And it was so worth it.
The other day, I saw Angkor Wat (which was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen). I had been told to rent a bicycle and see it that way. No tuk tuk or taxi, so you can do it all on your own time. So that was my plan and that morning I ended up meeting Laurie, a guy from Aus who was doing the same thing that day so we teamed up.
I had it in my head that I could be alone with all these trees and temple, see parts that few people knew about. Only because I had such nutty expectations, this one was kind of a let down (though now that I see this photo I realize I’m nuts and it’s amazing). I was telling this to a Canadian guy at my hostel that night and he said there is another one about a 40 minute drive out of town that’s way better. I asked if it was bike-able and he said “um no”.
Laurie and I looked it up and it was 50 km away according to google maps. My reaction to that was “ha, okay we’re not doing that”. But our day around Angkor Wat was about 38 km we realized, and I didn’t feel too dead after that. 38 km can’t really be all that different from 100 km right? Wrong, and I knew it was wrong immediately but hey, it was going to be an epic adventure.
We relied on Laurie’s offline google maps for most of the journey. For the first 10 km everything seemed fine and dandy (I mean we did bike down some dirt farm roads for a while and get a bit lost but that was fine). Then he checked his phone for directions and we had somehow missed a turn off. We circled back, couldn’t see anything that really looked like a road, circled again until we realized that this was what Google meant as a major road:
After figuring out the straightest path to get where we wanted, we stumbled across a massive temple (encouraging for us because it meant we were going the right way). We were stopped by a guard at the entrance asking us for our ticket. We asked him where to get it and he goes, “Angkor Wat”. That’s where we started, 2.5 hours before that.. So we just passed this temple by.
We got to the end of the road from the temple and it turned to the right. We stopped to check, but I was certain we went to the right. Nope. We went straight, down what can only be described as a trail, like a single mountain bike trail. But Google maps called it a road.
This happened to us tons of times after that because Google maps for Cambodia has the audacity to call this a road:
I have a bone to pick with Google.
Some of the conditions we biked through I couldn’t document because stopping wasn’t an option, like the farm track that was just potholes, hardened treads, sand and impending doom, or the one that was just sand, loose sand.
We emerged from the sand trap path and were lucky enough to pass through a little village (where everyone says hello to you). We bought some waters (for 25 cents together) from this little cutie with an amazingly appropriate shirt for our situation:
We were lucky enough to bike a solid 10 km on a hard road, but our luck ran out and we were back to sand traps and banking on Google maps to know where we were.
We did this for 6 hours.
Seeing a restaurant with the temple name was like seeing the pearly gates into heaven. And fried rice has never tasted better.
The last 5 km from the restaurant to the temple were the only moments where my spirits sank, mostly because my butt hurt so badly and my legs felt like jello. But like I said right at the beginning, this journey was so worth it. Beng Melea temple is so beautiful. It has this forgotten elegance and serenity about it, it’s hard to speak at full volume without feeling like you’re intruding.
After wandering around the temple and recuperating on this rock, I got to a moment where I started to genuinely wonder how we were going get home, because there was no way I could make it back on a bike. Absolutely not.
Laurie and I both had a similar idea: hitch hike. We weren’t at all sure if hitch hiking is a thing in Cambodia, and the people waving and sticking their thumbs back out at us for the first 10 km from the temple didn’t give us much encouragement. But after stopping for water, there was a guy in a pick up who seemed to understand what was going on. And the man, the legend, drove us at least 20 km down to the major highway. Bikes in the back with us, holding the truck closed and we couldn’t believe our luck.
We biked for what was probably 5 km on the national highway trying to hail down trucks and buses. Stopping for water seemed to be our golden ticket (maybe it’s because thumbs out on bikers is a bit confusing to everyone) because we managed to hail down a swanky local bus of some kind and stuffed our bikes in the luggage compartment.
Because sometimes you just need a selfie because you just cannot believe where you are. At this point my face and whole body were covered in a thick layer of red dust and sweat (I’m not really that red hued in real life).
The bus dropped us off the standard few kilometres out of town to give the insanely aggressive tuk tuk drivers a fighting chance for business. It was only 4 km so we just biked it, and were on the verge of delirium, shouting random songs, talking to motorbikers along the way, pointing out how beautiful the sunset was every 10 seconds.
I would say I wouldn’t do this again, but that would be a total lie. We saw real Cambodia and pushed ourselves further than we thought possible. I’ll be telling this story when I’m 80 and no one will believe it.
Until Next Time,