Come Heat or High Wind

Today was probably our most difficult ride to date: 104 kilometers from Sihanoukville to Kampot. 104 kilometers doesn’t sound that bad, but our pedaling time was 7 hours, 10 minutes, and 55 seconds due to some intense heat coupled with a ferocious headwind that never let up for the entire ride. We were on the road for 10 hours and had to apply sunscreen every hour because of the blistering sun. The wind was so strong, we struggled to hit 12 km / hour for most of the ride even though it was pancake-flat and Sarah was feeling dizzy from the heat and exertion. To make matters worse, the Asian sunscreen we bought in Bangkok absolutely sucks. For some reason, it makes you sweat more than normal and the sweat doesn’t evaporate. You are just covered with a slimy layer that feels disgusting. Luckily, we bought two other bottles of a European brand that we will switch to once we use up this disgusting stuff.

We also got our first real taste of Cambodian drivers and roads today. At first we started out on National Highway 4, which was a nice and smooth asphalt surface with lane markers and a hard-packed dirt shoulder.

After about 50 kilometers, we switched to National Highway 3 which was a little worse. The road is extremely wide with no lane markings. The surface is chip-seal with a layer of loose gravel over the top. Most of the gravel had collected on the edges of the road so we road towards the center.

Cambodian drivers are very different from Thais. In Cambodia, drivers use their horns all the time. Some drivers honk once or twice as they approach to pass you. We can appreciate this. Others honk five to eight times as they approach. This is ridiculous and annoying. Still others simply lay on their horn as they drive down the road, letting up to give their hand a rest every once in awhile. This is the worst of all. There is absolutely constant honking on the roads, with no logic that we can discern. So much so that honking has has lost its meaning and people just pretty much ignore what’s going on behind their vehicle. We were a little nervous when we first experienced this, wondering if we were about to get run over, but then we realized that everybody just loves to honk. In Asia, right-of-way is based on vehicle size, so on bicycles we are only above pedestrians on the food chain. If traffic was coming from both directions, we would have to pull off the road onto the shoulder to let everyone pass. Traffic was light on both of these roads though, so we didn’t have to pull off very often.

From the very start of this ride, we were struck by how much more green and open it is here compared to Thailand. We actually felt like we were in the countryside again. We passed some beautiful rice paddies with farmers working the fields with water buffalos and hand plows.

This woman was kicking muddy water onto her yoked buffalo to cool them off. They seemed to enjoy it.

It seems like everywhere you look here, there is a sign for the ruling party, the Cambodian People’s Party. Here is one particularly large one in the middle of some rice paddies.

After about two hours of riding, we had only covered 30 kilometers and realized this was going to be a very long day. We decided to find some food, so we pulled off the main road onto a small dirt road leading to a tiny village. We found a woman selling some sticky-rice wrapped in banana leaves from the back of her bicycle, and we bought a couple of different kinds. Sarah got one large one filled with some kind of fruit which we have never tasted before. I got another large one filled with either bean-paste or egg; we couldn’t decide which it was. We also got a bunch of small ones filled with toasted coconut. These are by far our favorite. The total for everything was only 1000 Riel (US$0.25)!

Eating in general has been very difficult for us here in Cambodia. In a lot of these small villages, we attempt to speak Khmer but the Cambodians assume we are speaking English and can’t figure out what we are saying. When we say things like “fried noodles” or “prepared food” in Khmer, they just shake their heads and try to find someone who speaks English. We have even gone up to a lot of restaurants and said “Coca-Cola” and they look at us bewildered. Then an English-speaking Cambodia comes over and says the exact same thing and two cokes are produced. The other problem is cleanliness. In one village, we looked around for a restaurant and chose the place that seemed like it would be the best. It was large, looked clean, and was actually inside a building instead of a tent. However, our cokes were served with glasses covered in some sort of unidentifiable white slime and the bowl that the fried dough was served in was covered in a greasy later of grime. Check this out.

So we have pretty much given up on eating at village restaurants here. We usually just go to the markets where we can get fruit and point at the ready-made items like fried bananas and sticky rice that we want. We also stop at convenience stores often to rest in the shade and cool down with a cold drink. I usually go for coke and Sarah always drinks soy milk which seems to be a very popular drink here. Here is Sarah resting at one of these stores.

All these stores also sell gasoline. Here is a typical Cambodian gas station.

It doesn’t seem like these villages see many tourists because everyone seems so surprised to see us. Some people just stare and laugh, but most people yell “Hello” at us as we ride past. When you say “Hello” back, they say it back again and this continues until you can’t hear them anymore. Sometimes the kids are saying it so fast and so often they seem like they are hysterical. The other phrase people know is “What is your name?”, but when you answer them and ask theirs they just start laughing. When we were sitting at one convenience store, a child walking down the road stopped dead in his tracks when he saw us. He stared at us for a few seconds like he was frozen, and then when we smiled he took off running back in the direction he came from. He returned a few minutes later with his friends and they hid behind a wooden stand staring at us and laughing. They took turns pushing each other towards us, but no one got up the nerve to say anything.

We finally arrived, completely exhausted in Kampot around 4pm. We are going to rest here for a day and tour Bokor National Park before continuing on towards Pnomh Penh.

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