Cambodia: The long dusty road

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Sisophon to Siem Reap

After the excitement of entering a new country, our enthusiasm quickly deteriorated after the 50km, long, straight, dusty, dull road to Sisophon. However, today was a new day and we had over 100km to get to the bustling town of Siem Reap, famed for Angkor Wat, the ancient UNESCO world heritage site. Hopefully, the cycle today would be more interesting. 100km later we realised it wasn’t. The greatest excitement was when we turned a corner!

Cambodian road

We had organised to stay with a host, part of the warm shower community, which is like couch surfing for cycle tourists. After the long, dusty, dull ride, all we wanted was to get to a place to stay and shower. We went to where we arranged to meet our host, called his phone and there was no answer. We waited a short while and tried again. His mother answered and said he was not in. Having no idea how long we would have to wait, we debated just sacking it off and finding a nearby guesthouse – there were loads after all, this was a busy tourist hotspot. Instead we waited as there was a tiny amount of guilt deep down if we just left without saying, but mostly because we wanted to experience some genuine local hospitality. I decided to have a shower in the bathroom of the hotel lobby we were waiting in. As I walked out the bathroom, feeling fresh and in my nice clean clothes our host arrived. We had to follow him in his car whilst we cycled to his house, which he said was not far. 6km out of the buzzing town of Siem Reap and we were in the middle of nowhere. The streets got worse, dustier and then muddy. I’d just put on my clean clothes. This was not going so well. Still, we followed him on as now we had absolutely no idea of where we were, and we couldn’t just turn around now. What a mistake.

We finally turned up at his, er… house. Looking at each other we were in slight disbelief. I parked my bike and looked around, whilst Lindsay was still on her bike, not really wanting this to be where we stayed the night. It was a shack in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by other small shacks. I then found out that I would be sleeping outside, on the floor, whilst Lindsay slept inside, with the rest of the family, with the dog being sick under the bed. I’m not sure who had the better deal. But, always up for adventure and something out of the norm, we told ourselves this is part of the adventure and we would enjoy it.

We sat down on a table outside, still a little bewildered about where we were and pondered what we were to do. Also a little annoyed the location was nowhere near where he said it was. Not the only bit of misinformation we would hear from this guy’s mouth.

Our host then joined us. Little did we know then, we were in for a treat.

He started talking to us about his faith. He was a 7-day Adventist Christian. Which I think is code for: I don’t believe in evidence.

This could have turned into an interesting chat; we don’t have anything against any faith or religion and both Lindsay and I find the concept of religion, beliefs and science and psychology of human thoughts an interesting discussion. People are entitled to believe in what they like if it makes them happy, good people and doesn’t harm anyone else.

Instead, being the type of person that knew best and can’t possibly be wrong about anything and has found god, he made it into a 4-hour lecture on what most people would refer to as – Bullshit!

He proceeded to tell us what an amazing athlete he is, but that he is against any sort of competitiveness, alcohol, drugs, music, and thinks that training hard for sport takes time away from other people and family. Which also makes you selfish.

He informed us that he was so good at football that he could have been as good as Pele. He decided not to play football anymore though as all the other players were becoming a bit depressed because he was so good and he would always win. He also rode motorcross bikes. He had to give that up too as showcasing his skills would make others feel inferior. Same with mountain biking. And running. And road cycling. He told us of how all his mates would ask him to go out and play football with them or ride motorcross, but he refused, as he didn’t want to show them up and make them unhappy. I argued that they are asking, so seeing one of their friends be so talented would make them happy. Not so, according to him. It would make them very unhappy. He argued that god did not want him to be an idol, as god should be the only idol. And because he was so good at everything, he would have undoubtedly become an idol.

People who achieve fame because they take risks or are good at what they do are selfish, in his eyes, because they don’t think about their mother’s pain if they have an accident when performing back flips or other risky tricks to entertain. Bad people for doing what they enjoy!

I asked him if those like Danny McAskill or David Beckham were bad people because they were famous and were idolised because they happen to be good at what they love. They also entertain, awe and inspire others with their talents, and also try to be good role models. Apparently he thought they were selfish for taking risks; if they got injured, it wasn’t the fans who would be paying their medical bills; it wasn’t the fans who would have to look after them. So are they really content, and do the fans really care about them? Being so good at what they do must surely cause pain to someone else somewhere as they will never be that good.

We were getting bored of the amount of bullshit that was coming out of this guy’s mouth. But it didn’t stop…

He attributed Mariah Carey for untold numbers of suicide due to her lyrics, “I can’t live without you” …we tried not to laugh at this one. Obviously Mariah Carey is also a very bad person becoming famous and influencing so many untold deaths.

We had to tell him how competitive we both were, competing with friends and against each other, especially during triathlons where over the course of a race we are both fairly even (OK, Lindsay often beats me). Competitiveness is part of who we both are, what drives us to train harder, to race our bikes faster – not only when I’m hooning through some singletrack on a mountain bike trying to race my mates, but against each other. And we have a lot of fun doing it.

