It is 126km (over 80 miles) from Anlong Veng to Siem Reap, if you take the short cut through Angkor Wat. What we didn’t realise until later, was that you were unable to take this shortcut that we had in mind unless you could produce a valid ticket for Angkor Wat for that day.
It was, however, already a big day, so it was a 4.30am start for us, and, after a breakfast of sticky corn on the cob and various “num” (cake) made from rice and fruit, we set off, a good two hours earlier than any other morning, at 5.30am.
By 7.30am, our usual setting off time, we already had more than 35km (20+miles) behind us, and we were starting to get peckish. We passed through some of the poorest villages we had yet seen, small wooden shacks propped up against one another and people walking barefoot along the road between them. We began to think we may not find anywhere for a second breakfast on route.
Just as we were beginning to give up hope of a proper breakfast, and starting to think we would instead buy more steamed sticky corn (there were plenty of vendors selling this), we stumbled across what seemed to be a small restaurant.
It was a solitary wooden trestle-type table with a brightly coloured plastic tablecloth on it. It sat, along with a handful of equally as brightly coloured plastic chairs, in the shade of a large tree, and there were a few people gathered around eating. We stopped, smiled, pointed at the bowls that others were eating and mimed eating ourselves. At first everyone looked shocked and we were suddenly worried that we had gatecrashed a family meal. Luckily they were soon making space for us at the table and as we sat down, it became clear that it was a restaurant, as other customers exchanged money with the owner.
We were given what appeared to be their single dish. A strange mushy looking substance atop some noodles, served in a bright green broth. We were somewhat unsure what we were about to eat, but with little other choice, we tucked in. Sure enough, it turned out to be a delicious concoction of freshly steamed fish, vegetables and noodles. As we ate we attracted a small crowd who were all trying to chat to us in Khmer. Obviously we couldn’t answer. Suddenly in the mix of Khmer, I heard “Put pahsar Thai dai mai?” I looked at the lady who had spoken and it was the older lady who owned the little restaurant we were eating in. What a surprise! She spoke Thai and soon we were having a stilted conversation. It turned into a lovely little break, and being rural Cambodia, cost us less than $1.50 between the two of us! What a shock Siem Reap prices would be when we returned later that day!
We continued our journey in the ever increasing heat of the day. The road lacked any shelter and it was sweltering work pedalling in the hot and humid sun. We were waved down briefly by a Khmer man on the side of the road, apparently fixing his over-heating car, until we suddenly realised it was the teachers from the evening before, making their own way to Siem Reap. They waved us down just to encourage us on our journey which was a nice boost!
I finally had enough of the heat just a few kilometres before our scheduled stop and pulled over into a tiny roadside café. I was feeling dizzy and headachey, and with 60km to go was a little worried that I would not make it. Luckily, half an hour in the shade drinking ice cold fresh coconut and water soon made me feel better.
Whilst there, we lucky enough to get chatting to the owner’s brother, a tuktuk driver from Siem reap who had brought tourist’s out to a local attraction for the day, and whilst they were enjoying the waterfalls, he was spending time with his family. When we told him our route, he kindly told us the secret local’s way into Angkor Wat, so that we could avoid the ticket control. It added more than 10km onto our journey later in the day, but saved us $40!
Our last 20km, from the far side of Angkor Wat into Siem Reap were probably the most fun of the day. It was 3.30pm and the worst of the heat had subsided. We had cycled these same roads earlier in the week and suddenly our big day felt achievable. The roads were almost empty as we cycled past all the beautiful old temples and we had sing along music playing as we cycled. By the time we reached Siem Reap we were laughing and joking, feeling excited and proud that we had achieved what we set out to do. It had been a long final day, but a fun and beautiful one, and we were happy!