Friday 7th December – Farewelling Cambodia
After breakfast we set off road leaving the crowds behind and cycled through beautiful rural villages and vast rice paddies before arriving at Roulous. We spent about an hour exploring the three glorious temples and learn about the history of one of the first permanent structures built by the Khmers.
We continued cycling for another 8km before jumping on a boat tour to Kampong Phluck a floating village submerged forest. We motored past kids playing and splashed around in the water and observed the technique and team work that goes into net fishing. This unique village gave us a great insight into the culture of living life on the water. We stopped off on a boardwalk for a 5-star picnic lunch, comfortable cushions placed in rows waited our arrival. It was great to lay down for a much needed rest out of the suns hot rays.
We caught the boat back to our bikes to complete the last 15km of our challenge. We cheered and high-fived as we rolled into the hotel – we have done it! 460km in 7 days!
Later that night we have our farewell Christmas party dinner and Simon, Finn and I dressed up as Santa, Mrs Claus and an Elf to hand out the Secret Santa presents. It was a barrel of laughs and a great way to finish the trip.
I want to say a huge thank you to a fantastic group of people who raised over $78,000 for ChildFund Australia. Our trip was a rollercoaster ride of upset tummies, dislocated fingers, cringe-worthy bike stacks, wrong turns and bizarre sleepwalking antics but we got there in the end and created strong bonds and friendships that will last a lifetime. Thank you all for an amazing time!
Thursday 6th December – Angkor Wat
Yesterday we arrived in Siem Reap after a long journey by road. Today we woke to our first ride in Cambodia. We set off at 7.30am from our hotel after we got acquainted with our new bikes. We then set about learning how to dodge and weave in and around the traffic in as we headed towards the Angkor Wat temple complex.
The first stop our temple tour is Ta Prohm better known as the Lara Croft – Tomb Raider temple. This temple was one of Jayavarman VII’s first major temple projects and he dedicated it to his mother. This sprawling monastic complex is only partially cleared of jungle overgrowth, massive fig and silk-cotton trees grow from the towers adding the jungle atmosphere.
We jumped back on our bikes for a little off-road mountain biking, leaving behind the crowds to explore the dense jungle and overgrown cycle trails. We cycled over stick bridges and through dusty tracks before reaching the glorious Bayon temple. There are 37 standing towers, most adorned with four stone-carved faces oriented toward the four cardinal points. The extensive carvings are unique and reveal scenes of everyday life like market scenes, cockfighting, chess games and childbirth all interspersed among battle scenes.
We stopped for a very satisfying lunch and then walked to possibly the most spectacular temple in Southeast Asia, Angkor Wat. We explored the massive three-tiered pyramid, taking photo after photo trying to capture its beauty – we also took some action shots. What would an Inspired Adventure be without the classic jump shot however with the size of our ChildFund Team, it was difficult to get everyone in the air. Despite this challenge, we still we ended up with a great photo and an even greater day!
Tuesday 4th December – Don Khone to Kratie
Today we packed our bags ready for our last day in Laos. We set sail from Don Khone Island and caught the boat back across to the mainland. On arrival, we helped the locals unload our bags and bikes off the boats and jumped back on to start cycling towards Cambodia. It was only 20km to the border, what could possibly go wrong?
About 10km into the ride, Al falls off while cycling at a very fast pace. He slid along the left side of his body, cutting and grazing his sunburn from the day before. Thankfully Al didn’t sustain any serious injuries and was able to continue onto the border crossing.
When we reached the border, we got our stamps and visas and passed our health tests. It was a rather strange experience to have someone hold a gun-shaped instrument to your neck to check your temperature!
