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Published: January 31st 2018
Overall Cambodia is a very interesting country to visit with lots to see over the two weeks of cycling. The planning was excellent and the guides from Peak DMC were first class, looking after us really well.
The temples were interesting and were worth the visit and we were not overkilled with too many of them. We had some pesterers selling things, but not overly so. Sihanoukville was a bit disappointing through being dirty and untidy for a seaside resort and had several people begging on the street and beach. The main beach would be good but for the litter and raw sewage draining into it. There is another cleaner beach 2km away but it is still scruffy and disappointing to see our first obese westerners waddling down the street. Almost all of the country is full of litter, plastic, bricks, scrap vehicles, paper, rocks and rotting food and sewage, which is typical of SE Asia. It just needs a change of attitude of the population and the local councils. We saw two refuse lorries in Phnom Penh during our stay, so they are trying - I think? There are several other worries. One is the cock fighting
that goes on, which I think is actually illegal, but not sure, and the other is the sale of songbirds crushed together in small baskets in Phnom Penh by the river. The cities are very busy and the main roads are also quite busy but are not normally threatening as speeds are not excessive. There is often a shoulder but this can be of if dirt and can be rough. The only really unsafe road was the first half of the road from Kampot to Sihanoukville where there were loads of heavy 10 wheel tipper lorries going quite fast and close. One hazard we encountered was that whilst they drive on the right, many choose to drive on the left to save crossing the road. One of our group hit a motorcycle doing this on a dual carriageway causing some injury and wrecking of a front wheel. It could have been much worse. Apparently lorries are supposed to be tested annually, like in the UK, but it is not enforced resulting in some weary looking trucks on the road. One day we saw a pair of lorry rear wheels in the road with some greenery stuffed on top to warn
us of the rest of the truck laid at a jaunty angle in the road with its axle on the tarmac. Later we saw an articulated trailer on its side with the tractor unit 20 metres away looking sorry for itself under a tarpaulin sheet. During our stay we cycled along a great number of interesting tracks and rough roads, which were not too bad to negotiate, since most riders had mountain bikes and it is testimony to the skill and determination of our group that they did it without question. Bravo. The modes of transport are an eye opener with the majority on small motorbikes and then lots of expensive cars such as Lexus 4WD, Toyota Land Cruisers, Camry’s and crew cab pickups. For haulage there are Japanese lorries of all sizes but most goods are moved by motorbikes of up to 175cc pulling trailers (remorques). Many are larger than any we would see at home behind a pickup truck loaded with heavy weights such as 8 motorbikes or up to 15 people. The size and range is incredible. The best routes for us were on the minor roads, usually of gravel and sand through small villages in the
jungle, where young children rush out to shout ’Hello’ and wave frantically, often giving a high five as we passed. Visits to temples, pepper farms, sticky rice businesses, fish factories, rice paper, dried banana slices, brick and pottery works and salt works were interesting and enhanced the experience.
We worked out how to cross a busy city road - just go for it when you see a small gap and keep going. Be brave. The temperatures were higher than expected with most days approaching 40 degrees until the end when they were in the high 20’s to low 30’s. Several people were bitten by mozzies, or flies, and I cannot believe that I never got bitten during the whole trip as they usually use me as a primary food source. I have been taking vitamin D and B tablets for several weeks as I was told they may deter them. No scientific evidence and poo poo’d by some but maybe it worked for me, who knows why I escaped their jaws and proboscis’? Even our local guide got bitten several times. We visited the Killing Fields museum and S11, the Khmer Rouge interrogation centre in Phnom Penh. Both pretty grim,
and it brought home how people can be indoctrinated to act so inhumanely to one another. There were loads of skulls and bones etc in the Killing Field but I found S11 the more disturbing. It had small cells just big enough for one man to lie down on the bare floor in almost darkness. Other rooms had chains for stretching and tourturing its victims. The instructions of interrogations are included in the following photographs- pretty upsetting. The current political situation is also quite disturbing as the popular opposition party has just been banned as a threat to democracy and deemed immoral. The current leader is ex Khmer Rouge and perhaps is frightened of losing power. The world is still a dangerous place for many. The Tonle Sap and Sangker River cruise was a highlight, as was the wedding party blocking the road with their dancing, to which we were asked to join in. The food in Cambodia was really good, tasty and low cost, so much so that when we were offered western food we declined. However, some drew a line at barbecued rat which I found quite tasty. The deep fried tarantulas, frogs, grasshoppers and scorpion were also
good, but I thought the scorpions were a just a bit chewy. One of my favourites was the fried noodles with veg and chicken, I need that recipe. I liked the fact that most food stops had hammocks available for anyone to rest in which is great when the temperatures are so high. I liked them that much that I bought one for $5 - bargain. I now need some good weather at home so that I can use it. There is a big gap between rich and poor, with the rich driving big cars and claiming the road at speed with their hands on the horn and typical of the Far Eastern countries. The poor are living in the country on dirt roads in houses on stilts with farm animals underneath. They may have a small vegetable patch and walk barefoot or wear flip flops and walk, cycle or go to work standing in the back of a truck. That is if they can find work, which I suspect is difficult to find in the sticks. There was one road on the way to Takeo which had professional beggars on each side of the road and some motorists were
throwing money at them. Not all beggars appeared undernourished, however, and could be a lifestyle choice for some, although poverty was certainly evident in many places. School is free up to the age of 12, when most leave, if you can find a school near enough to your home and you can get there. Each child is allowed 4 hrs schooling each day. Any further education after 12 must be paid for and is a problem for the poor to get a good enough education to move up in the world.
Cambodia looks like it is recovering slowly from its violent past and is full of young people eager to do well especially in tourism which is expanding and an important generator of income.
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