10 FELLAS riding trail bikes across Cambodia. Over 1000km of dirt, beer, waterfalls, jungle, massages, excellent food, tumultuous history and the extremely friendly Cambodian-Khmer people. All this to experience in seven days.
Well, yes it was…
The gig I was called into Cycle Torque HQ before head honchos Pickett and Paterson. “Carnage, you are being promoted from reserve paper clip boy to Cycle Torque’s run on Cambodia Squad.” By the way you owe us for the air fare…
Can I pay it off starting in 2015, interest free? Yeah baby I’m there. Before leaving Sydney the Cycle Torque squad of Publisher Nigel (aka PM due to his continual political arguments on tour with KEG), Massage Matty (MM) lover of Red Bull and cheap massages, and yours truly underwent the random bag searches, body scans and of course my favourite, the full body search.
Ah I feel better, where is the bar PM? 8.5 hours later we land in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for a brief Heineken layover, before jumping on our 45 minute flight to Phnom Penh Cambodia. Immediate news on the ground was, the King is dead. First thing though, is we need a Cambodian Visa to enter. The official says to me $20 USD and photo. I offer a $50 aussie note… first mistake of many for Carnage this trip. He then holds out $45 USD, before removing $40 for me and PM’s fee.
They look at PM and rightly decide they do not want to keep one of his photos.
Good call I thought, but we are allowed entry and off we go. Massage Matty offered himself up for another cavity search. We’re back baby! Typical crazy South East Asia taxi ride into the Capital Phnom Pehn. Chaos all round. 3-4 passengers on every 100cc scooter and a pillion rider holding an intravenous fluid drip bottle above her head leading down to a small child.
Yes, that was truly unbelievable.
Arrive at our digs, better go out and have a look around.
The city is pumping as millions are flocking in for King Norodom Sihanouk’s, cremation the following day.
The King had abdicated back in 2004 for power to be passed onto his son. The King was known as the Naughty Boy, due to having 14 children to 6 wives… hmm, interesting fellow. The King’s role is about uniting the country via tradition and religion-buddhists. The real power of Cambodia is with the Cambodia People’s Party.
We take delivery of our mighty Honda XR250Rs the next morning and the call is made by Owner/Operator of Cambodia Motorbike Tours Jason Thatcher to exit the city.
The place is basically in lock-down and very difficult to move around. But wait, what about PM’s all white Fox riding gear. Gees, we have one of the Storm Troopers from Star Wars along…didn’t help his riding, sorry Nigel, thinking out loud again.
Jason gives the boys a little briefing regarding exiting the city safely. We get on our bikes and Jason, aka Wheelie has immediately got the front wheel of his TTR in the air. And I must say, Wheelie continues this trend for the rest of the trip.
The dark side
A short ride out of the city, we are immediately hit with the Killing Fields. A visit to Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre is something I will not forget too soon. Inside the gate there is a memorial some several stories in height. Enclosed in a glass case are thousands of human skulls in memory of the estimated two million Khmer people who were tortured and murdered at the hands of Supreme Dictator, Pol Pot. These Killing Fields are all over Cambodia. Pot was at the head of the Kampuchea Communist Party. The biggest grave at this site was found to have 450 people within.
Much of the excavation occurred in 1980 after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge, who ruled with an Iron Fist from 1975-1979. The regime was all about breaking the people so they would always bow/bend their heads to their masters. We are talking about culling intellectuals which could simply include people who wear glasses for example. People were tortured in Phnom Penh in a converted school known as S21, before being transported out to the Killing Fields to be murdered. And we are not talking about a simple execution via a bullet, it was dead set cruelty. Pot died in 1998 whilst under House Arrest, near the Thailand border. United Nations supported trials commenced in 2007 hunting down the Chief Executioners and are still going on.