With everyone’s documents in order, we said our goodbyes to our Lao guides and driver before meeting our team from Cambodia. More from Cambodia soon…
3 DEC: DON DAENG TO DON KHONE (4,000 ISLANDS)
90kms cycling! Today was the day we had all been dreading – especially with the sweltering heat! If 40° wasn’t bad enough, a strong head wind added an extra element to the challenge. The road was dusty and on an upward incline the whole way. Alicia commented “I feel like I’m cycling across the Nullarbor”. Dried-up rice paddies lined the road as far as the eye could see and water buffalos lay in mud-filled ponds trying to cool down. We occasionally rode through small villages and the locals cheered us on as we cycled by. Those of us at the back were becoming slightly delirious from the heat. I remember thinking to myself “I wonder what that sign says?” As we got closer, I could see that it was a picture of a bus.
After cycling for 6 hours and sweating profusely, we finally made it to the restaurant for lunch. Afterwards the local kids kindly helped us carry our bags and bikes and load them onto boats. We slowly drifted through the majestic 4,000 Islands before hoping off at Don Khone.
We rode from the wharf to the hotel and dropped off our bags. Some team members decided to stay and take it easy while the rest of us continued on to the waterfall. The dirt roads and pot holes didn’t help our sore, tender bottoms but seeing the waterfall made it all worth while.
2 DEC: VIENTIANE TO DON DAENG ISLAND
We woke at 4.30am red-eyed and still half asleep to head to the airport to fly to Pakse in Southern Laos. On arrival, we had a short bus ride before jumping back on our bikes. The landscape varies a lot from the North and thankfully there’s no more mountainous hills for us to ride up. However, the heat and humidity make cycling extremely challenging!
We crossed over the Mekong River on a beautiful old steel bridge. Soon after the bridge, there was a turn that most of us take. I say most because a few missed it and continued straight ahead. After riding a few kilometres, Tanya turns to me and says “gee this ride definitely isn’t as scenic as the yesterday!”. Soon after our bicycle truck comes up behind us tooting the horn to indicate we’ve gone the wrong way. Rachel was cycling ahead of us and almost made it to the Thai border before we tracked her down! We joked and said that she was lucky she had her passport on her! We were all reunited for lunch and cycled together up to Wat Phou.
The Wat Phou temple complex is a great example of Khmer architecture dating back to the 7 -12th centuries. The stairs to the top are quite steep but those of us who still had enough energy to climb to the top were rewarded by an amazing view.
We hit the bikes again and rode through beautiful villages as children lined the streets yelling “hello” and slapping our hands as cycled by. Finally, after a long day, we reached the Mekong and caught a boat over to our hotel on Don Daeng Island. A swim in the pool and a few cold beers helped us to relax and unwind before heading to bed for an early night.
30 NOV: NONGHET (CHILDFUND PROJECT VISIT)
Today is the day we’ve been waiting for – we get to spend the day in Nonghet and see firsthand the projects that Team ChildFund’s fundraising dollars have gone into. We started the morning in a meeting with the District Attorney. His sense of humour made us all laugh especially when he asks us to introduce ourselves and identify if we are single or not. Traditionally, H’mong men are allowed more then one wife, so I’m guessing he was looking for a few more!
Next stop was a local school built by ChildFund who worked with the community and children to identify where it should be built. ChildFund then collaborated with MAG (Mines Advisory Group) to remove the 197 pieces of unexploded ordinance (mainly cluster bombs) found on this site. Being that the school is located atop a mountain, a 5km drain pipe was constructed and linked to a water tank located on the school grounds. This allows the children access to fresh drinking water.
We spent some time watching the children study in their classrooms and then, for the highlight of everyone’s day, we played sport and games with the kids in the playground. Many participated in a ‘piggy-in-the-middle’ soccer game; some played jacks; while others did some filming for our group movies. I taught the kids a new game similar to long jump but with sticks – it was a great hit!
We left the school around lunch time and went to the Village Chief’s house for some supper and Lao Lao, a strong alcoholic drink made from fermented rice. It is a tradition in Lao culture that guests must drink a glass upon arrival. Some of drank it with ease while others squirmed just at the thought. Adhering to tradition, nearly everyone had a little sip.
