Posted in Laos

Islands in Mekong river

Auf der Insel Don Som

There are many islands in this longest river in Asia, there are said to be 4000 in the south of Laos alone. What counts, whether every single turf that protrudes from the water or only inhabited islands – I can’t say. I take a closer look at three of them – Don Det, Don Som and Don Khong – and jump from island to island with different boats, because the connections between the populated islands are well organized, at prices between 10,000 and 20,000 kip, depending on the length of the route. Don Det is e.g. very popular with backpackers and the ticket sale for the crossing runs in Nakasong on the eastern bank of the river at a specially built counter. All the bus connections that bring people to the islands end in Nakasong, and around early noon dozens of tourists with colorful backpacks pack the shadow-free main road along from the car park to the river bank and to the commuting boats.

I don’t want to push myself between all these backpack carriers by bike and sit down in the shade of a small restaurant above the river bank and eat one – noodle soup, there is one here again. Shortly before, at the entrance to Nakasong, in the shop of a smartphone retailer, I met Esther and Vassiliy, a Vietnamese woman and a young Russian on a bike tour from Jakarta to Hanoi. The two had the same problem as me, namely bought a local SIM card for mobile internet access that did not work properly, and they were now able to get help. The card I bought yesterday only had to be activated for the desired Internet package. It only took a few minutes, but the problem seemed to be a bit bigger for the two.

South of Ban Thakho, where I spent my first night in Laos, the masses of water in the Mekong rush down a few rapids and smaller waterfalls. A nice natural spectacle, which is raised rather modestly here, apart from the fact that you have to pay a parking fee even for the bike and then have to buy a ticket to access the viewpoints. There is a view restaurant and a café and if you get there early in the morning, you have the small park almost to yourself. Even the souvenir dealers are not all there yet.
The view is not that spectacular now, the water level of the Mekong is also relatively low, but I still wanted to have seen the waterfalls when I was around. So I have a rather restful day today, because I don’t make much of a trip on the islands either, and I don’t get very fast because roads are scarce, narrow economic paths form the connection network that connects the various boat connections across a whole series of islands extends.
Khone Pha Pheng

Yesterday afternoon, after a hard stage along the NR7, which is part of the Asian highway AH-11, I entered Laos and stayed in a simple motel just a few kilometers behind the border. This NR7 is mostly a bad slope made of loose laterite granules and disintegrating concrete substructure, sometimes the road is temporarily paved, often it is a constant change. Fortunately, the volume of traffic is relatively low, because it is an international long-distance connection. Therefore, the approximately 60 km between Stung Treng and the border station can also be driven quite well, despite the poor supply situation. There are few restaurants along this route and I only found one that could actually offer me something to eat after around 50 km.
A barren area in which the larger banana plantation that I pass looks somehow misplaced.

The border crossing from Cambodia to Laos seemed somehow dead. The turnstile stayed down when I approached. So pull your head and roll under it, a local moped driver does the same in the opposite direction. The exit from Cambodia is quick. Scan the fingerprints again, farewell photo and bye. Also on the Laos side, the turnstile remains below and there are still a few people from the Thai coach that drove past me a few minutes before I reached the border at the two counters. But I have time, I still have to fill out an entry slip that will later be attached to my passport. First of all, a paramedic records my body temperature – I could have a fever.
I remember that six years ago, when I crossed the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, the first person in a white coat to check the body temperature of all travelers. The same thing later at Windhoek Airport in Namibia. Funny thing: there is always an epidemic.
After a brief check of the filled-in slip and the visa in my passport,
you are asked to pay a $ 2 stamp fee, an interesting invention. When I asked for a stamp for my diary, it was made clear to me that I should go on. Too bad.

The quality of the road will then be slightly better and shortly after the border a milestone indicates that there are still 823 km to Vientiane. A route that I split up over the next two weeks, not always just along highway 13, as it is shown here in Laos. After all, the Mekong has two banks and many islands on which I started today.

Don Det is the supposedly greener island, but larger islands also have a lot of vegetation and the people living there practice agriculture e.g. on Don Som as well as on the mainland. The rice is partly freshly planted in the fields and is deep in the water, which is pumped directly from the Mekong and directed to the fields. Certainly an advantage, because off the banks of the river the water distribution is of course more complex.

