Siem Reap – Stung Treng
15th April 2014
Siem Reap – Prasat Beng Mealea – Stung Treng 324km 34’C
A simply fabulous ride today. The road that was supposed to be questionable and only suited to 4WD, turned out to be the best road I’ve ridden on in Cambodia. Route 65, a minor road, was almost all new apart from a few short sections of deep gravel aside from the last 2km to the ferry which was potholes and dirt. There was very little traffic, aside from little Hondas carrying 4 people each, near the villages.
I made stops at two of the ancient temples, Beng Mealea & Koh Ker. Where I was the only foreign tourist, everyone else was Cambodian. I chatted to a couple of families who explained that they came to the temples because it is Khmer New Year and they have a few days holiday.
The road weaved through many small kampong villages, where kids and adults always smiled and waved whenever they saw me. Every overloaded truck I passed, piled high with human cargo, would always cheer and scream hello at me over the roar of the engines.
At one point, I passed a big group of people on a tractor by the side of the road. I passed them at about 80kmh and they were all screaming and waving, I turned around, rode back and said hello to them, to even more enthusiastic cheers and waving. They were having so much fun.
I really love Cambodia, the people are just so awesome. I wish I understood more of what it means to be Cambodian. There is obviously something in the culture that makes Cambodians so genuine and warm.
And when I think about Khmer history and the major ancient civilisation that developed here thousands of years ago, I’m even more curious, what caused that civilisation to fall?
The land of Cambodia is beautiful, with a diversity that is often unknown, from beaches and paradise tropical islands, thick jungle, mountain ranges and rice paddies and plains. Combined with a hugely underrated cuisine, delicious flavours that are very different to their neighbours, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, and stands out on it’s own.
I’ll really miss Cambodia and the Cambodian people when I move onto Laos. I know I have to come back here and explore on a dirt bike. There is so much to see.
If I had to say one negative thing about Cambodians, it could only be their approach to littering. There are never any bins, trash is just thrown where it falls. Like the guy I bought a bottle of water from, when I asked him where to put the empty bottle, he gestured, just throw it on the ground.
For such a beautiful country, I hope Cambodia can change this approach, and learn to dispose of waste in a better way.
I reached the bank of the Mekong river in the early afternoon, and was quickly approached by what I like to call ‘the ferry pirates’. I knew that the fare for a motorbike is supposed to be 5000 riel, and the pirates looked at the bike and typed in 15,000… I laughed and said, “No way. I’ll give you 5000”. I moved the bike into the shade near the bank of the river and waited. After a few minutes, Mr Pirate came back over and handed me his phone, indicating I should type in my price. I typed in 5000, and handed the phone back to him. He looked to his friends and said something, he wasn’t happy. I let him think about it. The ferry still wasn’t in sight. A local guy came over who spoke English and told me, “he wants you to pay”. To which I replied, “l’ll pay, but you tell him, I’ll pay a fair price, not a special barang price”
By now the ferry had arrived and was emptying out its load of cars, bikes and passengers. Loading started soon after and I started moving my bike to get on. Things happened quickly and soon there was no space for my bike. Mr Pirate sent a woman over who said “you, pay!”. I handed her $3, equivalent to 12,000 riel. What was I going to do, stuck on the wrong side of the Mekong. I had to capitulate in my bargaining.
I managed to squeeze on, but the bike was only able to fit on the loading ramp. I was still maneuvering the bike when the ferry started reversing abd the boatmen started lifting the ramp that I was parked on. Some balancing act!
As we motored out into the Mekong, I looked down at my front wheel 30cm from the edge of the boat. It was then that I noticed the ramp I was parked on was held up by a chain block & tackle, the light chain simply wrapped around the rig. This was all that was holding me and the bike, from the bottom of the Mekong River…
At the other side, the shore and the narrow breakwater was packed with vehicles pushing to get on. I was first off the ferry, but couldn’t find a way out. Fortunately a guy on a scooter gestured me to follow him and he led the way out into the town of Stung Treng.
Stung Treng is a prime example of littering in Cambodia. The whole town is filthy and stinks. The main street is a dirt track with potholes, I can’t imagine how this works during the wet season. Rubbish is piled high in the streets, while new signs pronounce slogans such as “Clean city starts from us!”.
It’s not working, yet.
In the market, I’ve never seen so many flies on a piece of meat. Millions of flies, you could barely see what was underneath.
Tonight I’m in one of the worst hotels to date, although the bike is parked inside in the lobby. When I wash my hands in the sink, my feet get wet, the plumbing is so bad. The bed is like a plank of wood and the pillow is so rank I’ve thrown it away. The ‘blanket’ is a towel. To top it off, they are charging $20USD for this windowless box. But the hotel is still full, so obviously there is demand.
Every few minutes the power goes out, leaving me in complete darkness, as the room has no window. Showering in the pitch black darkness was a joy.
Tomorrow morning I’ll head to the border, and hopefully into Laos. I’ll be sad to leave Cambodia and the friendly Cambodian people.
I won’t be so sad to leave the town of Stung Treng. Why is it border towns are always the armpit of a nations body. Although sunset over the Mekong this evening was pretty special, even if the smell backdrop wasn’t brilliant.