After lunch we decided to go to the local waterfall but due to the bad weather, the condition of the road prevented us from reaching the falls. We walked some of the way but had to turn back to get to the next village on time.
We went straight to the soccer field for a game against the local kids. After much excitement, it ended in a one-all draw with both teams walking away satisfied with the result.
We ended the day back at the hot springs and divided into our three groups. Chris, the ChildFund Laos Country Director, created some healthy competition by dividing us into teams and giving us a project to work on. We had to create a 3-minute movie based on what we had seen that day. Each team was given one of the following categories: Education, Sport and Water Sanitation. The winner will be chosen tomorrow night!
29 NOV: MUANG KHAM TO NONGHET
After all the rain we’ve experienced, it has made the roads extremely muddy and no matter how hard we tried to dodge puddles, mud splattered all up our backs and all over our faces. We laughed at one another when we hopped off our bikes – what a state we were in! Thankfully we were headed to a hot spring and we would be able to wash ourselves off there.
The hot springs not only washed the mud away but they were also the best shower we had had in days. We lay around in the springs for about an hour before setting off to visit a ChildFund community project in a remote mountainous village.
The locals were incredibly welcoming and organised a massive feast with dancing and singing. The elders spoke of the war and told us their tales of survival. We wandered around the community and looked at the latrines and the school that ChildFund supported. We didn’t want to leave but we still had another 25km to ride and it was getting late.
As soon as we jumped back on our bikes, the rain started again however it only stuck around for the first few kilometres. Again we were distracted by the sheer beauty of the surrounding scenery but we had to be careful as the roads were quite slipper and we had to take it slow on the down hills and even slower on the steep uphills.
What an amazing day! Experiencing firsthand the culture and warmth of the Lao people and being served up a whole boiled chicken with its head and feet still on it is something we will never forget!
28 NOV: PHONSAVAN TO MUANG KHAM
This morning we woke to a massive down pour of thick heavy rain and low-lying fog covered the roads. With these factors considered we decided it was not ideal nor safe cycling whether.
So we set off by bus to check out the Plain of Jars, an important archaeological site with thousands of stone jars scattered across the landscape. The jars appear in clusters and are thought to be associated with ancient burial rituals dating back to the Iron Age. We walked around with our umbrellas and raincoats to avoid getting too wet. After taking a few happy snaps and learning a little history about the jars, we jumped back onto the bus and collected our bags from the hotel.
When we arrived in Muang Kham the rain had stopped so we decided to jump on the bikes and make up some of the kilometres we missed out on this morning. Tong, our guide, suggested we check out Tham Piew, a large cave that 400 civilians used for shelter during the Secret War. In the early 1970′s, US aircraft lobbed a rocket into the cave killing over 400 civilians who were hiding inside. Understandably there was a very sad feeling as we entered the cave.
On our return trip home, the rain returned leaving us soaked. Later that night we were met by some of ChildFund Laos staff who gave us a brief presentation of what to expect over the coming days.
27 NOV: LUANG PRABANG TO PHONSAVAN (80kms cycling)
We set of early this morning as we had an extremely long hard day ahead of us. The first 30km were mainly gradual climbs but then we were hit with the hill of all hills. The road snaked around the mountain getting steeper and steeper as we climbed. We approached each corner in hope that it would be the last. Almost an hour passed and we were still climbing. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, we reached the top! It took us a few minutes of puffing and panting before we get our breath back – for most of us, this was one of the most physical and mentally challenging experiences of our lives. Exhausted, we jumped back into the vans and had a power nap before lunch.
After lunch we drove for roughly another 2 hours through winding, mountainous landscapes before returning to the bikes for the last leg of the day. As we passed through ethnic villages perched on the sides of steep hills, the locals shouted “hello, hello” at us when we cycled by. This motivated us to continue and push on.