Posted in Cambodia

To the bridge over Mekong river

Five days after I left Siem Reap, I come across the Mekong at Stung Treng today. The bridge does not look very spectacular, although the river is about 1.5 kilometers wide here, but the river does make a difference – and it looks so untouched. Since the Mekong can only be navigated to the border with Laos, it is not economically interesting as a waterway in this region, and therefore no large ships can be seen. The city is also not particularly large, but is considered a border town to Laos, which is about 50 km away, and is the administrative seat for the Stung Treng district, as well as a hub for various bus connections further into the country or to neighboring Laos.

After the three days of cycling and tuk-tuk in Angkor Wat, it was almost like a new beginning and a good feeling to be able to ‘get back on the road’ with all the luggage on the bike. But I didn’t want to leave Siem Reap without rolling through the large park of Angkor Wat again. The Banteay Kdei temple was still missing and was only a short detour on my route. A small temple ruin that is not approached on the shorter tours through the park and therefore has relatively few visitors, although it e.g. is not that far from Ta Phrom Temple.

With this little detour I was not tempted to use the busy NR6 eastwards to get away from Siem Reap and towards Preah Vihear, but simply followed the road leading out of the park and was still able to benefit a few kilometers from the shady forest.

There is a small (tourist-prepared) settlement, which is intended to demonstrate a little the rural life of the region and with some restaurants is waiting for visitors from the park of Angkor. At early noon there wasn’t too much going on and I wasn’t stopped, my route to Svay Leu was still long enough.
Far from the main connecting road and far from the tourist spots, the picture changed a little. This side route took me through long-drawn-out settlements with partly modern Khmer-style houses and simpler wooden buildings, but actually always clean plots, in contrast to the first days between Poipet and Siem Reap.

People often farm on a small scale, with a few cattle, or with a few plots of rice, with the fields currently dry. Shops are rare, however, and can almost only be found at intersections of different streets. But almost always there is an unexpected and at the right time a street kitchen on the side of the road that offers soup with noodles or fried rice with egg or can conjure up quickly.
On the relatively short stage from Svay Leu to Moreal on the second day, there is noodle soup for breakfast and I eat a cucumber noodle soup again in the late morning (but then cold), which somehow reminds me of Estonia and a cucumber soup that I once tried there a few years ago.

It is nice that you can always address the friendly people directly and they are not shy themselves, even if the communication does not work at all. The selection in the pots is never particularly large, and yet I often get more on my plate than I expected. In Svay Leu I wanted to give up in the evening, because by 7pm I was already late and some of the small restaurants in town were already tidying up. A young cook told me that I could come to him for breakfast, but he was already closed. Two other covered halls with tables and chairs were full of guests, but self-cooking with a hotpot was the order of the day. The operators only sell the ingredients there and you have to know what you want. Not the right choice for a hungry individual.

In the end, I got a delicious portion of fried noodle with lots of vegetables from a very busy cook with a wok and grill who only had two tables in his open space. While I was eating there people kept coming over to pick up their phone orders and sat down at my table with two young girls who ate a large portion of papaya salad (at least it did look like) with crayfish with relish and intense entertainment to have. Apparently the specialty from the cook’s large wooden mortar, in which he always prepared new dishes. With a loud crack and crackle, the two girls nibbled the crayfish’s shell – also a peculiarity of the Khmer, seafood and meat always with as much and splintered bones as possible to eat. If you order rice with chicken, you can often (not always) adjust to a lot of cartilage and bone, but little meat.

The last five days have cost a lot of strength, since I now almost always had to drive against the gusty east wind, sometimes through profiled terrain. There are no special highlights along the route, actually the ideal terrain for making the route. In any case, people who came towards me benefited from the wind. That was two Dutch women half-way around noon today, and a little later in the afternoon a young Briton on a world tour. That also that I am not driving an unknown route. Maybe that’s why the policemen smiled so mischievously at their checkpoint – oh, another madman on a bike.

