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IndoChina Adventure 2008 - Week 05 Chapter : 22 Oct ~ 28 Oct


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Last year as we crossed the border between Laos and Cambodia, I took a picture of the immigration officer at his desk as he was processing my visa. This year I brought a copy of the picture and gave it to the man. He smiled and thanked me for the gesture. It always feels good to give back in this way.


A more laid-back border than this is getting more rare these days. There was no need to bring any gift; the token bribe/gift of $2 for the process of our visa was standard procedure on this crossing.


Our guide Phal was at the border to greet us and it made me very happy to see him again. In this week's Journal you will learn how important Phal would be to our visit to this great country, Cambodia.


Enjoy the stories and pictures from this our 5th week in IndoChina.



Helge Pedersen, Founder


Week 05 - Cambodia - Linda Sikorowski


Cambodia is Sorrowful . . .



. . . because of the devastation from past famines and wars, the killings and starvation caused by the brutal Khmer Rouge army, and the country’s current poverty and social problems.


Imagine a time in recent history (1975 to 1979), when nearly 30% of the population (nearly 2 million people) died under the Khmer Rouge. Plus, 1 million died from starvation in the years that followed. Every person we talked with knew a relative or someone that was either executed or died of starvation during those inhumane years of terror. In Phnom Penh, we toured a haunting museum which was once a prison where 100 victims were tortured and put to death a day; this was only one of many prisons throughout the country.


Imagine 350 “killing fields” around the country, each hiding mass graves. In Cambodia, there are 19,440 mass graves, and some have still never been excavated. We solemnly walked through the infamous Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. In the center of what feels like a park (if you didn’t know what was really there), is a tall glass tower displaying 8,000 skulls of victims. In the background, children were laughing and playing at a nearby school – testimony to how lives can survive and move forward in spite of a horrific past.


Imagine walking in a country where active land mines exist. Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. The Cambodian Landmine Museum and Relief Center works to disarm land mines, help victims and educate people about this constant danger. One of the pictures shows landmine victims who have chosen to play music for money instead of begging. Peace treaties are signed, the guns put down, but people are still made victims years after wars end . . . another tragedy.


Imagine living in a country in which there is overwhelming poverty and enormous social problems. Shared by Vietnam and Laos as well, many people suffer from lack of adequate nutrition and health care, lack of clean water, and terrible waste management. There’s also an incredibly high rate of HIV/AIDS cases and transmission (mostly among drug users, gay men and prostitutes). Prostitution is rampant here and continues the subjugation and exploitation of women; that one seems like an easy fix – don’t go there, don’t pay for it, don’t do it. What’s even more unimaginable and horrible is the existence of child abuse, child abduction and the sex trade industry.


Imagine men, women and children living in Phnom Penh’s garbage dump. It’s unbelievable, but it’s real, it’s current, it’s dangerous, and this isn’t the only one that exists. With the help of Paul (our Cambodian guide), Karen, Jack, Vincent, and I, took an “unofficial” side trip to the dump. It’s indescribable to see people living amongst piles of garbage. They work there sorting and selling what they find. Karen connected with a young girl and wrote about it this week. Vincent unfortunately connected to a sink hole….hopefully he’ll write about this experience. But in case he doesn’t . . . .


Imagine walking along on what appears to be a hard surface of garbage and wham – you’ve sunk into a hole of black smelly sludge up to your neck. Jack was the only witness (and DIDN’T take a picture – what was he thinking?). Vincent wasn’t hurt, his camera and phone were ruined, and he was slightly embarrassed sitting in the bus back to the hotel, naked with a piece of cardboard covering his private parts. We all laughed about it, thought of all the other terrible things that could have made it worse, and reflected on the lessons it was trying to teach Vincent (we thought of many). And oh yea, Karen, Jack and I felt really lucky that it didn’t happen to us.


To read more about our experiences at the garbage dump and the genocide of the Khmer people, read Karen’s 2 moving stories this week.



Imagine there’s no sorrow…





Day 30 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Karen Ofthus


The Cambodian Genocide


A Buddhist doctrine: With a body comes suffering.

Three years, eight months and 20 days. After a lengthy civil war that brought its own hardships, this is the length of time the brutal Khmer Rouge regime held the entire country in bondage, working their fellow countrymen to death in rice paddies, corn fields, forests, and along roadsides, digging water canals.

