Kompong Thom to Phnom Penh
- 3 hours riding time
The last morning of the ride and we couldn’t be happier to be getting back to Phnom Penh and off the bikes for one last time. We were up and packed by 6:45am and dropped back into the Arunras Hotel Restaurant for breakfast and a coffee. We’d grown accustomed to the omelettes for breakfast and this one was one of the better ones but the great thing about this establishment is that they do real coffee. Not just the brewed stuff with condensed milk that is so sweet you can actually feel your teeth decaying with every sip, but a proper cappuccino with real milk. It wasn’t on par with anything back home but it was real and we would need the caffeine to deal with one last hurdle with our bikes.
As we were sitting there enjoying our breakfast someone outside got Shaun’s attention and he went to see what it was all about. The guy was pointing out that Shaun’s rear tyre was dead flat. Ah the curse of Red Raid Motorcycles and our XR250’s had one last instalment for us. Jarrod and I spent a good 20 minutes riding around the town trying to locate a bike shop that could do the repairs for us while Shaun tried to follow behind pushing his bike along. Eventually with the help of a few local shop owners we found a very small hut on the side of a restaurant that was apparently a tyre repair shop. We had to wait while the staff finished their breakfast but once done they were straight onto assisting us with the problem.
As you can tell from the photo above Jarrod’s patience with these bikes had well and truly run out. Shaun’s tyre wasn’t flat because he’d hit a nail or snagged it on something, the tube had shredded itself because it was the wrong size for the tyre. It was oversize and had been rubbing on the inside of the tyre wall until it eventually wore right through.
Our local bike repair place found the large hole and set about trying to repair it knowing we only had 170km to go to get it back to Phnom Penh. As with many things over here the repair job was not so much a science as an art. Our repairman set a fire inside what looked like an average tin can and waited 5 or so minutes for it to heat up. Then he placed an offcut of rubber over the hole in the tube and set the now red hot contraption down on it. About 10 minutes later we had a perfectly sealed patch on the tube. Unfortunately as soon as he tested it we found there wasn’t so much one hole as there was about 6. The tube was dead. He took off on his bike and came back about 15 minutes later with a new tube (now the correct size) and we were on our way in no time.
With all the stuffing around it was now 9:30am and getting hot. The roads out of town are dusty and after about 80km it gets even worse when you hit the road works section that continues the whole way to Phnom Penh. The ride was a very hairy one. We spent the better part of the next 2 hours playing chicken with trucks, cars and busses of all shapes and sizes all who believed they had the rights to few and far between sections of road that weren’t a complete mess. The rest of us had to fight our way around boulders, over mounds and through pot holes big enough to bury a body in.
After a few too many close calls I pulled the boys over to at last get some photos of the typical Cambodian landscape we’d seen so much of but to date hadn’t found time to stop and take any pictures of.
Needing to have a laugh and get some shots for the closing credits of the video we hope to one day finally put together, I set up the tripod and we had some fun with a few poses by the bikes. My personal favourite is the Temple pose (2nd photo below) that we’d all got so sick of the other tourists making at Angkor Wat.
It was about 12:30pm by the time we found our way back into Phnom Penh and back to the Okay Guest House. We dropped our bags at reception and set off to return the bikes.
While hiring bikes anywhere in Asia is going to come with a problem or two, our experience in Cambodia had been terrible. We had paid more than double the going rate on the expectation that the bikes would be better quality and that we would be looked after only to be thoroughly let down almost every day we’d had them. We dared ask if the $12 we’d spent on the new tube (of the correct size) would be refunded to us and we found ourselves in a very heated argument with the French owner of our bike rental shop. We had spent more time with our bikes parked up unable to ride this trip than we had on the road and yet how dare we ask for the refunded cost of a tyre tube that failed because no one had checked what had been put in it was the correct size. I wont go into more detail but we did get to see what we like to call “Grumpy Jarrod” and in the end we did get the $12 back but I would recommend anyone looking to hire bikes in Cambodia be very thorough with their research before choosing a company.
We did manage at least one smile out of Jarrod that afternoon despite coming very close to loosing his phone on one of these tuk tuk rides when some boys on a bike tried to rip it from his hands.
After a quick rest we made our way to the local supermarket in search of cleaning products. After two weeks of rain, mud and choking dust our gear was looking far worse for wear. It was going to be a big task to get everything clean enough to get back through Australian Customs and Quarantine without issue. Not the most exciting way to spend our last afternoon in Phnom Penh but it had to be done.
I’d done a bit of research while lying around that afternoon and found a few good reviews for the Charcoal BBQ and Soup Restaurant for our dinner. For $11 each it was all you could eat and drink and for three hungry guy after two weeks on the road nothing sounded better. The venue did not disappoint. The place was packed and the food was fresh and certainly tasty. Between us we polished off some 70 skewers plus soups and desert and couldn’t have been happier.
We had talked about having a big night of drinking to celebrate the end of the trip but it never eventuated. Partly from the exhaustion and partly from the huge amount of meat we’d all just consumed we were all too tired to really kick on. We instead went back to the backpackers next to our hotel and over a few quiet beers and a pool table we reminisced on what had been an incredible trip.
We had spent two weeks travelling around two stunning countries. Laos had seen us test our skills on just about any road condition you can imagine all the while doing it through some of the most spectacular scenery you could hope for. The country had surprised me in its natural beauty and we left knowing we’d been to places most tourist will never see and hopefully experienced some of the local culture untouched by too much western influence. It was the true motorbike adventure we had hoped for and in fact longed for since Vietnam two years earlier. Cambodia on the other hand had been a place of contrast. It was a far poorer country than I had anticipated and although beautiful in its own way, the scenery lacked some of the grandeur of its northern neighbour. Despite all the dramas we’d had with the bikes it had bestowed on me an experience I’ll never forget. While Angkor Wat is something everyone should see at some point in their life it was the Preah Vihear Temple that will always stand as my single favourite memory of this trip.
As someone who’d never understood the appeal of motorbikes and who hasn’t done any riding back home since Vietnam, I still believe there is no better way to experience Asia. While 2000 odd kilometres on a dirt bike is going to take its toll on your body and your backside in particular, feeling the heat pounding into your chest, inhaling the smells and hearing the sound of the wind rushing past your ears is the only way to really immerse yourself in the adventure. An adventure it was and we’d all survived in one piece. We all give each other a good ribbing along the way but I wouldn’t have done it with any other guys. The only question left is where to next……