Greetings from Bumrungrad Hospital - Bangkok

Yo folks,

I’ll get straight to the point and give the details later so no one is worried. Corinne contracted Dengue Fever about 10 days ago which is a disease transmitted by mosquitoes which kills thousands every year. The chances of it killing you is seriously reduced providing your aren’t in a third world country like Cambodia which is ummmm…..where she contracted it. She’s been in hospital for over a week now and is on the mend and we’re hoping she’ll be flown home to Switzerland tomorrow. Her original plan was to cycle down to Singapore when I fly to the States but Dengue leaves it’s victims exhausted for up to 4 weeks so even though she’s bitterly disappointed it’s time for her to go home.

My last email was from Siem Reap which is where we believe she contracted the disease. We cycled past the local hospital and it warned of a Dengue epidemic but we were taking plenty of precautions as part of our malaria prevention programme so hoped it’d be enough. Turned out it wasn’t.

We left Siem Reap for the capital city of Phnom Penh; 320kms to the south-east. Our aim was for a 4 day ride and then a day off in Phnom Penh before heading south the sihanoukville. The going was tough as the rainy season hadn’t started and the temperatures were usually around 40C. I was also still recovering from my illness from the week before so Corinne had to take the front more than normal so we could get through each day.

Along the route we got to meet plenty of ordinary rural Cambodians as the people are incredibly friendly and curious by nature. Every time we stopped for a drink the owner of the shop would ask to look at my map and then it’d be a half an hour discussion on where we’ve been and what our plans are. Men seem to love maps no matter where you go in the world and they’re great when you don’t have a shared language.

The people of Cambodia have a great nature, always smiling and trying to communicate which is amazing if you consider their history. In the West we really only became aware of Cambodia in the late 70’s when the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge caused mass famine and the death of millions. Even after 1979 the civil war continued right up until the end of the 90’s with the resultant death of even more people.

It’s a tough place because you see the people trying to improve their lives but with such a recent trauma you still have the constant reminders of the war with hundreds of amputees and orphans begging in all the major urban areas. It’s heart breaking because you feel powerless in the face of it all and you can only give to the worst cases or you’d have nothing in a second. On a positive side you can see a real future for the country. Trials are on the cards for the former Khmer Rouge leaders and tourism is on the rise every year. The place has enormous potential which will hopefully be fulfilled in the coming years. We went to the Killing Fields or Phnom Penh and Tuel Sleng prison. Both are horrific places but if you’ve spent anytime with the people of Cambodia you feel it’s the very least you can do.

Phnom Penh feels like the wild west of SE Asia. Coming in from the north, the city is probably the worst for traffic I’ve encountered in SE Asia. Corinne was cycling in front and I lost count of the number of cars that were inches from taking her out and presumably the same was happening to me. You can’t do anything but keep moving and hope.

Phnom Penh has a ‘anything goes’ feel to the place. A five minute walk and you’ll be offered enough drugs to last a lifetime. On the way to the Killing Fields our happy-go-lucky tuk-tuk driver asked if I liked to shoot. Apparently I could go to a shooting range right near the Killing Fields and shoot live animals with everything from guns to rocket launches. I have no idea what type of sociopath would think a ‘Killing Fields - shooting cows with an AK-47′ combo sounds like a great day out but I’d rather not meet them.

After Phnom Penh, Corinne and I headed south to the small town of Takeo. We both had a terrible day, both struggling to turn the pedals. We arrived in Takeo and Corinne was exhausted. I put her straight to bed and took her temperature which was running at 39.5C. We figured it may be similar to what I had suffered from in Dalat so decided to sit it out for a day. Next day things weren’t any better and when other symptoms started to appear which sounded like Dengue we took the decision to taxi it back to Phnom Penh in the morning and get to the nearest hospital.

At the hospital they diagniosed Dengue but there’s different strains with the haemorrhagic strain being the dangerous one but we wouldn’t know for a few days which it was. We settled in and waited while the hospital took daily blood tests. If the platelets hit a certain level then it’s haemorrhagic and because they don’t have blood transfusion facilities in Cambodia you have to be airlifted out to Bangkok. By the third day Corinne was found to have the haemorrhagic strain and her insuarce company swung into action.

Although Corinne could fly to Bangkok on a normal commercial flight providing she had a doctor as an escort the paperwork involved makes it a poor option in emergency cases. Instead the insurance company arranged for a medical team to fly out to Phnom Penh on a chartered plane and then fly back to Bangkok on the same plane and then an ambulance direct to Bumrungrad Hospital.

At the Phnom Penh end the ambulance driver arrived earlier than expected so it was decided he’d take the bikes and load them into the airplane. Anyway this guy has the ambulance parked in the middle of the street, sirens on, blocking the traffic and I go in to get the bikes. Obviously loads of people start gathering round for a morbid look at the sick patient. Out comes me with two bikes which are loaded into the ambulance and then driven off without anyone in it. Locals must have thought Westerners are the most spoilt people on the planet. Later when we were driving to the airport the doctor from Bangkok could believe the madness of the traffic. When people from Bangkok start worrying you know you’re somewhere special.

It was a strange feeling having an 80 seater Bangkok Airway flight all to ourselves. The air hostess looked a bit confused with only myself and the doctor to serve and kept on offering my orange juice every 30 seconds. Corinne joked that this is the closet we’ll ever get to being rock stars and having our own plane.

We arrived in Bangkok and Corinne was whisked off to the hospital and I was left to get the two bikes from the airport. I got myself a taxi and marvelled how Bangkok had now come to represent safety and civilisation to me. I remember arriving for the first time, 9 months ago and being awed by the place. Now after where I’ve been, the places I’ve slept and the things I’ve seen it feels like normality. Strange how traveling just destroys your sense of what’s normal.

As I said earlier Corinne is now on the mend and it’s just a case of the insurance company sorting her flight out of here for tomorrow hopefully. I fly to the states today and start the final leg of my journey. Recent events have meant I have very little chance of completing the challenge in under a year but Corinne’s well-being obviously far more important. I’ve worked out I have about 25 full days on the bike but 3000kms left to cycle. It isn’t impossible but with my recent health issues probably not a good idea. I’ll probably do it at the pace I can and then any remaining miles I have left to do I’ll do in England before I head home. Anyone fancy a weekend in the Lake District?

Anyway best go as I still have a few things to sort out before I fly to LA.

Catch you all later,

Lots of love as always,

Craig. XXX

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