Excess and Deficiency

In countries labelled ‘less developed’ and alike, there will be excess and deficiency. When you cross the border the changes strike you straight away

The first thing that struck me in Laos was the excessive number of Toyota Hilux’s, it wasn’t a surprise to learn that they were built in neighbouring Thailand. But to balance out the excessive number of Hilux’s was a severe deficiency in pants for children, registration plates for motorbikes and women drivers. These were hard to spot. Ryan and I started a version of the punch buggy game where if you spotted a kid wearing pants then you got to hit the other person. Unfortunately this ended up with us riding into a town then randomly breaking into violence which is never a good look. We cancelled the game shortly after it started.

In Cambodia, the excess was flat straight boring roads and pajamas. Any time of the day, anywhere, a good proportion of the women were in their flannel pajamas in teddy bear print with Chinglish slogans such as ‘good beer’. I wasn’t prepared to accept that half the countries women never got out of their pajamas, so I went into research mode.

I did my research riding in and around Chi Phat in the Cardamon mountains. Most of the riding I ‘d done in Cambodia was either unrewardingly difficult, or dead boring (that was definitely in excess). The Cardamon mountains, which run along the Southern coast, are a welcome change to the flat and hot centre of Cambodia. Due to the tough terrain there are only a few roads through and their quality and existance are both questionable. Interpret that as ‘open for adventure’.

Chi Phat is an ex logging and poaching town that turned to eco tourism using a commuinity based model and has done a fantastic job of it. The area has waterfalls, jungle and archeological sites and the ex-poachers have retrained as forest guides for trekking, mountain bikeing tours etc. There are plenty of homestays and guesthouses in the village and surrounds. The locals were always chatty and keen to practice some English. I went for one night and stayed for three.

In Chi Phat my pajama research noticed that flannel was not worn first thing in the morning, nighties were the popular choice. Therefore, the ettiquette was to wake up and put your pajamas on. An awesome concept. I also started checking out the markets and found an issue that I never resloved. The markets sold clothes. The type that should be worn outside. Pajamas only made up a small proportion of the stock in the markets, but a large portion of the clothes worn. I can only assume that pajamas are in such demand that they can’t keep them in stock.

In Chi Phat I bumped into Petros, a Greek cyclist that I’d met in passing two days before. Both of us were heading similar directions towards Thailand, although he was staying in Cambodia, and we were keen to leave the town via a jungle trail rather than the highway. By yourself, the concept of heading along an unmarked trail was a bit daunting, but with company it was possible. We knew motorbikes could make it through and it would be two days on push bike with a decent sized town to sleep at in the middle.

After asking 5 people, the 6th person seemed to know the way and gave us some instructions. The first day into the jungle to Thma Bang, the second day coming back out onto the highway and up to Koh Kong. My favourite part of the instructions was ‘Turn right at Thma Toeng.’ to which the obvious question was ‘Whats at Thma Toeng? How do we know when we’re there?’. ‘Oh, there is nothing at Thma Toeng’. ‘Okay, so when we get to the place that looks like everything else, we turn right, got it’.

So we bravely headed off, riding fully loaded touring bikes on what should have been ridden on a mountain bike. The single track deteriorated as the jungle encroached with foilage hitting your handlebars on both sides and the hills got steeper. 3 hours in the middle of the day went to a couple of kilometers of pushing up a hill. The bridges got progressively more minimalist and the adventure got better and better.

Fresh and excited at the start of the day

 

The right hand pole of this bridge also rolled if you weren't careful.

 

Uphills were often pushedHandlebar width was all you got in some places

By 3pm we made it to the Areng, the village 15km before our destination for the night. We had a bite to eat then left by wading across the river, just next to the ‘Crocodile Santuary’ sign. A quick game of charades with the local kids said the crocodiles were up river a bit, but we took one of the kids across the river with us just to be safe, though he was pretty skinny so I doubt he wouldn’t have helped.

From Areng to Thma Bang was back on a roads, but full of hills with plenty of pushing and masses of rutting. Coming in the opposite direction were locals on motorbikes, fully loaded with rice and provisions and the wife/girlfriend in pajamas barely holding on at the back. The rider would have the same nonchalent look on his face that you or I have as we drive to the shops, except he was decending down a rutted gravel road that Petros and I were struggling to push our bikes up.

We made Areng just in twilight with that exhausted but smiling look after an awesome days ride. We were looking out for a place to sleep when a local lady with a restaurant called out to us ‘Hello, your friend already here’. And sure enough, there was a Belgian cyclist already in town coming from the opposite direction. We convinced him to come to Koh Kong with us so that he and Petros could cross the entire Cardomon mountains together, about 5 days of backroads and trails.

I’ll let photos talk about the scenery and adventure. But here are some quick stats to put things in perspective. In the previous 4 months of riding, I had crashed 3 times and got one flat and lost one camera. In 3 days of riding jungle trails with Petros I crashed 4 times, got one flat and cracked the screen (but it still works) on my camera. It was like the compact edition of cycle touring, all the adventure squeezed into 3 days and was my favourite riding to date. My legs are covered in scratches from the jungle and I’m paranoid about another infection, I’ve got the betadine out already.

A bunch of these photos (the quality ones) are Petros’, he’s a cinematographer hence his composition is brilliant. Check out the pics of the snake.

James

About shuttrjames

I`m riding a bike through SE Asia. i come from a country where we only speak english, have good maps and no hills. Here. I am in trouble! Follow me to get lost in the back roads of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. james
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