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Topic: One Dude's got a Rifle - a Cambodian Adventure  (Read 5599 times)

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servicerifle
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« on: February 28, 2011, 06:50:39 AM »

That's what I said to Keith right after two guys rode up on a scooter. Keith was rummaging around in the back seat as we sat on the side of the road - a dangerous road at night, even my Khmer standards- and we were dealing with our second flat tire in an hour. At 11pm. Yes, were doing it "all wrong" for sure and now trying to get from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh at night, we had quickly found a guy with an AK-47 strapped across his chest. Or rather, he had found us.

In order to really understand what was going on, I really should go back a few months. My work affords me a generous vacation plan, but there is an "anniversary date" restriction that means that I must "burn “a few weeks every February so I don't run over my accrual limit. As I was quite literally staring at a globe, wondering where I'd burn the two weeks (mostly on a bike of course), and trying to keep it atleast in the African or Asian continents, I simultaneously read several Ride Reports on ADV about Cambodian and Vietnamese riding trips. A few companies stood out in Cambodia and I won't bore you with the details. However, the reason Keith was on this trip is something worth explaining. Initially, when I first came up with this idea, I shared it with a Scot named Dave and a fellow American named
Jon. Both were keen on the idea (Jon was in S. Korea and a short and quick flight to BKK or Cambodia). Unfortunately, as time went by, life's complications got in the way for both those guys. I was looking at doing the whole trip alone. Since I have about 2 month's experience in Thailand, I knew I'd do ok alone anyway, but for the riding part it would have been better to have a mate along. Luckily, about a month from my departure date, Keith happened to make comment about riding in the Philippines or "somewhere around there" in Feb, but he didn't have a plan. It didn't take long for him to go all in on my plan and we were a team from that point. I did make it clear to him that one of my "must sees" was Angkor Wat, which was not near Phnom Penh, the city where our dirtbike tour company (Dancing Roads) was out of. We sorted the details, discussed our riding experience, (Keith was relatively a new rider, with zero dirt experience. I had about a day's experience, at most, and not even on a proper dirt bike, but my GS which is too heavy for that work).My only other (dirt) experience had been on a 125 dirt bike for a few hours, which I’d loved.  I consider myself an experienced street rider, which could cause some issues learning dirt, for sure. Dancing Roads assured us they could accommodate us with a route where the difficulty would escalate as our skills grew. No one expected us to be Dakar champs after a short vacation, but we did expect to be able to understand the dirt a little more. Briefly, our itenerary looked like this: We both would fly to Bangkok (BKK) the same morning, then fly to Siem Reap Cambodia the next day at noon. See Angkor Wat, Temple of Bayan, and then take a car down to Phnom Penh where we'd start the dirtbike tour the next morning early. Aggressive, but Dancing Roads took care of all the planning. After the riding, Keith and I would part ways, he'd have two days in BKK and I'd spend a week in Pattaya sippin' suds on the beach.

Our arrival into BKK was uneventful other than that we were two guys who really didn't know much about the other and were somewhat forced by circumstances to "get along" for the better of our mutual vacation interests. I was happy to see that every beer we had along the route showed us that we'd gotten very lucky with a riding partner. Similar interests and experiences had formed a common ground, we were gonna be ok.

Our first afternoon/evening in BKK had me running Keith around trying to show him some of the hotspots. I'm sure his head was on a swivel, mine was my first day there too! We ate on the roadside shanty kitchens and he picked up the local flavor fast. The nightlife in BKK is legendary to say the least, and was entertaining from a spectator's point of view for sure. We probably had a little too much to drink (a recurring theme) and as a result we probably slept in longer than we should have. We made the flight to Siem Reap nevertheless, and by the time we were on the ground we were feeling great.


Typical Bangkok street scenes:




Zoomed for your pleasure:



Next: Entry into Cambodia, and yes, there is riding coming up!!!  (BTW, I know all the riding will be dirt, but I hope here at STN this can stay in the "regular" ride reports as it should get more readership and perhaps inspire someone.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2011, 06:59:43 AM by servicerifle » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2011, 09:15:40 AM »

That's a nice looking ride!  Lol

Thanks for sharing and the pics...
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« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2011, 09:36:40 AM »

 :popcorn:  More.
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« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2011, 09:37:38 AM »


 :popcorn:  More.
:popcorn:
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« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2011, 10:02:11 AM »

 Thumbsup
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« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2011, 06:09:41 PM »

I am so inspired! Inlove
This is going to be great. Thumbsup
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« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2011, 10:56:04 PM »

Cambodia. I know what you're thinking. So was I. We all do. To a Westerner, Cambodia is what we see in Apocalypse Now with the tribal people on the river. Looming "savages" with spears. Arrows. Painted faces. Ok, maybe it's not like that "anymore." Now It's the refrain after the Khmer Rouge. Wonder what that looks like? It's the naked children shitting in streets, right? Well, I'll get to that.



