VENTURIDE Newsletter #9 - February 2017
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Hello from Kenya,

I am delighted to share with you that as of today, I've been on the road for 5 months. In that period, I was lucky enough to go from London up to Vietnam, mostly overland with the bike. As of today, I will spend the next couple of months in Africa where I look forward to drive in challenging terrains and meet priceless people with memorable smiles. The bike has been repaired fully and I've upgraded many parts ahead of Africa. 

I've spent the last month in South East Asia where I've had an amazing time. Who wouldn't? For my French followers, I've tried to capture most of my findings and observations in my logbook, but I know that most of you prefer to check out pictures so here is the latest photo album! As usual, you can also find a selection here!

Thanks again for reading!
Overall spotlight on South East Asia

It was my first time in South East Asia and I've enjoyed every second of it. If you do consider travelling there, you should travel to two countries within that same trip. You will not regret it. My pick would be Cambodia and Thailand. Vietnam was also good but I didn't have enough time to go up north, where I think it is nicer.

Despite the huge variety in this region, it is also easy to notice a palette of similarities, which I will attempt to cover now. Firstly, there is an abundant number of street food business. Thailand's spiciest, tangiest tom yum soups can be eaten from roadside stalls. There’s more variety and more flavors than anywhere I've been to and your mouth will dance with flavor when you eat there.
Also, you will quickly notice that the region is very dependent on water and they have been great at exploiting and distributing it. It is said that the stones used to build Angkor Wat in Cambodia were transported on water, and Thai people consider themselves to be the "Lords of Water". Without controlling water, they wouldn't also be able to produce rice, which is another point they have in common. 
Furthermore, demographically speaking, the population is very young which has many implications. The average age in Cambodia is 23. Also, unlike some of the countries I've been to earlier in my trip, women here have more rights and receive greater social recognition. For example, in Cambodian weddings, the dowry is offered by the family of the husband. The young population has grown up in the age of internet, and unlike the older one, hasn't lived in war times. In all 3 countries, they are asking for more democracy, but are struggling and risking their lives at the same time. Indeed, since the last Coup d'Etat in Thailand (2014), it is forbidden to protest. Cambodian youth lives under the same threat and criticising the Prime Minister there is riskier than criticising the King. As you can imagine, there is a huge level of corruption and propaganda. In Thailand for example, the Military spends 500 million Dollars a year to promote their work and the King and paying "black" money to get things done is seen as a "normal tax". 
Finally, another commonality (which can be challenged) is that all 3 countries are Buddhist countries. However, since these countries haven't received the same influence (Cambodia has received Indian and Hinduism influence while Vietnam has received Chinese influence), Buddhism found across these lands is very different. They therefore talk about the "Small" and "Big" vehicles. As a result, the Buddhist temples vary between the countries and you don't find (or rarely) the same type of temples in Cambodia and Vietnam. These countries are also animist countries so they practice similar customs, such as changing somebody's name when they are sick to disturb the bad spirits. 

There are many similarities but let's focus on each individual country, as the above will not really help you chose your next destination!
ItSpotlight on Thailand - Relaxation and Sun

After a month in India, the calm in Thailand was well received. I needed some rest so I tailored my itinerary accordingly. I started in Bangkok and then ended off to the famous heavenly islands in the south. From my bed in Koh Phi Phi or Koh Lanta, I could hear the waves lapping on the white sand which was enjoyable. Then the international crowds from around the world put anchor on these same islands to celebrate New Years and the parties became even more wild. Fun was on the agenda! In their own rights, most of the youth comes here in Thailand to benefit from the cheap alcohol, the creative cheap tattoos and the relaxing white beaches. However, the irony of this is that, these islands are populated by Muslims so it must be quite bizarre for them. I believe that they are ready to live through this in the high season as we are a good source of income for them. Yes, unfortunately, tourism has killed their ecosystem. Indeed, before Koh Phi Phi became famous because of the movie "The Beach", the locals only lived out of fishing and other traditional activities. Now, it is more profitable for them to sell Nutella Pancakes at 2$ each. 

It is very easy to hop from one island to the other so if you are bored of one view, you can head off to Koh Lanta for example. If you are on a honeymoon or travelling with your family, I would recommend this island against Koh Phi Phi. It is much calmer, bigger and there are more things to do. I rented a bike for a day and cycled around the island which was great, despite the heavy rain. The good news is that the 3 islands I visited were very clean, and this should not be taken for granted in this region. They have restored the damages from the famous big Tsunami and have introduced a tax to all tourists which is used to clean the beaches. 

I then headed of to Phuket, where I discovered the hidden face of Thailand. Similarly to Bangkok, all locals were dressed in black with a special icon on them to commemorate the death of the King. Apparently, they have to be in black for 100 days. The hidden face, even though it is known back home, is easily noticeable because you find prostitutes on all pavements. Also, if you walk outside of the touristic zone, you can find many slums and in Phuket alone, 3 million people "live" there. Poverty and prostitution are both linked and many families sell their daughters to some gangs. Another big issue is around human body trafficking and slavery. There are also many orphanages.

