Reflections on Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is a special place for us.  We lived in Singapore from 1995-1998 and traveled extensively for work throughout the region. The return to Southeast Asia was about many things including visiting the places we missed such as Cambodia, Vietnam, etc.  Here are some observations over the last couple of months:

  1. People are nice and caring- not just to foreign tourists wielding dollars to spend but to each other.  It is the Buddhist way.IMG_2173
  2. Pajamas are worn all day by women of all ages.  PJs are the new leisure suit.
  3. There are no rules of the road. Traffic goes in many different directions no matter the size of the street.  Scooters ride on sidewalks, and the horn is a useful tool.
  4. Dogs are friendly ( or at least that is what everyone will tell you).
  5. Laundry service is abundant and same day service at that.  Pick up and delivery laundry service should be more prevalent in the US.  It is a wonderful thing.Laundry_Bangkok
  6. Fragapani trees with their beautiful, sweet smelling flowers seem to be everywhere emitting a lovely perfume in the air.
  7. There are 1500 different types of bamboo, 150 in Thailand.
  8. Chanted dharma’s can be heard at the temples no matter the day or time.
  9. Chinese tourists are more important to the economies than US tourists.IMG_0777
  10. Healthcare in Thailand is as good as it is in the States ( and maybe better), but far less expensive.
  11. All Thai people are happy, really.  We only met one grumpy Thai person, our bus driver to Pai, but he was a great driver handling all 762 curves.
  12. Older people are respected here as they should be.  Be sure to give up your seat to older persons around you, assist with luggage they are carrying, give them a hand.
  13. The word “no” does not existing in Asian languages.
  14. Wifi is everywhere. Every restaurant has it and even gas stations. This is both great and awful.
  15. Public transportation is abundant whether it is tuk tuks, mini vans, buses, trains, or taxis.IMG_2124
  16. Bathrooms at gas stations are cleaner and have toilet paper.
  17. Scooters can accommodate up to 5 people and are used to transport just about anything-a TV, a desk, painting, block of ice.  No problem, la.IMG_0252IMG_0804IMG_1070 3IMG_0807
  18. Bikes are as useful.IMG_1610
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  20. So are boats.  Rivers and water transport are key to the economy as well as daily living.IMG_1751 IMG_1208
  21. Soft rock is here to stay.
  22. 7-Eleven owns the convenience store market in Thailand and their brand/copyright is heavily infringed upon in Cambodia.
  23. Ford and Toyota trucks are popular.CMAC Truck Cambodia
  24. So are energy drinks and Tiger Balm.
  25. And for whatever reason, the Michelin man is everywhere.
  26. Clothes are cheap – both in price and quality.
  27. Vietnam is truly a rising dragon.IMG_1347
  28. Sex tourism is BIG here.
  29. Farm to table and sustainable farming really means something in Southeast Asia.  Nothing is wasted, and the food is outstanding.
  30. Pho is a good idea for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was our preferred breakfast while here.
  31. Eggplants are tiny, and carrots are huge.
  32. Pumpkin is quite popular for soups and curries.
  33. Fruit is fresh and tasty here -super sweet mangos and watermelon, green papaya (for salads), and 12 different types of bananas.
  34. There are a lot of westerners living in Thailand enjoying life. 20,000 expats in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
  35. Coffee in Vietnam is outstanding and much better than any coffee in the States.IMG_1570IMG_1276  IMG_2098 IMG_1435
  36. We love Khao Soi, Banh Xeo, Banh Mi, Pho, and Northern Thailand sausage.
  37. It is too hot for wine, and one often regrets ice in a few hours so it is beer or whiskey neat for happy hours.
  38. Do not wait for the check at the end of a meal to be immediately delivered following the last course. A dinner out is something to be enjoyed at leisure and not turned for the next folks in line. Take as much time as you would like.
  39. Checkpoints seem to be the new norm.  We went through several in Cambodia and a few in northern Thailand.IMG_1430
  40. We both hope it is not another 20 + plus years before we return back to Southeast Asia. Happy Holidays and Cheers.



Two Different Perspectives on the Vietnam War

Catching up on more book reviews.  Here are a couple more on Vietnam.

