(929 km - 21 days)
3 May - Sa Kaeo, Thailand – Saophoan (Sisophon), Cambodia - 107 kilometres
I soon reached the border at Po Pet and with that I left organised Thailand and entered the slightly more chaotic Cambodia. The border crossing is made even more so as it forms part of the Border Market and one needs to weave your way through the thousand of stalls.
Once in Cambodia I headed in the direction of Siem Reap. The road was good but not terribly exciting, past many stilted houses and dry rice paddies. I was going like the clappers, trying to outrace the approaching storm, wondering if I will make it to Saophoan without getting soaked.
4 May - Saophoan – Siem Reap - 107 kilometres
The road was mostly good, except for a stretch where they were working on the road. It was time to haul out the old buff and I was happy it was not the rainy season. It was incredibly hot with the mercury hovering around 40ᵒC. From time to time, I wet my shirt to get some relief from the heat but within 5 kilometres it was bone dry again.
I passed many villages and seemingly 100’s of school kids on bicycles. You can't knock a country where kids still have the freedom to go to school by bicycle.
I arrived in Siem Reap and found the place a bit of a rip-off. Where I paid 500 Riel along the road for water, they now wanted 4 000!! The room at Ivy Guesthouse was terrible as it only had a fan and it was an extremely hot room. The fan made not the slightest of difference. At 11 p.m., the weather bureau gave the temperature as 30ᵒC, (felt like 35) and it was much cooler outside the room than inside. Like a diver that needs to decompress I felt like I needed to “deheat”…. I should have taken an air-con room.
5 May - Siem Reap
I packed up and went in search of another room. There were 100’s of places to choose from, all about the same price of $12/15 per room with air-con.
Then it was time to visit the temples of Angkor. I bought a 3-day ticket as I was in no hurry at all. My first stop was Angkor Thom, the last great capital of the Khmer Empire. As I approached the site, the magnificent entrance gates come into few - what a fantastic site. The gates are flanked by 54 demons and 54 gods engaged in an epic tug of war.
Inside the gates is an old temple with 54 towers decorated with 216 enormous (smiling??) faces of Avalokiteshvara, which (is said) bear more than a passing resemblance to the great king himself.
6 May - Siem Reap
I've been slightly unlucky with the sunsets and sunrises. The previous night there was no colour in the sky and this morning was not quite what I had expected. I took some pictures nevertheless, as it is not often that I get up at 5h00.
After sunrise, I took myself off to the very photogenic Ta Prohm (the temple that Lara Croft made famous). Sadly for the photographers, the Cambodians have now started renovating the temple. Without this work, however, the temple will not last another decade. Fortunately, there was still plenty to shoot and one rather expected to be greeted by a hobbit.
7 May - Siem Reap
I had another field day at the temples, visiting some of the further afield ones. With that I had a 3-day ticket, it was easy to visit in the morning and then retreat to my air-con room in the middle of the day, only to emerge again once most of the heat disappeared.
8 May - Siem Reap - Kampong Kdei - 61 kilometres
I should have been very energetic, after 3 days of doing very little, but instead I felt lethargic and it was difficult to get going. I cycled past typical Cambodian houses on stilts where people seem to live more under their houses than inside. This is where they hide from the heat and rain, where they eat and socialize and, most of all, where they swing in their hammocks. I have now declared Cambodia the hammock capital of the world, as they never seem to leave it. At first, I thought “what a lazy bunch” but then realised that because their hammocks are outside and in full view of everyone, one can see them sleeping and relaxing. Elsewhere people relax, rest or sleep in the privacy of their homes, so you only see them doing things.
The road was littered with stalls selling bamboo rice and dried fish. I tried some of the rice and it was delicious. Cooked in bamboo stalks over an open fire gives it a unique taste.
Along the way, I came upon an ancient bridge, built around 1181 – 1220 AD. The bridge is located along the old road that connected the capital of Angkor to the south. The bridge is 86m long, 16m wide and 10m high. It consists of 21 arches, supported on 20 columns, and is decorated with a 9-headed Naga balustrade. Most amazing of all is that it is still in use today. Although the new road bypasses it, the bridge is still used by motorbikes and bicycles.
Seeing that I felt lazy and that there was a guesthouse next to the bridge, I decided to stay there. It is always interesting to stay in these small places. The room came at a whopping $6 and had a fan and an en-suite bathroom with a squat toilet and a mandi (a large tub or container of cold water). I must admit that they are very diligent when it comes to the complimentary items such as a toothbrush and soap. Even the smallest and least expensive room will have a toothbrush and soap as well as the ever-present communal hair comb. I just want to know, who the heck uses a communal comb? Judging by the blackness of the teeth it is a well-used item!
