Through the Cardomom mountains
Trip Start Apr 01, 2008
153Trip End Jul 15, 2012
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To be honest, the chance to get off the main roads was also a factor. The combination of newly laid asphalt roads, a wide array of vehicles of all sizes and speeds and some highly questionable Cambodian driving standards made travelling along them on bike a little dicey and not entirely relaxing.
Traffic seems to flow smoothly enough in the cities, but when you really look, you realise the extent to which it is a complete free for all. Not one of those highly skilled free for alls you get in say, India or Indonesia. More like the free for all you get on the dodgems, where no one is really in control of their vehicle and there is only a vague sense of which direction to go. It's as if the novelty of driving is such that the oddest maneuver, whether it be driving on the pavement, doing a three point turn at a crossing, or simply stopping in the middle of the road to answer the phone is greeted as nothing more than an obstacle. Small prangs, crashes and collisions, of which there are many, invariably invoke smiles and nervous laughter from of involved, again, much like you’d expect on the dodgems
The real danger though is on the main arteries that link all the main cities, which until recently would have been dirt roads or broken tarmac whose pot holes and loose surfaces were inherent speed deterrents. But these have recently been replaced with glistening, flat asphalt, to the delight of those rich enough to afford a decent vehicle. Life on the sides of these roads continues as ever, with villages, schools, shops and food stalls acting as a focal point for people and animals alike. But the powerful 4x4s are anything but sympathetic. People have no choice but to acclimatise to this change of pace quickly or the consequences could be brutal. Amazingly there doesn’t seem to be any judgment on those driving so fast. It is just accepted as how it is. From my perspective it looked like a recipe for disaster or lunch if you enjoy a rustic bit of roadkill.
Dogs are at a particular disadvantage. They aren’t great road crossers, let’s be honest, they just don’t get it (Lassie and The Littlest Hobo excluded). We were unfortunate to witness the speed with which life can change for an animal or indeed anything that doesn't give the road it's full attention. Just as we were riding past a few food stalls on the side of the road, with a scooter coming towards us (on the wrong side of the road - of course), a fairly large dog opted to cross the road without looking
In some ways, our second dog incident was worse, as there was no quick death this time. Riding along a fairly quiet road that led to the mountains, we found a puppy lying in the middle of the road yelping in pain. It had clearly been hit by something and it’s muzzle looked broken, with teeth missing. It had a wound on it’s side and I suspect had a fair amount of internal bleeding as it was struggling to breathe. In the end, all we were able to do was move it to the side of the road and stroke it’s head until it died
Thankfully, not long later, the asphalt ran out and was replaced by a rich red clay road. This was a less even surface, but it felt really nice to ride on the earth, where vehicles were essentially forced to drive at a more reasonable speed.
For the next few days we rode through gentle rolling landscape, with plenty of bridges over rivers that diminished in flow the further in we went. The small villages dotted along the road became further apart and less frequent too, until forest took over completely. This was possibly my favourite part of the ride. I suspect it may have been mostly downhill, which helps. It felt so amazing to be powering through such beautiful scenery, with no noise other than the tyres purring against the earth and the occasional rattle of wooden boards as we vibrated over bridges
We spent a night in Pramaoy, stocking up and getting refreshed. I had haircut where the barber opted to shave my ears - a first for me, either signalling the onset of old age, or a breakdown in communication. Perhaps I asked him to do it inadvertently and not wanting to offend me, he set about it with his cut-throat. Am I now the folktale of the hairy-eared giant on a bike, who towards the end of his haircut, surprised everyone with his perfect Khmer as he demanded "shave my ears bitch"!! Whatever the truth, it goes without saying that both the hairdresser and I remained completely dignified throughout, hiding any surprise we may have felt.
Setting off the next day, with ears slicing through the cool morning air, we were almost immediately confronted with inclines of a manageable but blood-racing size. But soon enough, we met with the reality of cycling through a mountain range
It had taken us the best part of a week to cover 200 odd kilometers and whilst it felt a lot longer and a lot further, it had been an amazing journey. The scenery had been as stunning and magnificent as described and whilst the hills had gone some way to justifying the wide-eyed looks of incredulity we'd received, it was, as I had suspected, fine, and we did do it.