We were absolutely smitten by Vietnam and its people.  Our visit has been one of the highlights of our trip so far. This is a bit of a surprise to me.  We had heard great things and had considered visiting 20 years ago, but it was hard to think about the country without being influenced by the history and the war. From a perspective within the States, Vietnam was demonized in the 70’s, the war was sensationalized by Hollywood in the 80’s and 90’s, and  school history books provided, at best, an incomplete view.

Visiting the country, meeting veterans in the countryside,  exploring their museums, and reading more has helped to understand more. One could study this country and the war for a lifetime without getting all the answers. There are certainly no lack of good books and movies on the Vietnam war. Unfortunately, tragedy and suffering can be just the catalyst for compelling stories, literature and art. I certainly do not profess to be an expert on the subject, but here are two more books that helped me explore the subject a bit more.


Tim O’Brien has been writing books on the war for 40 years and has won awards and many accolades for his writing.  It is said that a large part of his first book was written while he was over there in foxholes.  The Things They Carried was originally published in 1990 and was considered for the Pulitzer.  It is an interesting set of short stories that hang together and highlight the mental and physical challenges of US soldiers (based on his experiences over there).  The stories are chilling and emotional and provide insights into the inner most struggles and thoughts of the US soldiers.



When Heaven and Earth Changed Places is a fascinating read and highlights the struggles of the war from the Vietnamese people’s perspectives. Many in Vietnam were just as conflicted and confused about the war as those outside the country, and while most Vietnamese wanted independence, many from the same communities and families differed greatly about how to achieve it. This is the story of a women living in a border town during the war – caught between the North and South. It is an amazing story of struggle and perseverance.  Well worth the read to get a not so common perspective of the war.


If I Die In A Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home- Vietnam

Throughout this trip, I have been trying to read books set in the Tim Obrien Vietnam Combat Zonecountry that we are traveling. However, when we returned back to Thailand (for the sailing course), I had to break yet another rule as I could not find any decent fiction or non-fiction on Thailand.  Most of the books I found on Thailand were related to the  sex trade, and this was not something I was interested in reading.  We have another week in Thailand so if anyone has a recommended read on Thailand, I would definitely be interested.

That said, I downloaded If I Die In A Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home by Tim O’Brien about the Vietnam War.  Tim has written many books on his experience in Vietnam.  Chris and I have read a number.  This one was a painful and poignant read about Alpha Company’s tour during the Vietnam War outlining in excruciating detail what these brave, young men experienced.  The author actually wrote the initial pages during his tour in Vietnam while sitting in foxholes and hence, why the book is so vivid in its description of the thoughts and experiences of these soldiers.

It was a war most did not want to fight questioning why they were soldiers and why the US was even engaged in the war. These questions are not new with respect to the Vietnam War, but what makes this book interesting (in a painful way especially for those of us that were born during the Vietnam War) is how realistically the book depicts the hearts and minds of the soldiers.  A recent article in the NY Times summed up the soldiers in  the Vietnam War well.  These brave men where another “greatest generation” like the WW II veterans; however, they were unfortunately engaged in a unnecessary war and a mistake made by the US government.  Here is a link to the NY Times article:

Perfect Spy (The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter & Vietnam Communist Agent)

Is it possible for someone to be an effective spy while remaining loyal to one’s friends and at the same time, be an objective journalist?  Or was Pham Xuan An a double agent?  These are a couple of the questions raised in the biography, Perfect Spy.

Pham Xuan An was a spy for the North Perfect SpyVietnamese while working for US publications in Ho Chi Minh City including but not limited to Time Magazine during the Vietnam War. An’s mission was to provide strategic, intelligence on US war plans.

Larry Berman, the author, spent years interviewing An as well as those close to An. The author attempts to cite some actions taken by An which are intended to support that An was loyal to his friends and an objective journalist.  For example, An was instrumental in getting a South Vietnamese supporter out of the country in April 1975 on a US helicopter when the US pulled out of Vietnam.  Also, many of An’s professional colleagues that were US journalists based in Ho Chi Minh City, sponsored and/ or raised funds for An’s son to attend UNC and later Duke Law in the late 80’s out of respect for An.

Personally, the book left too many unanswered questions and not enough details of An’s involvement, but nonetheless an interesting read with a different perspective on the Vietnam War.  For those interested in the Vietnam War and Vietnam, in general, I would recommend this book and would also suggest reading Tim O’Brien’s books on the Vietnam War simultaneously, if you have not had a chance to read any of his books (which provide another perspective).

