Bikes on the roof - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

December 5, 2023

Bikes on the roof

Chau Doc to Phnom Penh

Dear little friends,

Anxious me set the alarm for five am, but somehow didn’t hear the chime, just saw this weird orange light from the phone alarm. I guess I had turned the sound down during one of my middle-of-the-night wakeful periods when I was watching cat videos or something. I am a weird sleeper, maybe from when I lived in caves and had to get up on occasion to check for sabertooth tigers. If there had been cat videos then I could have just watched for them from bed but I sure would like to ditch my nighttime genetics and just sleep all night long like normal people.

 I sprang out of bed like the tiger had snuck in. We had a 7 am boat to catch and our guesthouse was a little ways from the boat landing so we were going to leave by 6. We were all business, packing up, braiding hair, brushing teeth, cleaning up the tiny bit of oil on the floor where my rear hub is leaking. Yes. I have a leaking hub. Where in this part of the world I’ll find somebody to look at my leaking Shimano Alfine 11 hub is a great question. We’re all in suspense on that one.

Every morning we leave our air conditioned bubble and walk straight into a wall of humidity. Even if it’s 76 degrees outside it still feels like walking into a wet piece of carpeting. This morning was no different. Once you’re on the bike things feel a lot better with that moving air to give an illusion of coolness. We rolled up to the Victoria hotel and on up through the lobby and down to the boat launch area. I was sweating again. I probably don’t really need to even point that out, just assume that anytime I’m outside I’m sweating.

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Ron SuchanekYou look pretty happy for someone who spent the night watching out for sabre tooth tigers and cat videos, and getting up to a leaky hub. I hope the hub gets sorted out.
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2 months ago
Picking up a banh mi for breakfast on the boat.
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We wanted to be there early so we could properly supervise the bike placements in the boat. We wanted them inside at the back and maybe if the boat hadn’t sold out this voyage they would have agreed to that but no, it was a full boat, they’re going on the roof. The captain cushioned them with life jackets (please, bike, don’t leak oil onto the life jacket!!!) and secured them with ropes. Bruce climbed up and moved the rope off of his rotor. Then a claque of tourists arrived with their rolling suitcases and it was all aboard.

Okay, you two behave.
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I like boat rides. This one covered a big section of the Mekong that we have not previously traversed/ridden next to. There would be two immigration stops, one on the Vietnam side, the other in Cambodia. Then three hours to Phnom Penh. 

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Bruce LellmanAnd you two behave too.
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2 months ago

All went according to plan. The boat was packed, we hadn’t seen this many westerners since Saigon. After a choppy start the boat picked up speed and we sailed north up the river and we hoped for the best for our bikes. There was a lot to look at, boats fishing and boats hauling things and boats dredging sand from the bottom of the Mekong. All boats have eyes in the front, white circles on a black background. All of them. When we passed boats closely enough there was always somebody looking at our boat from their boat and I made it a point to wave and usually got a wave back. Bruce, meanwhile, went to the back of the boat where it is more open and took a lot of photos.

He came back to sit down and was pretty upset with all the sand dredging, and explained to me why. They rob the river bottom of sand that has been laid down for millenia, sand that holds nutrients and helps stabilize the already endangered Mekong ecosystem. That this fine, delicate sand is shipped as far away as the United States to be used in fracking oil extraction is a crime against the river and a crime against the planet. It really cast a pall over our boat ride. As we got closer to Cambodia the dredging got more intense, as if they had to get as far north as possible before Cambodia forbade the practice. I’m probably kidding myself on that one because Cambodia never refuses a chance to exploit resources for the Chinese or Cambodian corrupt officials, if the dredging tapered off after the border it was probably just indifference. FOR NOW.

These guys scoop up the sand.
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Kristen ArnimCast a pall indeed!
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2 months ago
These guys carry it off.
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Anyway, at the beginning of the ride our boat conductor person went down the rows collecting passports, checking that our Vietnam visas were inside, and collecting the Cambodia visa fee of $35 or 900,000 VND. What a good way to get rid of some of our excess dong! That’s what we gave him. He had a big bag of passports and cash, and for once I didn’t really feel skeeved about that, there were two guys aboard besides the driver, one Vietnamese and one Cambodian and I trusted them. That is not typical for me whenever border crossings are involved, ESPECIALLY in or out of Cambodia.

The boat pulled up to a dock, we all had to pile out and wait about an hour for everybody to get stamped out. We were in a room full of tables and chairs, with refreshments for sale and a rack of “tourist clothing” for sale, think rayon loose elephant pants and tie-dye shirts, that sort of dreck. There were two toilet rooms. It was hot, but there were fans. And a lady changing money. We still had a peck of dong left that would be hard to get rid of, and her exchange rate was reasonable, so Bruce changed it to Cambodian riel. 

They're still up there. Believe me, we check.
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The money changer.
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In Cambodia, there are two official currencies. The US dollar and the riel. $1USD = 4000 riel, more or less. You have to be quick with math (which I’m not) because they ask for dollars but give change in riel, that come in all sorts of colors and sizes with Khmer number characters and down in one corner the number in our numbers but it’s really hard to read. I’m pretty hopeless at that, and mostly go on trust that the change will be somewhat in the ballpark.

