used, there is some nasty crap. I ended up with over 1000 spiders on one memory chip that had to be professionally cleaned up. To be safe,the next day I took a few of my memory chips into the computer shop next door and Rithy, the owner, took some time right near closing to ensure all were scrubbed.

Cathy Net Computers Technology; Watbo Street next to the Soria Moria Hotel.

The next day I was unable to access some of the files on one of the memory sticks, so I took EVERYTHING back to the shop. Rithy was not there, but his very capable Number 2, Reasey, spend quite a bit of time re-cleaning each memory stick and card so that I am now completely virus- and spider-free and didn't lose a single image. Thank you to Rithy and Reasey!

Since I'm on the subject of bugs and the chronology is a bit out of sync, this is a good time to bring up another bug. A spider, technically an arachnid, is for purposes of the next paragraph, a bug.

While walking through the food market at the edge of the Siem Reap Night Market, I found a guy selling BIG fried spiders that had hairy legs and looked a lot like tarantulas. Since I'd never tried one before, I had to give it a shot.

It most definitely did NOT taste like chicken! It was a bit chewy and the hair tickled my tongue and the inside of my mouth. This experience will mostly likely go into the one-time experience category.

Earlier that afternoon, as we finished day three of temple visiting, we passed a sign outside the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital that urgently asked for blood donations to help with the blood shortage caused by hemorrhagic dengue fever. As soon as I dropped my stuff off at the hotel I asked Mr. Rithy to take me back to the hospital so I could donate blood. It all went quickly and well... Up until the part when I was sitting up in a chair so they could take my photo for their donor wall and I felt something running down my arm.

I looked down and saw that my left forearm was covered in blood that was pretty rapidly flowing. I held up my arm, asked, "could someone please take a look at this?" and rested it on the exam table while the blood continued to flow. None of the staff were doctors or nurses, so the phlebotomist took the lead. As soon as she touched the gauze bandage covering the puncture, it shot out a huge stream of blood. Now everyone except me was in crisis mode, running around and applying pressure and cleaning up. I was laughing very hard and thinking that if they could capture this bonus blood, they'd probably get a whole 'nother pint. Even though I was starting to feel dizzy, I continued to laugh...

Then, while they were cleaning me up, I looked down at my pant leg. I walked out of there looking like I'd taken a hit of shrapnel.

All in a day's adventure!

On my departure day I ate a leisurely breakfast (included in the rate) and then packed for my flight home to Ho Chi Minh City. Mr. Rith would pick me up for the airport at 2, so I had time to check out the "fresh Vegetarian food" restaurant called "peace café". A block from my hotel, the mostly outside-seating establishment is set in a beautiful, mature garden with assorted tables and chairs set up in small nooks formed by the plants. I ordered a glass of fresh carrot juice with ginger and a vegetable panini sandwich. 

Unfortunately, before I got the juice my appetite was ruined my a massive cloud of cigarette smoke from one of the patrons. After five minutes of trying to breathe around the noxious gasses, I gave up and moved as far upwind and away from her as I could. Then, before my food came two 20-something American girls (could tell by the accents and inappropriate use of the word 'like' four times per sentence) sat down two tables away and immediately lit up.


Since I had nowhere else to go that was out of the clouds and stil in the restaurant, i told my waiter that I needed my food for "take away." While I waited, I asked why people were allowed to smoke there when the goal of such a place is improving health through healthy eating? He didn't have an answer. The food was okay, but the cigarettes ruin the ambiance. I will not return to this restaurant.

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