When it began on April 17, 1975, I was just 15 years old, worrying about trivial matters like what I would wear to school or whether or not this girl or that liked me. Phal, our kindhearted Cambodian guide, was thirteen. On this day, he was forced out of his home in Phnom Penh, along with his entire extended family and several million other people, headed to the country and an unknown fate. “It was only for three days" lied the Khmer Rouge. Evacuees pushed carts and bicycles piled high with the comforts of home. Mothers carried babies on their hip while toddlers, desperate with fear, straggled behind. Within days, their meager resources were gone, stripped away by a force whose cruel inhumanity would soon shape the rest of their lives.

At 14, Phal, in tattered clothing, labored under a cruel sun and in bitter rain for 14 hours a day, planting and harvesting rice and other crops, hauling rocks, and building huts. He lived on a few spoonfuls of weak rice gruel served twice a day by mean, threatening cadres. Frogs, crickets, centipedes, weeds and anything else he could catch, trade or steal, filled out his meager food ration. It was never enough. His ribs could each be counted, his skin was pale and waxy, his legs were swollen with edema - the hallmarks of starvation.

At 14-1/2, he heard the news about the heartbreaking death of his eldest brother. Though forbidden to talk to one another, and under threat of torture, news did carry, whispered here and there, though one could never be sure if the horrible information was true or not. Always, there are questions when a newcomer arrives to the labor camp. “My brother is Seng…have you seen him? Is he still alive?” The answer haunts him forever. “Yes, I know your brother. We worked the fields together in Takeo province. They caught him helping an old man who had fallen, so the Khmer tied him to a tree and gutted him with a rusty, dull spade. It took him a long time to die. I’m sorry.” This is the beginning of a hideous and unrelenting understanding that all sense of decency, religion, opinion, thought, happiness, family, humanity, survival and even love, would be crushed forever under the spiked wheel of the Khmer Rouge.

At 15, Phal is horrified and ashamed that now, one can so easily walk by a woman dying alongside the rice paddy - yet there have been so many. She sputters and coughs in the muddy water, too weak to pull her skeletal self out. Alone in her misery, she drowns while others continue to toil under the blazing sun. And like so many, he is guilt-ridden for his private thoughts, wishing the family next door would just die already from whatever ails them: starvation, dysentery or malaria, their moans and cries in the throes of death are keeping everyone awake and reminding them all that their turn will come in time. Eventually, one stops thinking anything at all about anyone else, so laser-focused is the drive for self-survival.

By the age of 17, Phal had long been separated from his family and had been terrifyingly alone, when he learned of the horrible deaths of two more brothers and two sisters, and of the slow, agonizing starvation of his beloved father. His grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins - they are all gone too, their emaciated and tortured bodies lie in unmarked mass graves or in fields and ditches, or at the bottom of a well somewhere in Cambodia. Of nearly 30 family members, only Phal, his mother and a sister survive.

This is a typical family story in Cambodia.

I would ask people countless times, “Where were you in April, 1975 when the Khmer Rouge came?” and out would pour their story. People will tell you if you ask, but you must have the patience to listen once they begin. So far, I haven’t met one person who doesn’t have a tragic family story.

Not one.

After swallowing this bitter pill of history, the Cambodian people have somehow retained and returned to their soulful, gentle selves. In three years, eight months and 20 days, two million human beings perished under the cruelest conditions at the hands of fellow Cambodians, the Khmer Rouge. Several million more died in the years to follow.

Come to Cambodia - this hauntingly beautiful country. Visit the notorious Toul Sleng prison and the infamous Killing Fields where a mountain of skulls are stacked, one atop the other, pulled from the mass graves that mark the area. Light a stick of incense and place a flower among the others that bloom here. Then pray. Pray, that this never happens again.






Day 34 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Vincent Cummings


Where the Rubber Meets the Road



Hmm. . . .


What could I tell you about this trip that hasn’t already been told to you by those who have contributed so abundantly to this journal already, as I am sure they have told just about everything that has happened so far? OK.  Let's see.  What about talking about what goes on inside my helmet during this trip while riding a motorcycle through different, unfamiliar cultures?