We departed on our "adventure" to Angkor Wat and Bayan Temple. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I can put this part into words...


I'm not a religious man, not anymore. It just doesn't fit me. In most cases, particularly with Western and Mid-Eastern religions, I mostly have a problem with mindset. That, combined with my agnosticism, and I'm just not interested. But...Buddhism attracts me, I admit it. I still don't know about the God part, but I sure like the idea that Buddha learned so much about how to be good that he became god-like himself. Moreso, I like the readily visible parts of the Buddhist ethos, which includes a lot of smiling, politeness, peace, and general good karma stirring. Enough of me being wistful, but to understand these temples you have to at least discuss religion a little. Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure in the world. Let me tell you friends, the pics that you see in magazines or on TV don't do it justice. It's enormous. I simply don't have the words, and never will. The fact that people a thousand years ago built this, so beautifully with such crude tools is amazing. Its almost eerie. No, it IS eerie. I touched the stone. Something so magnificent must be touched, I wanted that connection with the people who were so far before me. I tried to imagine how strongly they must have believed in first Hinduism, then Buddhism (for AW) to put that much work into it. They say it took 100 years to build, I'm surprised it was done so fast. It is simply unworldly by today's standards.



A few pics of Angkor Wat (photos are wasted on this place anyway):






That's Sanskrit, folks!



A worker (barefoot) running a "jumping jack" compactor (ouch!) at the Ankor Wat area. They are repairing part of the walls of the moat at the bridge.


I'll post several more Angkor Wat and Bayan photos later this evening in a separate post to this thread.


We moved on to Bayan Temple, (the one with the giant faces). Our guide said something funny, but it became clear he wasn't being humorous. He said, all of the faces are smiling, some have to smile, and some want to smile" As part of the Buddhism principals, smiling is compulsory. I understood that part, but you could really see it on some of the faces, such art...so long ago.







More pics coming...

After the temples we ate dinner in Siem Reap and got on the way toward Phnom Penh. Our first flat was impressive in that our driver was even faster than me at changing a wheel. It must have taken him 5 minutes start to finish. On the other hand, our second, after we had used our spare, well, that was a little more involved. That brings us up to where I started this story. There we were, two gringos with a pile of gear and no idear, on the side of the "dangerous highway" in Cambodia, two flats, in the dark, on the inside of a curve with big trucks flying by at speed.


Our two flats, as if you've never seen this before:




Luckily, we both have had our share of "what to do when in 'indian country' classes (Keith to a much greater extent) but I certainly wasn't in that mindset at the moment. Out of nowhere a couple of guys rode up nut-to-butt on a scooter. I told Keith they were coming, as he was digging in the floorboard of the car for something (flashlight?) and didn't see them...we were somewhat happy that *someone* was going to help. I didn't think much of it until the one on the back stepped off and there was an AK-47 across his chest. Loveley. No, he was not wearing a uniform, but rather a soccer jersey, shorts, and obligatory flip-flops. I thought, "This vacation just went from awesome to 'Locked Up Abroad' really fast, shit!" I casually turned my head away from them and toward Keith who was still in the floorboard and said "One dude's got a rifle" as quietly and as gently as possible.  I did not want those guys to get the idea we were spooked, especially since Keith was all bent over and couldn't defend himself all hunched over.  I also didn't want him to jump up fast. Well, that got his attention, too, of course. He stood up quietly and casually.  Out with the smokes was our first thought, we'd brought some real-live American Marlboros along just for this occasion (I don't even smoke!) We were both floored when we offered a smoke to the two guys and they both said in very broken English "We no smoke, we police, bad for the heart" Wait, you're the Police? No uniforms, no nothing? And you don't smoke? Doesn't everyone smoke in this part of the world (they certainly do in Thailand!). They pointed at the *TINY* wording on their scooter that said "Police" hmm, well, they were smiling and appreciative, so this might work out anyway. In a few minutes they rode off, so fast in fact we didn't even get a pic of them nor the look on my face when I was shitting my pants. Damn. We gotta be better on that camera work, You'll just have to take my word for it.


