The ancient temples were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 and are scattered over some four hundred square kilometers of countryside. As they are surrounded by dense forests, villages or rice paddies, the temples still seem to be part of everyday life and don’t feel like sterile museum pieces. Given its size we visited only the most famous ones and still cycled about 40 km that day. It’s been a fascinating day having seen so many different temples of which the oldest date from 802.
The visit of the temples followed another sleepless night as we tried to charge all our devices at the same time and short-circuited our room. We had to move to another room where we didn’t get along with the air con, hence tried to sleep in a hot and on top noisy room. The next morning we noticed that there also wasn’t electricity in our new room and we were told that earlier that morning a drunk truck driver drove into an electricity supply pillar close to the Thai border. As all electricity comes from Thailand the only source was dead, not just in our hotel or city, but in the whole Siem Reap region. No generator meant no electricity. Luckily after some hours the power came back, but again only for a couple of hours. We made use of our spare time by sewing ourselves new bike shorts. We bought both a pair of male underpants, cut out the cushions of ill-fitting shorts, fitted them into the underpants, took a test ride and went to a tailor to get them properly sewn in. Until our super expensive newly ordered bike underwear will arrive in either Cambodia or Vietnam, we now have fine self-made panties that work pretty well – Johan is just wearing normal loose-fitting short trousers with it and I my new Cambodian pajamas. Electricity would only return at midnight that day – we already slept and woke from all lights, the fan and the air con suddenly going on and the hotel staff celebrating the ‘return of the power’.
We left tired and too late the next morning into the direction of Phnom Penh. We didn’t take the direct route on highway number 6 but went through the countryside to be able to see another temple with the finest carvings as per our travel guide and to also to go a bit off the beaten track. I was a bit anxious as I couldn’t find the roads we wanted to take on Google maps and we also didn’t know for sure if there were guesthouses or not. Different people would tell us different things. And with the Asians you never know if it is true what they are telling you. They usually don’t want to disappoint you or lose face and then often just say yes even though it’s a no later on.
The temple was nice and we had a great lunch there: Amok for me and Lok Lak for Johan. Amok is spinach and some other vegetables with chicken in a fresh coconut milk sauce served in a coconut and with steamed rice. Lok Lak are vegetables with beef and again, served with rice. Cambodians eat rice all day long and it is usually served from huge pots which are standing on each table. You just help yourself and eat as much as you want. That’s very convenient for us always hungry cyclists. When we left we met Arnaud, a French cyclist who is also touring in Southeast Asia and now heading towards Thailand.
Shortly after our lunch break we left the nice tarmac roads to cycle for about an hour on a very rough and stony dirt track. Maybe that’s the reason why Google couldn’t find the road…. It’s been heavy riding and after another 30 minutes or so and a look at the temperature – 40.6 degrees – we decided to have a break. We found a nice spot next to a small stall selling cold drinks and lay down for a nap. At about 2.30pm we rode on and thankfully the road improved, it was still a dirt road, but road works were going on and the road was pretty smooth but dusty. We still had about 45 km to cycle as we needed to reach the next village with hopefully a guesthouse. The landscape was extremely beautiful, green rice paddies, jungle, nice small stilt houses, red dirt roads and far away some mountains. By 6pm we reached the village and after asking a lot of people for a place to stay we finally found a guesthouse. We would spend our first night in a stilt house.
While Cambodians are extremely friendly people and always try to help, they are much less willing to invite us to pitch our tent next to their houses. They would rather send us away or just tell us that they can’t help while they would laugh all the time. A sign that they feel embarrassed. And for us very frustrating as there is no way that we can pitch our tent in the forest, first because of the many undiscovered land mines and second because of all the wildlife.
As I developed a very nasty looking wound combined with a heavily swollen foot resulting from an insect bite a few days earlier we decided the next day to go back to the national highway and not do the jungle tour as we wouldn’t be able see a doctor for a few more days in case my sting wouldn’t heal. 30km later we reached the highway and directly saw a hospital. While I was terrified to go there Johan convinced me to see a doctor, which turned out to be a good idea as they properly cleaned the sting, confirmed that it wasn’t infected and told me how to treat it over the coming days. Johan the nurse is now cleaning the wound twice a day and with some gaze and tape it looks worse than it really is. It seems to heal, at least this ugly looking bubble gets smaller and my foot looks like a foot again ;-). By now a second sting develops the same way. Great :-(.
After a long cycling day along a much quieter highway than expected and on a great tarmac road we ended up in a horrible guesthouse, but we had no choice as it was the only one within 50km and it was already past 6pm, far too late anyway. There was no air con and the room temperature was at 38 degrees when we entered and later that evening, when we went to bed it was still at 36 degrees – the hottest night ever ;-). On top we had to share the bathroom with the biggest spider I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t leave my eyes from it when I took a shower, just to be sure it wouldn’t move. After dinner we asked someone to remove it – it seemed that the hotel boy had a lot of fun with pin pin (Cambodian for spider) in the bathroom.
We left early the next morning to ride about 50km against the wind along boring landscape as there were mainly dry fields, some palm trees, little other vegetation and a long straight road. We arrived in Kampong Thom just before lunch and were looking forward to an afternoon off as our bottoms were still sore.
The following day was as boring as the previous one and the only distractions were the many ‘hello’ and ‘bye-bye’ calls from far-away children. As we left very early and rode partially with the wind for once we arrived by 2pm even though we cycled more than 90km. This allowed us to choose the best guesthouse from three horrible ones in a city called Skun – famous for their dry-roasted tarantulas. I couldn’t wait to see the hawkers offering us a few as appetizers. We were told that you suck out their legs, which taste a bit like crunchy fried prawns but you should be more careful with the body as it can be unappetizingly slushy and bitter.
We locked our bikes, checked in and went to the market, anxious to see the spiders. But where were they? All we could spot were some boring pineapples, mangos, grilled insects and maggots, but not a single tarantula! Maybe it wasn’t tarantula season this time as the only ones we could see were two oversized statues in front of a restaurant the next day. The heck with it, I am sure we’ll get to see them rather sooner than later.
Another day and 75km later on dusty roads as the highway to Phnom Penh is being rebuilt we arrived at 11am, checked into a nice hotel to spend a few days in Cambodia’s capital.