Milestone day to Phnom Penh (125/11528 ks)

(written by Dave)

With a trip as long as ours is turning out to be, you have to set small goals or milestones, at least that’s what two somewhat obsessive, compulsive former corporate types do.  Our previous milestone day was entering Laos in Vientiane.  It was there that we agreed to meet Nancy’s sister Gretchen in Phnom Penh for another family visit.  We had 3+ weeks to cover 1,400k if we didn’t detour too much – the milestone was set.  We honestly don’t dwell on these milestones while we are travelling, they are more there to keep us a little focused on the bigger picture.  Riding into the hotel in Phnom Penh felt good today, another mini-milestone safely achieved.

We posted yesterday before we were done taking pictures.  We got one last shot of the fishing boats on the Mekong, plus a shot of the moon rise before the solar eclipse.  We actually did not know that there was going to be an eclipse – haven’t been following the news.  I ducked out for takeaway curry dinner and happened to look up at just as the moon was getting a shadow.  We had a clear sky and got to watch more or less the entire show from our balcony.  The moon was barely visible at the climax.  Of course we’ve seen eclipses before but when we lived in Sydney there was generally too much light pollution and more than likely we’d not even notice.

Wanting to get some early ks in before the traffic got going, we had brekkie in the room.  We managed to leave the hotel at 6:30, just as the sun was clearing a cloud bank over the Mekong.  We worked our way back to the bridge and highway 7, then almost no stops for the first 45ks (I may have ducked into the bushes once).  We had a slight cross wind, which I knew from looking at the map would become a tailwind at Skun, our first proper stop.

Skun had another attraction as well.  The town is somewhat famous for selling fried spiders.  We are not talking about little spiders but rather very large bird eating spiders.  No one seems to know where this tradition started but now it seems to be focused on tourists more than locals.  We stopped at the local market for a look and were told we had to go up to the highway junction to find the sellers.  At the first stall the sellers were pretty friendly and didn’t mind me taking photos.  There were several girls there chomping away on parts of the spiders.  There was pretty much no way that I would buy any to eat.  At the second stall they figured out that I was a rubber-necker and told me that it was $1 for a photo.  I burst out laughing, took some photos of the spiders, plus one of me and the seller.  She was wearing a mask but I know she was laughing at the strangely dressed foreigner (along with everyone else at the stall).  I declined the donation, and they didn’t seem to care – I think they were pulling my leg.

As hoped, we picked up the tailwind as we left Skun and it lasted the rest of the day.  We stopped for photos at a dried fish stand and were asked quite vigorously for some riel (money) by a local kid.  I told him that he should give us riel and we all had a good laugh.  He was on a bike and left the stall the same time we did.  He put in a big effort to stay with us for some good distance.  His bike wasn’t fancy and his flip-flop covered feet were flying everywhere but he had a good pace.  We only dropped him when we reached a small incline over a waterway.

Speaking of local kids, we met an absolute gauntlet of them a little later when we stopped for water and a break at a junction servo (we are seeing more of these servos now that we are getting closer to a big city).  When we pulled in, there were no other cars which meant all the kids selling various food items focused on us as potential customers.  We politely declined but they were persistent.  They particularly liked Nancy and her fair skin.  They had her bike completely surrounded and a couple of them were starting to poke and pinch her.  When one of them pulled up Nancy’s short leg (to get a look at her tan line), Nancy decided that was enough and poked a few of them back.  That ended the poking.  The kids were quite interested in the maps on our handlebar bags, calling out town names and seeing where we pointed on the map.  They were pretty inquisitive kids.

No other cars had showed up so they had no reason to leave us.  We couldn’t go in the store or leave the bikes because there was no way that one of us could watch both bikes.  Eventually, we kind of pushed through them and wheeled the bikes round the back of the servo to the toilets.  For the kids, leaving the front meant giving up first shot at any other customers that might pull in and about half of the kids gave up on us.  Having only half of them following us meant that we could each make solo runs for the toilets while the other watched the bikes.  The kids never really gave up on selling us something but they were pretty polite (well, except for the short pulling part).  Eventually a car pulled up when we were walking back from the toilets.  When the father got out of the driver’s side, he had a dozen new young friends.  We didn’t see if he was pinched but were more than happy to have the kids focused somewhere other than on us.  We made a quiet exit.

