It took us two days of riding to reach Phnom Penh from Kampot. Both days, on Highway 3, took place on extremely flat roads that took us through vast dry fields and rice paddies. In some places the scenery felt almost desert-like because we’re at the very end of the dry season here. Next month these empty dry fields will flood and turn green, but for now they are a dustbowl. There was almost no shade as we rode along past the dry fields and the sun was very intense. The best part of the ride was the fact that as we rode through all the small villages it felt like we’d stepped back in time 100 years.
The best part of the rides was in the early morning, when the roads were filled with men riding in carts pulled by a matched pair of cows. The carts were not very sturdy looking – they were usually made of old wood and the wooden wheels made a racket as they rolled along. Sometimes there’d be a big pile of grass or hay in the back of the cart with a little kid perched on top. We also passed a few carts pulled by matched pairs of little ponies, complete with jingle-bell harnesses! Those were my favorite.
We saw mopeds and trucks hauling all sorts of things. This guy has a big wooden crate packed full of baby chicks strapped to the back of his moped. You could hear the chicks peeping as he zoomed along past us.
Another popular thing to haul were pigs. People had woven pig-sized baskets especially for transporting these animals! The pig snout stuck out one end and there were ropes tying the other end closed over the pig’s rear end. This guy was transporting his (live) pigs upside down – maybe to keep the struggling down? Another time we saw a man with a pig shaped basket, but this one was crammed full of piglets. Their little legs were falling through the openings in the basket and they were squealing like crazy! Do not come to Cambodia if you are an animal rights activist.
Most of the traffic was on Highway 3 was mopeds and bicycles; trucks were fairly rare until we got closer to Phnom Penh, which was nice. People on old single-speed bicycles were carrying amazing loads. This guy had stacks and stacks of woven leaf thatching on the back of his bicycle.
That about sums up the best parts of our ride. We were pretty miserable during the afternoons when the heat became so intense we felt like we were cooking. Jamie had to convince me more than once that we shouldn’t hitch a ride in a pickup. The worst part by far though was the road. It was so lumpy and bumpy that it felt like cobblestone. It was very hard on the hands and the butt. My hands kept going numb from holding on so tight, but I couldn’t really loosen my grip due to the quality of the road. My butt was in pure agony. All that time off in Bangkok really softened up my money maker! Jamie switched to his padded mountain bike shorts on the 2nd day, but I was left wishing everything would just go numb. We often chose to ride on the dirt shoulder rather than the road because it was a much better ride.
Riding into Phnom Penh wasn’t bad at all. The traffic slowly increased, which lead to increasing honking and crankiness on our part, but as soon as we passed under the sign saying “Welcome to Phnom Penh” the road turned to a perfectly paved thing of beauty. We cruised at unheard of speeds of 25 km/hr, waved back at all the police men hanging out on the corners, and felt very happy that we’d made it. We were just a few blocks away from our guesthouse when Jamie’s front tire had a major blowout. It was so loud that I assumed it was a moped backfiring somewhere! We both groaned and pulled over to the sidewalk where Jamie inserted two 100 riel bills beneath the giant gash in the tire and pumped up a new tube so we could make it the rest of the way. This is the third Panaracer tire that has failed on us so far. One developed at gash at 30 kilometers, one developed a giant bulge at 2500 kilometers, and now this one failed at 3700 kilometers. We wanted to get a little more life out of the Panaracers, but we are now going to switch to the Schwalbe Marathons immediately. We had an audience of 10 (I counted) during the tire-fixing escapade and they were extremely entertained when Jamie put the money into his tire.