It has been said that what is happening outside is mirroring back what is going on inside the helmet.  Huh?  That the sights, sounds, smells and events are just reflections of what is going on inside the helmet. What?


When we are in a totally different and unfamiliar environment, where every second, every minute, there is something different, it causes us to constantly discern, to judge, to compare our values with greater frequency and intensity than during our “normal” times back at home.


And what are values?  They say that they're just a set of thoughts that we keep repeating over and over, so when we are in situations that are so unfamiliar so different, we are forced to think about our thinking; inside the helmet is a perfect place for this to happen.


Now those who ride understand that one of the attractions of riding is being alone inside your helmet, no one to talk to, only your mind's chatter.  It becomes interesting when “one” starts listening to what is going on inside the helmet, observes it and how it changes as the journey unfolds.


For me, at the beginning of this trip, I was so far away, I was everywhere.  But in this here and now, I was still at home dealing with friends, family and work.  As the days and weeks have passed, what goes on inside my helmet now tends to be the present, particularly at the beginning of the day's ride.

From inside my helmet, at the beginning of the ride, I am totally in the present, focused on just driving, getting through heavy, crazy traffic, trying to find my way out of the City  without getting into an accident - basic Survival 101.  Once out of the City, what goes on inside the helmet starts changing to “god,  life is great, I can’t believe how lucky I am to be here, I can’t believe I have such an incredible life!"


I might even get a few tunes running inside the helmet, like Ride Like The Wind or Running on Empty; good thing no one else is inside my helmet to hear all of this as I am no Christopher Cross or Jackson Brown.  As I observe the less-than-ideal living conditions shooting past my visor, I wonder how they got there, and how I got here?  I am awed by the dichotomy; what happened that I ended with so much, while they have so little.?  From inside my helmet echoes “There but by the grace of god go I.”  I feel blessed, I feel an over-whelming sense of gratitude. and I say "Thank You" to whoever is listening with me inside my helmet.


As the day unfolds, what goes on inside the helmet changes to reviewing the various experiences, particularly experiences that might have rattled or challenged me.  From inside the helmet I remember when I almost hit and would have killed a young boy who ran across the street in front of me, how that would have changed so many lives including mine...  The genocide in Cambodian in the 70’s, the 3 million land mines still active in Cambodia, how the major countries like the US China and Russia will not sign the agreement to ban the use of  personnel land mines; from inside the helmet, while shifting  gears and staying alert, the questions come.

Another experience that rattled me, and is frequently playing inside the helmet, was the incident that occurred while visiting the children who live in the city garbage dump.  During the visit to the dump, I had become disgusted with the whole situation; the stench, the heat, and the flies.  I had become frustrated with the seeming hopelessness of the plight of these children, and in knowing there are so many more children in conditions like this throughout the world.  And I had become ashamed of myself for being part of the problem, knowing I would most likely do nothing about it but feel sorry for them for awhile, and ride away as they became a faded memory.


Then, as I was starting  to walk out of the field of garbage where these children live, feeling disgusted, frustrated and ashamed, leaving the children, leaving the problem, I stepped into a sink hole, ending up in a mud and garbage-filled slime pit that reeked of waste.  As I crawled out of the hole on all fours, I asked aloud what is it that I am supposed to be learning and I’m not getting?  Why am I here?  Why  I have I fallen into this sink hole of mud and garbage?  I am thankful there was a bottom to the sink hole, and so I only sank up to my neck.  As I ride ,from inside my helmet, these questions reverberate.

Situations that “cause” (in parentheses because they say we actually create the situation in the first place) us to become uncomfortable are usually a guide pointing to some aspect within ourselves that needs attention.  Attention to find the reasons for choosing to create, consciously or unconsciously, these situations and reactions. Hmm?  From inside the helmet, I reflect on what these mean to me and relate them to the experiences that I have had on this trip, and I look for what is being mirrored back; the messages, the lessons.


What happens inside the helmet is up to you, as is what you do with it; inside the helmet can be a great place to hide, or an awesome place find out Where the Rubber Meets the Road.







Week 05 - Cambodia - Linda Sikorowski





We’ve now traveled through Vietnam and Laos – it’s half-way through our trip. By now we think we’re pretty seasoned travelers in IndoChina. But just when we think we’ve seen it all, here comes Cambodia – a small country with a big heart!


