The road from Phnom Penh to Siem Reep - home to the legendary temples of Angkor was horrid. OK, I only knew they were legendary after watching a trailer on Discovery Channel, but they might have added a parental advisory note about that road. For the first 100kms or so, no problems, but then the beastly thing deteriorates into a sandy, pot-holed, gravelly mess. I never knew that so many different types of awful road surface existed. And lord only knows what it's like in the rainy season, but the red dust penetrates everything (and everywhere) as you spend 8 hours in 1st gear bouncing from one crater to the next. But I did have a good laugh with the passengers of an overloaded pickup truck after it snapped clean in half crossing one of the many small wooden bridges. Wish I could post that photo! And here it is...
Some temple monks bear an uncanny family resemblance.
Three days at Angkor mooching around temples sound a little extravagant? It took that long just to get a feel for the place and to drive around some of the more important monuments. Whilst the massive principle temple, Angkor Wat, is in great condition others such as untouched Ta Prohm are being consumed gently by the surrounding forest. Sunrises, sunsets, such peace and tranquility. Yet I am strangely reminded of the monkey's palace in Disney's Jungle Book and keep humming that infernal tune. It's no suprise to find that many visitors spend a week and still fail to discover all that this wonderful place has to offer.
I never intended to ride 'that road' back to Phnom Penh, preferring to take the fast boat down the Mekong River. Yeh that's it!, I'm Martin Sheen going up river in Apocalypse Now. The reality: "Excuse me sir, but how the hell do you think you're going to load my motorcycle on to your sorry excuse for a pedalo that hasn't even got room for all the passengers who bothered to show up?" Problem solved after removing all the luggage and paying a bunch of local guys $5 to fetch a plank and manhandle the thing over the rail and on to the front of the boat (bow?). Only thing is now the driver can't see where he's going and I have to take the seat off so's he can peer over the top. If getting the bike onboard was tricky, unloading it at the other end was horrendous. And cost $7. This time the hired hands almost tipped it into the river and then nearly dropped it off the side of a steep wooden ramp. In the end I was happy just to suffer a scratched petrol tank for the whole experience.
And what about Vietnam I hear you ask. Well, I'd (almost) rather not talk about it - but as you asked it went something like this.
The ride to the Vietnamese border at Bavet was virtually a repeat of the road to Angkor and took twice as long as I had estimated. This left only an hour or so to persuade the Vietnamese border officials to let the bike in. Basically, nobody has got a bike in lately as there's a 175cc capacity limit in force, but it doesn't hurt to try and many overlanders give it a shot. After being first refused and then completely ignored (so rude!), a plan was hatched to take an excrutiatingly expensive taxi to Saigon and plead the case with the customs officials at head office. So, the next day I was repeatedly and politely informed by VC customs officers that "you should have done more research before turning up uninvited and knocking on the door of our country with something as blatantly decadent as an 800cc motorcycle". In the end, they relented to a certain extent and said I could bring the bike in as long as it stayed in the back of a truck. Thankyou so much and goodbye.
Time to invoke plan B which was a not-so-gentle ride up through the North of Cambodia and into the South of Laos. Or not. As a rather timely text message from Cliff and Jenny Batley pointed out that, contrary to all of our information, the border was now closed to Johnny Foreigner. Oh dear. There was no plan C, so we lurched our way back to Phnom Penh (yet again) for a little bit of a rethink.
Really nothing for it but to double back into Thailand and loop around into Laos from the North of the country. The road from Phnom Penh to the Thai border town of Poipet is, of course, another beauty and, after a late start, I realise that I'm not going to complete the journey in one day. Darkness falls with no sign of accomodation for at least the next 100kms. As it's riskier than a sandwhich from Steve's butty bar, one of the golden rules of overland motorcycling is not to ride in the dark, but I don't fancy sleeping at the side of the road and press on.
A couple of kms outside one Khmer village there has been a nasty looking accident. A young girl on a scooter has hit a road sign and is unconscious in the road, bleeding from a cut on the side of her head. A couple of guys are trying to use another scooter as an ambulance but I think they may be a little drunk and then their bike won't start. So, one of the guys hops on the back of the BMW, we wedge the limp and moaning girl between us and drive back to the village. There's been a wedding that day, so quite a few of the locals have had one or two over their measure, which probably contributed to the crash in the first place. Of course there are no obvious medical facilities in the village and I leave the girl to be tended by her friends and family.
Outside, there's a small group of friendly young local guys who are keen to chat despite their involvement in the ongoing wedding celebrations. The issue of accomodation is quickly solved when they volunteer a room in one of their family homes. The house is a lovely, traditional Khmer wooden affair, built on stilts with pigs, chickens and children running around underneath. The youngest son prepares a room complete with mossy net and, after eating in the village, sleep comes easily listening to the noises of the night.
Early (very) next morning, we find that the girl has recovered from her ordeal with no obvious after effects. I can't help wondering if she should see a doctor, but medical care is expensive and these things are treated differently here. Before setting off, a lengthy series of farewells incorporates an educational visit to the local rice factory to bid farewell to the lady of the house. And a few hours later the Thai border is breached, for the second time on this journey.
Oh my oh my! Tarmac.Posted by Sean Kelly at January 21, 2003 04:45 AM GMT
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