He doesn’t train hard anymore, as he liked to remind us he was too good anyway, but also because it’s unhealthy, for mind, body and god. Training at all is selfish, as it takes time away from family and faith. He strangely had a chronic cough. But I guess that’s peak physical fitness in the eyes of the lord.

So doing what you love, playing sports, training hard and competing against your mates, becoming so good at your hobby that you entertain millions of people around the world and inspire them to train, practice or take up hobbies and sports, can never make you happy. We were told you couldn’t truly be happy unless you have found god. We informed him we had no idea where god was, we weren’t about to go looking for him, and we are both incredibly happy. He still told us we can’t truly be happy unless we find him. I guess that explains my incessant bouts of depression my friends and family associate me with.

His talents weren’t just confined to sports either. He could earn $200 a day if he wanted to, but chooses not to as money would make his friends jealous. He told us of how he had been given a car and that it must have been god’s will, but he hasn’t paid the man back yet, and feels that he is waiting for god to pay off his debts. How about going out and earning that $200 a day and just paying it back rather than scrounging off other people?

Eventually the discussion stopped. Thank fuck for that. But to top it off he took us out for dinner: a vegan restaurant selling veggie ham, salmon curry with veggie fish, noodle soup with veggie oyster sauce, and soy steak. Just more delusion added to the already deluded idiot.

And for someone who makes a point of giving up all his talents so he can spend all his quality time with family, it was surprising that he spent the entire evening in the restaurant on his laptop. God does work in mysterious ways.

On the plus side, he paid for the meal.

He was expecting us to stay a few nights and even meet his ‘children’ at the church. We promptly left early the next morning, still unable to comprehend the amount of bullshit he subjected us to! First one to leave wins!

Sisophon to Siem Reap cycle route strava
Sisophon to Siem Reap cycle route 110.1km

Siem Reap

At first light we escaped the maniac’s house, and headed to the main town where there was beer and fun and normal people. And we did wake up to a good sunrise!

sunrise over Siem Reap

Siem Reap – Stoung

The road out of Siem Reap was full and chaotic with morning rush hour. Soon, away from the busy town, it calmed down and all we had to focus on were the constant shouts and waves of hello from the local children – and a few adults.

Luckily the road was a lot more interesting than the first two dull days of cycling in Cambodia. And of course always spurred on by the manic waves of the kids at the side of the road. We were also starting to realise that we wouldn’t find a Cambodian equivalent to the comfort of a Thai 7-eleven. The petrol stations that sometimes had food and drink for sale weren’t well stocked, and the majority were empty spaces. The only other shops seemed to be full of copious amounts of beer and very sketchy energy drinks.

We stopped at Stoung, and found probably the most grim looking guesthouse so far. Out for dinner, we also realised that outdoor eating isn’t a good thing here, the air was rammed full of crickets, mosquitos, bugs and any other flying insect imaginable – all aiming straight for us.

Siem Reap to Stoung cycle route strava
Siem Reap to Stoung cycle route 97km

Stoung – Santuk

The previous night had us building a makeshift tent in the guesthouse with our mozzie nets to try and avoid the countless number of bugs flying haphazardly around. Today, the road was straight. Long. Dusty. And yep, very dull. We eventually stopped for lunch at a slightly larger town and were surprised to see tourists. Speaking to one couple, they explained how they would love to go to the tiny villages in the middle of nowhere. Having experienced this ourselves we couldn’t understand why!

We continued on to a town where we suspected a nice guesthouse would be. After last night we needed somewhere clean. We checked into a farm guesthouse, and all looked clean, tidy and what we needed. Not a single bug in sight. And then the sun went and disappeared beyond the horizon. Suddenly the ceiling was teeming with insects. I checked the windows were shut, then spent the whole evening swatting bugs and mosquitos with a towel, and accidentally taking out one the lights in the ceiling as I lashed out! I looked around, and realised this must be a common occurrence as on the walls and ceiling, there were stains from the blood of dead bugs everywhere.

Stoung to Santuk cycle route strava
Stoung to Santuk cycle route 78.9km

Santuk – Phnom Penh

Our biggest day yet! We didn’t want another night in a grotty guesthouse in the middle of nowhere, and we didn’t want another day on the long straight, dusty boring roads. The capital was 140km away, so we got our heads down and settled into the journey. Cambodia wasn’t treating us well though. Within a few kilometres the road just kind of disappeared due to road works. We hoped it wouldn’t last long. However, rather than be sensible, the Cambodians had decided to dig up about 50km of the road at once. This meant traffic was all over the place, there were pot holes everywhere, and the dust was insufferable. Kicked up from every idiotic driver that weaved its way past. We donned our new cycling apparel and pedalled through. The shitty road seemed never ending. The potholes kept us alert, and the traffic kicked up the dust. A lot of dust.