The country certainly has its share of poverty and at first, it feels to me like it’s poorer than Laos. For example, in small villages we see a lot more naked kids running around and we’ll see small children playing or walking by themselves along the roadsides where it seems like it’s in the middle of nowhere. But then I learn that Cambodia is richer than Laos, but unfortunately and frustratingly, the money is in the hands of few for short-term personal gain. Little goes to education, roads, villages and people who need help. Closer to cities, however, there are more schools, more English-speaking schools, more signs in English, more big new cars, more of everything.


Speaking of more, the Khmer people have a very unique way of transporting people. If you need to get somewhere, there’s something and someone to get you there…trucks, buses, vans, ox-driven carts, and of course, motorbikes. People squeeze in vehicles like sardines and ride on top of trucks with already huge loads. It’s not at all uncommon to see 4, 5 and 6 persons on a motorbike here.


We’re seeing more pajama-like shirts and pants worn by women and kids. Upon closer inspection, I see that they really are pajamas…I’m still looking for a pair for myself. Tall white cows who work like oxen now outnumber the gray water buffalos. And for some unknown reason (to me), they make their furniture exceptionally heavy.


Just so that I don’t forget:


- We spent nights in Kratie, Phnom Penh (2 nights), Sihanoukville (2), Phnompenh (1 more night), and Siem Reap (2).


- There’s approximately 90 million people in Vietnam, 6 million in Laos and 14 million in Cambodia.


- While many other countries, including Japan, Australia, U.S., and China, are helping to finance and support infrastructure improvements in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, people seem uneasy or unsure about China’s motives.


- I certainly don’t pretend to know the political scene here, but basically Vietnam and Laos are controlled by one party - the minority communist party. While Cambodia has several parties, it appears to be strongly influenced by the communist party. At their latest democratically held elections, the Cambodian People’s Party won (and signs are everywhere in case you forget who’s in charge). Corruption is a problem for all these countries.


- Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are all struggling with similar political, economic, environmental, social and moral problems. Fortunately, the people remain hopeful, and so will I.


Cambodia is splendid and sorrowful, intoxicating and inspiring….more stories to come.



Love, Linda



Day 34 - Siem Reap, Cambodia - Mike Mathews


Phnom Penh to Siem Reap



The ride today will end at the former capital of Cambodia, Siem Reap.   The roads are good and the scenery is excellent.  As the morning begins, the local schools are in full session.  We stop to visit one school with the top class at grade 11.  We also stop along the road at the marble carvings of Buddha and other images.  The carvers are hard at work but stop to see the large motorcycles.  We understand we can purchase a large Buddha and donate it to a temple if we so desire.


Unfortunately the rear cover from Vincent's backpack has come loose and wrapped its way around the rear wheel of his motorcycle.  We take the time to cut it away, along with the help from the locals.


We travel on to Angkor Wat for a sunset view from the historical temple.  We get a few good photos of the bikes and riders.  Than, our Vietnamese guide, mounts the Tiger for a photo taken at the ruins, and then the sky opens up with rain; buckets of it falling from the sky.  Another great day on the road with a motorcycle.



Mike Mathews



Day 37 - Khon Kaen, Cambodia - Karen Ofthus


Waiter! There’s a Tarantula in My Rice!



There will be no starving on a GlobeRiders tour, especially in S.E. Asia. At every meal,we feast on the most amazing food. Scrumptious seafood like shrimp, fish and crab are pulled daily from surrounding lakes, rivers and the ocean. It’s so fresh, the antenna and fins are still twitching just moments before our meal is cooked using a wide variety of aromatic spices including lemon grass, chili, and mint. Vegetables are equally fresh, having been hauled from the field and carried on the backs of motorbikes in massive bundles, mushrooming up and over the driver and ballooning off the sides. Pigs, chickens, and goats are carried the same way, though the sight of them piled high or stuffed in teeny bamboo cages is saddening.

