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Dancing Roads - Cambodia


Myself and another 2 DTRF members reach our half-century this year, so decided to take a 'special' holiday in the East to celebrate. I arranged a 12-day break including 6 days of dirt-riding from Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) down to Sihanoukville on the coast, a distance of around 1000km. We used Dancing Roads, who provided XR250's for the journey, but we took our own riding kit. Prior to the riding, we had a couple of days at the temples of Angkor Wat, and afterwards we had a few days on the beach and the last 2 days were spent in Phnom Penh. These were all amazing, but for the purposes of this forum, here are some notes from the riding section ...

Day 1 - Seim Reap -> Koh Ker
170 km, approx 15-20 km tarmac
Stopped to see how normal farming Cambodians live, in wooden houses raised off the ground, allowing shelter and storage underneath, as well as protection from flood water. We sheltered from the rain under one house, with the family (8 kids). They were happy to let us in. They have had their own well for only 4 years due to a charity project, prior to which all water came from the river. Due to a lot of slash and burn and illegal logging, rivers are drying up, and land becoming infertile. We rode through large areas still smouldering, and many people carrying out this illegal destruction.

The track surface was dust & volcanic sand, impossible to make any quick changes of speed or direction, but managed up to 60 kmh on the straighter bits. Very dusty at times, but occasional showers kept dust down. Some detours across paddy fields and farmland, but nobody shouting 'Get orf moi land' - in fact everyone was welcoming and helpful. Very nice Khmer lunch at a roadside cafe. Andy came off once in the sand (he hates sand!), dislocating his shoulder temporarily and Mel came off once. We stopped at 9th century pyramid temple at Koh Ker for a quick drink, and climbed to top (45m) in full bike gear. Good easy way to work up a sweat in the mid-30s Celcius! Little to see except tree canopy. Very flat land across the centre of Cambodia. Other 'Linka' temples, and land mine signs (no mines in this area any more, although there are still clearing programs happening, particularly in the North). Tonight's Guest house is a bit rough, with no a/c or loo roll. Rooms shabby, but beds are clean and there's loads of good food. Loud music from local party which could be many km away - they love their very loud music over here. Andy was sick overnight. We were all a bit stiff in the morning, and Andy's stomach was not in a good way.

Day 2 - Koh Ker -> Kampong Thom
200km, mainly (dirt) roads.
Due to Andy's 'delicate' condition, it was an easier day today. Lots of areas of illegal logging/s&b again. Passed numerous tractors full of hardwood planking, and large areas of burnt jungle. We stopped in at another temple from the 9th century. According to Paeng, the collapse of this temple (and many others) has been greatly accelerated by the lack of water resulting from the loss of jungle. The temple have an elaborate system of irrigation to keep their sand foundations damp. If the sand dries out, then the foundation starts to move and sink. This is why there is a large moat around the Angkor Wat temple. These temples have stood for around 10,000 years, much of the time surrounded by jungle. However the recent deterioration is significant and a direct result of the loss of trees and lower rainfall. We arrived at our hotel just after dark. Not sure why Cambodians are reluctant to use headlights even when it is totally dark, but that seems to be the case. After a quick swim, Mel, Paeng and myself headed into town for food. The Tuk-tuk ride was more jarring than our entire day's riding. We went to a barbecue with a whole cow on a spit. Meat was pretty tough and I wasn't feeling great anyway, so we didn't stay out too long. Return tuk-tuk journey was worse than the way out, with so much dust from the road we could barely see where we were going. Stomach cramps now starting to indicate some interesting times ahead. 4 more day's riding to go!

