An early start for the longest leg of the trip so far. My 149km cycle starts at 6:22am and it isn’t until 10 hours and 45 minutes later, 5:07pm that I stop the timer. It sounds pretty grueling but really, it was fine. Leaving early helped and there were some nice breaks in the journey.
The first was a memorable lunch at a rural family’s home. It was a quarter past ten and I’d travelled perhaps 60km without stopping. The sun was up and making things more difficult, and I was hungry. I was aware that here weren’t many settlements along this road so when (another) motorbike rider slowed to chat I pounced. After the usual questions I asked whether she could recommend a restaurant. No response, perhaps restaurant wasn’t the right word given the surroundings. “I’m hungry, ohh, so hungry”, I said, rubbing my belly. “Food? Eat rice?” Now we were getting somewhere. “Would you like to come to my house?” “Well, thank you, that sounds nice”. “Follow me”. Five minutes later I was meeting her, Somali’s, mum, dad, sister, brother-in-law, niece and uncle. Five minutes after that I was chowing down on some bbq fish, a gristly pork dish, a take-away dish delivered by motorbike (I think I must have taken the one Somali was going to have), and plenty of rice. All very delicious, and another example of the kindness I’ve experienced this trip.
I wanted to ask Somali so many questions. Where did she go to school? Why did she speak English so well? How did the family get its income? Where was she coming from when I met her on the road? When will her new house be built? What she will do for the rest of the day, the week? I tried phrasing these in different ways but perhaps unsurprisingly, I couldn’t get many detailed answers. She did say that her family was poor, and that she didn’t have money for school. I suspect she was sent away to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap to work for a number of years to make money for the family, and picked up some English there. I showed photos of home which they were all very interested in, and along with 20,000riel ($5) gave away my last Australian handkerchief. It was time to say goodbye and she walked me to the road and giving the bike a push, waved as I carried on down the road.
It really was monotonous cycling. A good road, but not much to see roadside. I decided to put the headphones in and start listening to “Serial”. I won’t go into it here but I will say it’s a cracking good yarn that helped pass the time at a time when time was passing slowly.
I pressed pause at various stages, including here, having a brief chat to two Germans who, along with their Columbian dog had come from Laos and were travelling through Cambodia to Thailand.
The further I rode the more fertile the land was becoming until there it was, the mighty Mekong River.
More roadworks coming into Stung Treng slowed me but getting through town, to the river allowed for a nice cycle to the old bridge and the Mekong Bird “ecolodge”, about 5km north.
On the way I stopped to eat (and rest!) at a cafe overlooking the river. A very kind Khmer high school physics teacher, Theara (forget the h when pronouncing) not only helped me order but insisted on paying for my meal! I thanked him and offered to take him out for dinner the next night but he didn’t get in contact via email/Facebook and the name he provided for Facebook drew a blank. Shame.
I also met the other man in the photo. A kiwi called Graeme? Graham? No, Grum. Grum is on a massive cycle (they all seem to be except me!) and you can find him here, or on Facebook.
The ‘Bird’ was a funny one. With beautiful surroundings it would have been very peaceful if not for the staff playing their music loudly. It was also deserted. I met Swiss adventurer Thomas there but we were the only ones staying. It made for a strange feel. Everything set up with no customers. Only one staff member spoke any English and it was hard to get any tips for the area. I wanted to stay two nights and do some kayaking on my day off but they only had two person canoes. Perhaps if Sam had been there it would have been a different experience. In the end I only stayed one night and moved into a typical hotel/guest house in town for my second night, offering more opportunities to get involved in my surroundings.