In addition to the wonderful gourmet fare, there is also the opportunity to experiment a little with something “different”. Thus, it is with this spirit of adventure that I eat my first tarantula at a dusty intersection just south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

I had to watch Helge gobble one down first, checking carefully to see if he would gag, or retch, or heaven forbid, vomit outright! But he didn’t - brave soul. So, when in Rome. . . . I grabbed a fat, black tarantula, fried lightly in oil with a touch of garlic and a dash of sugar and, gnawing on the head and front legs, I died and went to heaven! Think Oberto* Beef Jerky, Teriyaki Flavor. Think chewy delicious. Think finger-lickin' good! Think about having just one more, and maybe one more after that.

Some of you are rolling your eyes right now. Stop that! You don’t know what you’re missing! These are so good, I can’t figure out why someone hasn’t opened a restaurant in Seattle with tarantula on the menu? I Hoovered** down three of the crispy critters while standing under the shade at the gas station, then trotted back to the tarantula lady’s stall and bought five more to take with me as a road snack. She had a tray of tarantulas piled high in a conical mound, their spindly legs sticking out every which way, with a dab of chopped garlic resting gaily on the thorax. She even had little Styrofoam take-out boxes filled with rice and pickled cucumber for those who want their tarantula snack to-go.

The only creepy thing about the whole experience was the huge plastic rice bag she pulled out from under the table - a prize to show me. It was stuffed with perhaps 150 live tarantulas, black and wriggling and trying to flee. Tomorrow, they’ll be a delicious afternoon snack for someone else.

Gourmet seafood? Fresh, crisp vegetables? Who needs it when you can dine on some of the best cuisine in Cambodia! Hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!



Bon Appetite!





* Oberto is the name of a specialty meat and sausage company, a popular brand in the Seattle, Washington, USA, area.

** "Hoover" is the trademark of an American company that makes vacuum cleaners.



Week 05 - Cambodia - Linda Sikorowski


Cambodia is splendid . . .



. . . because of its people. Everyone we’ve met in Cambodia has been extremely friendly, gracious and kind.


Like the time that Vincent, Mike and I stopped to repair something on Vincent’s motorcycle. We stopped in front of someone’s house and small store. Within minutes, the men were trying to help fix the problem, the women were wiping off places for us to sit, the teenagers hung a hammock for me while I waited, and the little kids were playing with the balls that Mike had given them.


When my camera came out, so did proud parents wanting me to take pictures of their baby. The baby sleeping in the hammock picture was a result of one of those moments; the father signaled for me to come and take her picture. Some splendid moments were captured while riding the motorcycle, like the one showing the bride (middle woman) and friends on their way to the wedding.


Most Khmer (85%) live off the land as farmers, weavers, or fishermen, but the majority are wet-rice cultivators. Faith is incredibly important and family bonds are strong, as is also true in Vietnam and Laos. The older generation maintains traditional values, while the younger generation differs greatly from city to country. Those in the city want more education and those raised in the country just want out of poverty.


One morning, Vincent, Mike and I strolled through a tiny fishing village (see picture). Well, it was more like walking through their “homes,” round a corner and you’re in someone’s kitchen, round another and they’re sleeping in their bed. When they saw us, they’d just smile at us and continue going about their business. We communicated via hand signals and smiles to a group of women who kindly offered tea to us. The picture is of the grandmother, mother and daughter - 3 generations who for all I know were all born here and will die here in this tiny fishing village. Meeting them made my day.






Week 05 - Cambodia - Mike Mathews


Millionaires in Asia . . .



When I go to the ATM machine, I withdraw millions in local currency (4,000,000 was my last withdrawal)!   When I gas up the motorcycle, I pay 375,000.  I have lunch for 200,000, and purchase a drink along the roadside for 75,000.  The zeros can really mess with your mind, but it is a lot of fun trying to figure out the actual cost with the local currency.


There are many stories about the environment through which we ride, including the dusty, pot-holed, and sometimes slick and  muddy  roads, mountain views with beautiful scenery, smooth roads alongside mountain villages, animals of all sorts along the road and sometimes rain mixed with sunshine, but the places we stay are very hospitable and comfortable in sometimes a very poor region of the country.


After a long day on the motorcycle, it is very nice to get to a nice hotel, a clean air-conditioned room, enjoy an hour around the pool, take a shower, and catch-up on the world news with 58 channels speaking 4-5 different languages.


