Follow Amanda & Rob around the world for a year. From 30 September 2005!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Wheely Strange Things

Well we have done and seen an awful lot recently (out of Thailand, through Cambodia and into Vietnam) and we will blog all of that stuff in the near future, but this week, I will mostly be blabbing on about mopeds, tuk-tuks and other vehicles.

After crossing the border from Thailand into Cambodia we took a taxi for the 4 hour journey to Siam Reap. It was back to the old ploughed field type roads we had come to love in Central America. At one point, we stopped for 40 minutes as a slightly overweight lorry had caused the bridge in front of us to break, and we waited patiently while men with hammers, nails and planks of wood banged the bridge together again. On this journey, we encountered many mopeds carrying varying loads. One had a cage of live chicks on the back, one had dead chickens hung all over it and was actually stopped as a couple of unfortunate chucks had fallen off and were lying in the middle of the road. We saw a moped with two dead pigs on the back. Then as we traveled through Phnom Penh in a tuk-tuk, we saw a bloke sat on the back of a moped carrying a door. That’s right a full size door. See photo below, and you can also spot the guy on another moped carrying a big gas canister who I didn’t notice at the time as I was too busy saying to Amanda, ‘Well I never, that man is carrying a door on his moped’ or words to that effect.

But the best one (yet) happened on the way to Phnom Penh when our bus slowed down to pass a wide load. As we passed it, I realized that we were overtaking a bloke who was moving house on his moped. But when I say moving house, he wasn’t carrying items of furniture and tea chests full of crockery and kangaroo scrotum bottle openers, he was moving his actual house. I kid you not, there was a wooden shack (sadly all that Cambodian houses are) nearly the size of a double garage, on a trailer, attached to a moped and being towed along at a snail’s pace. So either he was moving house or he was Dutch and was going around Cambodia in a primitive wooden caravan. It was tremendous though, had me chuckling for a good while.

We have experience of mopeds ourselves. In Thailand, having got stuck in the usual evening Bangkok gridlock and with 10 minutes to spare before our dinner cruise departed, we abandoned our taxi and flagged down two motorbike taxis. With Amanda and me on one and John and Laura on the other, we raced through the streets in a kind of mad dash ‘Anneka Rice on Treasure Hunt’ style and arrived with time to spare. Similarly, upon arrival in Vietnam two days ago, due to us crossing at the wrong border point (that’s another story), the only option from the border to the nearest town 20km away were moped taxis. So we got one each, our rucksacks going between the drivers' legs and we cruised all the way into town. Whilst I clung on in a petrified state, particularly at the moment when my driver went for a daring ‘take-your-helmet-off-and-replace-with-a-baseball-cap-whilst-negotiating-a-corner’ maneuver, Amanda actually still managed to look good in her shades and helmet. In fact if she had been facing the other way, she’d have looked like a London Marathon cameraman.

We have also been cruising around in tuk-tuks a great deal and in Cambodia it only costs around 10USD to hire one with a driver for the whole day. Makes you feel a bit like royalty when you ask the driver to stop at a market and wait for you for an hour and then hop back in and say ‘Drive on Jeeves’. Generally people drive on the right hand side of the road here, except when making a left turn. At least 200m before attempting a left turn, the tuk-tuk driver will switch to the left hand side of the road and weave courageously against the current in a sea of mopeds and tuk-tuks. When he reaches the actual turning, some minutes later, he will wait for a point in the traffic flow which is particularly treacherous, and swerve out in front of a large truck to make the turn, with his passengers whimpering quietly behind him. I intend to adopt a similar driving style in the Tesco car park on my return, always being sure to toot my horn frantically as I believe this is what provides you with an invisible shield of steel.

I actually saw an article on the news about some tuk-tuks they are introducing in Brighton. And they spent 4,000 pounds on each one to make it safe, adding unnecessary extras like seat-belts, indicators and driving licences for the drivers. Not going to be half as much fun in those I can tell you.

One final note, as I realise I am writing far too much about nothing, this time on cars. I was in a car park today and had to laugh when I saw a car reversing. Now, in Europe buses or trucks make that annoying ‘beep beep beep’ sound when they reverse. This car was reversing, but was playing the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’, a very flat version thereof which sounded akin to something you may have found on a 1996 Nokia phone. I definitely need to invest in such a device. I also now know that when I was woken the other night by a beeped version of ‘The Lambada’, must have actually been a Toyota Camry going backwards outside my window. Ah, the joys of Asia……