Cambodia – Twenty-four Provinces – One Motorcycle – Part 2

Continued from Part One
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Jungle riding

Leaving Kampot I head north towards the big city – Phnom Penh. Because I am more of a countryside traveler I prefer the smaller cities. But I can have a good time in a big city once in a while. Traffic is busy but maneuvering with my motorcycle is no problem. While the motos are numerous they appear to be better drivers than those in Siem Reap.

Visits to Tuol Sleng Prison and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields are interspersed with visits to a real mall and some good restaurants. Siem Reap has limited options when it comes to shopping so I take advantage of the big city opportunities while I am in Phnom Penh. I also bought a new chain and sprockets for my motorcycle since it was getting near the time for a change. It is amazing how much of a difference I can feel while riding with the new chain.

motorcycle, cambodia, province

Life on the roof of the White Building in Phnom Penh

After three days in Phnom Penh it is time to continue my motorcycle journey through the remaining provinces.

Next stop – Kampong Cham. This is just a quick overnight stop where I spend some time at the Bamboo Bridge in the morning. This bridge is made completely out of bamboo and measures almost one kilometer long. It is strong enough to support all of the pedestrians, bicycles, motos, cars and trucks that pass over it each day on their way to and from Koh Pen Island . Each year the bridge is dismantled and stored at the start of the rainy season. After the rainy season and the surges of the Mekong river have passed the month long process of rebuilding the bridge begins. Sadly I heard this is the last year the bridge will be in place as they are building a permanent concrete bridge which can be seen just north of this bridge.

motorcycle, cambodia, province

The Bamboo Bridge – Kampong Cham

Leaving Kampong Cham I cross the bridge over the Mekong River. This is the largest bridge I have driven over on a motorcycle. This is the only bridge that crosses the river for almost three-hundred kilometers. The next bridge in Stung Treng is a recent addition making travel in the north east part of Cambodia a little more accessible.

On my way to Mondulkiri I spend one night in the small town of Snuol. This town has the look and the feel of a small western town in the US but with an Asian flair and a lot less white people. There is something about this down and dirty town that I like. It is times like this that I wish my time was unlimited. But any time spent in one place means less time in another. So many decisions to be made! But knowing I should have the option to return someday makes the decision to move on a it easier to make.

As I venture further away from the more populated areas of Cambodia I notice different reactions from people as I make stops along the way. When it is time to eat I ride through a village and scan the sides of the main dirt drag looking for a place to eat. When I stop my motorcycle and get off I get some uncomfortable looks from the patrons eating at their routine lunch spot. As I sit down I am surrounded by silence. All conversations cease as they seem to try to figure out why this interloper has arrived.

After about five minutes the conversations slowly start up again and the normal lunchtime din ensues with many of the patrons sneaking a glance at the foreigner. When they see me happily eating whatever it is that I am served they smile and accept me in their midst.

Mondulkiri – the largest of the provinces awaits me today. It is here that I spend time in the jungle with some elephants. Mondulkiri Project is one of a few elephant sanctuaries in Sen Monorom that provide a home to elephants that were rescued from some sort of a work background. After a day visiting, feeding, and washing the elephants nighttime in the jungle is spent in a hammock complete with a mosquito net.

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Princess and Comvine

This night it is only myself and a young medical student from Germany spending the night in anticipation of our eighteen kilometer hike in the morning. Just before midnight the rains come down with thunder and a bit of lightening to make for a perfect night sleeping outdoors.

Sen Monorom is another town that needs to be revisited in the future. I made a trip outisde of town to spend some time at Bou Sra Waterfall. I am chased away after an hour with a downpour, wind, thunder and lightning. This makes for a slow, wet ride forty kilometers back to town. It is a good thing I strapped my rain poncho to my motorcycle for this day trip.

motorcycle, cambodia, province

Bou Sra Waterfall

Cambodia is a country that changes quickly. Sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes it is not. The road from Sen Monorom to Ban Lung had me a bit worried. It used to be called ‘The Death Road’ and since I couldn’t find much information about it on the internet I wasn’t sure what I was facing. I knew once I made it to the area I could get some local views on the road and I would be enlightened as to what lies ahead.

Since the most recent update to Google Street View – about three years ago – the road has been paved. Therefore my journey is a piece of cake – in relative terms.

About half way between Sen Monorom and Ban Lung is a small village with a very busy lunchtime crowd.  Usually at a meal stop I find a handful of covered pots I need to look in to choose my meal. This one had at more than twenty pots. Choices galore! Lifting up the lids I look to see what awaits me inside. Even though I am looking right at the food I have no idea what is in each pot. But in my usual form I point, smile and sit down. As busy as this place is silence ensues for the first few minutes before the locals’ comfort increases to a relaxed level.