The food throughout Asia has been really good.  For a Southern boy whose cuisine is mostly meat and potatoes, black-eyed pea, and cornbread, the variety of food has been very different to the taste, but also a pleasant experience.  We have a great group of people to share the rides and the wonderful experiences. 



Mike Mathews




Week 05 - Cambodia - Linda Sikorowski


Cambodia is Intoxicating . . .



. . . because of its varied landscapes, Buddhist religion and temples, historic ruins, endangered dolphins, tropical beaches, and Phnom Penh.

We’ve traveled through jungles, but the majority of our scenery has been beautiful, green, never-ending rice fields dotted with palm trees. Cambodia is “Big Sky Country” (like eastern Montana).


Buddhism is the dominant religion (90% are Buddhists). There are as many temples in Cambodia as there are churches in South Carolina. Spirituality is obviously very important and omnipresent.


Our group visited the country’s most astonishing ruin, the city Angkor and its amazing temples. It was an architectural feat in the 12th century commissioned by a king. Now, as a UNESCO site it continues to be renovated or recreated to preserve what’s left. It’s important to the country and tourists, some believing it should be the 8th wonder of the world. Whole books have been written about this place, so I won’t even try to describe it – just go there yourself.


Wildlife watching at its finest; no sooner than we cross into Cambodia and the first side trip we take is a boat ride on the Mekong River to see the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins. We were treated to good views and sounds of them around us. Sadly, there are less than 100 Irrawaddy dolphins left. It was a very emotional experience for me to see an endangered animal species, think of its dwindling numbers, and imagine being the last one left.


If you like walking along quiet, white-sand tropical beaches, swimming in warm ocean water, staying in a 5-star hotel, and eating freshly caught crab and seafood for lunch on the way to get there (in Kep), you’ll love Cambodia’s south coast. On the Gulf of Thailand is Sihanoukville – don’t worry, you don’t have to pronounce it correctly to enjoy it immensely. One full day at the beach and resort was totally relaxing!


Phnom Penh is the New York City of Cambodia. I really enjoyed having dinner one night at the historic Foreign Correspondents Club, imagining what it must have been like for journalists from around the world to convene here as they covered historic events. The other fun experience was driving in a tuk-tuk with Karen to find colored pencils (you’ll know why if you read her garbage dump story). It didn’t matter what we were after or whether we found anything at all. What mattered was that we found ourselves enjoying “being present” - in the midst of crowds enjoying a Sunday night at colorful fountains and watching families just taking their kids for a drive around the city on their motorbike. The city was loud, alive and energetic.






Week 05 - Stung Meanchey Dump - Karen Ofthus


“There But for the Grace of God Go I”


Growing up, I never dreamed that this is what would become of my life. Not that I’ve lived that long, mind you. But I do feel old . . . much older than my 16 years. My mother, and younger brother and sister all live here with me in the Stung Meanchey rubbish dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. And this is where I spend my days . . . day after day after day.


The stench is terrible and it’s a very dangerous place. Among the mountains of garbage, people die from diseases and fatal accidents. You can fall through the garbage into a deep hole, snapping bones on steel beams and broken wood. There are sharp needles and broken glass hidden everywhere. That’s especially bad for the kids who don’t have shoes. We breath toxic fumes from burning garbage.


There’s also a lot of violence here and an alarming rate of ill-treatment against women and children, with prostitution, human trafficking and other forms of abuse. No matter. There is always a long line of trucks stuffed with tons of stinking, rotten trash just waiting for me, my family, and about 2,000 other people, many of them children. The line of trucks never seems to end . . . they just keep coming and coming.


This is where I live and where I scavenge. I carry a sharp metal prong searching for plastics and other goods. Once bagged, our trash will be shipped to Vietnam for recycling. If I’m lucky, I’ll earn 2,000 Riel per day, about U.S. 50 cents. Some days I’ll even take home rotten food, but only when I’m really hungry, which is most of the time. I’m afraid that this will be my life forever, which is scary.


Today, two nice ladies from America came to the dump. One sat down next to me, sharing the scrap of Styrofoam I sat on so that the broken glass and shards of metal don’t shred our skin. At first I was really nervous and terribly embarrassed. I know I stink and my clothes are filthy. What was she doing here and why would she want to talk to me? But she was nice. I don’t speak very good English, but she was impressed with what I knew.


