It’s been a while since I posted anything on my blog but I’ve got a bit to write about since the last tour. I was fortunate to have a couple of workmates interested in doing a Paleriders tour, so after months of talking about it the day finally arrived. I flew into Phnom Penh from Laos on May 22 and was met at the airport by my wife Sreyda and Mr Geoff.
We travelled to our home in Baray next morning to prepare the bikes and get them to Kampong Cham, the starting point of the tour. KC is about 80 km from home, a nice ride through some of the finest agricultural land in Cambodia. While we were in Baray, I took Geoff to January 1 dam, about 20 km from home. Now it is a pleasant place to go for a swim and relax, but it has a bloody past. It was constructed by the Khmer Rouge regime utilising thousands of displaced people under conditions of extreme starvation and abuse. It is estimated that over 10000 people died there.
On May 25th, we took the six bikes to Kampong Cham. Sreyda’s brother Rhum, her brother-in-law and nephew rode three of the bikes to save us having to do several trips. As it turned out, it was the first time Rhum had ever been to Kampong Cham. Hard to believe for us seasoned travellers but a lot of Cambodians have never even been to Phnom Penh, let alone seen the ocean or been to Angkor Wat. On the way the float in Geoff’s carburettor stuck and fuel leaked everywhere but a couple of taps with a handy rock sorted out that problem. We carried the rock for the rest of the trip, just in case, but didn’t need to use it again. We spent the afternoon in the markets buying stuff to give to the kids at the orphanage when we arrived back on the 27th. I’d allocated $200 for this, and we ended up buying a set of clothes for each of them, toothpaste, shampoo, noodles, biscuits, soft drinks and 100 kg of rice. A little bit goes a long way in Cambodia.
On the 26th we hired a car and Geoff, Sreyda, Srey Troup and I travelled to Phnom Penh to meet the rest of the riders. They were staying at Blue Lime so Da and I had also booked in there. Tim, Warren and Phil were already there by the time we arrived so after the introductions were over we ended up walking along Sisowath Quay and having dinner at Sinh Foo. The food there is very good and not expensive. Phil couldn’t get over how busy it was along the riverfront, the constant stream of traffic never seemed to diminish. Cambodians love to go outside in the evening, to eat and socialise and escape the heat of their homes I suppose.
Day 1 – May 27th
Da’s cousin picked us up in his van fairly early and we headed off to Kampong Cham. A short stop at Skun gave the boys a chance to check out a peculiarly Cambodian delicacy – fried tarantulas. Strangely, nobody was too keen to try them. We arrived in KC around lunch time, so after checking into the Monorom VIP Hotel we headed off to Lazy Mekong Daze for something to eat. Afterwards we picked up the bikes from the guesthouse where I’d stored them and the boys had a bit of a practice run before we set out for the bamboo bridge to Koh Paen. For the uninitiated, the bamboo bridge can be a bit daunting. It feels very unusual riding on bamboo matting, it moves as if alive. However, we all made it across without incident and went for a bit of a look around the island. It is quite large, around 12 km in length and home to a considerable number of people who generally work in agriculture or fishing.
After returning across the bridge we called at the Kar Chouy Dai Orphanage to visit Pastor Hong and distribute the goods we’d bought a couple of days before. As always, the kids were pleased to see us.
We had a game of volleyball with the kids but weren’t anywhere near up to their standard, or fitness level.
Afterwards we rode to Wat Nokor, a pre-Angorian ruin a few kilometres out of town. In all my visits to Kampong Cham I’d never bothered to have a close look at it but I was pleasantly surprised. It is a hidden gem, well worth taking a little time to have a look.
Day 2 – May 28th
A fairly early start and a lovely 20 km ride upriver from Kampong Cham brought us to Wat Hanchey, another hilltop temple. I believe this is one of the most enjoyable rides in Cambodia, you can see most aspects of agricultural and riverine life in that short distance. After a while a gibbon arrived to see if we had any food. He wasn’t too keen on the mango I gave him, he seemed to object to the sticky juice on his hands.
From there the road was dirt, following the river until we reached the ferry crossing at Stung Trong.