Descending Dragons and Cruising the Ha Long Bay

IMG_1652 IMG_1660 IMG_1665 IMG_1751Some rules are meant to be broken.  Chris and I have had an unwritten rule for some time- no cruising.  However, there is really only one way to see Ha Long Bay and that is on a boat cruise. A day trip on a boat is certainly an option, but we wanted to spend some time out in the bay, get into a kayak to see it at eye level and have a chance to swim so we opted for an overnight excursion.  Options abound as there are hundreds of boats and thousands of people visiting each day, but many are low-end or cater to different types of experiences (e.g. party boats). Hanoi is also filled with travel agents selling tours of all flavors.  The best way that we found to sift through the good, the bad and the ugly is to leverage a hotel in Vietnam that you like and trust.  Our hotel in Hoi An, Essence Hotel & Spa, once again, did a great job of helping us identify the right option and a cruise with availability.  Although it was not our first choice, we ended up with Aphrodite Cruises, and we really enjoyed the whole experience.  Aphrodite offered a smaller, wooden junk with only 17 nicely, appointed rooms, a wonderful staff and an itinerary that offered kayaking in Cat Ba National Park.



Ha Long Bay (  Ha Long means descending dragon in English), another UNESCO Site, is bay of about 1900+ limestone islands.  The way it was described to us by the locals is that there are 1969 islands which aligns with the year Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) passed away.   Ha Long Bay is a vast body of water comprised of gorgeous, limestone islands that rise up out of the water making for a spectacular setting. Interestingly, these land masses were created by tectonic shifts rather than any volcanic activity.


For those considering a trip to Ha Long bay, the 3 days/ 2 nights cruise is a must.  The other option is 2 days/ 1 night, but in our opinion, the scenery is so spectacular in Ha Long Bay 1 night is just not enough.  In addition, the 3 days itinerary included swimming in a gorgeous, deserted bay (except for a few local fishermen), kayaking Cat Ba National Park and a visit to the local pearl farm.  I know what some of you are thinking  – the pearl farm sounds a bit touristy – and it is,  but we also found it quite interesting and informative.


Unfortunately, Ha Long Bay is no longer off the beaten path as evidenced by the number of cruise company options and boats in the bay, but given the spectacular scenery, local communities that still live is this spectacular spot and the activities, Ha Long Bay is another must to add to the itinerary when visiting Vietnam.

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A Gem On the Central Coast of Vietnam

After two train rides (for a total of 16 hours – I am not crazy about the idea of flying in Vietnam), we arrived in the much anticipated Hoi An, and it did not disappoint. The area offers a compelling combination of history, beach and culinary delights with a bike-friendly town center.  It is the kind of place we could spend a month or two!

Hoi An, recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, is a small town of 120,000 people on the central coast of Vietnam with incredible architecture dating back hundreds of years that attracts an interesting set of locals and visitors looking for awesome food and beautiful beaches.

The town has been a strategic, commercial port since the 1st century when Vietnam was part of the Champa Kingdom.  Around the 15th century, Hoi An was a major port in Asia along the spice route.  As a result, it has an interesting mix of architectures influenced by the Chinese, French,  and Japanese.  The downtown area is extremely well-preserved. For example, during the 16th and 17th century,the Japanese settled here and built a lot of infrastructure including a bridge that still stands today. The Chùa Cầu bridge is unique in that it is the only known covered bridge with a Buddhist temple attached to one side.

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Hoi An attracts a lot of tourists but do not be dissuaded.  To reinvent itself in the 90’s, Hoi An attracted UNESCO funding and became a major tourist destination. It is a beautiful town with hundreds of shops and restaurants.  The shop competition is fierce here, and custom tailors are a specialty here.  There are over 1,000 tailors that turn out custom shoes, boots, shirts, dresses, suits, bags and more for visitors that flock here for inexpensive, tailor-made clothes. If you need a light blue tuxedo with ruffles or a little black dress for a night out in Manhattan, you can find someone to make it for you.


