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Old 04-22-2010, 10:14 PM   #1
Joined: Aug 2009
Location: In transit
Oddometer: 92
Khmer New Year

Greetings all.

I had the great fortune to spend Khmer New Year in Cambodia (April 14, 15,16) with a friend and his family and I thought I'd try to make my first ride report out of it, as we rode out to his small village and back on a 250 Honda dual sport that I rented in Phnom Penh. So, heeeere we go . . .

I flew into Phnom Penh a few days prior to the festivities and met up with my friend Ratana, who is from a small village in a poor province called Prey Veng. A good deal of the photos I have of the biking portion of the trip were taken by him on the back of the bike as I drove. Yep, we went two-up on a Honda 250. I have no idea what the model was, but maybe you guys can tell me later. I was packing a small school-like backpack with a few changes of clothing, some toiletries, and a bottle of shochu (liquor) that I brought from Japan for Ratana's family, that I used for ten days in Cambodia and Vietnam that we bungeed down on the small rack. He carried a small bag on his shoulder. So that was the extent of the preparations made.

Quickly, we headed out of the city the day before Khmer New Year and the traffic, like everything else in Phnom Pehn, was chaotic. We bobbed and weaved our way through a jumble of scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, ox carts, tuk tuk's and everything in between on the way out.

Some street pics in Phnom Penh.

This was pretty standard riding. Flip flops, cell phones, friends and family on the back, sleeping babies wedged between mom and dad, toddlers standing up in front driving . . .

This guy even rode through a tree with no helmet, but managed to emerge unscathed.

We weren't exactly ATGATT either, but we sported full faced helmets, sleeves, pants, shoes, etc . . . and I didn't have a single cell phone conversation the entire ride, although I think I did hear Ratana take one or two on the back.

We crossed a big bridge over the Mekong and headed out of the city. Everyone was pouring out of the city and one of the main ways to get back to the villages in the countryside is by microbus. If we hadn't rented the bike, we would have had to take a city bus out to catch a microbus, make a ferry crossing and then eventually transfer to the back of scooters for the final leg-- so we made the right decision on many levels I think.

Microbus bursting at the seams. We passed a lot of these on the way out.

Heading out of the city.

After riding for about an hour we came to the ferry crossing where we had to cross the Mekong again. We bought the ticket, lined up in the start grid and shot down the river bank with everyone else, jockeying for position and a spot on the boat.

A shot of us on the ferry.

Packed like sardines, crossing the Mekong.

The other side of the river, making our way into Prey Veng province.

A little glimpse at the front end of the bike, as well. Speedo didn't work. Ditto the odometer. Have no idea about the turn signals-- never used 'em. Was a good little bike, though. Had enough power for passing on the highway and the soft springy suspension soaked up the bumps on the dirt roads that we were about to be taking a little later after departing the main road. It was about 100 degrees F/ 38C during the day and the engine got a bit hot after a while, but she never died on us.

We took a few breaks along the way to stretch our legs and have a drink. There were quite a few gas stands along the way dispensing gas out of two liter Sprite bottles, which also had presses for squeezing fresh sugar cane juice. I thought it would be sickly sweet on a hot day, but man was it refreshing to drink one in the shade.

The roads turned to dirt after leaving the main road. I was looking around thinking what a desolate place Cambodia was because everywhere you looked the fields were barren. Just mud and dust. Ratana explained to me later that they can only grow one harvest of rice a year in this province. They plant in October or November and harvest in February or March. Six months of the year they have the rainy season and everything floods. You have to travel the same roads we rode on by boat. Everyone turns to fishing during that time. The other six months it's dry like this and there's no irrigation, of course. The rice is low quality and doesn't even sell for a good price.

Typical landscape.

The roads were easy riding for the most part. You could follow the groove in the middle until you hit oncoming traffic. Being on the bigger bike, I deferred to the scooter drivers we came across. It was dry and hard packed, just a few soft spots where the front end made attempts to wash out, mostly in turns. There were some crazy crater-like pot holes nearer to his village, but no pics unfortunately, with me trying to keep us upright and he bouncing around in the back.

We made a stop on the way to his village at his old junior and senior high school. Since it was the New Year's holiday all the students were gone, but we took a look around and met with a few of the staff.

Ratana at his former school.