Day 3 - Kompong Thom -> Kompong Cham
200 km, 50km on tarmac, much of the rest on very dusty roads.
Due to Andy's recovering state, and my dodgy night with stomach cramps and no sleep, it was an easier riding day. This gave us a good opportunity to see a lot more of 'real' Cambodia, by way of the main streets of the towns we rode through. Also, to become more familiar with the 'rules' of the road:
- you can overtake/undertake whenever you like.
- never check if anything is coming before you pull out from the side of a road or a junction. They will have to look after themselves.
- indicators have no use or meaning.
- you can drive wherever you like, as long as you ease off. Therefore, if you want to drive on the wrong side of the road directly into oncoming traffic, that is fine as long as you slow down a bit and look confident.
- lights have no use or meaning, even after dark.
- the minimum legal age for riding a motorbike is 18 years. However, if you want to take your 3 friends home from school, 11 years old seems to be ok.
- use of a mobile phone whilst riding a motorbike is mandatory.
- As long as the wheels go around and the engine runs, it's roadworthy.
- You can carry anything you like on a motorbike, whether it is 4 members of your family, 30 live chickens hanging by their legs from a wooden rack across the seat, a couple of sticks with intravenous bags on them (these were for the two small children sandwiched between the mother and father), a live pig wrapped in bamboo held by a one-armed man, a 12-foot length of angle iron over your shoulder. I could go on, but this gives an idea.

We stopped off at a fruit stall where we tried pretty well everything the lady had on sale, for very little money. We also stopped at a few other locations along the side of the road:- a stone carver's, a rubber plantation, and a palm wine stall - wouldn't rush back to that one! Palm wine must be an acquired taste, but I can't see me ever acquiring it.
We took a detour across some fields, across a bridge, over some dykes and then across a reservoir dam before stopping for lunch. This consisted of a huge fish, a whole chicken or 2, feet, head and all - very tasty, and another dish which had the heart, gizzard etc. in it. That was the only one I could eat as my stomach had been dodgy all day.
After lunch, most of the roads were horrendously dusty, with the road disappearing regularly for myself at the back of the group, especially when a lorry came the other way.
Arrived at our hotel next to the Mekong around 6pm, filthy and dusty, so got in and washed the worst of the dust out of our kit. Then went out to the market and ate at a French-owned restaurant just outside the hotel. Entree (not ordered) was brawn, which was a surprise, but it was all I could eat apart from some bread and butter. Dinner was accompanied by a jug or 2 of Cambodia lager ($7 for 3 litres? Why wouldn't you?) It's a noisy part of town, but I need to catch up on my sleep, so I've bailed early tonight. Andy & Mel decided to go to a night club. I dipped out due to uncertain stomach troubles. They were both passengers on a single scooter which must have been a struggle for the bike!

Day 4 - Kampong Cham - Kampong Chnang
170 km, lots of dust, 60 km tarmac, 3 km ferry
Breakfast at the French cafe, then a brief trip to the hospital to tend to Andy's blistered foot. Clean up and a plaster for $5 was reasonable value, but we need another solution for Andy's irritating boot. As the ward beds are open to the street, along with the fumes and heat, I wouldn't really want to be a long-term patient in there.
Set off over the long bridge over the Mekong, then followed the river south through many small villages with children waving and calling after us. Started seeing a few goats for the first time. A mix of dusty roads, single track and tarmac. We kept detouring down to the edge of the Mekong, following narrow dusty paths along the top of the cliff past plantations of banana, sweetcorn, cashew, cabbages and other crops. Very difficult to follow from the back, as the dust completely obscured the path. Andy's front wheel hit a cow which jumped out of the hedge in front of him, but luckily he managed to stay upright. Paeng was almost taken out big-time by a truck pulling blindly out in front of him. We stopped to catch a ferry back over the river, then continued following the river south before catching another (more rickety) ferry back across. Mel decided to spin his bike around on the deck by sliding the back wheel, but managed to drop it instead in front of all the passengers. Of course we didn't mock him for that .
More dusty tracks followed, where a piece of wood jumped up and took my sidestand spring off, causing the engine to cut out. Eventually managed to find and replace the spring and carry on, but I think the others were a bit worried when I was so far behind them. Crossed a couple of very dodgy wooden bridges, with missing/loose planks which looked as though they would give way at any time. We finished with some more road work and got to our hotel just as it was getting dark. Paeng had arranged for a larger pair of boots to be at the hotel for Andy to borrow, so hopefully his blister will last the next couple of days.
Something I find strange is that if you are going to want beer at these smaller hotels, you need to phone ahead for them to chill some ready for you. Seems that most guests don't drink it at the hotels? What sort of country is this?