It made me feel proud, and also very sad to tell her that in my other life, I used to go to a private school. Now, I don’t have a father and we are very poor. It made me feel like crying and I think the lady could tell. She rubbed my back, which made me feel a little better, but I know it won’t change a thing. And so does she.


The lady showed me a book that she was making. I saw pictures of her cats and her husband who I think is cute. I saw pictures of the amazing places she had traveled in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It made me smile a little inside. She asked me to draw a picture in her book. Again, I feel nervous. I’m nobody and I’ve forgotten what it’s like to enjoy simple things like art. At first I only want to write my name. The lady encouraged me to use her beautiful colored pencils, but I accept only the lead pencil. That’s what life is like for me . . . just black and white. Then I decided to add a little heart and again, she offers the colored pencils. I think it would probably be OK to shade my heart drawing with a little red . . . but just a little.


All of a sudden, something unexpected happened to me. I want to draw more . . . a flower this time . . . a beautiful lotus flower blooming amidst all this garbage. So I grabbed those beautiful pencils and set to work, carefully outlining the petals first in red. Then I added a yellow center and finally, a glorious, green stem.

For a minute, as I colored my flower, I forgot about the stinking, rotting garbage that surrounds us for as far as the eye can see. I forgot about my hunger and weariness. I forgot about the gnawing fear I carry with me everywhere I go. For just a minute, I was transported away from this place to somewhere else. And I think the lady could see it. For the briefest moment, she saw a light go on inside of me when I grabbed those pencils and began to draw. For that little wrinkle in time, I even risked the thought that maybe I really belonged somewhere else, not here at the Stung Meanchey dump.


When she said goodbye, the lady gave me a little hug and told me that my life wouldn’t be like this forever. It won’t. She also gave me those beautiful colored pencils so that maybe I can find the way and the courage to transport myself away from this place again.


My name is Tithe Spryly. I’m only 16 years old and I live at the Stung Meanchey dump.




* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


“The world is not changed through gigantic, Bill Gates-like efforts, but through thousands of tiny acts of kindness."  If you want to support the children and families at the Stung Meanchey Municipal Dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, please see the following websites:

- For a Child's Smile (in French, please click here or go to


- People Improvement Organization of Cambodia )in English, please click here or go to






Day 37 - Mekong River, Cambodia - Mike Mathews


Pakse - Wat Phou - Pakse


We are out and about for a day ride to Wat Phou to visit a cultural heritage site.   Our day begins with a short ride in the morning to the Mekong River.   As we arrive at the sandy, muddy river bank, we see the small ferries, just big enough for 2-3 small motorbikes, transporting the scooters across the wide river.


The small ferries are powered by what looks to be a 5HP engine which will just move us slowly across the river.   We summon more small ferry boats (or floating platforms from the looks of things) so we can make the river crossing.   As the ferries line up, it is obvious that all are not constructed at the same height, so we will have to go up some and down others as we ride to load. Some ferries are missing boards and have voids in them.   This is going to be a very interesting loading process!


We spend several minutes lining up the "loading ramps" (a couple of split boards) wondering if they will support the weight of our heavy machines.   Each individual ferry operator is trying to hold his ferry close to the next one, so that when we ride our bikes across, the ferries will not separate, leaving us with nothing but water as a riding surface!


With 6 boats lined up, our leader, Helge, makes the first run; up the ramp onto the first ferry keeping up his speed and traveling across all 6 ferries to the end!   The ferries jump around, the wood creaks, they bounce from the extreme weight of our heavy motorcycles, and speed of the motorcycle, but success for our leader!!!   The ferry operators did a good job of keeping the ferries aligned together.




We each take our turn, although we have our concerns.   No one wants to fish their large motorcycle out of the Mekong River.   I am the last motorcycle that will load.   As I am about to drive on, all the loaded ferry operators push off to begin crossing the river, leaving only a single ferry for me to load upon.   It now becomes obvious to me - I have made a big mistake in being last. I must keep up the speed to get up the ramp and onto the ferry, but I must stop immediately after clearing the ramp or I will go off the end of the ferry into the muddy Mekong! What was I thinking when I let all the others go?