 Traveler’s Paradox: This morning, as I was thinking of posting this update, I realized I’d left out so much already (though there are several segments to come). I have a particular distaste for places with lots of tourists. I particularly dislike being so far from my home and having more Westerners around than locals (restaurants in Phnom Penh). I suppose some of them feel the same way. I think oftentimes, people will book a “holiday” to an exotic location and then cling to the only things they recognize as familiar in order to escape the fear of the unknown. I won’t pretend to be ultimately brave or stupid, but sitting around the Western cafes and restaurants in the big cities just puts me in a bad mood.

Places like Cambodia are a paradox. You want to see it for yourself, but you know that by the mere act of seeing, and more so by the act of telling, you will change it. I believe that my experiences on this trip allow me to understand the world better, and because of that I hope that I will continue to expand as a “World Citizen.” The price for my growth is the awakening of those who had never seen a Westerner before. I truly hope that while my ride report may provide inspiration for someone else’s adventure, that it won’t accelerate a “spoiling” of Cambodia, and in particular the Khmer people, though I realize that is somewhat impossible. I am part of the problem. The next updates will show faces of the happiest people I have ever seen in the world. I saw them from the seat (and pegs) of a motorcycle. I was far from the cities, places that tourists rarely go, and it was written on the people’s faces. They were so happy, not only to see us, but just to be alive. I can’t help but wonder if that’s still a part of the “deep breath” the country is taking after the Khmer Rouge, or if it is just in their nature. Either way, I was utterly charmed. I hope you are too.
« Last Edit: March 01, 2011, 10:15:16 AM by servicerifle » Logged
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« Reply #7 on: March 01, 2011, 04:35:32 AM »

Temple pics, as promised:

Vishnu:




Note the bullet holes Sad


Rendered headless, after civil war:


This entire wall was COVERED in intricate carvings, all the way around the inside wall.


























BTW, if you have gone to my Smugmug site to look at the rest of the photos, I'm still populating and it's under password.  Once I get the whole RR up, I'll drop the password and you guys can see all the extra pics.
« Last Edit: March 01, 2011, 10:22:00 AM by servicerifle » Logged
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« Reply #8 on: March 01, 2011, 01:04:43 PM »

Hey guys, I get it, you won't be happy 'till there are bikes. They will start in the next update and continue forthwith, I promise!   Burnout
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« Reply #9 on: March 01, 2011, 01:13:12 PM »

I love the Angkor Wat photos.   Thumbsup

I thought it was always a Buddhist location - interesting tidbit that it was first Hindu and dedicated to Vishnu.  

 :popcorn:
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« Reply #10 on: March 01, 2011, 11:52:37 PM »

 Bigok More please. I will be patient.  Bigsmile
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« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2011, 12:51:34 AM »

This sort of friendly treatment didn't end with the "Police."  It continued the entire time Keith and I were in Cambodia.  Far friendlier and more helpful than the average Thai experience (sorry Thai friends, but I think a lot of folks are justifyably getting tired of farangs...Khmers aren't tired of us...yet)  Anyway, another driver for the same company was just ahead of us by 15 minutes or so, turned around, and came back to give us his spare.  Now we were two cars with no spare, but we both made it into Phnom Penh with no more troubles. We thought briefly about taking the short walk (100m) into the heart
of Phnom Penh nightlife (which I assure you BUSY) but instead I popped a Tylenol PM and was out in no time flat.

A street view from my hotel room looking down the street, in Phnom Penh.  The river is called the Tonle Sap.  Interestingly, it changes direction twice a year.  Phnom Penh is the meeting point of the Tonle Sap, the Mekong, and the Baasac Rivers.


The next morning was our first dirt day.  We were taken to the Dancing Roads office, met Paeng, our guide, and quickly began to set up our Giant Loop Coyotes on the bikes (Honda 250R's I think?).  Setup was quick and we were off in reasonable time.   I know Keith was a little nervous, and we had our first little challenge when we needed to cross a rail line.  It was imperative that we crossed at a 90 degree angle and unfortunately Keith didn't, so he would up walking the bike about 4m down the track with one wheel on one side and the rear on the other, finally dumping it unceremoniously in front of some kids.  Man that took some pressure off of me, thanks Keith!  Sadly, he kinda bummed up his hand a little, but it never kept him from riding the week so after a little work we were off again.  Unfortunately, there's no pic of Keith in the dirt.  My camera was in my Giant Loop (stupid, I moved it later), and it was over too fast.  No worries, there are pics of me and Paeng in the dirt (coming up) to make up for it.

