As with the other mornings, we set off in good time, but unlike yesterday, we decided to stop for a proper breakfast, rather than survive on sugar all morning, and we were so glad we had!
Unlike the other days of cycling, where there were roadside stalls every kilometre at most, often only hundreds of metres apart, today was different. The last town we passed was 20km in to our cycling, and we didn’t reach another until our destination, another 55km further.
We cycled through what appeared to be an enormous military base. There were houses along the roadside, but unlike the villages before which were built in uneven clusters, these houses were built with precision. Each house was identical, all were built on stilts, with a small porch and on an equal sized plot of land. The houses stretched for kilometres at a time. Some looked lived in, a lot didn’t.
There were no street side shops at all, and, somewhat lulled into a false sense of security by the sheer quantity of places to stop and restock on food and water in the days previous, we were decidedly unprepared today. After 20km or so with no sign of a place to refill our dwindling water supplies, we made the spontaneous decision to stop at a military hut on the way when we spotted the telltale bright blue water bottle. It was a busy place, armed men dressed smartly in military uniform and flipflops wandering around and huge 4×4 vehicles parked outside. We parked our bikes on the edge of the base and walked somewhat timidly in, holding our empty water bottles in front of us.
Despite their slightly stern demeanour, they were of course incredibly friendly and insisted on giving us four fresh bottles of water for our journey. We were so grateful to them, especially when we realised just how far it was to the next shop where we would otherwise have been able to stock up with water.
We arrived in Sra Aem in time for lunchand immediately noticed a difference to the places we had stayed before. There was, for the first time in our journey, someone who spoke English serving food at the restaurant we ate at and there was not one, but a choice of four guesthouses and hotels to stay in.
By chance, as it was the first one we saw, we ended up in Piseth Pich Guesthouse, which we later found out was the one that came most recommended. We paid $10, the most we had yet paid for a room, but it was amazing. Clean sheets and fresh towels. A completely clean, insect free bathroom. We felt in heaven! It was such a nice treat after two nights in less than perfect accommodation, and a welcome break after 4 days cycling in a row (3 on the tour, 1 around Angkor Wat).
Sra Aem, we hadn’t realised, is the closest town to the Preah Vihear temple in the very north of Cambodia. If we had had more time we might have paid it a visit, but we were tired, and it was a further 30km north, so instead, we drank fresh coconut and relaxed in the afternoon sun. By the time we went to sleep, it almost felt like we’d had a rest day!