Motorcycle Diaries: Cambodia II

Motorcycle Diaries: Cambodia II

This is the final part of our motorcycle diaries through Cambodia.  Click here to read Part I.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011:

The night prior the hotel owner told us we were not allowed to bring motorcycles into Angkor Wat, we needed to go with a tuk-tuk.  We had heard this from others, but didn’t know what to do.  Our plans were fluid since yesterday we hadn’t even planned to be here.  Last night LOCAVORista mapped out a plan taking us to the distant temples.  After driving the bike around the restaurant and up the stairs, we headed out.  The motorcycle proved its worth as we got to visit many temples on our own time and at at our own pace, the highlight being Bentleay Srei.  We finished the day with our usual travel dinner: a roasted chicken and rice, which we demolished with our bare hands.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011:

This is when we find out, can you bring your own transportation into Angkor Wat Historical Park?  Tuk-tuk drivers and hotel managers told us no, but having been in Southeast Asia for several months, we’ve learned that these are the least reliable sources of information.  Hearing stories of corrupt police I was nervous as I didn’t want to be hassled with some made-up fine.  As we sped by the ticket sales office I noticed a policeman stand up and realized he watching me with a very unhappy face.  Ignoring this I continued on until I was flagged down by a police officer in front of Angkor Wat.  The gig was up.

He asked to see my ticket, which I handed to him.  He looked at the photographs of each of us printed on the tickets, pointed at the picture of LOCAVORista and said, “beautiful.”  He said that I need to stop at the ticket office when entering to get my ticket checked.  I offered to go back, but he insisted on calling someone over to do it.  I asked, “Motorcycle OK?” To which he responded, “Yes.”  Over the next few days police and locals approached me on the bike, each time I wondered what they wanted, each time they said, “nice motorcycle.”

The motorcycle proved its worth and gave us celebrity status as we whizzed through the park.

Thursday, March 31, 2011:

We arrived at Angkor Wat in the dark to watch the sunrise. After witnessing the progression of Angkor styling through 40 temples we had given the park it’s due.

To celebrate the last day in Siem Reap I helped arrange a poker game among the men in our hotel playing with Cambodian Riel.  There is nothing like raising 10,000 Riel to make you feel like a high roller.  I finished the night with the biggest wad of cash I’d ever held.

Friday, April 1, 2011:

Early in the morning we started off for Beng Melea and Koh Ker.  There is a toll way that requires some backtracking, but there looked like a more direct route on the map.  I found that it was a dusty dirt road.  Prior to this trip I had never dirt biked, but due to my lack of options, today was going to be my initiation.  The rest of the day was on dirt, rocks, sand, pavement and what I think was once paved.  A few times the pavement disappeared suddenly, but by the time we got to Beng Melea I was getting the hang of it.

Without any experience on dirt, it is scary to say the least.  I had to accept giving up control.  The grooves in the dirt and rocks will steer you; fighting them is a losing proposition.  All morning I held my breath and successfully maneuvered through the nether regions of Cambodia.

Getting from Beng Melea to Koh Ker is an endurance test on dusty, hot, empty roads.  That is, until someone drives by and blinds you with a plume of dust.

Running low on fuel you have to take what you can get. Black Label? One for the bike, one for me, please.

Leaving Koh Ker in the late afternoon we debated spending the night there instead of risking an introduction to Cambodian night driving.  Our goal was to get to Tbeng Mencheay, 120km away.  To our surprise the road was freshly paved with the only traffic being tractors and ox carts.  Opening the full throttle I burned through the empty countryside.  My speedometer ceased functioning on day one so I know neither my speed nor how much gas I have left.  Judging by the looks of the locals, as I pull into a small town, we were going as fast as anyone through their town has ever gone.  I pull up to a woman selling gas from Johnny Walker bottles and ask for 2 liters.  In little over an hour we pull into Tbeng Mencheay where we spent the evening having beers with the non-English speaking locals in a karaoke bar.

Saturday, April 2, 2011:

We grabbed a $0.50 breakfast and a full tank of gas on our way out of town.  LOCAVORista and I had finally become accustomed to the bike.  Having spent over five hours on it yesterday, we were in good spirits and considering continuing on to another part of Cambodia.  That was unfathomable just a few days prior.

We instead decided to head back towards Phnom Penh where we could either return the bike or head east.  Our Lonely Planet guidebook told us that the road was unpaved and in poor condition, but we found the highway to be nicely paved.  I breathed a sigh of relief…until the pavement ended.

Suddenly there was a one-foot drop from pavement into loose dirt.  The dirt was a minor issue compared to the oncoming traffic’s dusty rooster tails.  I found myself powering blindly into dust clouds.  This seemed bad, then came road construction where the bad roads had been dug up and reduced to one lane.  One lane in Cambodia means one lane for cars.  I had to maneuver through road construction equipment, traffic and changing road conditions.

The construction seemed haphazard as patches of pavement had been laid down here and there, but it was a foot higher than the dirt road.  This required getting the bike up and down these obstacles.  The worst was the in-between pavement and dirt sections where they were laying down loose sand and gravel bases.