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In any case, children on the side of the road are still happy about every light-skinned cyclist who comes by and sometimes shout “Helloo!” Before I even register them. Schoolchildren often wave a little more cautiously, but I am perceived as a colorful tourist by apparently many more people than I see as I roll past their often gray everyday life.

I rather notice the smells, from the burning plastic waste, from the charcoal fire, from boiling rice, from the cassava roots drying on the roadside, because for about two days I pass through an area in which a lot is grown. The harvest has apparently just run, because on the one hand I see many single-axle trailers with tractors that are loaded with cassava roots and drive to the next collection points. The roots are chopped into strips by hand and placed extensively in the sun to dry. In the warmth, these white roots exude a typical sweet smell, which naturally rises into my nose as I roll past.
The dry roots are packed in sacks and brought back to warehouses with the single-axle tractors that are widespread throughout Cambodia, from where they are transported away by larger trucks for further processing.
There was such a warehouse in Moreal, not far from the guest house where I had stayed, and in the evening a few trucks were busy loading.

The warmth during the day, the rising smoke and haze in the evening, dogs barking almost everywhere at night, and from six in the morning xylophone-like music and spherical sounds from the nearest monastery. The sounds almost never stop, and yet there is silence at some point in the night. There was a family gathering somewhere in Moreal, and party music was playing in the afternoon and stopping almost all night long, until after a short break in the morning it was ‘taken over’ by the monks and their xylophone sounds.

This music can be very soothing if it is not played too loudly, which is unfortunately usually the case. Here in Stung Treng, however, I have never heard of the monastery / temple about 400 m away.


Posted in Cambodia

Having a break in ruins


Siem Reap is a very busy city, which is flooded by tourists from all over the world thanks to the unique medieval temples of Angkor Wat. You can get used to it, you are prepared for it and you make a living from it. If you want, you can sit down in one of the many restaurants or cafés that are geared towards western needs and put your feet up, or face everyday life in Cambodia and explore the hustle and bustle in side streets and markets. You can also get a multi-day ticket to visit the archaeological park of Angkor Wat and explore the huge area on your own either by bike or tuk-tuk.

You can get the tickets in a purpose-built building outside the city, about halfway from the center to the park, and after we have started Friday as the first day of the break and actually put our feet up a bit and later asked about bike shops to find a packaging for Maik’s bike for the return trip. Then we took our bikes to the temple complex in the afternoon to get a first impression.

The temples, which can be categorized over several centuries, were built under various kings of the Khmer in the Middle Ages and were sometimes Hindu, sometimes Buddhist, and sometimes were also rededicated after the religious reorientation of a subsequent king. at Wikipedia – can be read.

It is fascinating how much space these temples take up, sometimes surrounded by a wide moat, like the Angkor Wat and Preah Khan temples, as well as the much smaller Ta Phrom temple, compared to the later built city of Angkor Thom, which has a walled area of 3 x 3 km is said to have housed a million people. Nothing has remained of the wooden residential buildings, only the remains of the stone temples testify to a once flourishing culture, which, however, could not do much to oppose the conquests of the Siamese in the 13th century. The city of Angkor Thom was abandoned in a hurry.


Of course, I also use the days here to change my thoughts from cycling and to eat something other than noodle soup or fried rice. From time to time I also like to take an omelet or cereal for breakfast. In the Star Bar near the small hotel, a broadcast of the Super Bowl of the American Football League is shown on a big screen on Sunday morning from 6 a.m. and the restaurant sells tickets for it in all seriousness and is actually quite well attended when we pass it at 8 a.m. to stroll. The omelette also tastes good in the “Viva” at the old market.

On the bike, the chain gets fresh oil and new tension after the approximately 800 kilometers driven. The chain lengthens slightly over time, and from time to time it is therefore necessary to readjust the rear axle or the gear hub. I notice that I have a wide crack in the profile in the rear wheel. Apparently it doesn’t go right into the tire’s carcass, but on my last day in the city I let myself search for a replacement tire. As it turns out, 28 “bikes are not that common among the many bike dealers we met while looking for a box for Maik’s bike.

At a Specialized dealer, who also offers classic models in addition to individual racing bikes, I find a suitable trekking tire from Chinese production, which I will take with me on my onward journey.