This morning we woke up at 6am, had another awesome meal, and headed out to the ferry. Good god my butt was sore. When we got to the port town on the other side, Kat got picked up in a car (she was too sore and not feeling well enough to justify the ride back), and Sam and I continued back. We made awesome time, being cheered on with the ‘hallo!!’s of countless children , stopping a few times for a water or crushed ice drink, returning our bikes to CRDT and arriving back to Balcony before noon.
Not gonna lie, it was the most physically challenging thing I’ve done in Southeast Asia. The heat, lack of sleep (due to it being so hot), dehydration and not being used to riding a bike all compounded to make a pretty difficult second day (and end of the first day). That being said, this was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far.
Kat, Sam, and I woke up at 6am (which was rough because none of us had slept barely at all, the power kept on shutting off and leaving us without fans to sleep in steamy nonmoving air), and left at 615am to be to the CRDT office by 630am where we picked up our bikes from Ravi (our super helpful coordinator) and hit the road!
We stopped and grabbed a baguette for 500 riel (12 cents) and then tried to make the most of a (relatively) cool morning. It was still in the 80s F. We stopped to drink water and let Kat catch up, who was going a bit slower because she wasn’t feeling well.
3 hours in or so, Sam and I stopped at a roadside snack shack for water and some chips. We were sweating our asses off. I’ve never been so hot. We were exhausted.
The awesome old guy who runs the place grabbed chairs for us and, even though he didn’t speak English, we did the best we could to converse. After telling him we were Americans, he pointed at my tan skin and his own tan skin (as compared to Sams being paler?) and said ‘Barack Obama!’ with a huge smile on his face. Then he pointed at Sam’s beard and said ‘Saddam Hussein’ and made a hanging motion hahah, and thought a moment and mimed a beard and added ‘Osama Bin Laden!’ Funny what the rest of the world knows about America..
Our old friend then called over his son in law and grandson, and a bunch of other members of his family to come see us. Kat caught up, and soon we were surrounded by 8 or so of his family members, including a son that spoke great English and was translating his family’s questions to us, and our answers back to them. He asked the usual, where we are from, are we married (no), are we single (2 of us), where are we going (Koh Phdao), where are we coming from (Kratie), how do we know each other (met 2 days ago). After ordering a few more 500 riel waters for the road, we took off.
Thankfully, it took us less than an hour to reach the ferry and take it across to Koh Phdao (1500 riel each person and bike total). After pushing our bikes up the super steep hill, we had about another hour or so before we reached our homestay. Hallelujah! We found it. Sweaty, bum killing, and exhausted, we were welcomed by some members of our host family, the mom dad 7 year old daughter and 3 month old daughter. So sweet! We grabbed some cheap snacks and an awesome ground ice slush from a few of the neighboring families, and then met our community guide, 28 year old Jaansna, and we all decided to take naps and reconvene at 2pm.
After our naps we got back on the bikes,( ooh my bum!), this time with Jaansna too and rode for a while more to see community initiatives in progress, including a huge irrigation ditch being hand dug with spades (in this heat! Ayyyyi).
Eventually we made our way to the community center, where the four of got on a boat in the Mekong. We crossed the river and stopped at a sandy island to go swimming. After 50 kms of riding in sweltering heat, nothing had ever felt so good.
After soaking our sore muscles, we hopped back in the boat towards the center of the river. A quarter from shore, the boatsman cut the engine and we floated. The sound of a deep, throaty exhale caught our attention – Irawaddy dolphins! We sat and watched the amazing mammals, at least twelve of them, breathe, roll over, and surface all around us, a few times only a few meters away. It was absolutely amazing.
We continued back to shore, hopped on our bikes for the final torture of the day, and headed back to our homestay. We watched the father play with his daughter while the mom made dinner.. And what dinner it was!! So good, and so much, and so very needed after such a long day.
After dinner we chilled on the cool lower deck, and watched lightning as we waited for the temperature to cool. Eventually, we headed to our rooms, a part of the living space sectioned off with sheets for privacy, and mattresses on the floor, and mosquito netting.
I woke up around 6am and couldn’t fall back asleep.. I’m used to aircon, so this fan room has been tough, but I KNOW I need to start staying in fan rooms – it gets you acclimated to the weather better (no crazy change from hot to cold to hot), is way cheaper, and fans don’t make you sick like the aircon does here. Whenever I sleep in aircon, I wake up with a scratchy throat, faded voice, and feel a little off.
Anyway. I took a walk to the market, changed my money from Thai baht to riel, exchange rate of 130 to 1. Not great but not bad.
I headed back to the guest house, had some fruit and bread for breakfast, and then Sam (American), Katrina (Canadian) and myself took off for Koh Trong, an island off of Kratie.
The pier is right on the main road that runs parellel to the Mekong (its a small town, anyone can point you in the right direction, and regardless of where you’re staying it won’t be more than a 10 minute walk), and the ferry was 1000riel. We got to Koh Trong, rented bikes for $2 (USD) and began our day. After an hour or so on the bikes, we stopped at a homestay for lunch (Contact the CRDT to set up the day before)- rice, veggies, meat for the other two, and a dessert of mangoes. Really good, and $4 each, going directly to the homestay family.
We cruised around the island a bit more, saw a floating village, were chased by smiling half naked toddlers screaming ‘hellooooo!’ and then returned back to Kratie on the ferry, where we went to the community development office to book our biking trek and homestay for the next two days (only $24 USD for bike, accommodation, 2 meals, a guide on the island, a boat trip to swim and see dolphins!)
After some napping and relaxation, we headed to the rooftop at Silver Dolphin to have some wine and dinner before calling it an early night.
My bus from Siem Reap arrived to Phnom Penh station around 5am, after a $1 tuktuk to the Soriya station at Central Market, I realized I was out of dollars and needed to change baht over.. And of course no one was open, so the bus attendant charged me $5 (ugh) and gave me some riel, aaaand a vastly overpriced bus ticket. Standard. ALWAYS HAVE PROPER CURRENCY.
Before boarding the connecting bus to Kratie I had the honor of experiencing a very unique bus station bathroom situation (this coming from a girl who once shared an outhouse outing with a chicken) – to get to the women’s room you had to walk through the men’s. Hellooooo Cambodian men at the urinal, awkward. AWKWARD (so bad it deserves to be said twice)
About an hour into the bus ride, the air con stopped working. Only two windows could open. The whole ride was supposed to be 4-6 hours but ended up being 8 sweaty, stagnant, sticky hours of pure torture. Not even a breeze could be felt. By the time we got off, my clothes were soaked. Even the Cambodian guys (who wear long sleeves and sweaters in 90F heat) were taking their shirts off.
After arriving I checked into Balcony Guest House (5$ for a fan room, air con is not needed, plus the electricity shuts off all the time so its pointless anyway), on the advice of the tuktuk driver, who picked me up from the bus station and brought me to the guest house for free. I’m here to do the Mekong Discovery Trail, going to bike around Koh Trong tomorrow and have lunch at a homestay, then head out north cycling 50 miles on the trail the next day and stay overnight at a homestay before heading back.
Finally got to try krolan!! At the godsend of a bus stop in Sluon that let us get off that traveling inferno of a furnace they call a bus at Soriya Company.
The power went out at Balcony, only for a couple minutes. I opened my door to see what was up and the manager’s wife made me a can candle for my room 🙂
side note – Kratie is the most veg-friendly place I’ve been in SE asia (aside from the Little India districts in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur). EVERY menu has special veg options, and the guy at the community tourism even asked if I wanted a veg homestay meal!