We were approached by a group of 6 friends who were looking to do a private week long motorcycle tour of Cambodia in November. They were looking for something a bit different and so we organised a trip with XR250s and a bit of adventure involved.
Below is the third of the e-mails that were sent back from the trip. Words courtesy of Damien Atkinson and photos courtesy of Victor Kalinowski. More updates to follow
I am on a computer in a little dodgy room at the back of someone’s house in Stung Treng, up in the north, towards Laos. There are about 10 desks set up in a row, with school kids on all the other screens, and they are doing a whole lot of shrieking so I’m guessing that they are not doing homework. There were about three sets of hands that guided me here and I’m very grateful, becuase Stung Treng doesn’t look like it will be chasing the tourist dollar any time soon.
We are all safe. We left from Krati at about 10.00am and got here at about 3pm. The country changed dramatically so that it took on a bit of height and opened up so that it looked a little like the interior of Cape York. We spent most of yesterday criss-crossng the Mekong and riding along the track which runs between the stilted houses on the bank. You have to be a little careful that no one pulls out suddenly or a water buffalo crosses your path, but mostly it was easy to see any threats, and it was a beautiful thing to ride past all the houses with vegetable gardens, and the occasional pagola, seeing people cooking, selling things or just chatting.
Today we have left the river and we have even gone over a bunch of hills, and the road is a little exciting because it switches from gravel to bitumin very rapidly and there are a heap of potholes. Zamen says that the chinese built the road about 5 years ago but the Cambodians have worked it so hard, with trucks overloaded, that it has cut up quickly. For some reason, there is far less traffic or homes, and you don’t have people with scooters, ox, etc, crossing back and forth.
We had a beautiful morning by accident. There is a certain point on the mekong where dolphins swim, even though its dirty. Even though its fresh water. Even though its been flowing like the billy-o after the monsoon. I told Zamen that we could probably take or leave dolphins and he thought it might be too windy but we met some french tourists who had been out on a little motorised boat and came back happy. Gary said he had almost never seen a dolphin which makes sense of course since he comes from Western Sydney so we went out. It was great. The river was muddy brown and sky was grey with a gentle breeze, and we went to a particular point where there are bushes in the water and the dolphins hang out. They were very pale and stubby nosed, with blunt looking fins. A young boy took us out on the gondola shaped boat and somehow he managed to pull up near the bushes and then keep us in one point with his paddle. Peter had a camera but it was a little hopeless trying to stand up and get a meaningful shot of the snout in the water,which would have looked just like a stick anyway. So eventually he stopped and we just watched and listened to the “phooot” sound the dolphins made as they came up. You felt like you were in the middle of a chinese water colour and I wrote a Haiku for you and the kids just to complete the picture (well Victor helped just little) ..
Mekong brushes past
dolphins breath punctures surface
wind fills the stillness.
The kids here are still shrieking, by the way, but I will soldier on.
The place last night was very pretty. We took a boat from Krati to the island in the middle of the Mekong. it was about 400 metres wide and 3 km long. There were lots of people living on it but also a tiny little hotel called Rababordi, or something like that, run by a frenchman called Pierre-eve. They had pretty little bungalows all around a pool which was very picturesque except for the disturbing lack of any windows, and the presence of bats, fruit and a great big pond, that made you think that it might be a breeding ground for mozzies. I knew things were bad when Dr Peter asked if he could have some of my malaria tablets. He said he didn’t bring any because Victor told him there’s no malaria in Cambodia. I did ask him why, as a doctor, he was taking medical advice from a mortgage broker, but he brushed that off with something about the special skills of a surgeon. He was even cool when Zamen explained that the young frenchman who had “discovered” Angkor Wat in the 1800’s later died of malaria (admittedly in Laos) but the time in the resort was enough to change his mind.
We had a good dinner, which was a relief, because Richard and Gary have been grumbling about the absence of any really good food. I’m sure we will find a nice restaurant in Siem Reap (which is where everyone goes on the way to the temples), but frankly we have been going places where there really are no other tourists at all, and It would be hard for Zamen to organise something special at the equivalent of a truck stop. The boys had a little bit of a blip yesterday when they saw that lunch was being made from packets of two minute noodles, but, you know, Zamen is English and Welsh, so there as always a chance he didn’t have culinary discernment amongst his superpowers. He reckons that 93% of the tourists to Cambodia just visit Angkor Wat and then leave, so there really is nothing in the way of special facilities in the places we are going.
The trip is feeling like it has taken on a good safe routine. Zamen rides at the front, and the Cambodian guide, Tommy, rides at the back. Victor and Gary tend to ride towards the back, and Richard, Pete and then me ride towards the front. The support vehicle takes all our kit except a knapsack and we do about 150 km each day, stopping whenever there is something special.
Yesterday, we went to a pagola where they happened to be having a festival. They tend to have these great big puppets that a man stands inside, and then the puppets dance while drummers play. Tommy says it was a harvest festival. There was a big bunch of monks, and one of them did some chanting before a procession started. There were about 600 school kids watching the procession but then they gathered around us. I thought about pulling out some of the little koalas I had brought but that was likely to cause a riot so we just did lot of smiling.
Haven’t seen any of that sadness that Rene mentioned amongst the people. If you smile at someone, they always smile back. When you beep your horn, everyone gives a wave. Zamen says that there is still a big legacy left over from the Khmer Rouge. They governed from 1975 to 1979 and they had a couple of goes at returning to power until about 1998. Zamen has been pointing out that the poorer towns have the biggest pagodas (becaue they need the luck) but we have noticed that many of them have large disused buildings. Zamen says some of them were used as killing houses when Pol Pot killed about 2 million people, and now people won’t live there. There is not much interest in punishing people but there is enough feeling and superstition to keep them away from those places.
That might be all for the moment.
If you are interested in riding in Cambodia, we have another trip starting in February which can be viewed here – http://www.compassexpeditions.com/tour/short-adventures/complete-cambodia/by