I was super careful across the tracks and made it across ok.  We then took off across simple dirt roads getting away from Phnom Penh at a slow rate.  Paeng really did  a great job of not going too fast for us early in the trip.  In retrospect went sloooow but at the time it was plenty fast enough.   As the day and days wore on, the speed and difficulty did indeed increase, we were eventually doing the same roads at 80km/hr or better with ease.  Anyway, on our first day our route was to take us to Kep.  

The riding today was all dirt roads full of potholes.  And these potholes were not your typical American potholes, my friend, these things were a foot or two deep, and many (most) stretches of road looked more like a bombing range than a road.  Paeng was making it look easy, weaving through the potholes between them on the 5" wide track between them but our skills didn't accommodate such pleasure. Instead, we exercised the suspension of those bikes as they'd probably never been exercised before.  Hell, I felt like apologizing to Paeng that I was hitting every hole in the road.  Eventually, a day or two later, my skills grew so that I could also pick my way, but not today my friends, no, today was "listen to the suspension and get a good workout" day.  I slowly began to put to used my "book learning" from reading so many editorials on ADV about dirt riding and even found myself getting on the throttle harder and having FUN.    As we got farther from the city, the buildings began to change.  The homes were now little more than elevated platforms with a roof.  Many didn't have walls at all, only a single layer palm leaves hanging from the roof to act as a privacy screen that you could still see all the way through. While this may provide great ventilation, I'm sure that it's a total pain when it rains.  This was confirmed later when speaking to a girl who grew up in such a home near Kampot (a town we'd visit the next day).

Here's Keith, taking a superhero pose.    


Me, looking at a guy carrying three (live) ducks on his scooter.  He had them tied by the feet hanging upside down, lol.  Dinner!



Here is Paeng, a photo from later in the trip, but good for intros:



Somewhere along the road here I got a flat on the rear and that of course stopped us cold.  We pulled over to a local village (we were only about 100m from it) and Paeng set to work.  I held the bike up balanced on the sidestand while he worked on the tube.  Keith took over historian duties and recorded the event.  We wound up changing the rear tube twice because the first one had a leak too.  Check out how the patch tubes here...they say the glue types don't work in the heat, so they melt them on.  Yes, that's a piston they're using as a press!  Basically they heat up the press super hot by burning “something” in the piston, then put the patch and the tube in the press and melt it on, pressing it simultaneously.  

Here's Paeng and me working on my rear tube, the whole village came out to watch!:


Preparing the piston for the press:


Tube repair:


Gotta keep your wits about you, we were certainly the fastest thing on these roads, but not the heaviest:


We visited with a girl who sold fresh black pepper at a roadside stand.  Paeng bought a big papaya which I thought we'd eat later that
day.  I don't know what it is about the women here, but they are all so attractive, and have such a kind face.  One could certainly be sucked into a permanent life here, without too much arm-twisting.  

Arriving in Kep, we were floored by the beauty.  We were pretty damned dirty by this point having ridden on dirt the whole way, and despite our noobness we were feeling our oats.  Imagine the contrast we felt when we arrived in Kep, an obvious resort town on the Sea of Thailand, with Westerners being carted around in Tuk-tuks and the beautify Sea view before all of the  resorts.  Needless to day, we didn't really fit in.  Oh well, we were quickly signed in to our resort which was very nice, and washed our clothes in our sinks and hung them up for the next day.  Laundry, at least on a limited basis, was done every day just to keep the dirt in our bags to a minimum.

Kep photos:


The old King's house in Kep.  It faced the waterfront and was attacked by ships The Khmer Rouge (nothing like having my RR graded real time, thanks Sonia.   Rolleyes :






Many more pics coming for the next riding days, stay tuned!
« Last Edit: March 02, 2011, 02:49:07 AM by servicerifle » Logged
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« Reply #12 on: March 02, 2011, 11:36:59 AM »



Zoomed for your pleasure:



Thank you, thank you very much....and oh yes, the rest of the RR was also very good!   Thumbsup
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« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2011, 01:47:20 PM »

 Thumbsup Thumbsup

 :popcorn:
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« Reply #14 on: March 02, 2011, 01:56:42 PM »

Your Cambodian adventure was aces! Can't wait to read more.
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« Reply #15 on: March 02, 2011, 02:14:13 PM »

Several more day's worth to come, I will post more in the (Kuwait) morning.

Tombstone, just making sure to bring the ADV to this ADVenture!   Lol

Unfortunately, I FELL on my camera and some pics of leggy ladies turned out all blurry. There was one girl at the Vietnamese border that nearly made my knees buckle.  When I see an outrageously beautiful woman my hearing goes out.  Keith was blabbing on about something and after she rode off on her scooter I made him repeat himself.  LOL. The pic's so crappy you might as well use your imagination.

