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Sunday, 27 December 2009

Riding From Saigon to Angkor - Page 3

Written by Jeff Fitzgibbon
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Cambodia’s roads are hot, flat and straight as a rail, but for all that, cycling on them is an exhilarating multi-dimensional experience

Just for a moment, the piglets stopped their squealing. Wouldn’t you, if a panting, sweating, red-Lycra-shirted cyclist loomed into spitting distance of your personal space?

 

Day four was Daunting Day – 95 km to ride, from Svey Rieng to Prey Veng in the provinces, with only the promise of a three-star Soviet geometrical-style hotel at the end in a town that the guide book called ‘charmless’.

We started a little crestfallen. Two cases of sunburn and the temporary departure of two of the group – back to Saigon for an emergency passport to replace the one that got sodden in a brief monsoonal downpour yesterday – had left us a little flat.

But we ended the day exhilarated. The road – mostly Highway 1– was flat but far from featureless, straight but far from sterile, and after all, 90 km at 23 km/h translates to only four hours in the saddle.

We were buoyed by the grinning hellos and high-fives of the kids lining the road, and the shy smiles of just as curious grown-ups. We rode comfortably on well-paved roads and got stopped by traffic lights often enough to snap photos of green rice paddy landscapes, Riding From Saigon to Angkor, From Saigon to Angkor by Bike, cycling tour with World Expeditions, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh,  Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Jeff Fitzgibbontraditional timber stilt houses, and stalls selling jackfruit, palm sugar, dried fish, and dirty brown liter-bottles of petrol.

We stored up material for anecdotes to take back home: how Reidar sweated so much no one would ride behind him for fear of drowning in his spray; how 60-year-old Darryl sprinted to the front and stayed there when Hoeum pricked his pride by suggesting he take the bus after a sapping 25 km leg; how the lights mysteriously went out in the massage rooms that night and unsought extras became available.

A cold Coke and a catfish curry for lunch, plus a feast for dinner (in my case the wonderful national specialty, amok fish curry with a subtle, rich, coconut milk taste) washed down with copious draughts of Angkor beer (as advertised on the tourist T-shirt – ‘My Country, My Beer’) were the ultimate rebuffs to any inclination to whine about heat or saddle-soreness.

Day five saw us ride a mere 80 km to Kampong Cham, Cambodia’s third-largest city and center for the Cham people, the country’s Muslim minority among the Khmer majority. A hurtle into town down the bridge over the swirling Mekong River led us to the best lunch so far – squid and shrimp with black pepper, sheatfish sour and sweet, sticky rice with mango, Chinese soup with tofu, and 7-Up.

By now hardened cyclists, we viewed the next day’s 80 km journey with mixed sorrow and serenity, knowing that it would end in two days of leisure in Phnom Penh before the final leg on our air-conditioned minibus to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.

 

(Page 3 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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