After our long hot wait, we piled back on the boat, and in a few minutes were in Cambodia and got off again. This time we went up a steep ramp and into an absolutely beautiful temple grounds, with shady trees and flowers and benches to sit on and wait while more stamping happened. The boat guys would appear from time to time with 3 or 4 completed passports, then those people went into an office and got fingerprinted and/or photographed. That took a long time. We visited with some young people in a tour group, Canadians and Americans, that was fun. We hadn’t talked with North Americans since we left San Francisco. 

Amy from LA laughed when we told her we were traveling by bicycle. She had never heard of such a thing. Bruce told her we were going to put that in the journal, so, Amy, if you’re out there reading this, laughing was the proper response! It is definitely an odd little hobby.

Sitting in the shade, I looked over at the road next to the temple. Yes, a few motorbikes went by, but they weren’t honking! Birds were singing. My shoulders relaxed, my heartbeat slowed, I’m guessing my blood pressure went downward. We were in Cambodia. It’s a quieter, slower country than Vietnam and I was there for it.

Waiting around in the beautiful temple grounds.
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A lovely flower in the temple grounds. Princess Flower, Pleroma semidecandrum.
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The North Americans were, interestingly enough, the last to get our passports and go into the office. Cambodia has some history with us and I’m not going to begrudge them any sort of animosity they may feel towards Yanks. Kissinger just died and if there is any sort of justice in the afterlife maybe he is getting his due, but for us now being at the back of the line is nothing at all. More time in the temple grounds.

Back on the boat, complimentary snack bags were handed out.
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I know you want-want one too.
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Jen RahnChid-chid?

Does this count as Chid?
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2 months ago
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The rest of the ride on that very wide river was uneventful. I may have napped briefly. After awhile Phnom Penh’s big buildings came into view. None of them existed in 2008, the last time we were there. We knew it’s a big city and there would be mad traffic so the peaceful Cambodia was going to have to wait a few days. The boat pulled up, the passengers piled out and stood RIGHT THERE for their luggage so it was hard to get our bikes loaded until they had rolled up the ramps and on to their various pursuits. Then the boat was filled again with people going to Chau Doc and it burned rubber, uh, water, and were outta there. It was just us and our bikes and our panniers on a scorching hot metal dock. 

Up two short and very steep ramps, then another really long ramp that at least had some steps on the side so we could push the bikes without hazard. Up at the top we caught our breath, pulled ourselves together, and rode in Phnom Penh. 

And this was the EASY ramp, because it had steps on one side. The two short ones below were beastly.
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Yes, it was busy. Yes, there were motorbikes doing crazy things. But, NO honking. Somewhat reasonable. It was a cakewalk, really, after Saigon and each and every mid-sized town we went through in Vietnam. Our hotel put the bikes into a safe little room on the ground floor, we dove into showers and cooled off. And then we went out for the most non-Vietnamese food place we could find, an Ethiopian restaurant! Injera never tasted so good. We even got a beer apiece, which explains why I went to bed at 7 pm.

I think both of us were craving some sort of starch besides rice or wheat, and the injera (made with teff) hit the mark completely. So delicious, and so different from what we'd been eating for weeks.
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Brent HirakLuscious looking image, luscious description. I never realized the idea about food tasting so differently in Different regions. But of course. For some reason that Revelation spinning around in my mind this morning
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2 months ago
Phnom Penh is a food town. You can find anything here.
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We had a great time in Vietnam, we really did. But we’re pretty excited to be in Cambodia again. More of this to come.

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Today's ride: 2 miles (3 km)
Total: 186 miles (299 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 19
Comment on this entry Comment 7
Scott AndersonSo I’m not going to sleep well now, worrying about your leaky hub. Yikes!
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Scott AndersonYep, it’s a drag. The shop here has no experience with those so it has to wait for Thailand.
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2 months ago
Lyle McLeodTo Andrea BrownProbably not a big worry. Our Rohloff’s have always dripped some oil from time to time (most do). The internal’s are pretty well coated / lubricated and the Rohloff folks say it’s nothing to worry about, and we’ve never had a problem. I can’t think it would be much different for a Shimano hub.

On a completely different note, taking a boat, with our bikes on the roof, along the Mekong is on our dream list! Hopefully Cambodia is still a few levels quieter than the ever vibrant , but hectic, Vietnam.

Pedal on.
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Lyle McLeodThank you, Lyle. This is our first experience with internal hubs so your words are super reassuring.
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Lyle McLeodYou know, the two-day boat between Luang Prabang and Chiang Khong is far more scenic and interesting. We recommend the upstream trip, fewer backpackers.
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2 months ago
David MathersHi Andrea and Bruce,
FYI from an Bing search…According to a source, Shimano Alfine 11 speed hubs are known to seep oil out of the main seal. It is considered normal and can be wiped off periodically. If the seal is over-torqued, it will deform and leak. Another source suggests that the issue can be solved by changing the lubrication from oil to grease.
Enjoying your journal!
Dave
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2 months ago
Kristen ArnimOkay, my heartbeat is slowing too. Glad you are out of the traffic!
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2 months ago