It is of interest that the current Prime Minister Hu Sen is himself a former Khmer Rouge Senior Commander, who has held power since the early 1980s, under the banner of the Cambodia People’s Party (CPP). And let me tell you, I saw the CPP sign erected in the smallest villages in places a long way from civilisation. Apparently Sen was instrumental in getting the Vietnamese to enter Cambodia to help defeat the Khmer Rouge. Mind you factions of the Khmer Rouge were still fighting their own people in 1997, refusing to back down.
Hitting the trail
Back on the bikes we head South West, cutting through a number of villages. Fairly wide open tracks, but it is hot and you need to keep the fluids up. Our first time dirt rider, Novice Scotty aka NS, hits the deck a few times, but he will show himself to be very determined as the week goes on. Indeed determination will be something we all need. Greg, aka KEG, also has a few minor offs. If I had to compare his love of beer with motorcycling, I would call him a stunt/freestyler.
I thought I loved beer, but I would be a mere trail rider compared to Keg. Note to self, don’t get on the P1ss with KEG.
We head to Kep and onto Kampot for our overnight stop. Travelled about 200km and it’s been a big first day in the dirt. Stacks on the bikes become fines which equate into Beer. So all good for me, but we will all contribute as each day goes by. The following morning all our bikes are lined up out the front. Chains are being lubricated, checks done and I know that all is well with my bike.
This is where you start seeing the advantages of being part of a Cambodia Motorbike Tour. We have a Nissan Patrol ute as a support vehicle being driven by Visal. Now besides being a big lump of a lad, his other job sees him guarding the Prime Minister.
So as a result of his extensive Military Training etc, he is packing a semi-auto pistol attached to his side at all times.
Copy that, can I help you load my bag into the ute, Visal?
Strapped in behind the cab there is even a spare bike just in case. So you only have your day bag on your back with water, camera, etc. It makes trail riding easier that is for sure.
I was using a Kriega back pack which allowed me to carry a water bladder of two litres, but it also has several handy separate compartments for all my other bits and pieces. The other strength for trail riding was it had reinforced straps that came together around my chest as well as the waist. Not only did it sit well loaded, it kept all the dust out.
We ride close to the coast along twisty canal trails. Great riding and suddenly you wander into a small village. All the kids come running up to the bikes. Yes they are very poor and you can see they don’t have much, evident from their lack of clothing. But they are all smiles and just eager to get close and have a look at us and the bikes.
We take photos and show them on our digital cameras. It excites them to see their photo. I go to start my bike and nothing…dead battery.
No problem, the old motorised push clutch start via one of our guides Leng. My battery will later recover and not give me any trouble for the rest of the week. Leng is our lead gun rider and at the back we have Panda. Both carry every tool and spare that may be needed.
Of course when we stop you have the mobile market suddenly pull up. What I mean here is a bike either totally loaded, or it has some kind of trailer set up. You can buy food, drinks, souvenirs.
The thing is, it does not matter where we are, one always comes puttering along the track. Unbelievable really, considering we are on trail bikes and this will normally be a 100cc scooter loaded.
We stop for some lunch at Serendipity Beach. There is an oasis of restaurants and bars along the coast. Mistake number two is I get caught up sitting in the surf with WA-Mark aka WAM. He is 62 years old and is on this trip with his best mate, wait for it, KEG.
Wam also went to Vietnam with Cycle Torque last year and I should know better.
Anyway we have a few beers and a feed and everybody is pretty relaxed enjoying the gentle Cambodia sea breeze. Some hours later we are on our bikes for a short run into our overnight stop at Sihanoukville. I decide to attempt some poor riding on the sandy street. The burnout take off goes well, the standup wheelie is getting everyone interested, before I undertake the hard brake, 180 degree turn for my run back, when my bike is suddenly laying down and I am standing above it with my hands in the air trying for some applause.
Well, I got more than that and more importantly I was on the board for a handlebar down Fine. All good, no harm done, except a bit of pride of course. Gear checked in at our motel and 150km is not enough for me. Leng, Panda, MM and I go out for an afternoon hit out of single track, sand riding, shonky bridge crossings, dense jungle and finish up with a beer under a waterfall. You have to be happy with that. Fantastic loop and I will just say quietly, Chief Guide Leng actually put a bar down.