Gravel and sand on a motorcycle is like on a bike, as you slip, gravity starts trying to bring you down.  To spite gravity I knew I needed to keep giving it gas and moving forward.  There were several dicey moments that thankfully I don’t think my passenger knew how close I was to dropping us.

Even with the poor road conditions we arrived earlier than expected to our halfway decision point.  We chose to push on to Phnom Penh and return the bike.  When we were about 70km from the city we hit stop-and-go traffic.  Stop-and-go traffic in Cambodia means that anyone that doesn’t want to be stopped passes whenever they have the fortitude to do it.  This creates a terrible situation if you are on a motorcycle.

About an hour of defending my existence and making some bold passes on my own we needed to rest.  We were beaten, we ached and the Cambodian sun was slow roasting us.  It was the first day all over again and it wasn’t clear how much longer it would take.  After a 20-minute break I feigned confidence and said, “let’s do it.”

Getting closer to Phnom Penh, traffic came to a halt.  I recalled being in this same spot a few days earlier.  The road was under construction and there was a 1-2 foot drop to what would soon become another lane.  I remembered seeing people driving on this and getting annoyed with all the dust they were kicking up.  That was 6 days ago, today I was a new man, I told LOCAVORista, “hold on, I’m going over.”  I tried to jump it as perpendicular as I could and powered off the road.  Once on the dirt I smirked inside my helmet knowing I would have never done this before.

I sped past the stopped traffic on the road with one goal: getting this done.  For the last few hours I had lamented the bike, the pain of riding, but now the cause of my aching ass was my freedom machine.  In no time I was back at a traffic circle that I had gingerly made my way around a few days ago.  I cut off a Toyota Landcrusier and made a beeline for the main street.

As we made our way back to Angkor Motorcycles I recounted how tentative I had been before, how motorcycles driving the wrong way down Phnom Penh’s streets bothered me.  Now it was me, on my larger bike being the bully.  I made it to Angkor Motorcycles an hour before closing, after 7 hours of riding, a triumphant man.  I had ridden a motorcycle for years before this, but it was today, after this that I feel confident calling myself a biker.

We went back to the same hotel we had stayed at before we left, but we made one change.  During check-in they asked what type of room we wanted; I spoke over LOCAVORista’s answer with “air-conditioning.”  She was uncertain of spending the extra $4, but I was not backing down, I needed some air-con.

Cleaning the dirt out of our pants after days in the dirt.

Sunday, April 3, 2011:

Looking back on the adventure from the comfort of my air-conditioned room I can sum up the experience in two words: awesome and stupid.  If you don’t have dirt bike riding experience, motorcycling around Cambodia is downright dangerous.  At the very least, take a few rides with someone that knows what they are doing.  That said, seeing the construction and changes in Cambodia I am confident that the main roads will be paved within three years.  Once it is paved, this will be cruiser heaven.

Having a bike in Siem Reap was great, but seeing Cambodia by motorcycle was fantastic.  Most of our days were spent far from the tourist trail.  I am proud to have come back alive and am a new, more confident, rider.  This was a highlight of the trip thus far, but should not be taken on a whim as we did.

I finally asked LOCAVORista what I was afraid to ask during the trip, “How close were the buses and Lexuses passing us?”  Myopically focusing on keeping a straight line, I didn’t dare turn my head to look.  Her response, “I pulled my feet in, they were that close.”  That’s what it seemed like to me too, I swear I could have touched an oncoming bus with my pinky and not taken my hand off the handlebars.

IF YOU GO:

  1. Angkor Motorcycle is a great, upstanding motorcycle rental company.  I saw the other major companies’ bikes and Angkor has the best.
  2. One person per bike.  The bikes we have seen for rent are not comfortable for passengers.  It would also allow you to carry additional gear and be safer on separate bikes.
  3. Bring your own gear. If you are not on an extended trip like us, bring your own helmet, riding pants and gloves.  The rental gear here shouldn’t be trusted to protect your skin, brains and life.
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Comments

» Mom A :
May 2, 2011

Just as I suspected! Not much change in the roads since we were in Cambodia and I feared for your lives! I am glad you were still able to appreciate seeing things your way, that can be almost priceless and in your case it was, ALMOST, priceless. I don’t think the picture of the your washing in the sink really tells the whole story, only the picture that is fit to print! :-) Although we probably won’t hear day to day things form you in Myanmar, I am glad they will have control over your means of travel for awhile – it will give you a rest!

Just to profess my confidence.. I fully expect both of you to return one day!

Love you both dearly,
Mom

» bka :
May 4, 2011

there should be some warning system for parents before they they read these articles…..having traveled those roads or so called roads by bus 2 years ago, i saw and experienced first hand cyclists taking what i thought was there life and everyone elses in their hands……so i guess congrats is in order and your know an official “ironbutter”…….having said all of that, i would still have preferred driving than riding……what was erica thinking?!?!?……praying the guardian angels we have sent your way, continue to do the best that they can…..be safe……don’t get over confident……love you…….bka

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.
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