There are many reasons why riding in Cambodia is, in my opinion, one of the best places to ride in the world. Not only are we spoilt for choice with so many different types of terrain, which changes with the seasons, but the rich culture and history of this remarkable country, not to mention the people, make riding here truly unique. There really is something quite special about riding through the jungle on awesome terrain to find hidden temples and ancient artifacts, or camping out in places of natural beauty that are only accessible by dirt bike. I feel very privileged to be able to live & work here and call this home.
At Kickstart we design our itineraries to incorporate as much of this awesomeness as possible. Unless you are coming here to Cambodia specifically on a dirt bike tour, a lot of people don’t have much time when they are here, but you’d be surprised how much you can fit in a day or even a half day!
One of our customer’s favorite places to visit on the day tours is Phnom Kulen, a few miles north of the main Angkor complex. Kulen has major symbolic importance for Cambodians as the birthplace of the ancient Khmer Empire. It is scattered with hidden temples and ancient carvings on river beds and some which are carved into the mountain itself. A lot of these temples, which are part of the ancient city of Mahendraparvata on the Kulen plateau, are already well-known, but recently many more have been discovered under the thick forest using Lidar technology; a cutting-edge airborne laser technology used in archaeology to help map features that may be indistinguishable on the ground that you couldn’t see with the naked eye. It has revealed foundations, vast irrigation systems and a whole urban network including roads and dykes linking the temples, revealing the remnants of a city older than Angkor Wat. It is fascinating and awe inspiring when you realize the extent of the Khmer Empire back then.
Last month Pascal from Switzerland joined us for a ride here and although an experienced road biker he hadn’t driven off road before. It didn’t seem to be a problem, and he took all the sand, rocky climbs and descents that we threw at him in his stride. The best time to climb Kulen is as early as possible and preferably in the week to avoid the crowds. From the bottom of the hill to the rest stop near the main waterfall is about eleven kilometers of red graded road. There are a few steep climbs on the way with a few ruts from the run off in the wet season, but nothing too much. The fun trails are once you get up the top of the plateau and begin exploring. It wasn’t too busy so it took us about twenty minutes to get to the first bit of single track. We were heading to the infamous Bat Cave; a deep cavern that consists of a network of tunnels and caves which house Buddhist and Animist shrines. The trail out there was a mixture of sandy single trail and some technical rocky sections. Pascal seemed to be having a blast and we soon arrived at the cave. After parking the bikes, we climbed up the hill to the entrance of the cave. I would say the furthest cavern is around 100 meters or so into the mountain. It was a pleasant contrast to the heat from outside, and there was a refreshing cool breeze blowing through the tunnels. Water dripping off the ancient stalactites was surprisingly loud in the silence of these mysterious tunnels.
After being on a noisy dirt bike for several hours I could quite happily have strung the hammock up and had a little kip. But we had a job to do…. more riding! So after a little break we headed to the stone elephants at Srah Damrei. The ride up there was a little more technical with some tight, windy hill climbs and obstacles that kept us on our toes. Once there you have to leave your bikes at the top and there is a little walk to the stone animals. Set deep in the jungle, the elephants and lions have been carved out of the mountainside itself, and is a truly magnificent sight. Standing next to the statues you feel pretty insignificant.
We were feeling hungry so we headed back to the main lunch area and refueled with some traditional Khmer grub. After lunch we went for a swim in the icy cold pool at the bottom of the waterfall and had a look at the carvings in the river bed which depict figures of Yoni and Linga. They represent the male and female energies and hold a special significance to Hindus. Everything about Angkor, not just the temples has symbolic meaning, which makes it all the more an amazing experience.
It was getting late so we rolled back down to the surrounding rice fields, the afternoon sun filtering through the trees. We cut across land towards Phnom Bok hill through the surrounding countryside carving up desolate country trails, making the most of the last remnants of the wet season. Before we knew it we were back at Kickstart HQ and the end of another adventure.
Thanks for a great ride Pascal!