Traffic was pretty rough today.  The road is wide enough for a car and a scooter going each direction.  The trouble is that no one stays anywhere close to their side of the road.  If a line of cars is coming at you, each successive car is edging over the centre-line a little more than the car in front of it.  At times, oncoming traffic makes you think that you are going the wrong way on a one way street.  It’s one giant game of chicken.  Cars coming at you start flashing their lights and honking (no, strike that, they were probably already honking as they do it all the time).  There is not much shoulder and we are always single file as far to the right as possible but when you are going 26-27 kph, you can’t just jump off into the gravel because some yabbo is honking at you.  It is actually safer when there are some cars or scooters going the same direction as we are, not that the on-coming cars can’t see us, rather it is strength in numbers.  The previously mentioned tailwind made a big difference today as it kept the dust out of our eyes and our speed up.  Travelling a little closer to the speed of the traffic going our way means less overtaking from behind and when you get a blocking car (one going about our speed), that car stays there for a couple ks.  We were very happy to reach Phnom Penh.

And now let’s talk about traffic.  Phnom Penh traffic is on steroids.  There are so many cars, scooters and trucks going every direction.  You have to be very alert all the time.  Cars are entering and exiting the street all the time.  Cars coming from smaller streets would never move if they didn’t simply push into small gaps.  Well, guess what our slightly lower speed creates –  that’s right, lots of small gaps.  An ice truck almost cleaned me up at one junction.  Either he didn’t see me or he didn’t think we’d be moving that fast.  The worst is probably the scooters.  When a scooter wants to enter the traffic from our side but going the other direction, they simply pull into our lane, coming directly at us.  So now we have oncoming and overtaking traffic on our left and oncoming traffic again on the right.  It’s crazy.  We won’t be riding any more here.  We’ll get the bus to Siem Reap and also won’t be riding into Bangkok (we’ll take the train).  Biking these big SE Asia cities is too much for us.

There was a big story in the news a month ago about a bus in China that hit a truck head-on and a large number of small children unfortunately died.  There were something like 45 people for 16 seats on the bus.  I remember reading that “authorities” were going to conduct a full investigation.  Based on what we’ve seen, I am not really sure what they will be investigating as this overfilling seems par for the course here.  The mini-van buses here are so overloaded it continues to amaze us.  We have seen vans carrying more people than you can count,  open rear doors with bags of rice/scooters/beds/tables/whatever hang out, gas tanks strapped everywhere and best of all, two or three guys sitting on the top.  The photo below is a small pick-up.  It has 14 outside passengers (2 on top of the cab), 3 scooters and a whole bunch of grain bags.  It is currently not moving, we suspect because the driver is waiting for a couple more folks to make it a full load – this happens all the time.  In the spirit of overloading, today we matched fellow cyclists Rose and Gary’s SE Asia record, spotting a scooter carrying 6 people (2 adults and 4 kids).  Sorry, no picture though.

Anyway, we made it to the hotel that Gretchen booked.  It is much nicer than we would ever pick [editor’s note – sisters are great!].  She is coming late tonight from Seoul.  We’ll settle our cycling nerves with a celebratory amber beverage tonight, another trip milestone safely met and we hope, our last inch of Phnom Penh ridden by bicycle.

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6 responses to “Milestone day to Phnom Penh (125/11528 ks)

  1. So glad you got to see the lunar eclipse in the evening when it was warm! It was a very cold morning here and I didn’t get up at the 4:45 AM start time, but saw the end of it when Ginger decided to talk a morning walk around the neighborhood! Love the tan line story! Enjoy your time with Gretchen….. AGAIN!!!!

  2. Glad you are safe. I was worried about this ride, I guess with reason.

    • Thanks for the worry – we are safe – and now having been here for two days pretty much know that we don’t want to ride here. Riding a tuk-tuk is better than a carnival ride, and cheaper!


  3. Carson and I got up at 5am to see the eclipse. Very cool that you were watching it too! I don’t think my mental health would be able to stand the city bike riding you are experiencing! Glad you will be traveling by other means for a while. Have a great time with Gretchen!

  4. The spiders have been the most interesting for the kids since rats-on-a-stick!
    In both cases, they wanted a picture of you eating one although they declined on my offer to request you to send them one.

    Be safe.

    I’m sure you will enjoy Angkor Wat. It is one of the most fantastic places I’ve been.

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