Cambodian cycling apparel

This was shite. Soon we were caked in red dust, sweat, and suncream. Not really sure if we needed the suncream, as the dust had pretty much covered every inch of us. The sun was intense, beating down on us and making sure we were really feeling uncomfortable.

dusty cambodian road

We tried to laugh and joke, but we both hated this. After 50km we got onto tarmac again. A moment of celebration, then dreading that it would turn back to crappy road again, we were more determined than ever to get to Phnom Penh; there was no way that we were going to let Cambodia beat us.

We finally felt proud and relieved to get to the capital, albeit caked in dust.

Santuk to Phnom Penh cycle route strava
Santuk to Phnom Penh cycle route 140km

Phnom Penh

Desperate to get to Vietnam and away from the straight, dull, dusty roads and reckless drivers of Cambodia, our first stop was to the Vietnamese embassy to get our visas.

We then solemnly walked around the infamous S21 prison, the site of countless atrocities performed by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Not a jolly day out.

Then finally the important task of getting our bikes cleaned at Vicious Cycles, for a mere $2 each!

Phnom Penh – Tram Kat

We packed our gear and went to the Vietnamese embassy to pick up our visas, and headed out the city towards Kampot. We could have gone to Vietnam a quicker way, but decided to give Cambodia one last chance and head to the coast to see if that was any better.

Cambodian road

The road was back to normal. Long, straight, dusty and boring. Very boring. We were struggling to muster any enthusiasm towards Cambodia. A fascinating country, but definitely not one for cycling. Everyday, cycling just seemed to be a battle.

Phnom Penh to Tram Kat cycle route strava
Phnom Penh to Tram Kat cycle route 77.7km

Tram Kat – Kampot

More of the same.

Luckily though, in Kampot we found a beautiful little hideaway, with bamboo huts and hammocks to laze in. We also bumped into another cycle tourist, Phil, who was doing a 3-month tour of SE Asia and felt good about warning him off the roads up to Phnom Penh and onto Siem Reap!

Tram Kat to Kampot cycle route strava
Tram Kat to Kampot cycle route 75.3km

Kampot – Sihanoukville

Still searching for something good about cycling in Cambodia we headed towards the coastal town of Sihanoukville. Lindsay was apparently annoyed at all things Cambodian, and decided to take it out on a cute, small defenceless puppy …by running it over. She tells me it was accidental and the puppy’s fault because it ran out in front of her, but I have my doubts about that convenient story.

We rode along highway 3 until it met highway 4. Instead of going the quicker, more direct route south on highway 4, we went north and around the coast. For us, the road was OK. Better than what we had experienced so far – this one had corners and hills to keep us interested. And we even passed a few small picturesque fishing towns.

Fishing village Sihanoukville

The road seemed to slow down though about 20km from our destination, and once more we were struggling to be enthused about anything here. With every turn of the cranks, our legs were getting more lethargic and our minds numb to our surroundings.

Kampot to Sihanoukville cycle route strava
Kampot to Sihanoukville cycle route 110.1km

Sihanoukville – Kampot

We wanted to retreat back to Kampot Oasis, the guesthouse back in Kampot. This was a good place to hide from the rubbish roads. We decided to take the more direct route we avoided yesterday. This was a good start as we soon encountered a good little climb – which strangely I managed to get KOM on Strava – not sure how I managed that on a touring bike loaded with gear?! The start of highway 4 (the bit we missed yesterday) was fresh smooth tarmac up and along fast rolling hills – this we liked. We cruised along, loving the effort to get up the hills, and feeling of speed going down the hills. A few hours into the day though, it was back to normal; hot, straight roads that did little for the imagination.

Sihanoukville to Kampot cycle route strava
Sihanoukville to Kampot cycle route 99.6km

Kampot

We took the opportunity to rest and hide at Kampot Oasis guesthouse for a few days, not really wanting to get back on the roads, but knowing we would have to to get out of Cambodia and into Vietnam. It was a good chance to just sit, relax and not do a lot apart from chat extensively to the owner of the guesthouse who had moved out to Asia from the UK a few years ago.

Kampot – Kep

A short day for a change of scenery to the small fishing town of Kep, famous for its crab and once a resort town for the French and Cambodian elite.

Kep crab

Once known as the Riviera of the Far East, it is now full of grand derelict and abandoned residencies, once owned by the elite.

Derelict house Kep

Kampot to Kep cycle route strava
Kampot to Kep cycle route 24.6km

Kep to Ha Tien (Vietnam)

Our journey through Cambodia ended well with a beautiful winding road through salt fields and rice paddies, and even a well stocked shop. Why couldn’t the rest of the country be like this?!

Salt field cambodia

The border at Hat Tien was incredibly quiet and we sailed through easily; stamped out of Cambodia, and stamped into Vietnam.

Kep (Cambodia) to Ha Tien (Vietnam) cycle route strava
Kep (Cambodia) to Ha Tien (Vietnam) cycle route 40.9km

We were glad to finally get to a country where our faces could be clean again!

Dusty faces


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