Our hotel, Essence Hotel and Spa, had 1-speed cruiser bikes that were a great way to ride to the beach or check out downtown.  (We definitely would recommend this hotel. A nice location about 1K from town and 3K from the beach with a great gym( for working off all the Banh Mi we have been eating), private beach access, and lovely, spacious rooms.) We took the bike one day and went to the gorgeous An Bang Beach which was very clean and stretched out for at least 10 km.


Hoi An is also a culinary mecca for things like Cau Lau, Banh Mi, and Pho.  Hoi An’s speciality of Cau Lau is a noodle that is made from rice and water .  The water is supposedly from a well in Hoi An. The locals place the ash of the La Gai leaf into collected well water. The water and ash are then left overnight to rest, and then it is this water that is then used to make the noodles which gives them a light brown hue.  We had some Cau Lau at Pho Xua which was great. We didn’t have time to try many versions, but this one definitely worked for us.

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We tried Banh Mi at two hot spots – Madam Khanh’s and Banh Mi Phuong.  Madam Khanh’s Banh Mi, in my opinion, is the best.  It is a hole-in-the wall  shop at the front of the family home.  Madam Khanh is a lovely, feisty woman who has been making Banh Mi for decades.


If you go, she will direct you where to leave your bike.  Walk into the shop and grab a seat.  Do not wait for the menu and just relax.  There is a lot of love in these sandwiches.  We tried to watch her prepare these wonderful sandwiches and not sure exactly what was in the concoction.  This spot is not to be missed.


Another non-descriptive Banh Mi place in town  is Banh Mi Phuong.  Chris liked the Banh Mi slightly better here. If you are in Hoi An, check them both out.

Following the Coast from HCMC to Hanoi – Nha Trang and Da Nang Stops

We made it to Hanoi on an overnight train last night and are enjoying the lack of humidity in northern Vietnam.  Temperatures are in the high 70’s-80’s and are very comfortable – especially when the sun ducks behind the clouds.  It is the first time since we arrived in Southeast Asia about 5 weeks ago that we were not pouring with sweat within shortly after leaving air con.

On our way to Hanoi via the train , we made two transit, overnight stops in Nha Trang and Da Nang. We did not spend much time in either spot but enough to appreciate the two locations.


Nha Trang is another Asian party spot, appreciated by locals and visitors and not without a fair amount of backpackers. It is set on a beautiful coast with a beach that stretches out for kilometers.  While it already has a large downtown with resorts and hotels, it is growing fast.  There are many large hotels being developed. It looks like the Russians are here in a big way – most restaurants and hotels offer directions and details in three languages – Vietnamese, Russian and English.  At night, there is no shortage of young and older Russian tourists running around and being merry (usually with a beer or Vodka in their hands).

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We opted to stay 5K north of the city in a location heavily developed by Russian interests and one close to a quiet beach. It was perfect.  We found a modern (and new construction) $35/night hotel room with rooftop pool, a full ocean view from the room and a location just a block from the beach and boardwalk. (If you find yourself there, check out SeaSing.) We were actually able to sneak in a beautiful 10K run along the beach one morning  without too much scooter traffic – the first opportunity to run outside since we left the States. We were thrilled to plod along the seaside in the early AM avoiding the heat, dodging the fisherman and early risers out for a swim or some Tai Chi, and all the locals that gawked at the two strange, sweating Westerners.

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Nha Trang was originally a way point for a trip to the islands (Whale Island), but we made a change in our schedule so that we could include more time to see Hoi An, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.  So we just spent a night there, and then another quick stop in Da Nang before it was off to a few days in Hanoi.

Da Nang is another booming city.  Those familiar with Vietnam’s history will know that Da Nang played a central role in the war.  After the war, the city was hit by very hard times and was quite poor for some time.  One would never know that today. The city is filled with business and entrepreneurs and growing quickly. Its coastline is astonishing and also developing quickly.  Many of the large Western hotel chains have resorts here, and it is quickly growing into a golf destination.  It apparently has some decent surf breaks as well (maybe Charlie does in fact surf)

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In hindsight, we may have skipped Nha Trang for some more time on the coast of Da Nang  and/ or Hoi An and would recommend considering that if you find yourself traveling the Vietnam Coast.  In either case, Hoi An, which is just a 30 minute drive from Da Nang is a must! A separate post on Hoi An to follow.

