We were all set for an early start from the hostel in Phnom Penh, that is until we met Jo from Clapton the night before leaving and one thing led to another…so we had a 10am rather than 7am start. The benefit was that we met an expat cyclist at breakfast who pointed us to the Giant shop in town.
Our main purchases there being dry lube and a bike computer which has turned Annie into a hard taskmaster – regularly calling out average speeds, distances covered and time on bike as we zip along. It turns out we travel quite a bit faster than we guessed – around 22km/hr over the ~400km since we left PP.
Our first stop out of town was at the NGO school which our Warm Showers host Raphael runs. It was interesting seeing the kids running around doing English lessons and sharing lunch with the volunteers. A small way up the road we found two Wats – one didn’t let us camp, but the second did – providing a very, very welcome bath (big tub of water and a bucket).
The next morning we did set out early and racked up miles fast, that is until we hit an unpaved section of the main highway. It was tough, very tough. We bought some surgical masks (standard local attire) and dug deep for an hour or so waiting for the end of it…it didn’t end for at least 20km, truck after truck engulfing us in dirt. Eventually we couldn’t bear it and had to stop – checking the map it was only 3km to Kampong Thmar, so we climbed back on and the paved road did thankfully return in the town.
The other side of town on a pleasant paved road we crossed paths with a Belgian couple cycling the other way – they were 8 months into a basically identical, but reverse tour as ourselves. Over the course of 10mins we soaked up some great advice on routes and countries. It’s very reassuring to meet kindred spirits, we are not insane! We reached our stop in Kampong Thom with 105km on the clock, a tough day.
That night we realised we had an extra day to burn before our host could accommodate us in Siem Riep so we decided a 60km run out and back to the Sombor Prei Kuh temples would be worthwhile. They were the capital of the Angkorian empire before (7th Century) the famous Angkor Wat and they felt like a nice little warm up for the many temples still to come. It was very peaceful strolling through the woods seeing crumbling ruins in competition with nature.
At the virtually empty site we could really appreciate the temples properly…
Day 4 was a good day as we turned west and the NE wind came slightly behind us, could we fashion a sail to harness this on the bike – hmmm. George Dadd, get thinking!
95km was gobbled up easily and we stopped at the Spean Praptos bridge which is an 85m long arched bridge dating back to Angkor and is still in use. A perfect place to camp beside; or so we thought!
Half way through cooking our pasta some torches wandered down to meet us, Perun introduced himself and warned that in this town the gangsters drunk in the bar close by. He also mentioned the words ‘murderers’ and snakes. SNAKES – Judas! (incidentally we’d run one down that day accidentally and didn’t fancy any playback). Perun very kindly led us up the bank to the front of his sister’s shop where we re-pitched the tent. Then two local police arrived to check what we were up to. These local visits were made complete with the police chief arriving to double check we were ok and to offer the use of his station to camp instead.
The lesson – don’t pitch the tent in a big town – but it was nice to feel the warmth of Perun’s family and the police towards the crazy westerners. I guess the same would happen if two Cambodians pitched a tent in Hyde Park. Would it? I’d like to think so anyway.
It was the first cold night we’ve had in our tent and we got to use ‘Big Agnes’, our double sleeping bag for the first time. We fell sound asleep to the howling of dogs and shouting of drunk gangstars and their women close by.
Day 5 and we only had 60km to cover to Siem Riep. It went quick and by midday we arrived at The Roluos Group of temples east of the city. This is where the temples of Angkor start and a wonderful spot for lunch. We took a tour of the Bakong temple and it really was impressive – no stupid shots riding a lion here – this was a spectacular sight.