I am reminded of the movie ‘My Bodyguard’ from the 1980’s. There is a scene where a small kid in class puts his head down and closes his eyes as the big guy looks for an empty seat to sit in. “Please don’t sit next to me” the small kids repeats to himself under his breath. I can imagine a few at this lunch stop may be thinking the same thing as I scan around for my place at a table.

Ban Lung is much bigger than I expected. My upscale guesthouse is right on a small lake. The room is big and modern and relatively expensive at seventeen dollars per night.  The market area of this town is old and busy. People moving in all directions in some sort of coordinated chaos. It still makes me wonder how there are not more moto crashes in Cambodia. There is a lot to explore here but not enough time on this trip to do it justice.

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Traffic circle in Ban Lung

I spend today exploring the countryside area. This takes me through many small villages connected by a web of dirt roads and paths. There are a number of waterfalls and indigenous villages around here but my travels today don’t take me near any of them. This gives me yet another reason to return to this area.

As I ready my motorcycle for the days journey out of town I realize that this is the spot where my trip turns back towards home. Two more days and I will sleep in my own bed. I have never wished for a trip to end – no matter how long or challenging it may have been. This trip is no exception. Home is a good place but life on the road wins every time.

I have to decide if I will go to Kratie or just head towards home. Kratie is about one-hundred kilometers south of the road that takes me home. I will have to return the same one-hundred kilometers to get back on track if I choose to continue on to Kratie. Kratie is home to some of the last remaining Irrawaddy dolphins and it is a stop I wanted to make for months. I have some time on the road to make my decision before I have to turn south. This is time I don’t really need as my decision is made as soon as I sit on my motorcycle. I should have known I was going to stay in Kratie tonight!

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Irrawaddy dolphins on the Mekong River

Some of the best places I have found to eat are the small shops that serve only one thing. Here it is easy to order – just sit down and the food comes to you. No choices to make no confusion. Best of since they specialize in one thing it is usually great tasting food. You can tell by the number of people being served. This morning in Kratie I found one of those places.

The mother/daughter team served up a mean fish noodle soup for breakfast. Both of them performed their dutoes like clockwork. They worked in unison coming together as if they have been doing the same thing since the day they were born. The food was so good I wanted to order a second bowl but declined. 3,500 riel (85 cents US) for a delicious, filling bowl of goodness. When I return to Kratie I know where I will have breakfast!

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Mother and daughter breakfast duo in Kratie

After breakfast I head north back to Stung Treng. It is there where I cross the Mekong River with the setting sun coming closer to the horizon. My destination for tonight is Preah Vihear City – a place I have stayed a couple times in the past. I want to get to town before dark but as usual the road ahead of me is unknown and I don’t know what to expect.

This afternoon I am pleasantly surprised as this road turns out to be the best road of the trip. It looks relatively new and has little traffic. I am able to move along at a good consistent clip bringing me in to Preah Vihear City an hour before sunset. This road was a joy to ride on with a motorcycle – even one loaded up like mine.

Same guest house and same room as my past stays. Same price too. Seventeen dollars.

I wake up to no water in the guesthouse but that is not a problem. Since I am traveling with me, myself, and I there is little worry to offending anyone. Tonight I will be back in my apartment in Siem Reap and normalcy will sink in faster than I wish it would.

Today I won’t be taking the direct road to Siem Reap. I head towards Ta Seng which is a small village near Preah Kahn, Kompong Svay Temple. In December I spent some time at the temple but I want to find a more direct route from Siem Reap. I can easily find Ta Seng and then I will take the back road down to National Route 6. There I will turn right for my final leg to Siem Reap.

The road from Ta Seng to National Road 6 is a lot different than I expected. A lot less remote, mostly dirt, some pavement and lots of homes and villages to go through. I will have no problem reversing this route in the future to return to the temple. It is about sixty-eight kilometers from Ta Seng to the main road and it takes a little more than two hours to make the trip. One-hundred kilometers to Siem Reap. One hundred kilometers for the end of my motorcycle adventure.

Once on the main drag I stop at a gas station for my last ice cream of the trip. My back needs a little rest from the motorcycle and the equipment I have strapped to my body.

The sun sets as I arrive back in Siem Reap and another trip comes to an end. Twenty-nine days, four-thousand-five-hundred kilometers. Seven-thousand-two-hundred images. No major mishaps and great weather through most of the trip. I can’t wait to get out and do it again. Next time longer. And farther.

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