9 May 2015 - Kampong Kdei – Kampong Thum - 90 kilometres
I felt remarkably energetic after the previous day’s tiredness. I also left much earlier than usual and enjoyed cycling in the cooler morning air. The road was busy with school kids on bicycles (on a Saturday?). It struck me how most kids go to school, but the way they get there varies tremendously. Once again, I passed many wooden houses on stilts with the usual “hello” coming from somewhere underneath the house (or from behind a banana plant).
The word farang (foreigner) seems to be something of a secret code amongst the younger ones. All you need is one to shout “farang!”, which, seemingly, gives them carte blanche to go completely ballistic! I passed a woman on a bicycle with her little one in front, and as I passed them I just heard a little voice saying “Hello, Farang.” How sweet is that?
I also passed many wedding ceremonies. It seems that these ceremonies mostly take place over weekends, in street-side yellow and pink marquees by the family home.
Rumour had it that there were some pre-Angkorian temples scattered in the forest about 30 kilometres from Kampong Thom. I rented myself a tuk-tuk and we set off in the direction of the temples. It was a slow process and took about an hour to get there.
Once there, I set off into the woods, trying to locate these old structures. It was fantastic just wondering around the forest and coming upon these old temples. Apparently, there are more than 100 temples scattered throughout the forest. I read that it was once called Isanapura and served as the capital of Chena in the early 7th century. Fascinating stuff.
11 - 12 May - Kampong Thum – Kampong Cham - 113 kilometres
Shortly after I left this morning, I passed an area where they made temple statues. They had them displayed along the road; big ones, small ones, sitting Buddhas, reclining Buddhas… name it, they had it. I watched them work for a while - what a dusty job it is.
The road was like one long, drawn-out village and each house had a plastic contraption with a fluorescent light for catching bugs. You don't want to run out of hors d’oeuvres now.
Later in the day I reached a rubber plantation. It looked so lush and green, I felt like lying down in the shade. The presence of too many snakes in the area made me decide against such a move. I already cycled over one today and he raised his slender green head in anger at me, I was not going to take any more chances.
Harvesting the latex from a rubber tree seems very labour intensive as they only harvest the latex about 2 days a week from the same tree. They make a cut in the bark of 25 centimetres long, leaving a gutter below for the latex to flow into a cup. They start harvesting when a tree is about 5-years old and can harvest it for about 28 years. Tappers also stop tapping for two months in the dry season, so there was no tapping happening currently.
Not long after that, I turned off the main road and headed for the small village of Kampong Cham situated on the Mekong River. It was a surprisingly nice place and I found myself a good room with a few of the Mekong, bought a beer and sat gulping it down while the sun set. Life was good.
I also stayed the following day and did totally nothing…..I just ate and watched the river.
13 - 17 May - Kampong Cham – Phnom Pehn - 107 kilometres
I was up early enough to see the sunrise and take a few pictures. I’m not exaggerating if I say I took one and a minute later all the colour was gone out of the sky! As someone said: When traveling by bicycle, even the most mundane trip becomes an adventure. It was like that today. I followed the Mekong River, even though Google maps indicated that there was no road along the river to Phnom Penh. I reckoned that there would be people living and farming along the banks of the mighty Mekong and a mighty river it is. It flows for 4 350 kilometres all the way from the Tibetan Plateau to where it eventually drains into the South China Sea in Vietnam.
I first stopped at the bamboo bridge which was obviously strong enough to hold a car, but to me it felt rather unstable and springy. Google was true to its word and soon the road petered out and became a mere sandy track. I bounced along a dusty road, past small villages where they were surprised to see me. Some laughed and pointed, others just stared and the kids shouted a friendly “Hello, Farang”, as always.
It was an interesting day where villagers went about their normal life without the influence of the thousands of tourists coming to see the Temples of Angkor. Here you don’t have to go shopping, the shops come to you. Pyjama-clad women on bicycles sell their wares from house to house, announcing what they have for sale in a sing-song voice. It’s the dry season and very dusty and I soon became the same colour as the road.
About 30 kilometres from Phnom Penh I got back on a brand new road all the way to the city centre. Once in Phnom Penh, I splashed out and got myself a rather nice room at the Royal Guesthouse. The room came with air-con, TV, a bar fridge and a bathroom with hot water (just in case a cold front came through and the temperature dipped below 30ᵒC), all for $13. Just there and then I decided to stay put for a whole 5 days. I don’t quite know what I’ll do in the 5 days, but it is nice to know I don’t have to move or pack up for a few days.
I took myself off to see a traditional Cambodian dance show and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I realized just how much I have missed shows like this. My photography was, however, not of the same standard and I found it very difficult to take pictures of the dancers in the low light.
I was not going to visit the Killings Fields again, as I thought it way too depressing. Somehow I found myself back there. I think it is impossible to come to Cambodia and not touch on the genocide that took place here. It makes you wonder how a country can go from the mighty Khmer Empire of Angkor to the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge. Most countries/nations/tribes had wars and killed many people in the process. At least they wanted something from their enemy, either their land and/or riches, or they wanted to change their religious views.
