308km. 14th January.
Aad had spoken to Steve King, the owner of Panda Guesthouse in Siem Reap where we were staying and he had told Aad that the road from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh was in very bad condition with lots of roadworks, forcing oncoming traffic to share a single lane and had suggested that people should take the longer route via Battambang, but Karen and I had already booked our accommodation in Phnom Penh and needed to get there today, so we just prepared ourselves for a long day and whatever may arise, and had an early departure from our guesthouse.
Aad waved us off as we rode out, heading initially for breakfast in Siem Reap and stopping out the front of a Mexican restaurant, one of the few places open early enough to serve up food and coffee in time for us. The coffee was so nice I had two cups, whilst we enjoyed our cooked breakfast.
I tried to get some fuel before leaving town but couldn’t make any sense of what the servo we’d stopped at was pumping, so we pushed on – with about 305km to ride and 260km of fuel I’d need to find something down the road. The early morning traffic was getting thicker and more congested, but we made careful progress on the way out of town, eventually coming across a slow moving convoy of cars and open trucks following a couple of trucks full of people wearing white clothes and headbands, and a police vehicle in front with its red lights flashing. Once we had scooted past this convoy we were able to get up to a decent speed, enjoying the open road.
In the first 20km since leaving Siem Reap we did encounter some roadworks that made the riding quite difficult with very thick dust being thrown up by the trucks and cars obscuring our vision, so here I flipped on our hazard lights, hoping we wouldn’t get squashed in the dust. Once we’d cleared this section we found the road in good to great condition for the next 130km, with only a few more small areas of roadworks we needed to watch out for.
The countryside was pancake flat and predominantly rural, with just a few small villages and towns to break up the monotony of the flat horizon. In some places the road was built up high above the wooden houses below us, and many of these houses had a pond in front of them, often with a water buffalo wallowing in the muddy water as it enjoyed a rest.
We stopped for fuel, and a little while later stopped for a drink and some chips and stale Orio cookies – standard morning tea on the road here.
At the halfway-point we passed through Kampong Thma where the road direction changes from East to South, and we then had 70km of graded gravel road to contend with – very smooth, very dusty, and very difficult to see ahead through the dust clouds, but manageable – we cruised at 80kmh through this section. Some parts had been narrowed to 1.0 or 1.5 lanes wide but mainly it’s very wide, and minimal road work construction work was currently taking place. The last 80km into Phnom Penh was mainly on a wide four lane road with a central divider and light traffic.It took us 5.5 hours but that included a refuelling stop and a morning tea stop, so maybe 4.5 hours riding time in total.
Arriving in Phnom Penh I was grateful for our GPS leading us quickly and easily to our hotel, as the traffic in town was quite hectic, with heaps of 125cc motorbikes, tuk-tuks, cars, tourist buses and trucks all competing with pedestrians on the narrow roads. Arriving at our hotel – the Lance Court Hotel – it was apparent that we would need to park the bike up on the sidewalk in front of the hotel for parking, but th hotel assured us they had 24 hour security staff watching the parking area, so we checked in, unloaded the bike completely and then covered it up quickly, making it disappear under the cover.
The inside of the hotel stank – a truck had been parked up against the front door and was pumping crap out of underground tanks beneath the hotel and the air was rank with the smell. We went for a walk to get a late lunch and ended up at Sury’s Guesthouse one street up, where we enjoyed a cheap and tasty lunch.
Later that afternoon we took the short walk from our hotel to the riverfront – looking over the Tonle Sap towards where it converges with the Mekong, and taking in all the sights and sounds of Phnom Penh. Our hotel is on 136 Street, and a guide book I’d picked up and flicked through said that 136 Street was renowned for the number of hostess bars that populated the street towards the riverfront. Hmmm – I think Karen has landed us in the middle of the red light district here – that’ll make for a story or two I’m sure !!!