When we finished cycling for the day, we paid a visit to the MAG (Mines Advisory Group) Office. This is a fantastic organisation that is working to clear landmines and other unexploded ordinances in the area. We found out that Laos is the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in the world. During the 1970s the United States dropped more bombs (tonnage) than what were dropped in all of World War II! The effects of this tragic period are still felt in Laos today and staff at the MAG office are working fervently to clear the area (see a brief 5-minute video at end of today’s post for more info).
After a long day, we all hit the hay for an early night.
Inspired Adventures Tour Escort
26 NOV: LUANG PRABANG & KUANG SI WATERFALLS (64kms cycling)
Our first day of cycling and after roughly 10kms, we hit our first steep hill which was soon followed by another long gradual incline. We battled our way to the top and had a much needed break before descending down into the valley. The down hill was very welcome at the time but proved extremely challenging on the way back to Luang Prabang.
The surrounding landscape kept most of us distracted from the burning pain in our legs -mountains covered with dense jungle in the distance, rice paddies and tropical fruit line the road. Locals have set up market stalls on the side of the road selling fresh produce grown on their farms and most shop fronts contain a wood carving work station where exquisite handicrafts are made and displayed.
After 32km of cycling we finally reached the Kuang Si waterfall and the Sun Bear Rescue Centre. The falls are truly spectacular - the main fall is 60 metres high and the lower falls flow into numerous turquoise blue pools as they continue downstream. We spent a few hours swimming and jumping from the rope swing and waterfalls before having lunch.
After lunch we watched the Sun Bears play before jumping back on the bikes and taking on the rugged undulating terrain back to our hotel. We stopped off at a traditional Hmong village along the way and learned about their culture and way of life.
We finally rolled into Luang Prabang after finishing our first 64km in the saddle. After a quick refresh, we headed out for a celebratory dinner and drinks. As it turns out, we have a few talented musicians in Team Child Fund so a big thank you to Simon for busting out a few great tunes on the ukulele and to Finn and Alicia for their free-style raps.
Inspired Adventures Tour Escort
25 NOV: LUANG PRABANG
Today everyone landed in the World Heritage-listed, Luang Prabang. The Team were quick to explore this charming riverside town with a visit to the National Museum (the former Royal Palace), Wat Mai (one of Laos’ most famous temples) and a short climb up Mount Phou Si for panoramic views.
Here’s a message from Kristen (Inspired Adventures Tour Escort):
Not long after we arrived, we set off to explore the museums and temples of Luang Prabang. Golden Buddha statues, ornaments and colourful murals lined the walls of Wat Sene. Rain started to trickle lightly and the cloud began to roll in but we got a lucky break and the rain stopped just in time for us to climb the 328 stairs to the top of Mount Phou Si. The view from the top was amazing! 360 degrees of the city and lush country side.
Here are some pics of Wat Mai and Mount Phou Si…
1 NOV: PREPARING FOR DEPARTURE
In late November 2012, supporters of ChildFund Australia will be cycling through the countryside of Laos and Cambodia having raised funds to help ChildFund provide vital drinking water and sanitation for rural communities in northern Laos. They will also have the opportunity to meet some of the children they’re helping.
28 SEP 2012: Tony Abbott supports the Laos Water Cyclists
After making a minor guest appearance at Kate McLennan’s fundraising event, Tony Abbott has shown his support for the whole team as they raise funds and help communities in Nonghet, Laos. His letter of support is below:
JULY 2012: ‘THANK YOU’ FROM CHILDFUND LAOS
More from the ChildFund Australia Laos Water Cycle 2012
- Video message from ChildFund in Laos
- About the Laos Water Cycle
- Laos Water Cycle team fundraising page
- About ChildFund Australia
- News article: ‘Friends in Faraway Places’ (Sydney Morning Herald; 29/9/12)
- Charity Spotlight: International Children’s Aid
- Visit the Inspired Adventures Calendar
- Read more stories about Cambodia
- Inspired Cycling Tips: Top Tips from Inspired Cyclists
- Inspired Cycling Tips: Connect to a Cycling Community
- Meet our Adventurers supporting ChildFund: