There were no more mishaps with our room and we slept well, waking with a 5.30 alarm. We said our good byes to our cycling compatriots and were on the road at 6.30 am. As always the early start was worth it. The town was also up an about. Children were on their way to morning school, which appeared to start at 7am.
We were turning west into the remote north east part of the country. The road was newly paved but with hardly any traffic – the odd motorbike or ‘mini tractor’ a ‘sit on mower’ type engine with a variety of trailers attached) and the very occasional car. The temperature was lovely and we climbed 1meter in the first 10km!
There was some agriculture – dormant rice paddies, many with the stubble being burnt, and cassava – and a lot of scrub land. Chopped up cassava was laid out by the side of the road to dry.
We cycled through small villages and the occasional town. Every small village had a primary school with the larger towns also having high schools. Schooling still seems to happen on Saturdays. We brought bread and donuts from a young chap with a laden motorbike which sat in the stomach as a welcome second breakfast as we pedalled along. The traditional wooden houses on stilts were in all the villages but some now had brick built bases. No doubt many are poor but most people were well dressed and looked well fed. The villages are clean and the shops small but seemed to have basic provisions. Every town of course had a variety of mobile phone shops.
We sped through 55km on the flat and with our early start we had reached our destination, Banteay Chhmar by 10am. We had read about a community tourism project that arranged tours and local homestays and soon found their office. Although they could not arrange a tour (we had not made any advance arrangements) a helpful chap soon arranged our homestay at a house in the village. We had a bedroom in the wooden upper floor and shared a very basic bathroom with the family who lived downstairs. Mosquito net, fan and even a kettle! Perfect.
The reason for visiting Banteay Chhmar was to see some pre-Angkor ruins of a temple complex dating from 11th-13th century. After a short clean up, we decided to go straight out to the ruins before it got too hot – the temperature was already rising significantly. The site was amazing – most had fallen into ruin and overtaken by the surrounding jungle but renovation had been going on for a decade or two. We were seeing much of the place as archaeologists must have seen early sites – piles of rubble with amazing stone carving peaking out. An outer wall with incredible carvings had been painstakingly reconstructed showing stories and many armed deities. It reminded me of Mayan carvings in Mexico 1000s of miles across the world.
The inner temple complex had small parts reconstructed giving a glimpse into how incredible the place must have been in its heyday. To start we had the place virtually to ourselves as we clambered about the stones. It was helpful that we had already seen some temple complexes as it meant we could imagine the structures and layout. A really memorable visit.
ack at our homestay the afternoon heat was now full on. 1-3pm are meltingly hot. We lay on the bed with the fan on full blast. By 4pm it was getting pleasant enough to sit out on the balcony in the shade with some breeze. I knew it was going to be hot but had not anticipated quite how hot and with a humidity which we have not cycled in before. We will have to work out how to manage the afternoon heat – an even earlier start tomorrow! I read and David checked the bikes over, tightening up things that had worked loose on the bumpy roads and sorting a few minor things. But overall the bikes are proving to be really reliable.
By 5pm the temperature was pleasant and we took a stroll through the village and round the edge of the ruins again. We had arranged to have dinner at the CBT office (which has fans and wifi) and had a tasty meal with plenty of fresh veg (although I think they left out all the chillies of us!). Have done some more useful planning today so our Cambodian chapter is taking shape.