Thursday, January 5, 2012



Day 1 : Phnom Penh to Skun
Day 2 : Skun to Kampong Thom
Day 3 : Kampong Thom to Kampong Kdei
Day 4 : Kampong Kdei to Siem Reap

It would be a 4-day ride, covering a distance of under 400 km. Cycling in Cambodia would make a Malaysian feel very much at home. For a start, you would be cycling from "kampong" to "kampong". Though not as frequent, you will also have some rare sightings of ladies in their tudungs, signaling that you would be passing a Muslim community. And if you are lucky, just as we did, you could converse in Bahasa with some of those you would meet. These Bahasa speaking men or ladies have worked in Malaysia before, and they are found in the small villages as well.

On the road we traversed, the scenery reminded us of Malaysia about perhaps 30 - 40 years ago. The highways, as they would call their roads, are our present federal roads. Red dusty laterite tracks served the interior, feeding into the highways. All kinds of modified vehicles with loads we would never imagined to be carried are found almost everywhere and almost all the times. My regret was not to capture these overloaded vehicles as they zoom past. Amidst all that, do not be surprised to see spanking new (though dusty) Range Rovers, Toyota Harriers, Audis and BMW's overtaking you at highway speeds! In spite of that, we felt safe on our bicycles, as we have always felt in all our past cycling tours. Or else, we would not be here, two senior citizens cranking away the kilometers on pedal power.

We woke up early on this Day 1, excited to a certain degree to start what we have planned couple of months earlier. Noting the possible challenges for halal food,  we carried instant Nasi Beriani, Nasi Goreng and Mee Maggis in several flavors, including my must have 3-in-one Nescafes. But this first morning, we need not worry about breakfast. D Nyonya Restaurant would be opened by 6:30 am as they had indicated last night and we checked out from the hotel at about 7 am after paying the US$16 for the night - clean room, air-conditioned and free Wi-Fi. What more can we ask for.

We posed for this picture before setting off to D Nyonya Restaurant around the block. With stomach ready for a sumptuous breakfast, we had the first disappointment. D Nyonya was still sleeping! Khailani tried to peep through the shutters hoping that it would be opened soon. Tough luck.

No point waiting. We followed my GPS towards the direction of Kampong Kilomet 9. We consoled ourselves that we would find Muslim food stalls there in the morning. We had promised Ustaz Daud we would cycle to the Madrasah since he had suggested us to take the new bypass towards Skun, which passed the madrasah. Skun was our destination for Day 1, roughly 80kms from Phnom Penh.

At the time of setting up my bike last evening, I realized that the front brakes did not sit properly. I decided to release the front brakes and hoped to get it repaired along the way. We came across a bike shop just as we neared Kilomet 9. It was not just the brakes, the front rim has to be trued too, a skill beyond my capability. Job well done and in sign language, I asked how much? Three fingers came up. Ah, US$3? When I took out US$3, the daughter of the owner spoke in English, "No, too much!"  I laughed. Such honesty. It was 3000 Riels but we had no Riels, so I gave US$1. I was happy, so was the shop owner. (Note: 4,000 Riels = US$1)

We cycled for a short while then we saw a crowd, and we saw a food stall manned by ladies in tudung. Our breakfast! We parked ourselves on the benches together with the locals, who were acknowledging the presence of these 2 foreigners. We ordered our food - rice with duck meat. For US$2.50 each, we had a nice fill and proceeded on to the madrasah.

The morning assembly was in progress when we arrived at the madrasah. Our arrival obviously attracted the kids and felt a little guilty that we had diverted their attention from their daily assembly. The students posed for us and they obliged us with a group photo and after salam bersalaman all round with the teachers, we bade goodbye, to continue with our journey. Thank you Ustaz Daud for your hospitality.

The detour suggested by Ustaz Daud was across a newly built bridge across what I believe is one of the Mekong tributaries. There was indeed less traffic, but the headwind was something else. On the bridge, we stopped to photograph the delta below but keeping the camera steady was a challenge. The wind was too strong and the strong headwind became our permanent companion during the rides ahead of us.



