After reading ‘The Sorrow of War’ I needed a change of subject and picked up ‘The Shepherd’s Life’ by James Rebanks. It immediately transported me to the Lake District, just what I wanted, but found the author’s self righteous tone difficult to fathom. I then returned to Vietnam and Cambodia and enjoyed Tim Page’s book ‘Derailed in Uncle Ho’s Victory Garden’. It’s a first hand account of the horrors of war and, very movingly, the search for a lost comrade in Cambodia. I then read ‘The Gate’ by Francois Bizot about being both captured by the Khmer Rouge and the siege of the French Embassy in Phnom Penh. It’s an excellent account of this turbulent period of history.
Books always resonate and stay with me, coming back to fill unexpected moments that might otherwise have just passed by. I read sometime ago ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ by Haruki Murakami which has a disturbing scene of a man being tortured and skinned alive. We recently stayed in the Mekong Delta town of Sa Dec where, as we wandered in the early evening through the riverside stalls, I watched in horror as a women skinned live frogs for sale on the floor of the market. A single frog, freshly skinned but determined to both live and escape was attempting to walk away from the pile of its now dead comrades. It had managed to get about a metre away without the women noticing, slowly lifting its white translucent legs across the blackness of the roadside tarmac.
Immediately the Murakami images and those of the market place collided, resonating and communicating the barbarity of what I was now witnessing. I stood still not knowing what to do or whether anyone else had noticed the plight of the escaping frog. The women continued to skin more frogs as I turned and finally moved away. The only answer I could take away from this moment was that I’d try to eat less meat and fish in the future and will become more of a vegetarian in my food choices.
We pedalled into Ho Chi Minh City yesterday and finally stopped riding. The contrast in 60km between the small towns of the Mekong Delta and the density and pollution of this city was remarkable. Cycling in the city’s traffic was frightening and we’d not want to repeat the experience again of negotiating the streams of scooters cascading in every direction about us. To try and ride into town safely we had to not hesitate, dither or slow down and always hold fast to our line of travel. Stuck in almost grid-locked traffic, surrounded with scooters and their exhausts, made us feel physically sick and noxious with the fumes. It was almost unbearable.
However, it feels momentous to have bicycled the length of Vietnam and around Cambodia. My bicycle shorts, that I’ve been wearing to ride for the last 6 months, have finally succumbed to the length of the journey. They are very worn and have started to tear everywhere. They’ve been fantastically comfortable and easy to wash and get dry as we’ve travelled. I’ve a spare replacement in KL which I’ll pickup as we head on to New Zealand in the New Year but I’m very sorry to see the old ones go. They’ve done every kilometre of the stats for SE Asia which are as follows:
- Distance ridden – 4,472km
- Days riding – 40.5
- Average daily distance – 110km
- Longest day – 150km Kampong Thom to Siem Reap
- Punctures – 01 at Dong Xoai
- Mechanicals – new saddle, broken mudguard fendor stay, jammed chain, sticky SPD pedal cleats, dodgy bottom bracket bearings, worn out bar tape and tyres. The last three items we’ll get fixed in KL or Auckland.
- Other touring cyclists – 15. We recently met Bruce and Andrea from Portland, Oregon, who were overlanding from Hanoi to Bangkok on foldable bicycles.