Siem Reap to Sra Em (Srah Emm)
- 4 hours riding time
Expecting Shaun’s bike to be delivered in the very early hours of the morning we’d left his keys with reception the night before so they could just swap it over and go. We got downstairs for breakfast at about 7:30am to find out nothing had been delivered yet. Between then and 10:30am we received non stop excuses from Bernard as to why it hadn’t arrived. “There were licensing issues with the truck”, “they’re lost”, “they had to drop off some other goods first”….. Eventually a truck showed up (some 42 hours after we had told Bernard the bike was busted) and dumped a bike off the back and left. Unsurprisingly the tank was bone dry but since they’d left Shaun’s old bike there we set about siphoning out the basically full tank from two days earlier.
By now it was getting towards the hottest part of the day and we hadn’t even been able to load up. Having paid more than double the going rate for equivalent bikes in Phnom Penh (US$30/day compared to the US$10-US$15 we’d been offered multiple times two days earlier) we had expected far more from Red Raid and had been thoroughly let down. Everyone was getting incredibly frustrated, none more so than Jarrod.
We hit the road at around 11am and powered towards Sra Em (the nearest town to Preah Vihear Temple). Although we’d been told it was only a 4 hour ride we were a bit sceptical as we’d never covered 210km in either country that quickly and we knew we were getting into some of the more remote parts of Cambodia. The majority of tourists visit Siem Reap and then continue on south-west to Battambang before heading to the beaches on the south coast. Instead we were going North towards the Thailand border.
Preah Vihear Temple had caught my attention only a couple of days before leaving for this trip when reading through some online reviews of must see places in Cambodia. I’d read a bit more about it in the Lonely Planet I picked up at the airport on the way over and managed to convince the guys to change our planned itinerary and head up to it instead. Preah Vihear Temple is a Hindu Temple situated at the top of a 500m+ cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains on the border of Cambodia and Thailand. Both countries have fought over this bit of land for more than 100 years. Despite a ruling in 1962 by the International Court of Justice that the temple belonged to Cambodia both countries have a very strong military presence in the region and appear to be itching for further conflict over it. The whole area had been shut down to civilians the week before we arrived as there was a further ICJ ruling sought to clarify who owns the land around the temple. This was awarded to Cambodia.
Highway 67 out of Siem Reap was relatively busy until we got past the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre which is about 24km out of town. This appeared to be quite a popular tourist attraction and there were a significant number of tuk tuks shuttling tourists up and back but we didn’t have time to stop. Once we got past that the roads opened up and traffic was minimal so we could cruise at about 80-90km/h. The landscape the most of the way to Anlong Veng was again the beautiful and iconic rice fields scattered with tall palms. Having a great run we pulled into Anlong Veng by early afternoon and found a quiet place to grab some lunch.
The soup on offer wasn’t the best we’d had all trip. While it seemed fresh, we were all a bit hesitant about the “meat balls” that were floating in it. We had absolutely no idea what the finely ground balls contained so as politely as possible pulled them out and left them to the side.
We’d made great time getting to Anlong Veng but one of the big downsides to travelling on these bikes at 90km/hour is the noise. While it does make the ride a little cooler, the revving of these dirt bikes and the wind rushing into your ears can be a little annoying. The boys opted for some earplugs for the rest of the afternoon and Shaun again provided some laughs being unable to figure out how to use your run of the mill in ear, ear plugs.
After lunch we turned East towards Sra Em and into some nasty looking weather. Thankfully it was only a little over an hours ride away and the weather did hold out for us. There wasn’t a whole lot to see out here but surprisingly the roads were excellent. The only real point of interest along the way was the housing development you can see below. I only got a shot looking along the road but they were lined up 4 or 5 deep back from the road so there must have been a couple of hundred all together. All on stilts and fairly basic in structure but as had been the case through both Laos and Cambodia, all were sporting brightly coloured roofs. While apparently finished it was clear no one had been relocated up here yet as the place was a ghost town.
We continued on and arrived into Sra Em at about 3:45pm. We decided to quickly check into a hotel and ditch the bags before heading up to Preah Vihear Temple, hopefully to watch the sun set. We checked into the Reak Smay Sokun hotel for the evening which from our quick ride around the town appeared to be one of only two places to choose from. For US$15 per night we got twin rooms with A/C and appeared to be the only ones staying there. We quickly dropped our bags and headed back out to the bikes only to find out from one of the boys working there that the Temple gates close at 5pm and while its only a 30 minute ride from Sra Em, we wouldn’t get up there in time to see anything. Eventually we relented and agreed it would have to wait until the morning.
It turned out to be a good decision as it started raining quite heavily only 10 minutes later so we just had a quiet afternoon in the hotel with a couple of cold drinks and some wi-fi to catch up with what had been going on in the world while we’d been away.
In the evening we rode down through what at night becomes a very sleepy little town and found a place that had an English menu. The meal of choice appeared to be little shell-fish that you buy by the kilogram and they BBQ up for you with a mix of herbs and spices. While it seemed everyone there was getting into them none of us could bring ourselves to try shellfish this far from the ocean. It seemed the only clientele in the restaurants up here are the local army guys. Being so close to what is a hotly contested border with Thailand this appeared to be the only local town the off duty guys could get a feed and some rest.
We called it a night fairly early and I prayed the weather was going to improve for the morning. I’d convinced the guys to come so far out of the way just to see these Temples. Other than the temples themselves there’s nothing else to see up here and I would have felt really guilty if the experience wasn’t worth it. Thankfully I had nothing to worry about….