I was rather dreading today. I was exhausted yesterday and was not relishing another day of heat and headwind (we have chosen the wrong direction to travel as the prevailing wind seems to be NE). As it turned out it was a much more manageable and surprisingly pleasant day – although still long.
Up with the larks (or Cambodian equivalent) we were ready to go just as the sun was rising. It was blissfully cool (18 degrees) and a beautiful sunrise (maybe not as photogenic as over the Angkor temples but shared only with each other as we cruised the first km on a gentle downhill – perfect). It was slightly more overcast and the coolness persisted – it made so much difference and we completed the first 55km of the day in about 3 hrs (ie by 9.30am!) with barely a stop. The wind was there and persistent but we were going more due east than north east and that slight side on wind also made a huge difference. Wherever there was water there was greenery and pleasant villages. This road 300km across the north of Cambodia is newly paved but still has very little traffic so great for cycling.
So we reached the provincial capital Preah Vihear for second breakfast and came across a surprisingly fancy restaurant which did us fantastic omelettes (not on the menu but they were happy to rustle them up for us). Coffee not so good – they use condensed milk in coffee, which is pretty disgusting (to us) – must remember to ask for black coffee next time.
We were therefore well rested and after a foray into the local market for fruit, veg and cake we were ready to tackle the next 55km – we knew there was little between Preah Vihear and the next place where there were any guesthouses. This was an area of much more scrubland. Preah Vihear province is the poorest in Cambodia. We passed numerous wooden shacks on stilts (as almost all Cambodian houses are) – no running water or electricity, although all had neatly swept surrounding. Children were clean and all looked well nourished so not abject poverty but what looked like a very limited life. There was evidence of dry paddy fields waiting for the rainy season but it was not clear how people subsisted in the dry season. We saw quite a few pigs scuttling around the shacks – and quite a few legs akimbo and definitely dead on the back of motorbikes, presumable being taken to the market.
One of the joys of Cambodia is that every single child (and quite a few adults) shouts “hello’ and waves in great excitement as we go by. They are full of cheeky smiles. Many pedal battered old bikes to and from school and they love it when we overtake them. Of course the occasional bravado boy tries to keep up for a short while, whooping and smiling. You can’t help but be cheered up. Often a chorus of disembodied ‘hellos’ emerge from somewhere unidentified so a general wave back is in order.
Another feature that we come across several times a day are Cambodian weddings – these consist of a decorated large tent (marquee-like) and amplified music booming out at top volume. You can literally hear it kms away. We feel we can hum along quite effectively now…even David’s voice seems well suited to the rather wailing tones! We think that some of the more mournful wailing might be funerals but difficult to tell!
So although the flat landscape is not particularly scenic there is usually plenty to see and observe to keep the kilometers ticking by. The afternoon did heat up, the wind did get stronger (still mostly ‘slightly side’) and we did get tired but we rolled into the little town (more a large village) of Chheab (yes it is double ‘h’) a little before 3. 2 guest houses were marked (our new find is the app map.me that is particularly good at marking hotels and guesthouses in places that will never reach a guide book) but we were dubious about how basic they might be (one we had looked at yesterday was only 5 dollars but very grim, luckily there was a smarter one up the road). As it was there the first one we came across was a large brick building (wooden ones quaint but let in all the mossies) with large rooms and even en suite facilities. 10 dollars or 15 with air con…..no contest – we always go for the air con if available (feeling slightly guilty about the environment but we rest and sleep so much better in the this humid heat).
After a shower (cold but wonderful) we strolled round town. This took approximately 5 minutes to see the full extent but it had an impressive Buddhist temple in the middle (no photos as had not taken camera or phones with us, not expecting to see anything). In that time we did see about 5 phone shops. As in India nearly every village has a mobile phone mast (or 2 or 3) and connectivity is as much as an obsession as it is for us. It was a small, ordinary little Cambodian town in the middle of nowhere – we certainly feel off the beaten track (although we did see one Australian cyclist today going the other way today towards Siem Reap so we are not totally unique).