Traffic began to pick up when we reached the main Highway 4 towards Skun. Vehicles in Cambodia, just as in Vietnam moves on the right side of the road, a legacy of the French occupation. Cycling either side is never a problem but I do pay particular attention when crossing the road so that I looked in the right direction. While the road is not very wide, there is certainly enough room for a bicycle. There is also no distinct road shoulder, but the laterite side table provides adequate room should one need to give way to bigger vehicles to pass.

While the weather was hot, the wind was quite chilly and the chill helped to off-set the heat of the day. The ride was generally smooth. At one point, we detoured into a village when we saw a mosque. A Malay speaking lad approached us and pointed to a new mosque under construction. He said the funds came from abroad, mentioning donors from Trengganu. I was trying to get the Trengganu slang from the kid but obviously he did not learn it from any Pak Wan"g" from Trengganu.



When we saw a "cafe" selling coconuts by the road-side, it was spontaneous braking for both of us. It was a temporary reprieve from the heat of the day and we did a favor to the lady and contributed to her meagre daily income. We felt good doing that.

We also chanced upon an Australian couple who had been cycling around the region for the last 4 months. They purposely stopped to acknowledge us and were heading in the opposite direction towards Phnom Penh. They acknowledged the fact that we were cycling against the wind and that they had the tail wind pushing them to Phnom Penh.

After cycling for about 50kms, we chanced upon a RnR. The restaurant sat at a lake edge, and the continous breeze that blew across was just the right tonic for the tired muscles and droopy eyes. If only, if only ......

We knew getting lunch here would be impossible but we had Maggi Mee. So, we asked for hot water but also ordered coffee just in case the hot water was provided f..o.c.  We "enjoyed" our Maggi perasa Tom Yam, while at the same time stealing glances at the food spread served to 5 customers behind our table. Hmm....

After a good rest at the restaurant, we proceeded on and came across road-side peddlers selling what looks like chickens. But up close, they looked like birds, probably water fowls. We had no way to know but we were not buying either.

At one point along the route, both sides of the road were lakes and instead of water fowls, the roadside peddlars were selling smoked fish.

When we were about 10kms from SKUN, we told each other to look out for Restaurant Mukmin, the only halal restaurant in Skun. We were informed of the existence of this restaurant, roughly 3 kms before the town.

With only Maggi Tom Yam for lunch, the stomach was longing for something more solid. The empty stomach caused our eyes to open wide for the Restoran Mukmin. It was Khailani who spotted it. He must be hungrier than I was !

It was about 5 pm when we got there. The lady owner spoke Malay! We ordered our drinks, contemplating whether to return to the Restaurant later for dinner after first getting a hotel. The lady pointed to a building next to her restaurant. That's a hotel! We looked at each other and we had no need for further discussion. So we had our drinks and reserved our stomach for a hearty meal later in the evening.


Distance: 81.8 km
Ride Time : 5hrs 24min
Hotel Rate : US$8


acid mustafa said...

wow, look at those your panniers? How long was this ride actually? 7 weeks or 7 months?


ARZ said...

How long have you been touring? You should know better. The weight of a small pannier against a bigger pannier is negligible. So is the cost. So, shouldn't you opt for a bigger one?

Pearls and Gem said...

'kurang asam' member !
i would opt for a bigger one anytime,especially in the case of 'spanners' or is it panniers.

Li, you guys are enjoying life in the slow time for reflections and self examination...a life examined !

Hope to be able to join you when I retire some years from now.

nik howk

ARZ said...

Ha ha Doc. This friend just loved to stir here and there. Very harmless...

You have no definite date for retirement? So, your goal is not measurable.

I "retired" out myself before others retire me. It was difficult on many fronts at first, and that's when I discovered that "Less Is More"!

My Day 4 ride, which I will be uploading soon, was very memorable.

I will wait for your retirement Doc and to take life in slow motion, on a saddle and paddle power!