There was a bit of dirt on the other side of the river, as we travelled through Cham (Muslim) villages towards our destination, Kratie. Not as much dirt as last year though, the road has improved a great deal. An election year helps with those sort of things. We stopped along the road for lunch, prepared by Sreyda with the assistance of Srey Troup and Sakhorn the driver. We almost missed an afternoon thunderstorm but all ended up soaked. It was a relief from the heat though, and by the time we arrived in Kratie we’d pretty much dried out again. After checking in at the Santepheap Hotel, we piled into the van and travelled to Kampi Pool to see the rare and endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins. It wasn’t the best day for dolphin spotting but we saw a few, although quite a way off.
Day 3 – May 29th
We rode to Kampi Resort, stopping for a short while at the rapids where thatched restaurants are built almost in the water. Further on, we arrived at Wat Sar Sar Mou Roi (100 Column Temple). In the temple grounds is the Mekong Turtle Conservation Centre, which gives an insight into the lives of another endangered species.
Heading back to the main highway, Tim’s bike developed a flat tyre. Fortunately there was a repair place 200 metres away so while the tube was patched I sped off to stop Warren and Srey Troup who were still riding towards Stung Treng. Sreyda and Sakhorn had gone ahead in the van to prepare lunch. Phil had asked if we could stop along the road to see inside someone’s house, so Da was going to find a typical roadside abode and stop there to share our lunch with the residents. We ended up sharing our meal with a woman, her daughter and grandson. The men were away working in the ricefields.
On arrival in Stung Treng I found that Warren’s bike needed a new chain and sprockets, and as I didn’t feel much like doing the work myself I asked a young bloke at our guesthouse to take the bike somewhere and get them replaced. I gave him $30 and they changed the front brake shoes as well. Meanwhile we sought out the Women’s Development Centre. It ended up taking quite a while to find, and we just got there before it closed. The Centre was established to provide employment and a purpose for women from the area and strives for self-sufficiency. All stages of the silk making process can be seen, from breeding the worms to finished fabrics which are on sale under the Mekong Blue label. Everyone bought something, and we also made a donation of $200.
Day 4 – May 30th
Our route today took us over the Sekong and Mekong Rivers and through mostly forest country to Preah Vihear Province. We arrived at the ferry crossing by 8 am and waited for the barge to return from the other side. When it arrived, a bloke rode his motorbike off the ramp and straight over the side into the river. Luckily there were plenty of people to pull him and the bike out of the water.
The road had improved a lot since last year, a fair bit of it was now bitumen. At about the halfway mark I found a roadside clearing and we stopped for morning tea but Sreyda couldn’t resist cooking some of the fresh beef she’d bought in Kratie. The boys reckoned her stir fried beef with pineapple was pretty good.
We arrived in Tbeng Meanchey (Preah Vihear City) early in the afternoon and checked into Vattanak Guesthouse. The boys spent the afternoon drinking beer and checking out the sights while I did some repairs to Phil’s bike. A bearing had collapsed in the rear wheel and Tim’s bike had lost a few bolts out of the footpeg assembly. It cost around $3 to buy new parts, a bit cheaper than for the bikes I used to own back in Australia.
We had a great meal that night, I think the Restaurant was called Phnom Tbeng Meanchey. They even had venison on the menu. It was so good we went back for breakfast next morning. Phil pointed out a dog restaurant he’d found the day before but I think I’d rather starve. Along the road next day we saw a poor dog with it’s legs and muzzle wired up on the back of a motorbike, it was on the way to the cooking pot I’d say.
Day 5 – May 31st
We only had to cover 85 km on good bitumen roads today, so we arrived in Sra Eim mid-morning and checked into Sok San Guesthouse. After arranging for our washing to be done we travelled to Prasat Preah Vihear ticket office in the van. I paid the entry fees and a four wheel drive pickup took us up the very steep road to the temple. It’s a spectacular drive, climbing about 500 metres in a very short distance. We spent a couple of hours exploring the ruins before heading back to our starting point for lunch. Sreyda was just starting out to bring it to us, she’d stayed behind at one of the small restaurants to help prepare meals for everyone.
Later in the afternoon a few of us found the old route up to the temple. Timber stairs have been built alongside the old steps, quite a feat in itself. Tim and Warren climbed up to the 520th step but it was only about halfway to the top.
