Another favourite part of the country to ride in is the North East & Tribal regions. Earlier this month we had the pleasure of taking Mark “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Beer Stop” Ben and Joe “The Alpha Male” [haha] on a nine day adventure from Siem Reap down to Phnom Penh. Experienced road bikers, they wanted to hone their off-road skills, and there’s no better place to do it than Cambodia. They were spoiled for choice from easy going dirt roads with awesome scenery, to technical rocky climbs, sand and deep rutted, muddy forest trails.
After going through the tour in Siem Reap we hit the trails. To gauge what they were capable of we threw them right in the mix, starting off with sandy single track. No probs. Then after an easy section we attempted to cut through the forest up to Srey Noy. Still being the wet season the trail gradually got more waterlogged and the trail more rutted. We had gone about 3km after the trail started getting tougher, when Joe dropped the bike. Unfortunately water got in through the air box. [2016 Drowned bike tally #6 ;)] water got into the engine, and I had to backtrack in search of oil. After an oil change and a fair amount of manhandling to get the water out of the bike, it was now 3pm and we still had a fair way to go. We opted for the shorter route out of the forest, stopping in Srey Noy for a light lunch. As it was the first day on the bikes the guys didn’t want to overdo it so they decided to jump on the highway up to Anlong Veng.
Next day, we headed up the Anlong Veng section of the Dangrek Mountains, which was the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, and the death place of Pol Pot. [See previous blog for more info on the area.] We spent a good part of the morning checking out the historical, albeit morbid sights, and exploring the exciting trails on the top of the plateau. The best section is out to Pol Pot’s “mountain retreat” where supposedly his horde of gold lay before it was pilfered…double standards aye! The boys enjoyed rocky rutted roads with little hill climbs, before we got onto single track through the forest. We had a tasty lunch overlooking Anlong Veng town and chilled in the hammocks before heading off to Preah Vihear. It was an easy dirt road which offered great views, and the famous Cambodian red dust. We made good time and checked out the ancient 11th century temple atop the Dangrek Mountains. Standing at 525 metres high it offered outstanding views of the surrounding countryside. It was very clear and we could trace the trails we had been on earlier in the day. After freshening up at the hotel we ventured out for Beef Soup; highly recommended after a day in the saddle!
On Day 3 we headed up to the Lao border, taking the easier route as the guys had struggled on Day One on the jungle trail. It was a fairly uneventful day, other than having to change some clutch plates, however we had a fair bit of distance to cover and it was a long day in the saddle as we sucked each other’s dust, arriving mid-afternoon, at SraLao; a tranquil riverside village on the border with Lao. We watched the day come to a close over some cool beers on the river. It’s a hard life on the road!
Our next destination was Ratanakiri province. Normally we would take the trail from Siem Pang to Ban Long town, but being a 100km stretch through the jungle in the wet season, the group decided to take the easier route, get a bit of sightseeing in, and just enjoy the ride. As you will find out in my next blog, even a 30km section through the jungle in the wet season can take 5 times as long as in the dry, and that goes for experienced riders as well. The thing is most people don’t get the kinds of conditions we have here in the wet season, so it is a real challenge for a lot of people, and safety is paramount at Kickstart. We try and give you the best off-road experience we can, but we have to make the call if it’s not going to happen, hard as it is. So today we checked out the magnificent rapids on the Mekong River, which were a raging torrent this time of year, and then had a nice boat ride further downstream and checked out the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins. In this section of the river there were only 4 left! This is mainly due to fishing and the dolphins getting accidently trapped in gillnets and drag nets and drowning
Once in Ban Long town, Ratanakiri province we had a rest day to rest tired limbs. After we cleaned and serviced the bikes we checked out the various waterfalls, scattered around the area, and the beautiful Yeak Loum volcanic lake. This province is home to the Khmer Loeu who are an ethnic minority in Cambodia. They seem to have integrated into society a lot more from when I first arrived. I don’t think this is necessarily a good thing; it’s good to keep ones roots. Back then you could see them go to the market in the mornings in their traditional clothing and headdress, but these days they area all wearing tracksuits…. chavs! Even their houses have been pushed further away as the town expands. The town itself has changed significantly from a red dust bowl, to a seemingly functional provincial town. Great that the infrastructure has developed for the locals, but I kinda miss the wildness of dusty, Cambodian towns.