I haven't been up north but I've been told it is also very nice. Basically, even though the country is quite stretched out like Vietnam, there is a good network of internal flights so you could mix with a bit of cultural activities in the North and Bangkok and then head off to the south to top up your tan and eat nice seafood.
Spotlight on Cambodia - Culture and Family Time

Cambodia was special because my family came to visit me for 2 weeks. Not only did they bring their smiles and own personalities with them but my mom had made 2 fruit cakes for me, knowing how much I love them. I was quickly able to gain a bit of weight and taste something I've always had an appetite for. 

The trip was very different in the sense that everything had been carefully optimised by my dear parents. We had a local guide with us for the first 10 days and his knowledge on his country's history was well received. If you consider going there, I would encourage you take a guide. This would be fruitful when you visit Angkor Wat and all the temples, some of the Pagodas and some of the museums or Palace. I spent 18 days there but you can discover the country in 10, despite the lack of road infrastructures. 

Angkor Wat is a must, and to give yo an idea, it represents the size of la Foret de Fontainebleau near Paris, with hundreds of temples in it. The city was only rediscovered 60 years ago and had been abandoned for hundreds of years. As a result, nature has reconquered the land and trees have grown into some of the temples. It is quite stunning and special. These temples are built in a specific way according to Hinduism, Buddhism and Khmer principles. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the Devas in Hindu mythology, within a moat and an outer wall. 

Cambodia is so poor and undeveloped because the country has been through a number of conflicts with its neighbour countries (they hate Vietnam) and because a minority of its own people organised a genocide on its own people, which was then followed by the occupation of Vietnam. During these sad times, the country was brought back to "stone age" and the Khmer Rouge Leader created a class-less society focused on agriculture. Millions of innocent Cambodians were killed and tortured, which also included intellectuals.
This series of events have prevented the country from developing and when they were able to in the 90s, they struggled. They still struggle because corruption is eating everything and because the leader, who has been in power since 1985 is serving his own interests. Some say "the country is for sale" which doesn't give much hope for the Cambodians. In 2018 will be held elections but even if the election results are falsified by the current PM, the UN would prefer to keep him to prevent a civil war from taking place. Crazy stuff!!

Aside from the local structural and cultural issues, Cambodian people are so friendly and I would say that it is the country of all smiles. They stop smiling at you when they are 7 but the younger generation is just so cute. Colgate should come and select a few for their upcoming campaigns. So genuine.
To see more of these smiles, I would encourage you spend a couple of days in the countryside to understand and see how 80% of the population lives. We did a cycle tour and went to a number of farms which is also something you may consider. They use manual techniques which is interesting to see. The other good thing is you can try some of their products, fresh from the land. Working in the fields in Cambodia is deemed very dangerous due to the huge amount of mine fields dropped by the US army and the Khmer Rouge when Vietnam invaded. We estimate that 4 millions lands are awaiting to explode, which represents the world's greatest concentration.

The coastline in the south is also pleasant to see but can't compete with Thailand.
Check out my updated Blog
Spotlight on Vietnam 

I've really enjoyed my time in Vietnam but 10 days was not enough, but enough to see all around me propaganda campaigns celebrating the 70 year anniversary of the regime. I didn't get the time to go up north in Bai Tu Long. If you only have 10 days to spare, you may want to use internal flights to optimise your time. I was there during the Vietnamese holidays and Chinese New Year so everything was fully booked and pricey. I therefore spent my time between Hoh Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Danang. 

There is a great museum in Hoh Chi Minh on the War in Vietnam. It is naturally very biased but it's good to have an Asian point of view on some of the recent conflicts. This also applies to the French colonisation of the country. I hadn't realised the extent to which citizens from around the world had been against US intervention. For Vietnamese people, the US committed against their country a crime of aggression, a crime against peace. For them again, the US committed a crime of war as they also tested weapons and gas prohibited by the laws of war. For them, the US government is guilty of genocide vis-a-vis the Vietnamese people. But have we ever sentenced the US leadership? Actually, even today, the 4th generation is still a victim of this conflict and there is a huge amount of disabled children, caused by Agent Orange.

Despite the recent wars, Vietnam is developing well and there is a huge Chinese influence. The people are less friendly than in Cambodia or Thailand but with what happened to them, I can understand. Furthermore, it is interesting to visualise the remains of the French influence in the country. In Saigon for example, you can find big boulevards and few buildings with a French architecture...and some french pastries!!!
Where have I been?
When I last shipped my motorbike from Iran to UAE, it was done by sea. This time, I decided to ship it by air from UAE to Kenya to save time. The good news is that you can put in on a normal passenger plane if it's height is less than 1,57m. To do so, you need to proceed with the Cargo division of most airline companies, build a wooden crane, provide all the relevant documentation (Carnet de Passage, Bill of Entry...), declare it as dangerous good, get it inspected by Customs... Described like this, the process may look easy but it is not as you usually deal with incompetent staff. It usually takes one full day when you export it and 4-6 hours when you import it. Obviously, it depends on the stakeholders you deal with and the size of the airport. Billing is made using the chargeable weight and not the actual weight. To calculate it, they measure the height x height x lenght / 6000...
It was great to have the family around for 2 weeks in Cambodia. They enjoyed the warm weather, the traditional Cambodian cuisine, the countless visits in Temples, museums and Pagodas! Hopefully, our paths will cross again in the next 7 months. 
Thank you for your interest and let's stay in touch!
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Contact Jean Malissard on + 44 (0) 7880 173 666


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