Day 6 – June 1st
It was only a short run of 85 km to Anlong Veng so we were there by mid-morning and checked into Sophea Guesthouse. We left the bikes there and drove to the Thai border to see Pol Pot‘s grave and the mountain retreat of Ta Mok, the former Khmer Rouge military leader. I find it quite ironic that a huge casino is being built overlooking the grave of the man whose regime abolished money. After a great lunch at a small restaurant near Ta Mok’s house, several cars arrived full of Korean film makers. I don’t know what they were up to but it kept us entertained for a while guessing the gender of some of them….
On our return to Anlong Veng we visited the former Khmer Rouge stronghold just out of town. The view across the lake towards the Damrek Mountains is quite beautiful, the new casino can be seen at the summit . There’s an odd collection of buildings here, one was used as a guesthouse for visitors, one was a sort of meeting hall and Ta Mok had a house here as well. Underneath his house is what appears to be an air raid shelter. A few Cambodian soldiers were camped in some of the buildings at the time so we didn’t disturb them too much. There’s an old truck mounted radio station rusting away in the yard and a couple of cages which at one time held tigers from what I’ve read.
Day 7 – June 2nd
This was our last day on the bikes. We left Anlong Veng around 8:30 am bound for Kbal Spean (translation – bridge head) or River of 1000 Lingas where Mr Lucky would be waiting for us with our entry tickets. An entry ticket is required and normally you can only buy them in person from the Angkor Wat ticket office 60 km further on but Mr Lucky had found a way around this. He was there waiting for us when we arrived so after paying for the tickets we started on the 1.5 km uphill track to the carvings. The gradient is fairly gentle most of the way, suggesting that it was once used as a road. Most of the stone for the temples around Angkor Wat was quarried in this area and transported there by elephant or barge. At the bridge head a guide made himself available to explain the meanings of the numerous rock carvings, many of which are in the riverbed itself. They are of Hindu origin, representing different gods and goddesses. It is a magical place, with a refreshing waterfall to cool off under in the heat of the day. After walking back to the carpark, Sreyda arranged lunch for us at the Flying Coconut Restaurant.
After lunch we rode another 20 km to the Landmine Museum run by Cambodian Self-Help Demining (CSHD) where we were met by Bill Morse. Paleriders – Cambodia supports CSHD through our donations to Vietnam Veterans Mine Clearing Team – Cambodia (VVMCT). Bill treated us to an in-depth tour of the museum and attached orphanage which is generally off limits to the public. The kids here are well looked after, even after they leave school they have the opportunity to go to university if they want to. We made a donation of $200 to Bill to help with the operating costs of the orphanage.
We continued on to Siem Reap, to the New Riverside Hotel and that was the end of our riding. Tomorrow the bikes would be loaded into the van and sent back to Baray. That night, we went to a Khmer BBQ restaurant and enjoyed a smorgasbord of seafood, beef, chicken and pork.
Day 8 – June 3rd
Last day of the tour and it was time to send the bikes back to Baray. Sokhorn reckoned he could fit the 5 Daelims in his van but I had my doubts about that. However, he did it easily and fitted everything else in. It amazes me what they can fit in a vehicle.
Afterwards we spent the morning at Angkor Wat. Mr Lucky had arranged two tuk tuks for us so we headed out after the van was loaded up. We spent a couple of hours at Angkor Wat itself, and I engaged a very good guide. He showed us a lot of areas where the stonework had been cleaned with an acid solution. It is hard to understand how that could have happened, it seems almost a deliberate act of destruction. It is just another chapter in the long history of Angkor Wat though, it is so immense and well constructed that it will always survive.
Next we went to Ta Prohm which has been undergoing restoration since I first saw it in 2009. It featured in the movie “Tomb Raider” but it always makes me think of the Indiana Jones movies.
That night we dined at the Temple Club and afterwards checked out the Apsara dancers upstairs.
Next morning everyone went their own way. It was a fantastic trip, good people all wanting to experience a little bit of the real Cambodia and I think everyone did.
Distance covered – 785 km
One flat tyre
One chain and sprockets replaced
One set of wheel bearings replaced
One bike ran out of fuel
Donations (10% of total amount received) – $600 + an extra $100 to Sunrise Children’s Village in Siem Reap
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Address: National Road 6, Samrong Village, Baray District, Kampong Thom Province, Kingdom of Cambodia.
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