I sure am...right now!  Hey, get outta here, can a guy get some privacy?!



OK, more coming tomorrow! (your tonight!)
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« Reply #16 on: March 02, 2011, 02:57:23 PM »


Tombstone, just making sure to bring the ADV to this ADVenture!   Lol



Sweet! Keep em coming!
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« Reply #17 on: March 03, 2011, 12:31:00 AM »

The next day Paeng was a little concerned about taking us into the Cardamoms as we'd originally planned.  Keith was doing great, but he didn't have sufficient body armor and was justifiably a little nervous about getting into single track.  He was very concerned that I was going to miss out on what I wanted to do, but I explained to him that he was really just holding me back from being stupid.  We agreed that my desire for increasing my skills probably outranged his, but Paeng accomodated me later in the trip.  Today though (our second day) Paeng re-routed us through fishing villages along the coast.  The riding still increased our skills, as we had a lot of sand to contend with. Between roosting each other in deep sand and riding the *very narrow* paths between salt farming beds we visited fishing villages.  In one particular area, the narrow path was only tire-track wide with about a 2’ drop on each side…no problem when going straight, but then there was a damned 90 degree turn to the left!  I didn’t think and “dabbed” as I went around the corner, but of course there was no ground below!  My inertia by that point was too much and over me and the bike went.  Luckily, after we all got the bike up (it was nearly upside down with the path above us) Paeng also dumped it.  

Shouldn't have dabbed!


Paeng to the rescue!


Or not.







Me.






Breathtaking photos from Paeng of a fishing village we stopped at:







These villages were usually no more than 20 people it seemed.  At one village, a man and woman sat on the ground repairing a fishing net while two girls studied a book on a hammok.  We played with their family pet, the monkey, who tried to take my face off.  Another village, a room full of guys were sitting around drinking rice wine and doing not much of anything else all day.  They were very welcoming and we wound up having a seat with them and indulging them with a small sip of their drink.  It was far weaker than I expected, but I suppose if they sat there all day they'd be pretty tanked.  Paeng
eventually decided he needed to ask us for an idea...he said "do you want to go to the Vietnamese border?"  "YES" we said resoundingly. Unfortunately, there's something of a no-man's zone at the border, and along with the warning that if we went into Vietnam, we couldn't get back into Cambodia from there, all we could really do was just take a few photos and move on.  Oh well.

Village where we had some rice wine:



















We couldn't figure out why that guy was wearing the hat.  It was really hot out!





We also rode by Paeng's hometown (near the Vietnam border):







After our stop at the border, we went north and found ourselves at Paeng's village where he grew up.  It was quite hot so we didn't really eat all day, but instead just ate some papaya Paeng had been carrying ALL DAY, from the day before with the pepper girl!!!  I don't know about you, but I wouldn't really enjoy riding awkward terrain with a huge papaya in my backpack (it was probably about 2 kilos and oddly shaped).  Eventually, after more sand riding, we made our way to Kampot which is West of Kep (we made a circle from Kep, first East to Vietnam, then North, then past Kep and farther West to Kampot). Kampot is a small town on the side of the Kampong Kandal river, which flows out to the Sea of Thailand.  Paeng performed some needed bike maintenance while Keith and I explored the town.  I got a leg massage while he enjoyed the impressive views (of both the river, and other stuff) while sipping on some cold beers.  By the way, we made the determination that the women of Cambodia are hands down prettier than the Thai girls.  Sorry Thai friends!

Kampot:







Keith made the mistake of ordering food and eating early, as Paeng caught up with us and told us we were all going to a "Cow Barbeque" a few blocks over.  Well, Keith found some room somewhere as we all strapped on the feedbag for this delicious meal.  The beer girls kept the beer flowing and we all
had a great time late into the night.

Cow Barbecue:


Drunken attempt to take a photo of the beer girl:
« Last Edit: March 03, 2011, 12:32:34 AM by servicerifle » Logged
JimWilliamson
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Years Contributed: '06, '07, '08, '09, '10
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« Reply #18 on: March 03, 2011, 12:45:02 AM »

WhooHoo - another installment!!

Fun reading - thx  Bigok
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servicerifle
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« Reply #19 on: March 04, 2011, 12:36:32 AM »

Very busy this morning, I'll post another update when I can.

Meanwhile, are there any questions, comments?  Is there anybody out there?  lol
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