Day 5 - Kampong Chnang -> Kirirom
200km. 40km tarmac, the rest mainly dusty roads and oxcart track.
Another hot day, around 34 degrees and clear. Headed West towards Kirirom, across paddy fields and other agri land. Mel led for a while, and managed to fall off in full view of us all .
Got lost a few times and had to back-track. Met a number of tractors laden with timber, sugar cane etc. After lunch, the heat of the direct sun combined with the effort of fighting through deep sand in full trail gear started to take its toll, with Andy suffering from Heatstroke. We stopped for a break and a sluice down at a palm sugar producer's hut. The palm sugar was lovely - very like fudge - we'll be bringing some of that home! Once Andy had recovered sufficiently, we decided to head back to the firmer ground to head to tonight's accommodation. He unfortunately came off again on the sand, and dislocated his shoulder again - it's now weakened, so he will need an operation when he gets home. Very dusty from this point, and as dusk fell it became increasingly difficult to see anything ahead on the pot-holed roads. Passed a queue of lorries waiting to offload at a sugar cane plant. Huge swathes of land had newly-felled trees or smouldering stumps showing the extent of the constant clearing. With a steady stream of cows, dogs, chickens, water buffalo, pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, tractors and trucks, riding without lights at night is exciting to say the least!
Finally got to Kirirom around 6:30, plastered with dust, and with a very husky voice. I think I must have inhaled a large part of this country.
We are staying at a homestay tonight, so had a cold water sluice instead of a shower. Beds are a thin mattress on the wooden floor. No aircon, but a small 12v fan and mosquito net for each mattress. We have just had very nice barbecued duck, pork ribs and veggie curry, cooked over a gas bbq fired by gas derived from cow dung. It was great for me to have regained my appetite as I haven't really eaten much for a few days.
Meet a German couple, Christian & Sylvia who have given up their jobs, sold their apartment and are traveling around south East Asia with their 2 children, aged 5 and 2. They plan to spend 9 months in total, heading towards Iran via Sri Lanka, then back to Germany in time for their daughter to begin school. We were impressed, and felt this was a very brave thing to do.
We're looking forward to our last riding day tomorrow as we head down towards the coast.

Day 6 - Kirirom -> Sihanoukville
150 miles, mainly tarmac.
Due to the state of Andy's shoulder, we decided to make a quick dash down to the coast, so stayed on the tarmac today. This road is the main road from the port to Phnom Penh, so is extremely busy with container and goods lorries. Everyone trying to overtake everyone else. We were forced off the road by trucks more than once, so this was not a pleasant way to finish off.
Having said that, when we found our hotel, we had a suite with 2 floors, 3 bedrooms, bathrooms and a kitchen. Doors open straight out to the pool for a morning dip, and the beach is a stroll down the road. Nice!
However, in spite of this, it is a bit of a disappointment getting back to a tourist area, as the atmosphere is immediately very different. We have found that almost without exception, the Cambodians have been extremely friendly and welcoming wherever we have been. They may not have a great deal, but they seem content and there isn't much jealousy or envy around material goods. We often left the bikes parked on the road overnight with the keys still in them, and there was no thought that anybody might consider stealing them. Our guide was even surprised that I would ask about such a thing. Sihanoukville is a backpacker resort, and the Cambodians are just after as much money as they can get from the rich tourists (not in a nasty way), and there are plenty of other nationalities trying to get their share too.

The bikes have gone back now, and Paeng's next tour starts tomorrow. It's been an amazing dirt-biking week, and I would highly recommend Dancing Roads as a company should you choose to do something similar. Cambodia is a fascinating place to visit, but is rapidly declining due to uncontrolled development and resource stripping. If you want to go, don't leave it too late.

This trip was planned to be something special to celebrate reaching our half-century, and it has been better than we could have hoped for. We can highly recommend Dancing Roads! They made the whole trip fit around our own custom arrangements, and provided additional accommodation and transport for the duration. We were very impressed by the service they provided.



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Powermonger!!

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Wow!

Great report and photos - what an adventure!!!!  

Thanks for sharing biggrinbiggrinbiggrin



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Champion

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Fantastic, thanks for sharing!

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Expert

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brilliant report m8.
any pics?

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paul

 

jt


Powermonger!!

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Good read

Brownie - there are pics attached bud?

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Expert

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oops, was scrolling so fast i missed them lol.

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paul

 



Clubman B

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Very interesting, thanks for taking the time to share it

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There were no goats hurt in this accident
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