Riding in Cambodia

Adventure Bike Rider article, Anna Surgenor, January 2011
 The week long ride felt like a month, every hour was action packed with challenges, laughs, and plenty of mud, sweat and fear thrown in – for a learner rider anyway! Every section had a different challenge to throw at us – we were given a bustling highway out of Phnom Penh, gravel dirt roads through rubber plantations, tar sealed village roads along the Mekong River, and muddy, swampy tracks near Snoul, discovered whilst taking a ‘short cut’.
 The most memorable section though had to be the sandy and rutted section through the jungle from Kaoh Nhek to Lumphat in Eastern Cambodia. The section on Google maps was not clear, the paper map we had didn’t show a track (so the map readers assure me) and we couldn’t connect with any guides to take us through the jungle section.
Having convinced ourselves we would be pioneers and go it alone we pulled up to the dusty, off-the-beaten-track cross roads in Kaoh Nhek and felt like a bunch of Milky Bar Kids with a group of locals staring at the ‘barang’. Over a coconut drink we were assured Chet, a non-English speaking, moped riding guide would be essential for our jungle ride. On reflection I don’t know what we would have done without him. My bike seemed to have a particular penchant for lying down sideways, it took a dislike to sand – and ruts for that matter. I’m pretty sure the one hour slow riding training session in the local industrial estate didn’t quite prepare me for the terrain I was to endure on the 8 hour ride through jungle, dried up river beds, steep ruts, swamps and sand.
I soon became an expert ‘green laner’ if I say so myself. I learnt to drop the bike to the right so only snapped a back brake lever rather than my clutch lever which was given a good workout. As darkness fell on us and acute fatigue struck we soon realised the scale of the challenge we had bitten off. Every time we stopped to pick up a dropped bike Chet would draw a line in the sand and show us the miniscule progress we had made along the route.
 We soon realised Chet was infact a real life guardian angel we so nearly left behind. There is no rhyme or reason to the endlessly criss-crossed maze of tracks that were once used by the Kymer Rouge. After what seemed like eternity and digging deep into wherever you dig to muster that extra reserve of energy we pulled into the local boatmans family home – our sanctuary for the night at the river crossing. Pats on backs all round for the successful end to a gruelling, mother of all rides, everyone had pushed themselves to the limit.
 We met the inquisitive family we were to impose on for the night, ate some rice and played a game of travel Connect 4 with them, then settled down to a night under the stars (through a kindly donated mozzie net). As morning arrived we set sail over the river for Ban Lung with our trusty pack horses as they had affectionately become known and waved goodbye to our guardian angel. I’m sure he was relieved to see the back of the naive pioneers who had probably not been the first riders to bite off more than they could chew on that trail.
How would I describe that mini adventure? Absolute nuts, like nothing I had ever endured before, but would thoroughly recommend it! It’s funny how the biggest challenges and achievements you endure can become the best memories you will take with you for the rest of your life.

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