(written by Dave)
Today was a long day on the bicycle, at least for us. We followed Cambodia national highway 7 almost the full day. For the first 5 hours of riding, or about 115k’s, the road was smooth and pretty straightforward. From that point onwards, we had nice road intermixed by giant potholes and buried wombats. There weren’t really buried wombats but in places the pavement was so buckled there could have been a wombat buried and no one would be the wiser, so until I hear a better answer I’m sticking with my theory. Traffic was very light, only picking up as we approached Kratie. Here, like in Laos, drivers tend to use the horn to let you know they are coming (or rather to tell you to get out of the way). In fact, I’m pretty sure that in driving school that they tell students that the “first” brake on a car should always be the horn. The mini-van/taxis are the worst offenders not even bothering to slowdown when the school kids are out and about. So far, there are no big double decker buses here like in Laos.
Speaking of school kids and/or children, today we moved into a more populated area and got our first chance to compare Laos and Cambodian kids. I didn’t think that kids anywhere could be as enthusiastic as those we passed in Laos but now I am not so sure. The kids in Cambodia get pretty darn excited when they see us approaching. When we pass school kids, we have to split waving up, one of us taking the right, the other the left. Here they don’t say Sabadee or the equivalent in Khmer but rather they say hello or goodbye or hellogoodbye (all one word). Many see us coming and run to the edge of the road yelling, some even go as far as to try high-fives. We have to be careful on the high-fives though, the last thing we want to do is break some kid’s arm. There is a bit of an alert system working, because once one kid yells out to us all of the other kids down the road start running to wave and shout at us as well. It is all pretty fun and makes the ks fly by, both of us ride with smiles on our faces most of the day.
Houses Cambodia seem to be more substantially built than those in Laos. More of them have solid roofs of tin or tiles, and many have what looks like wood siding. In Laos we saw a lot more straw and bamboo. Houses here are probably newer as peace was 10 years later coming to Cambodia than it was Laos. I had thought that Laos was the poorer country but when I looked last night on the web I discovered that the per capita GDP of Cambodia is $2,118 (ranked 146th) and Laos is $2,449 (ranked 140th). So, in that sense Cambodia is poorer. To put both of those in perspective, the per capita GDP of Australia is $39,764 and the USA is $46,860. In other words, Cambodia and Laos per capita income is about 1/20th that of places Nancy and I call home. I’m glad I looked at this as it helps me keep perspective when I am making a purchase. I hate being taken advantage of because I am a foreigner but bargaining over .25 cents is pretty silly. And the .25 cents is a heck of a lot more to the locals than it is to us. We got taken for .25 cents at one stop today and just let it go. Consider it our donation to their kids education fund.
So, back to the ride. The roadside is very different here in Cambodia. In Laos, there was very little roadside grass or plants. They had lots of pigs, cows and goats keeping things trimmed. We’ve seen some cows here but the grass here is pretty high. The agriculture has changed as well. In Laos we saw a lot of rice fields, here there are not so many. Today was all about tapioca and lots of it. We are clearly in the middle of the harvest. We passed many groups gathered around large piles of roots. It appears that they peel the roots (like a potato), then cut into palm of hand sized chunks. From here there is no ambiguity of the next step as today the shoulder of the road was constantly covered with drying tapioca chunks. We saw groups mostly spreading it but also some picking up “cured” batches. I’m not really sure how the dried chunks get turned into tapioca powder or pearls. Best we could tell, this was done somewhere other than the farm. There could be a large processing plant in the area but we didn’t see it.
The petrol/gas station trend we saw yesterday continued today. Mostly there are 55 gallon and 40 litre tanks sitting out in the open with some sort of pump. There are many of these and we didn’t see any proper gas stations until we got into Kratie town. This means that comfort breaks are done roadside by bush. The warnings for unexploded ordinance (UXO) keeps us close to the road. Not having servos means that there are fewer shops as well. Never fear, today we discovered a new form of mobile shop. Throughout the day we saw significantly overloaded scooters plied with basically small stores trolling the highway. They beep their horns regularly, hoping to draw the folks out of their homes for a sale. We spied one passing that appeared to have croissants so we kept an eye out for him up the road. Turns out that it was not croissants, rather some rather tasty new treats, sort of sesame fried doughnut things. We bought 4 of them and enjoyed them as much as the kids with their Mom who had actually caused the scooter to stop. As the day passed we paid more attention to the passing scooters and they to us. For sure, the drivers know how to spot a potential customer.
While our ride was long, it was not too taxing. We had a slight tailwind and the road was generally flat. We pulled into Kratie at 1:30, about the same time we finished riding yesterday with almost twice the distance. Kratie is not a big town and in fact TripAdvisor has no listings for restaurants in Kratie. We managed to locate a the Balcony Guesthouse pretty easily. It was in Lonely Planet plus had featured in a couple other bike journals. The room is more than adequate and only costs $12 per night with ensuite (with HOT water) and air-conditioning). And they serve decent food as well. We had lunch on the balcony overlooking the Mekong river. Nancy had a baguette egg and bacon roll (only missing BBQ sauce to officially be an egg and bacon roll). I had Khmer Loc Lac – fried marinated beef on onions and green tomatoes. Both were quite tasty. So far, Cambodia food is pretty good, not something we’ve had much of previously so we’ll be trying new dishes for a few days.
Speaking of food, Cambodia was also a French colony, like Laos. For dinner we decided to splash out on the fancy looking French restaurant right next door to our hotel. It was a little spendy but the food and wine were great. Switching between French and Cambodian is a nice choice to have.
Tomorrow we are staying put. We need to clean the bikes (or at least I say they need to be cleaned). Nancy doesn’t think that they should be cleaned because there is always a dirt road or highway 7 round the corner. I say, why wash our clothes as they will just get dirty again. She gives me a look and we move on. Tomorrow, we’ll clean the bikes.