Musings on riding through Cambodia
Cambodia is mostly hot and flat. Riding on my vintage, two-stroke, Soviet monster for hundreds of kilometers on end was less enjoyable than some of the other riding I had enjoyed in the region, and that is when Dylan proposed we go back to Phnom Penh via pickup I readily agreed. No shenanigans though, that was my only requirement. “Let’s pay a premium, so we get a truck all to ourselves”, I said. We agreed and found a guy who worked at our hotel (or at least hung out at our hotel) to arrange a truck. The very beat-up toyota showed about two hours late and a gang of Cambodians proceeded to lash our bikes on the bed. The truck was pretty cramped, but what the heck — we’d make it for the 300 km drive that would hopefully take around 4 hours. Our main aim was to be in Phnom Penh before sunset mostly for safety concerns brought on by some stories Dylan had heard in Thailand…something to the effect of “lots of AK 47’s still floating around”…
That didn’t end up working out. We proceeded to cruise around Siem Reap for the remainder of the day loading more stuff onto the pickup truck including enough lumber to build a house, various pieces of heavy machinery, an ice cream merchant’s cart (he was evidently seeking better opportunities in the capital), and a young Cambodian mother with a few of her kids. Initially I had grabbed the passenger front seat, and Dylan had the bench seat –well the seat was actually missing, but that general area at least. Alas, this was not to last. The driver explained in his best English that normally he gets three to four Cambodians in the backseat alone, and we hadn’t paid that much, so both of us needed to fit in the bench seat (general area). We grudginly cooperated. I tried to raise a stink, but that was going nowhere, and our bikes were firmly committed and underneath a metric ton of junk. Oh well — here we go. Two more guys squeezed in the front seat bringing the total number of passengers to about ten, and right at dusk we set of for Phnom Penh.
The ride went smoothly enough except for early on a near collision with a pedestrian. I had visions of the young mother and her offspring seated on top of the pile of junk to come flying over the front of the car during the resulting swerve at 80 km/hr. During our first food break, the driver explained he only drove at night to avoid the police. I guess there was after all something illegal about his rig, and there are less bribes to pay after dark. We did make several stops in seemingly random places just to hand some cash to a police “officer” standing by the side of the road. Our final bribe we paid as we rolled into Phnom Penh around 3 am collected by a young boy working for the police officer standing by the side of the road. I learned during the trip that about half of what we paid to travel had actually been commission to our truck broker, and between the gasoline and the bribes, I guess the truck guy runs his business on a tight margin.
It was kinda neat rambling along the Cambodian countryside at night in slight physical discomfort, paying off cops, glimpsing into the Cambodian households lit up by the family’s solitary CFL bulb, and eating the truckstop food. Both Dylan and I were a little apprehensive the whole time about being robbed by our friendly transporter, but in the end we got to sigh in relief when we got back on our familiar bikes near the Psar Thmey Market.