long way round

Ok, so who of you have seen the series ‘Long Way Round’ with Ewan McGregor and his mate, the self proclaimed adventurer, Charley Boorman? Quite a few of you I’d imagine….if not then the idea was to motorbike around the world from London to New York. They also did a follow up, ‘Long Way Down’ which saw them do exactly the same but this time from John O’Groats to Cape Town.

An excellent effort, may I say so myself. Fred and I did about five hours off road cycling today, I can start to appreciate the skill required to drive a motorbike through similar conditions as we faced today. Naturally I’m sure it would be even tougher, given the weight difference. However, at least these guys had an engine to get them through some of the terrain, where as we only had pedal power.

We reached the small province of Kep yesterday afternoon. Kep is a small town which is looking to recapture its more glorious 1960’s days, pre Khmer Rouge. The province itself has a tiny population of just over 13,000, a far cry from the mayhem of central Bangkok or even Phnom Penh during rush hour. On arrival, my impression of the place was similar to a rundown seaside resort back home. Though full of palm trees. And friendlier people. And no amusement arcade (you get the picture) It has obviously seen better days, though it has a natural beauty given its climate and location overlooking the gulf of Thailand. By all accounts there are big plans afoot for Kep from the Cambodian government. A golf course is planned for Bokor Mountain – located just off the Kep coast, as well as a port for day trippers to visit from nearby Vietnam. At the moment though it is just a quiet seaside town, with plenty of seafood eatery options for those inclined.

Anyway, back to today’s fun and games. We took a stroll after breakfast down to the crab market area where we located a couple of mountain bikes for hire for the day at the generous sum of $2 each. With no real plan other than to achieve the agreed goal of having an active day, we set off down the main road. My feelings on Kep being quiet were soon confirmed as we cycled the main street and came across only a handful of people who were all gathered in one area. They weren’t doing anything, just lounging by the road, watching the world go by (or us, it would seem) Pretty unspectacular stuff – until we turned off the main road.

Here we went into countryside on friendly enough tracks to ride down. The general idea was now to head back towards the coast, which we had come off in the later parts of the main road cycle. The friendly tracks soon receded as we found ourselves on salt plains. Well, at least they were slightly raised tracks above the salt plains, but still the main ingredient of these tracks was salt. This was reasonably easy stuff to cycle in – sure, it got stuck to your tyres from time to time, but at least it was solid ground to be confident enough to cycle quickly. We were quickly pointed back the way we came by two Cambodian woman, who were full of laughs and smiles at our efforts to reach the beach. From here we took another wrong turning before finally choosing correctly the third and final time.

By now Fred’s temperamental left pedal had fallen off for about the eighth time so he had to give up and push his bike. I rode on, through a track that had now become rather muddy and full of stones. It was great fun, taking me back to younger days going on bike rides across the Castle Green or Bartonsham Farm with my mates. A couple of friendly locals pointed us up a red clay road where Fred could get his pedal put back on. At least that’s what we made out by the hand communications! We had been out for a good hour and a half in seriously hot weather, stupidly not bringing any drink with us. After countless friendly and excitable ‘hellos’ and points in the right direction, we finally found the centre of the village to get some water. Fred got his bike fixed at the local Halfords and after a mix with the local kids and shop keepers we disappeared back towards the beach.

The next obstacles we faced were rather wet and muddy rice fields, as well as more of our new favourite, sticky salt plains. The local adults looked in bewilderment at these two Westerners while the kids just shouted more ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’ at us. We weren’t really sure where we were actually heading, though word was there was a location ahead called ‘secret beach’ which was 30km away from Kep via main road. As we were taking the somewhat more scenic shortcut, we reckoned it was ahead of us at the end of a stretch of beach. Now, this stretch of beach seemed to go on and on. My new found love of cycling was diminishing with each sun stroked, dehydrated minute. After what seemed an age, we clambered up the beach and found a little village shack where we threw drinks down our throat like it was going out of fashion.

The locals were welcoming – we were probably the only Western visitors they would see for the next month or more! Again, the local kids came over to us talking to us in Khmer – Fred showed off his multi-lingual skills as he counted to ten in the local language much to the kids delight. Despite the storm that was now brewing in the distance over Kep, we decided to head back. After toying with the idea of getting a local fisherman to take us, a look at the state of the boat made us brave the cycle back. This was hard work – the earlier lack of drink was taking effect as my hands and feet were starting to cramp up.

The adventure wasn’t complete without a final piece of drama when the bolt holding my right pedal sheered off – after an attempt to cycle the last few Km’s with just one pedal, I gave up and we clambered into the back of a tuk tuk. We had been on the road for a good five hours by the time we got back to our guesthouse, Veranda, where we jumped straight into the pool to recover.

This is a beautiful part of the world with awesome scenery – a professional photographer would have a field day here, it really is perfectly picturesque. When you throw in the brilliance of the local people, once again, quite happy with their lot, you complete a perfect place on earth.

Even if the pedals are slightly dodgy.


3 Responses to “long way round”

  1. 1 Donna
    October 21, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    Hey Rich Lovely, lovely Blog and equally great photo’s..I really enjoyed Kep..just so not been McDonalised yet! Breaking news from Hereford… the Booth Hall has burned down! And Ann Summers badly damaged……………

  2. 2 Donna
    October 21, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Sorry it’s me again…that is a LOT of cycling by you!! What an adventure..that was certainly an active day… I am quite envious now I really, really liked Kep………….

  3. 3 Donna
    October 21, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    Matt’s idea about writing about the cricket..yes!

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