National Museum 18th Jan Phnom Penh
300km approx. 4.5 hours riding. Average speed – 64kmh.
For the past four nights our bike has been parked out the front of our dingy hotel, sheltered amongst a throng of scooters and motorbikes, all chained together and under the watchful eyes of the 24 hour security guards who are sometimes there and sometimes not. With these parking arrangements in mind I was up early this morning so I could move the bike out a bit before it got blocked in by any other bikes arriving for work today, and around 6:30am I was squeezing the bike out past its newfound scooter friends.
We loaded the bike quickly and Karen walked down to the Paddy Rice’s pub on the riverfront whilst I rode down. I parked on the riverfront road but that was a mistake as the morning traffic built up and a car that was parked and diverting traffic away from our bike moved off, exposing the bike to all the manic early morning bikes and trucks, so we pushed the bike back around the corner into 136 Street and relocated outdoor tables at Paddy’s so we could keep our watchful eyes on the bike. No one here in Cambodia has touched or interfered with the bike or our equipment but we still like to watch it when we’re out in public with it.
Breakfast was our standard fare at Paddy’s – eggs, bacon, sausages & toast – Karen gets my bacon and I get her sausage. On the bike we didn’t have too much trouble crossing the busy riverfront road to start our ride out of Phnom Penh, but shortly afterwards the GPS wanted us to turn the wrong way down a one-way street so we had to improvise for a while before we got into the right road, immediately bogging down in the stationery morning traffic.
It was a long, slow ride through the morning traffic and whilst usually I quite enjoy the cut and thrust of crazy riding in close traffic today I just wasn’t really in the mood for it and struggled to get a good rhythm going. Being passed by an old woman on a push bike whilst I sat stuck behind a big 4×4 going nowhere did nothing to improve my humour.
Motorbikes, scooters and tuk-tuks gravitate to the extreme right hand lane, cars travel in the centre lane, except when vehicles doing a u-turn (which is permitted at all the gaps in the central road divider) have stopped in advance of completing their turn – and at these points the cars spill into the motorbike lane and it all turns into a bit of a shitmix.
Eventually however the traffic started to thin out and we were able to chip away at our 300km target for the day, bound for Koh Kong, just 10km short of the southernmost Cambodian-Thai border crossing and last chance of accommodation before the border.
The countryside was rural and flat, cultivated land stretching out, occasionally interrupted by trees or little villages. A lot of trucks were heading in both directions and these were holding up the traffic a bit, breaking our rhythm and bringing on some nice overtaking moves – the bike howls like a banshee when it’s given a bit of throttle.
Around the halfway mark we pulled into a servo for some fuel, a cold Coke each and a chance to stretch our legs. At the nearby junction the road south headed to Sihanoukville, but we needed to head north from here, up into the Cardamom Mountains. The traffic dropped off immediately and the riding became more diverse and interesting as we climbed up the ‘mountains’ – peaking around 2,200m above sea level. We saw a few road signs warning about elephants, but we didn’t spot any unfortunately.
I’d guesstimated a 2:00pm arrival in Koh Kong and at 1:54pm we arrived at our pre-arranged accommodation – the Champ Koh Kong Guesthouse. The guesthouse was built in a large U shape, and was a bit south or the main intersection in town, just over the little bridge.
Neither the lady running the place nor her grandmother could speak English, so Karen needed to grab the iPad and show them our booking details, and chat with someone on the phone who relayed instructions to the first lady. We moved our gear into our log-cabin style room and covered the bike up – parked just outside – before walking into town for lunch.
The sun was scorching as we walked into town, and we were happy to find a place looking out across the river that served food, even if little birds were hopping around the counter and dogs were walking in and out of the kitchen. The beer was cold and the fried noodles with chicken tasty, and that’s all I needed.
The afternoon was spent doing chores at our guesthouse before we walked back into town on sunset to get some photos of the sunset behind the fishing boats tied up, and then had dinner again overlooking the river before I snapped some photos of the two old merry-go-rounds creaking and groaning on the foreshore.
Back at the guesthouse we were in bed early as I was knackered, but all sleep was interrupted about 9:30pm when a car pulled up in the car park outside, with the engine left running whilst the four occupants came to our door and started banging on it incessantly. I jumped out of bed and threw the door open and the four guys tried to barge into our room. Karen says one of them gave me a shove but I don’t recall that – I do however recall giving one of them a good shove back. Tit for tat really.
It only took them a couple of seconds to figure out that I wasn’t the person they were looking for – I guess standing in the doorway completely naked left nothing to the imagination, and they sheepishly apologised and backed off.
In the time it took me to grab a towel and go outside to make it clear I was pissed with them the guys had checked an adjacent room without success and were moving down the courtyard, apologising again as they walked past. I went back inside and the guys sat down at an outdoor table just outside our room.
Karen and I were completely perplexed regarding their motives and objectives. Initially I thought we were being robbed but that train of thought was quickly despatched. At least two of them had mag-light style torches on them, but none of them were wearing any kind of uniform and their utility vehicle had no official markings on it. Every now and then we could see from the torch beams sweeping across our window that they were patrolling the courtyard.
For the next ninety minutes or so we waited to see what happened as the guys chatted outside. Once or twice I thought I could hear a walkie-talkie being used, and eventually we could clearly hear a conversation (in Cambodian mind you so we couldn’t understand a word) over a radio, and shortly afterwards they all got back into their ute and drove off.
A very strange evening and not pleasant at all, but it could have gone much worse so we’re thankful that nothing else happened.
Footnote: the following morning as we rode out of town there was a large police presence cordoning off a government building as if they were expecting some big-wigs. Perhaps our late-night callers were police sent to ‘check on’ known agitators or trouble-makers before the big-wigs arrived – that may explain the mag-lights and walkie-talkies, the disciplined approach and their repeated apologies.