It does not matter that he was stationary and waiting for MM and I.
You see I spent most of the trip reading the back of Leng’s helmet and I am hoping to see him later in the year when he comes to Australia to have a crack in the 24 hour enduro. Fantastic rider. Making our way back to the hotel in the dark was exciting enough. However I ran out of fuel, but was lucky to be rescued by a local whom supplied a cordial bottle full of juice.
Back on the bike, children running around, people repairing punctures in the middle of the road with no lights on. Need to keep on the job that is for sure. Quick swim in the pool and out for dinner. What a day.
Into the jungle
Off and running early with an early stretch of single track jungle style. I noticed it is substantially cooler whilst surrounded by vines and heavy overhead growth.
A few minor offs but all good, before WAM’s bike requires a bit of maintenance to the front mud guard. He was complaining that the guard had come undone and was affecting his steering…harden up. Anyway Leng and Panda were all over it and we are moving on.
Again I cannot emphasise enough how easy it is when you have guides/mechanics/support vehicle.
We run down a little side track and wow, we are on the beach. I notice the low tide and the sand beckons.
Before I finish this thought Darren, aka DRZ (he’s owned four of Suzuki’s venerable trailie) is down there strutting his stuff up and down the beach. I am thinking it looks nice and hard and starting to pump up, when suddenly DRZ throws his XR whilst performing a wheelie through an unseen wet soggy patch.
Who would have thought… hmm, note to self, try not to be an unsuccessful poser two days in a row.
No harm done, all good, time for lunch.
Yes I did have my moment on the sand in the sun. I just hope PM took appropriate pictures which make me look good.
Prawns, stir fry, dust quenchers. Righto, how about an afternoon of soft sand action through fallen jungle?
Three of the guys took the opportunity of an alternative road route, which again is the beauty of these tours, in that Wheelie can always provide options, depending on riding abilities.
Anyway we spent hours ploughing on through sand and on several occasions I was able to warn PM of changing conditions via the Sena blue tooth communications. This equipment is dead easy to fit to a helmet. You switch it on and it wirelessly finds the other unit, which in this case was in PM’s helmet. Range is good for around 900 metres. I am talking about talking to your mate, bike to bike, with no wires. The units are simply re-charged via USB.
For the tech heads, you can wifi in your phone, plug in music, gps and more. The unit is smaller than a mobile phone and basically just attaches to the side of your helmet. I did not even know it was there. With ear plugs in, riding a trail bike, the clarity was crystal clear. Awesome bit of kit. Not only good for providing warnings to the boys behind, but also great for requesting your mate to switch on his video or stop and take a photo.
Our guide Leng was setting a cracking pace, nothing unusual there. We pull up and he is talking to a couple of locals. I take the opportunity for a drink and it seems like I needed litres of the stuff. Leng was just checking his direction and he never missed. Again how good is it to have a local out front who speaks the language. We slide into a small village and stop at a small bridge, currently under construction. All the males were standing around with axes and other shiny sharp utensils that could penetrate my helmet… I am thinking.
Leng goes up, does the negotiation whereby a few US dollars change hands and we are waived through the toll bridge without incident. We continue on and we end up at a river crossing. Now what we have here is two slim boats that are joined together by a flat wooden platform. Okay fellas, only 4 bikes at a time.
Down the sand bank we ride onto this small punt which has the Whipper Snipper long shaft prop outboard attached. We cross and are now in the village of Chi Phaot.
Tonight we are staying in a traditional village house.
First though, we all jump into the back of the Nissan with an esky full of Adult Beverages and off we go to the local waterfalls. Now having a quiet cool drink sitting in a waterfall is the way to finish off any day.
Keg decides to host a leech or 2 to a party on his leg. I am thinking they must like beer.