72 Hours in HCMC

Although the biking from Bangkok to HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City) was a wonderful experience, I was looking forward to putting two feet on the ground spending a few days in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).  HCMC was a great place to regroup and enjoy all the things a “modern” city  has to offer as well as take in some of the sights. And dodging the scooters  here 24×7 has sharpened our eye-feet coordination immensely.

HCMC has a great mix of Eastern and Western cultures and a bustling vibe of a big city.   You definitely need to be vigilant walking around here or else, risk being run over. (We saw four accidents in a 24 hour period, scooters driving while texting on sidewalks and scooters trying to take left or right turns in a sea of traffic weaving in and out and scooters with 3-5 people on board.) Scooters are the main transportation here and outnumber the cars significantly. (Not unlike many large Asian cities)  In the morning, it is not unusual to see women and men with a child between their knees dropping the kids off at school before heading to work or infants completely asleep squashed between her parents.  Women also have a whole wardrobe for scooter driving which appears to include a wrap to cover clothing, scarves or neck gaiters, masks to cover mouth and nose (it gets dusty), gloves, hats and helmets.  I found myself wondering how long it would take me to acclimate to the layers and clothing in 95 degree heat with 95 percent humidity. We have been in Southeast Asia for about four weeks now and find myself sweating about 10 minutes after exiting air con.


Here are a few highlights and must sees in HCMC:

  1. War Remnants Museum- This was a somber and moving experience.  The museum uses mostly pictures from journalists to provide a different perspective (as you can expect, a local perspective) and information on the Vietnam War.  The pictures were gruesome given roughly 58,000 US soldiers died, millions of Vietnamese as well as the use and effects of Napalm and Agent Orange.  If you find yourself in HCMC, this is a must see.


2.  Fine Arts Museum- A beautiful French Colonial building houses some ancient to modern contemporary art from Vietnamese artists.  The museum is also very close to the Ben Thanh Market.  So if you are at the market, the Fine Arts Museum is another must.



3. Ben Thanh Market- Ben Thanh Market has stalls selling everything from silk scarves to tailor-made suits to typical kitschy wares.  Chris was able to get the battery replaced in his watch that had just died. However, be prepared to be approached by every stall owner wanting to sell their wares to you.

4. Central Post Office- A bit touristy but for the architecture alone, this is well worth the visit.  Built in 1886-1891, this is a gorgeous French colonial building and a still functioning post office where locals can pay phone bills, mail packages, etc.  It has also become a tourist destination for the architecture and mailing of post cards.


In addition to taking in the sights of HCMC, Chris and I were excited to regroup in HCMC after 4 weeks of travel.  Here are few places we found to recharge:

  1. Hair Salon – In need of a hair cut and color, although a bit nervous about turning my hair color over to someone other than my stylist back in the Seattle, I found a fabulous hair salon, YKC Salon.  It may be the best hair service I have ever received.  The hair service included a 30 minute wash, scalp and shoulder massage.
  2. F5 Laundry – We called F5 laundry on Sunday.  Thirty minutes later, a lovely woman was in the hotel lobby and picked up our laundry at 3 pm.  by 7 pm that evening, our freshly cleaned clothes were dropped off in our hotel room.
  3. Relish & Sons – Chris and I were both craving some western food and quite honestly, something other than rice.  Relish & Sons delivered – it is one of many Western spots in the city but with great burgers (add an egg or beet) and beer, it is a winner.
  4. Pedicure and Foot Massage- The service in Vietnam is top notch.  Our hotel in HCMC had Four Seasons’ like service all around.  In addition to getting a pedicure, we received foot massage coupons from the front desk of our hotel for our stay.  The foot massage included legs up to quads as well as neck and shoulders.  This was much-needed after 21 days of biking.

We have really been enjoying Vietnam.  The people are great, the food is tasty, and the service is really off the chart.  As we write this post, we have been to 4 different cities and they are all booming.  Tourists, cranes, development – it is truly a Rising Dragon. Our train rides along the coast have been wonderful  – stay tuned for more posts and pictures.


Wrapping Up Our Cycle from Bangkok

I am tucked away in the corner of a French bakery in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), enjoying the air con,  a Vietnamese coffee and streaming some KEXP.  Susan is off getting her hair done.