While I am contemplating my fate, the operator of the last ferry determines his boat is not strong enough for my large motorcycle.   To my relief, he summons another ferry to move in place behind him so now I have more room to stop my bike after making the loading ramp. Success!!


It was a unique experience crossing the Mekong that day, and we all took photos of each other.   As experienced ferry riders, the unloading was now fun and with little stress, although the unloading ramp was at an angle and just after it, we had to keep the speed up to make it up the sand hill.   It was a lot of fun, being just another day of adventure with GlobeRiders.


Mike Mathews



Week 05 - Cambodia - Linda Sikorowski


Cambodia is inspiring . . .



. . . because of the unbreakable spirit of its people.


Our hearts and minds were exposed to the suffering of the Cambodian people. Yet despite the cruelty and magnitude of atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, and even though they will never forget what happened, they’d rather move forward than dwell on the past.


You can see it in families. You can see it in their commitment to doing their job well, whatever it is; like the man cutting grass with a sickle, or women sweeping garbage off of dirt roads. You can see it in their art. I bought a print (see picture) of happy people in Cambodia; there was a whole gallery devoted to this type of art.


You can see it in their dance. We were treated one evening to traditional instrumental music, song and dance. The featured performance was women dressed in elaborate, dazzling costumes. Their slow movements were incredibly difficult, disciplined, subtle and absolutely beautiful. (Tiger Lily has no plans to attempt this dance.)


There are 3 signs or sayings I saw while in Cambodia that will stay with me: “Family planning is a right – let’s make it a reality”, “Peace – back by popular demand”, and the third was a sign asking people to give up or put down their weapons.


You can feel their soul in their temples and their pride in their monuments declaring independence. You can hear their hope and optimism in their laughter.

My thanks to the Cambodian people who helped make my visit inspirational and very memorable.



Aw Kohn (also "ar kun", "thank you" in Khmer, the majority language of Cambodia),




Day 36 - Cambodia to Thailand - Mike Mathews


Siem Reap, Cambodia to Khao Yai, Thailand



Today we will say goodbye to Cambodia and cross the border into Thailand. The distance for traveling is only 193 miles but we may experience some sections of dirt road due to construction. Due to the possible difficult road conditions, Tiger Lily has agreed to ride the bus today and will carry all her riding gear across the border.


We begin the day with a road which is paved but full of pot holes. Because of a recent failure of my rear shock, I am now traveling on the Tiger with the stock shock. Without the additional passenger, the motorcycle handles fairly well, but is still challenged due to the luggage load and road conditions.


Somewhere about 30 miles down the road, the adventure really begins. It rained hard last night and the road is very difficult to ride in some long sections because of MUD! The same slick mud which fills your tires, slows your progress, and makes you pucker up with excitement when the front tire is out of control! All in a day of fun, we arrive at the border in just 5 hours, traveling only about 60 miles. We share our stories and experiences and are happy that Thailand is just 300 yards away.


The border town of Poipet, Cambodia, is not a place you want to hang out in. Unfortunately, the dirt roads with mud, garbage, and a smell that will make you want to visit the toilet and give up your breakfast, drives you to make the crossing as quickly as possible. Buses, large trucks, and small carts powered by animals, people, and small engines, constantly fill the dusty and muddy streets. Our 2 carts arrive at our bus to transfer the entire luggage that has accumulated on the bus. We say goodbye to Paul (our Cambodian guide), Yim (our driver), and Guy, and move onto greener fields.


We leave Cambodia without any problems, but entering Thailand we must have insurance for our private motorcycles. The delay is long with all the paperwork, so not to be bored, Vincent enjoyed a manicure by a local Thai girl offering the service at the border. We are at the border so long I make friends with one of the local customs inspectors and we talk about motorcycles. He has just purchased a Kawasaki 250 dirt bike and is happy to show it off.


Once we enter Thailand, the roads are smooth, have marked lines and all the traffic signs, but now we are on the left (“wrong”) side of the road. We are happy that the mud will be gone and the roads in Thailand are built for speed.


Mike Mathews



Helge Pedersen Images from the IndoChina Adventure 2008 - Cambodia




IndoChina Adventure 2008 Live!Journal Chapters Menu


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