Next day we headed back into the jungle, the boys were refreshed and up for giving it another go. After Lumphat town we jumped on to the old trail to Sen Monorom which used to be known as the Death Highway due to the insane conditions in the wet season. I remember getting stuck many times and camping in the early 00’s. Conditions were wet but the lads were having no problems. It had still been raining in the area and when we got to the first major river crossing we saw how much. I tried walking across and found it hard to stay upright due to the mass of water washing downstream The water was up to my ribcage, and we could have carried the bikes over no problems, but firstly the current was too strong, and secondly there was another river further up the trail which is larger and would undoubtedly be a mission to get across, if this river was this deep. Not wanting to risk getting there and finding we can’t cross, we had to divert back to the highway. After about 20 mins, we found a new trail which would enable us to skip the rivers and soon we were making great headway, with the boys really getting into their element as we tackled the jungle ruts and mud. However Mark, who don’t get me wrong is a solid rider, was struggling a little in these conditions and ended up burning the clutch. Still ride able we had 20km until we got out of the quagmire, and with the day running out, we didn’t want to risk completely burning the clutch and getting stuck. Towing a bike in these conditions is not fun…especially in the dark. I offered Ben & Joe to carry on with me, but as proper mates do they stuck together and again we had to head back to the highway on a different trail. We got in fairly late, but had an awesome feed to celebrate an awesome day of riding. You can’t say we didn’t try!
The next day was one of the slipperiest days on record, with all of us decking it. After Snuol town we headed up to the Vietnamese border to Chi Moan town. Most of the route took us through Rubber Plantations, which are intertwined with slippery hard packed, clay roads. To begin with it was fine as we headed up through the hills away from Snuol town, then as we entered the plantation this is when the fun began. If you’ve never ridden this surface before. it’s literally like riding on ice…no amount of experience or technique makes it easier. If you go faster it is easier to control the slide, but if you need to stop….you’re buggered. One particular section La went first, and then hit the deck. Hard. Then Mark followed, then Ben, then Joe, and finally yours truly! Absolutely hilarious, unfortunately didn’t have my GoPro on! Always the case! Joe also managed to snap the gear shifter in two. I have never seen this…plenty of times it bends, but never a clean break. After an awesome bush fix, consisting of x3 allen keys, electrical tape and gaffa tape [this stuff is otherworldly!] we were soon on our way. It was dusk now, and after another river crossing, we only had one more slippery uphill to go ,before the road got less slippery, and we soon rolled into Chi Moan. There was a BBQ beef volcano restaurant attached to the hotel, so we filled ourselves up there.
After a hearty breakfast of rice & pork; a Cambodian favourite, we were back in the rubber plantations and great sandy single track as we wound through the countryside to Kampong Cham province, where we stopped in La’s hometown and had lunch at his house. Then following the Mekong to our stop for the night, I proceeded to get 2 punctures within an hour. We were making good time until this happened, so ended up arriving late again. Kampong Cham, Cambodia’s sixth largest city is situated on the Mekong river and we watched the world go by as we enjoyed our dinner on the banks of the ancient river.
The last day we parted ways as I had to head back to Siem Reap to meet another customer who was joining us for our Tomb Raider tour. La took Mark & the crew down to Phnom Penh following the Mekong into the bustling Capital. I headed back up to Siem Reap following the back roads through Kampong Thom province. Half an hour in…another puncture! This wasn’t right so I took the tyre off and discovered that the wall of the tyre was torn inside, and coming apart. After taking the old inner tube and lining the tyre wall, I changed the tube and pressed on. Thirty kilometers from Siem Reap and half an hour of daylight left; another puncture…unbelievable! Still it could have been worse, and my tyre changing skills have certainly improved!
All in all, it was another awesome tour. I love being on the road and meeting fellow bikers. Seeing people progress and hone their skills as they come one with the bike is one of the most rewarding things about this job. Many thanks to Mark, Ben & Joe, It was a great laugh and I thoroughly enjoyed riding with you and getting to know you. I hope to see you all in the future. Keep Joe on a leash aye! All the best guys, Keep on ridin'! ;)