We are regrouping after three weeks on the bike, and HCMC is a welcomed stop. It has clearly been influenced by the West – Starbucks, KFC, Circle-K, and many others are here , but it still remains exotic enough to provide an interesting stop for a few days.  More about some of the interesting stops in HCMC in a future blog.

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Last night, we enjoyed our first dinner and sleep in weeks  without sharing our table with other guests and/ or guides and enjoying some nice accommodations without gecko’s, mosquitoes, cockroaches or any other crawling critters.  We are digging our hotel in HCMC and highly recommended it- The Silverland Sakyo Hotel (  Vietnam has so much more infrastructure than Cambodia, and we were in some off the beaten path places while cycling.

Before arriving in the city,  we had the chance to enjoy some local, much anticipated Pho (pronounced fa), and local coffee -out in the country side in places like Chau Doc, Can Tho and Tra Vinh.

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It was fantastic to spend the last week in smaller towns and areas of both Cambodia and Vietnam, spots that are generally overlooked by most tourist trips. We biked through rice fields and  on islands using a local ferry system.

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We also managed to visit another floating market (our 3rd or 4th one) before we finished cycling. Floating markets are a bit of a tourist trap, but they do represent how many in the area live. The Mekong river which flows from China through Cambodia and Vietnam to the South China Sea is a major waterway for transport and commerce (very similar to the Mississippi back in the States).

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It has been HOT!  Here is a shot at 5:30 in the morning in Can Tho, Vietnam.  This was a warm day for sure.


We will switch gears a bit and play tourist for the next couple weeks, setting out to see the sights of HCMC, Nha Trang, Da Nang, Hoi An, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.  We will be hopping on the train to check out these places and a few UNESCO sights along the Vietnamese coastline.

Goodbye Cambodia, Hello Vietnam!

Chanted dharmas lingering in the air as we cycled past temples in every village. City and province homes with their spirit houses erected in their front lawns welcoming ancestors.   The gifts of food and burning incense left at the feet of statues of Buddha. The graciousness of the Cambodian people. These are just some of the things that we loved about cycling through Cambodia.  It is fascinating place with a complex history and a culture deeply rooted in Buddhism.


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Cambodian people were consistently so gracious and generous no matter where we were. They opened their homes when we stopped for water breaks or offered a chair to sit on the side of the road.  Cycling has been a great way to see the back roads, villages and smaller towns  of Cambodia as well as experience as much of the culture as one can in two weeks. Our last few stops in Cambodia prior to crossing the Cambodia/ Vietnam border were Kampot, Kep, Rabbit Island and Takeo.

The bike ride from Sihanoukville to Kampot was about 110 km on an extremely hot day.   Due to Delhi belly, I only cycled about 50 km.  Thank goodness for antibiotics and the sag wagon.  This also presented a great opportunity to have really interesting discussion with one of the guides about politics in Cambodia. Many here are looking forward to the election in 2018.  We both hope it will be peaceful.  Chris, on the other hand, rode the whole metric century on an extremely hot day.

Kampot is a small town close to the Gulf of Thailand that is known for the pepper farms.

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Kampot is also strategically located (about 25 km) near a gorgeous, little beach town (unlike Sihanoukville) called Kep known for its pepper crab and proximity to Rabbit Island. So after a short ride one day, we took a boat to the island for an afternoon of crab, beer, and hammocks. If you ever find yourself in Cambodia – avoid Sihanoukville and head to Kep and Rabbit island.



After Kampot, Kep and Rabbit Island, we cycled another 80 km to Takeo which is a sleepy border town.  It was incredibly quiet – very unusual for most cities that we have visited. The town’s infamous past includes the residence of  Ta Mok.  Ta Mok, otherwise known as The Butcher, built a large home essentially with a moat around it.  He was the Khmer Rouge Commander of the Southwestern Zone.  He was not captured until 1999 and died in prison awaiting trial.  His palatial estate was turned into a university.


After spending a night in Takeo, we cycled 50 km to the Vietnam border and then another 27 km in Vietnam to Chao Doc.  The border was mostly straightforward as we got our visas (30 days for $65) back in Phnom Penh.  We only had to pay extra to one official, but at $1 USD per head, we were not too worried about it.  While there is much to love about Cambodia, we were both excited to move on to another country.  The increased infrastructure in Vietnam was immediately apparent traffic lights, curbs, paved roads, irrigation system, pedestrian walkways and lights.