Today included visits to temple sites and a fair bit of riding, including talking a short-cut route that saw us riding a narrow raised track between rice paddies.
We left Battambang about 8.30am and began riding to our first sight-seeing location. Along the way, we rode across a narrow suspension bridge that is only wide enough for bikes or pedestrians.
The first stop of the morning was Phnom Banan, an 11th century Khmer temple complex at the top of a 400-metre mountain. There are over 350 steep steps to climb to reach the temple, so we left our helmets and body armour at the ticket booth for safe keeping and began the climb.
The next stop was Phnom Sampeau. There are temples at the top of the mountain and a cave that was used by the Khmer Rouge as one of their Killing Fields sites. Victims were killed and dumped into the caves.
This mountain has a concrete access road, so we were able to ride to the top. First we visited the temples and then went to see the caves.
Our third stop was at the Kamping Puoy dam and reservoir. This was central to the Khmer Rouge’s plan to irrigate the countryside around Battambang but tens of thousands of people died during its construction, through malnutrition, disease, overwork or mistreatment.
By the time we reached the dam, it was almost 1.00pm, so we decided to eat lunch at one of the ‘hammock restaurants’ that line the shore of the reservoir.
After a one-hour lunch stop, we began the ride to Siem Reap. Initially, it was a graded dirt road that was the dustiest road we’ve seen on the tour. I had to drop back further than usual behind Dave, as the dust cloud kicked up by his bike made it difficult to see the road surface in front of me.
We pushed on, riding on dirt roads and some paved roads. At one point, we stopped for drinks at a road-side shop and, whilst there, a group of local men told Dave that there was a short-cut that would reduce our total mileage to Siem Reap. Apparently, the dirt road had been there for ages but had only recently been graded. However, there was some confusion regarding the state of the road beyond the newly graded section. The men said that the road became ‘single-track’ but the condition of that track was unclear. Dave and I discussed the route options and decided that we would take a chance on the short-cut.
We made good progress on the graded dirt road, albeit very dusty. But then the graded road turned right and the route directly ahead was a narrower dirt track.
We took the dirt track and I thought ‘this isn’t bad’. But it was about to get worse. As we pushed on, the track narrowed and we began to see wet areas on the track, due to the irrigation of the rice paddies. Still, the terrain wasn’t bad at that point, but a couple of muddy puddles proved to be my downfall (pun intended). The two water-filled holes were in the middle of the track. As I rode though one of them, my front wheel slid out in the mud, causing me and the bike to fall to the right. My first ‘off’ of the tour! It was a slow speed fall, as I was only in second gear trying to negotiate the track. No damage to the bike and no injury to me. I had the bike up and running again before Dave had a chance to turn back to see where I was.
The most challenging section was still to come, when the narrow track ran along the ridge of a mud bank that separated two rice paddies. In places, the track wasn’t much wider than my bike tyres.In other places, the track was rough and bumpy. If this track had been on flat ground, it wouldn’t have been challenging at all. But it was on top of a mound, with sloping edges on each side that were lined with water-filled rice paddies. There was no room for error. Veer off the narrow track and you’d be in the rice paddy. For much of the length of that section, the track wasn’t wide enough to be able to put a foot down for stability. The height of the bike, together with the slope on each side, meant that my feet couldn’t reach the ground on either side of the track. Even if they could, that ‘ground’ was water-covered mud – the rice paddy. I decided that ‘slow and easy’ would win the day, so I kept my feet on the pegs and picked my way along the track in first gear. It was a relief to get to the other end intact.
With the rice paddies behind us, the track widened and we continued off-road for some time before we reached a graded dirt road. Eventually we came out at the paved highway to Siem Reap. The short-cut had worked, chopping off some distance from our planned route. And Dave now had a new route option for future tours to Battambang.
We still had about 50km to ride before reaching Siem Reap, and the sun was setting. That posed a slight problem, as Dave’s bike had developed a short in the wiring for the lights – meaning he had no lights. As darkness fell, I had to ride closely behind him, in his 7 o’clock position, so that oncoming traffic could see my lights, and my headlight could light the road in front of Dave. We made it safely into Siem Reap, arriving after 6.00pm with another good day under our belts.
There are still two more days of the 10-day tour to go, but we will now be based back in Siem Reap.