Siem Reap to Svay Leu

Fi (my sister) and I set off from Siem Reap at 8.30am on Tuesday morning. We were carrying a small rucksack each with a couple of changes of clothes, some toiletries, a few spare inner tubes and a pack of cards each. We were riding hired mountainbikes, that we had never ridden before, and we were setting off on five days cycling through the north of Cambodia.

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In our limited preparation, there seemed to be no blogs or information on crazyguyonabike from people who had done something similar before, only tour companies offering expensive and organised trips. We knew we didn’t want to do the latter, so instead we opted for looking on various maps at potential circuits from Siem Reap that we could do in 5 days, and that had some accommodation along the way.

Our first stop, a mere 63km away, was Svay Leu. A small town by the look of it, that had just one guesthouse marked out on my map. It started well. We cycled through an amazing market on the edge of Siem Reap. The roads were total chaos, with motorbikes, bicycles hauling huge trailers, tuktuk style buses and all sorts of other vehicles sharing the road. As always seems to be the case in markets in Asia, the traffic did not flow in two directions, but twenty different ones. It was great fun cycling through the craziness and onto the relatively calm highway that it led onto.

The highway itself was easy cycling. It has a lane especially for slow vehicles, which meant that the faster traffic could give us lots of space. Of course we also had to share this lane with bicycles, motorbikes and pedestrians coming the other way. We stopped for fresh coconut and sticky rice in bamboo as a mid morning snack and continued on our way.

By 1.30pm we had arrived in Svay Leu, and we were starving. With no sign of the lone guesthouse we decided to first eat, as lunch was overdue. It turned out that we had missed an earlier turning, and our easy first day of 63km had been extended by 12km, making it 76km in total.  I was already grateful that we had invested the extra $3 a day for good quality bikes.

After lunch we backtracked and went hunting for our hotel, as it turned out it was at the start of the village. We had pretty much cycled out of the village and nothing was looking hopeful. We were starting to get worried. I stopped to ask (or rather mime sleeping to) a woman coming out of an important looking building and she pointed further out of the village. Our hope returned, but it didn’t last.

Guesthouse is a generous term for what we found. It was a concrete building with a tin roof. At the far end was a huge barn like structure (also made of corrugated iron) where we found a smiling Khmer man wrestling with water spurting violently from the hosepipe in his hands. He seemed somewhat startled by our presence but nevertheless showed us to the end room. We glanced inside and it seemed nice enough. Two beds and two chairs, a separate bathroom. We gave him a US$10 note (for those who don’t know, Cambodia uses two currencies simultaneously: US dollars and Cambodian riel – try that for some complicated conversion calculations) and he returned with our change in riel in installments. In the end we paid $8 for our room.

All was well until Fi walked into the bathroom. The toilet was western style, but missing a toilet lid and dirty. There was half a tube of toothpaste and an old toothbrush in the sink. I’m not sure if this was meant to be complimentary toiletries…either way, we would’ve rather gone without… On closer inspection, the beds had not been cleaned. On even closer inspection, there was poo on the bed. We told ourselves it was probably only mice, hopefully not rats…

The shower was a bucket with a saucepan. I don’t mind this at all, having used this method of showering many times before. However, it is a little disconcerting when you turn on the tap and brown liquid pours from it which starts to froth manically as it hits the bucket. We showered and washed our single change of smelly cycling clothes with said water anyway, given that we had no other choice, but neither of us really felt clean.

Suffice to say we didn’t want to spend too much time inside the room, and when we had tired of the insects as we played cards outside on the porch, we decided to head back into town to buy some supplies.

It didn’t take us long to find the market. A tiny ramshackle collection of wooden stands and tarpaulin propped up against each other to protect the women sitting beneath from the elements. It was already raining, and had been all afternoon, and it dripped through onto the ground. The narrow walkway was muddy  and full of rubbish underfoot.

Fi was so preoccupied watching her footing and oggling the half dissected chicken on the nearby stall that she didn’t realise that the thing that was stroking her shoulder, was not in fact me, but two more dead chickens strung up by their ankles.

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