After the weekend two days holiday so finish work on Saturday, collect passport and hire two motorbikes. Sunday pick them off and head out of the city. I’ve not been on a bike with gears in more than 30 years, so is this just some mid-life crisis chasing after lost youth? Who knows? What I do know is that I handled starting surprisingly well, enough for the hire place to say that I was a motorcyclist! My co-rider and I were on the road. Monnivong to be precise.
We stopped for petrol and then headed out of Phnom Penh over the Japanese Bridge where we promptly lost each other. The plan had been to stop for breakfast, got separated going over the bridge and then on the road to Siem Reap. There were now doubts, was this the correct road. So I headed back to the roundabout. A phone call later we met up again at the roundabout and while the co-rider joined me I checked google maps to find our route and we did want the road to Siem Reap then turn right off it. Heading out of the city I learnt more about the bike, got practice changing gear and got up to the frightening speed of 80 kilometres an hour (km/h).
After passing the Prek Tam Eak Bridge the traffic thinned out and then we came to the turning for Kampong Cham to the right so took it. The plan was to ride the National Highway 7 straight there, nice metalled roads so good for someone who hasn’t ridden a motorised bike for a long time. The sign for the turn-off didn’t say National Highway 7 but, hey that’s just the Cambodians not being great at signs eh? The road also didn’t look like much of a National Highway, one lane in each direction, but hey it was metalled so everything was Ok? After 2 kilometres it was not metalled. Ah, the dirt track you see in the picture to the left. It was not the Cambodians not being great at signs but us, we had taken the wrong turning.
Another wrong turn off took us down a country lane and we had to go through puddles and very slippery mud, little did we know it but a portent of what was to come! Some kind locals told us, in English, that we should go back to a coffee shop and turn and we would be back on the road. Anyway, back on the road and we passed villages, some with weddings where we knew if we stopped we would be asked to join, but we weren’t really dressed for it.
Along the ride we caught glimpses of the mighty Mekong River to our right which gave comfort that we were headed in the right direction as Kampong Cham is on the Mekong. The picture is taken from one of a number of bridges which were repaired, after flood damage, by the Asia Development Bank and the Australian Government. As you can see the river that should be flowing under the bridge to the Mekong is dry, as were all of the ones we crossed.
After a while we came to a stretch were the road surface was being renewed. Big machines were spreading out dirt and a roller was flattening it, whilst trucks loaded with dirt were bringing up more dirt. We negotiated this fine and then came to a stretch where it was muddy. This was dealt with as well. But as we came into a village it was very wet and extremely slippery. Despite being in the lowest gear and not accelerating at all, just going at the tick-over, the back wheel went. The site is in the picture on the left. The colleague was right behind me and he went too. As we found out the exhaust fell on his leg burning it. What was concerning at the time the co-rider’s bike’s clutch lever was broken. We couldn’t even move it.What were we going to do, stuck in a village in Cambodia with a broken bike and covered in mud?
Well, we did, and got our bikes to the side of the road. After having a good laugh at the two foreigners (barang) falling over in the mud, the local people helped us clean ourselves up and pointed out a mechanic. My co-rider went off to get him whilst I minded the bikes.
When he joined us the mechanic showed us up by not only moving the bike, he rode it back up the street. We trudged after him and chatted with family/colleagues etc whilst he repaired it. $2 later, for parts and labour, we were back on the road. The mechanic is pictured testing the bike on the right. In more of the sticky mud. We came to a metalled stretch and could speed up, Alas, it was just a stretch either side of a repaired bridge and we were soon back on the mud. I spotted on a milestone that Kampong Cham was 26 kilometres away, so was relieved we did not have so far to go.
The road was mainly dry and the mud compact so it was possible to get up to 40 – 50 km/h but then it would be wet mud and it was back down to the lowest gear and tick- over or there were more earth moving machines and they had to be navigated carefully. My back wheel went a few times but I managed to stay on and I saw my co-rider’s back wheel go but he stayed the bike. (Picture on our left is of our destination, The Mekong Crossing Guest House) A few adventures like having to jam the brakes on at a bridge as there was only one track and there was a lorry full of dirt coming the other way.
Then nirvana, we were back on metalled road. After a while of comfortable riding at a decent speed we stopped for a break and I was able to tell my co-rider we only had 4 kilometres to go. So, we rode into town, stopped to check where our destination was on google maps again, and then rode up to the guest house and parked up. After lunch we walked around town which seemed quite charming and then snoozed then showered before getting something to eat at Lazy Mekong Daze.
On arrival we found in Travel North East Cambodia that we should have stayed on Highway 6 to Siem Reap for another almost 40 kilometres before finding Highway 7. Oh well.
View from the guest house at lunch. You can see how it got it’s name.