Sunday, September 12, 2004

Cycle Day 7: Far north central Cambodia

Preah Vihar to Anlong Veng – 102 km

The Route: Preah Vihar is in the far north of Cambodia, on the Thai border.
Preah Vihar – 27 km – Sa’em – 44km - Trapaeng Prasat – 31 km – Anlong Veng

The Ride:
The road is dirt the whole way, and pretty much flat. The Preah Vihar – Sa’em leg is wide and well graded, and an excellent road in the dry. The road from Sa’em to Anlong Veng is not quite as good, but still very do-able in the dry, not too many bumps.

There’s a lot of mine-fields up around Preah Vihar, but they thin out once you’re past the Saém, so happy days, no worries.

The scenery is a mixture of forested sections and small farms, paddies and banana trees. This is outback Cambodia and the locals are very friendly.

Drink stops all along the way, but food is a little harder to find. But both Sa’em and Trapaeng Prasat have café’s and good food.

Sa’em is small cross-road town, and Trapaeng Prasat is a clean little country town with a Guest House. Anlong Veng is a bit bigger and noisier and has a large market, but is still, on the scale of things, a small town.

The traffic is very light the whole way.

The Day’s Ride:
After the rain sodden days of the last week or so, the cycling gods decide to smile on me, and I’m very grateful. Here comes the sun, the smile's returning to the faces! Thank you George, thank you Saint Velo.

Apart from a few muddy sections, the road is firm and clear of traffic.

I head out of Preah Vihar village at the crack of dawn and take off to Sa’em 27 km down the road. It’s dry, and the road is a solid gravel highway to heaven. I make it into the Saém café in just over an hour and order a coffee from the young waitress I met the other day. Howdee doodee lovely Khmer girl, I love you, I love Cambodia and I love my bike! Excellent!

West past the roundabout and I’m off to Trapaeng Prasat, I’m doing close to 30 km an hour, and this is cycling at it's best.

I’ve thrown off the sloth and torpor gathered from 12 months of wall-staring in Melbourne, and am hitting high gear, breathing fresh, clean Cambodian air, waving to the kids, slip-streaming the odd motorbike and singing It’s a long way to the top, if you want to rock and roll! thank you Bon, thank you Angus.

I stop in Trabaeng Prasat for lunch, and head out again as soon as I'm done. No time to waste, and the rain may come back and spoil the fun. Fitness level rising, spirits rising, bike staying on the ground with the rubber side down. Not bad. I zip past houses and people, waving, smiling, yelling. Roll on Camboland.

Anlong Veng is a busy little boom-town with a big market and a few Guest Houses to choose from. I pick the cheapest at 4000 Riel a night (about a dollar), partly because it’s cheap, and partly ‘cos the lady who runs it is friendly. I’ve got a couple of days to wait for Jackie and Co. (see previous posts), so it pays to have a relationship of sorts with the madam of the house.

I spend the two days wandering around Anlong Veng, riding up past the river and large spillway that cascades under the main road, to what I think is Ta Mok’s house, although I never do quite work out which one it is. Ta Mok was one of Mr Pot’s cronies, and a total blighter. I have no interest in his house at all, and walking around it would give me the creeps, but everywhere I go the Khmers keep directing me there, so I make a half-arsed effort to find it, sort of.

Khmer: You are tourist?
Me: Ah, yeah, sort of.
Khmer: House of Ta Mok, over there, you go!
Me: OK, thank you very much, I will go at once!

I cycle off in the opposite direction, with the Khmer shouting and waving something about Wrong way! Wrong way!

On the second day I pull out my Khmer language book, plug in my Ipod, and get down to some serious verb conjugations. I've digitised a whole Khmer language course, so now's a good time to use it.

Actually, Khmer doesn’t have verb conjugations, unlike Latin and Polish, which is something. It’s also not a tonal language, unlike Vietnamese and Thai, which should make it a piece of cake for the Westerner, but the problem with Khmer is that all the words sound the same.

But I struggle on, and the madam of the Guest House is mightily impressed. She has me pinned for a real intellectual, which is a nice change.

OK, tomorrow Jackie and Co. arrive. We are going up the hill near Anlong Veng to see Pol Pot's grave and have a party. Lookin’ good!

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