We bumped into Saiki-san, who is currently the volunteer Japanese teacher here (this school is run by an NGO.) Ratana and I both speak Japanese so we chatted with her for a while. She was quite shocked and happy to see these two guys rock up out of nowhere in the middle of a day when there's no one around for miles and she's sitting in her room all day reading books and avoiding the scorching sun.

I took the opportunity to kick my feet up for a few, while we were there.

We hit the road again and saw more sights like this before arriving at Ratana's village.

The final road to his parent's house. Here's his mom coming back from the market with his a few of his nephews in tow.

We pulled in to his family's compound and one after another his relatives came to meet us. Calls were made and cousins came in from the market just to meet me. From what they told me, I was the first American that anyone had ever met in this village. Old men shook my hand and told me that they were my father here and to see them if I need anything (all translated, of course.) I had about four fathers by the time we left! Everyone was extremely warm and friendly. The hospitality was incredible. Nieces cut fresh fruit for us and brought us water. Food was set out. We ate and then just laid out and napped right there on the floor that afternoon. We woke up, played some cards, chatted, ate again and just relaxed.

Lights out.



Good morning, Cambodia!

Here's Ratana's parent's house where we stayed, with our trusty little two-fiddy in the foreground.

His cousin and uncle also had a house each on this property.

They had some chicken and pigs roaming freely around the property. There were a few dogs and I found a cat perched on the windowsill next to me when I woke up in the morning. They had cows and a few buffalo roaming the surrounding fields. I asked how many and they said about 14. Now that the harvest is over the cows and buffalo just do their own thing. They go out to the river during the day for water and come back at dusk to the fields near the house and eat some hay.

His family pumped water from a well they had on the property with a small gas powered generator into these big cisterns they had in front of their houses (foreground next to the stick with the clothes on it in the last pic) for bathing and cooking, etc. For electricity each house had a car battery that they ran a light or two off of by connection mini jumper cables to the wires. The had a television, too, and even charged their cell phones off these car batteries with a mini jumper cable. I didn't see exactly how it connected to the phone, but there must have been some kind of adapter.

It was really comfortable, and since it was New Year's and the harvest was over and the rain yet to come, all there was to do was relax.

We played some cards and I tried my best to pick up a few new games.

We ate lunch. Then drank. The small plastic bottle in front of the guy drinking from the shot glass in this photo is filled with a type of Cambodian rice wine moonshine. I can't remember the name exactly, but we went around a circle drinking shots of this after eating. One bottle then two bottles, then three bottles then four.

I think their level of respect for me went up a notch or two here.

Then the food was cleared away and we all promptly laid down and went to sleep for an hour or two. A few guys went back down to play cards again.

That evening we went to his cousin's house by the market for the New Year's celebration and food, drinks, and dancing.

Dinner. Beef stew with a grassy, stalky kind of vegetable they called morning glory. Simmered over an open fire in a huge pot, served with rice.

We ate, drank the liquor I brought, and then moved on to some Black Panther stout.

And danced some traditional Khmer dances to some karaoke music blasting out of a single PA speaker. I'd dance nine songs and and as soon as I sat out the tenth, I'd have a group of people tearing me from my seat to go dance with them, so I shuffled around that beam and waved my hands tai chi style long into the night.

Happy New Year!



And thanks to everyone that made this trip possible.

RC. screwed with this post 04-22-2010 at 10:23 PM
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Old 04-23-2010, 03:06 AM   #2
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Very interesting glimpse into every day life in Cambodia. Are the houses elevated due to flooding?
Thanks for the report and pics
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Old 04-23-2010, 07:01 AM   #3
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Very interesting, good stuff! Thanks for sharing the ride and the country.
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Old 04-23-2010, 07:18 PM   #4
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Thank you for posting.
This is one of the most interesting Cambodian motorcycle trip.
Traveling with the locals make your trip outstanding.
Great story and wonderful picture of local life.

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Old 04-23-2010, 07:47 PM   #5
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I'd rather die living than live dying.

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Old 04-23-2010, 10:21 PM   #6
Joined: Aug 2009
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Glad you guys liked it.


I think that might be a reason. The property where the houses were was supposed to be above flood level according to what Ratana told me, but you've got to be prepared anyway, right? I think it also had something to do with air circulation. The floors upstairs were made of thin strips of bamboo with space between the slats (you can see in the picture of us having lunch and drinking in the house) which kept things comfortable. The fact that there are animals all over the place means it serves like a kind of separation at night too, I think.
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