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.