Whereas here they killed their very own. In the relatively short period from 1975 – 1979 the Khmer Rouge managed to kill about 2 million Cambodians and it is the sheer brutality of these murders that gives me the creeps. There was a sombre mood at both the Killing Fields and at the former prison known as S-21. It is hard to imagine that this, now innocent-looking school building, was once the largest torture centre in the country. Sad, sad, sad.
18 May - Phnom Penh – Traeng Trayueng - 90 kilometres
It was an absolute nightmare getting out of Phnom Penh this morning. It was 8h00 on a Monday morning and major road works were taking place. They drive in weird and wonderful ways in Cambodia and on both sides of the road. I had a small collision with a motorbike coming from the front and he ripped my front pannier……arghhhhh. Now it is held together with duck tape.
The good road did not last long and then we were back on a narrow road, but at least it had a good dirt shoulder for cycling. I was cycling into the wind which was a bit of a double-edged sword as it kept me nice and cool but slowed me down a fair bit. I spotted the Chanreah Guesthouse (a rather fancy sounding name) along the road, and thought it a good enough place to spend the night.
I had a delicious bowl of curry noodle soup from the restaurant across the road. In fact, it was so nice that later that evening I went across the road again and got another one. It is quite remarkable how the Cambodians are standing together and trying to overcome their sad history. The owner of the guesthouse where I stayed had built a large open shed with volleyball courts and snooker tables. This is where the village kids come to play and practice and the owner does not charge a single cent. He does not even sell any alcohol or soft drinks to make some money.
19 May - Traeng Trayueng – Veal Rinh - 93 kilometres
As I headed further south towards the coast, the road became somewhat hillier. Much of the land in this part of the country is covered by the Cardamom Mountains and I need to get over them to get back to Thailand.
Firstly, however, I’m heading for Sihanoukville to check out the diving. I reached Veal Rinh fairly early but did not feel like doing another 50 kilometres to Sihanoukville. As there was a convenient guesthouse right on the road, I stayed there for the night.
20 - 22 May - Veal Rinh – Sihanoukville - 53 kilometres
The next morning, I cycled the short distance to Sihanoukville. I looked around and eventually settled for a bungalow-style room at the Reef Resort, which had a swimming pool. I got a real good deal on a room if I stayed for 3 days. I had no intention of staying that long, but the price was too good to ignore. The diving turned out to be not as good as expected, so I gave it a miss and did zero for 3 days, except for enjoying the swimming pool.
23 May - Sihanoukville – Koh Kong - By bus
I was keen to get going but woke to a steady rain. Normally, it rains hard and is soon over but this morning in continued raining and I was reluctant to get on the road as my front pannier was still broken and not waterproof at all. I should have used my time to fix the pannier, but clean forgot about it. Although it was taped up, the tape was pulling loose and I had to make another plan. I decided to take the bus to the border and within a few hours I was Koh Kong. I was not sure how that was going to solve my problem as I still needed to fix the pannier.
Cycling the same country/route twice is not very exciting and I found it hard to get motivated. I found a room in Koh Kong and made a half-hearted attempt to fix the broken pannier. It may be easier to put everything in a waterproof bag, as I could not see how I was going to fix that pannier. I did, however, make use of my time I Koh Kong to look for a pannier and was surprised to find a company in Bangkok that sells Ortlieb panniers. I did not have any intention of going to Bangkok again but once close I could take the bus into town. I knew that I would not have much time to waste in Thailand as once I cross the border I only have 2 weeks to get to Malaysia, which meant a steady 100 – 120 kilometres a day.
Instead of crossing the border into Thailand, I decided to take a trip up river. It was a good change of scenery and money well spent. We slowly puttered up the river for about an hour and a half before we started our trek uphill to a waterfall. It was lush and green and terribly humid as we slowly walked through a dense forest to reach the waterfall. Fortunately, our guide had a machete and could cut open the path as we walked along. After a good swim and lunch, we headed back downhill. Halfway back our guide scrambled up a tree and came back with a good size coconut for each of us. In no time at all he chopped it open and even made us each a straw from the reeds (or maybe it was a thin bamboo).
25 May - Koh Kong, Cambodia – Trat, Thailand - 108 kilometres
It must be getting to the end of the dry season as it rained the entire day. Not that I minded - it kept me nice and cool. I did not take many pictures today as in my head I was cycling the Cape Argus Cycle tour. You should have seen me flying up Hospital Bend and Wynberg Hill!!! Through Muizenberg and up and over Red Hill. I was going like the clappers past Kommetjie and Noordhoek. Chappies was a piece of cake and by the time I reached Hout Bay and Suikerbossie, there was no stopping me. I nearly flew right past Trat (my destination for the day). LOL. I don’t know what my time was, but I’m sure it was good enough to win my age category!!!