Day 3: Kompong Thom to Kompong Cham

We left Kampomg Thom after breakfast, and looked forward to a slightly shorter day than the previous one, about 150km. It was also by far the most perfect one riding-wise. We started with two hours of riding on paved tarmac, which was a bit dull. We took a short break to stop to see a some sculptors carving out gigantic statues of the Buddha. I was also surprised to see a few little statues of the Hindu god Ganesha.



On we continued across paddy fields, kicking up a lot of dust, dodging potholes and getting our first introduction to some slippery surfaces. It was a little unnerving at first, but I soon adapted. The potholes were always the worst at the beginning and end of every road through a village.

Our next stop was at a village where a large group of children gathered to stare at us curiously. Chea bought a bag of sweets which Nicole distributed amongst them. A bicyclist with a cart playing some music passed us, and Chea told us that it was an ice cream seller. A curious similarity with the US! Another cart was parked close by, who had a sort of moving target which you could shoot with a fake gun. The prize was an ice cream lolly. The target was divided up into numbers, and hitting the lowest number got you a prize. I managed to hit a 1 and won four ice creams. I distributed them to the watching children, whose faces broke out with delight. I wished I had enough ice cream for all of them!



We made off after this brief rest. Starting to ride again after a break always feels so much better. I feel more refreshed and more confident on surfaces that were challenging an hour before. For the next couple of hours, we went over what was the most challenging terrain I’ve ridden as a beginning dirtrider. It was full of lots of ruts and pot holes, and slippery sand and mud which made the rear wheel slide around a lot. It also kicked up a lot of dust, so that at times I could barely see a few feet in front of me. All I could do was to pin the throttle and try my best to follow Chea’s lines. While difficult it was also exhilarating. Maybe I like a little bit of unusualness and drama in my riding to be truly enjoying it. This route also had a few uphill and downhill changes, which had been few and far between in the mostly flat terrain so far. After about two hours, we rode uphill to a temple complex and parked. The view made me gasp.

Spread out ahead us in the distance was the Mekong river. It was blue and calm and an amazing tonic for the senses. There were long flights of stairs that led down from where we were to the sandy banks of the river. The stairs were fringed by giant luminous green serpent carvings. There were lush palm trees everywhere. Green trees, blue river, golden sands, clear skies… this was bliss. This was our last stop for the day and we stayed a long time. The others relaxed and lounged around, drinking Cokes and taking pictures. I went off with Pich down the long flight of stairs to the Mekong to touch its waters. This has always seemed very symbolic to me. I had now touched one of the most famous, important rivers in southeast Asia. I was very far from home indeed!


This burst of enthusiasm was dampened a bit by the prospect of climbing back up 300 steps in motorcycle boots, but we managed. I was sweating profusely at the top, but it didn’t matter. This was a beautiful day so far. I spent some more time walking around and looking at the temples. Most of them were closed, but the outsides were splendid enough that I didn’t mind.




When we finally left for the hotel for the last 25 odd km stretch to the hotel, I felt like the day had offered all that it could have. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Those last 25km were the magical ones I have ridden in a long time. We rode on perfectly paved roads fringed with lush green trees shading it from the sun, through an endless stream of houses with people going about their everyday lives, trees dripping with fruit, occasional glimpses of the river, children bicycling past¦. Why would anyone want to live anywhere else? It was obvious that these villages were abundant with natural riches. Perhaps their proximity to the Mekong contributed to this a great deal. They had fruit and fish, easy access to the temple and the city. They all looked so peaceful and happy. I was grateful for having had the opportunity to have experienced it. I believe this is what they call getting into a zen mode where everything feels perfect and your worries lift away and life is simple and serene. For a few brief moments, I was a part of their lives, as they looked up from whatever they were doing towards the noisy motorcycles that roared past. At this moment, I knew that I had reached the peak of joy that this journey would bring me.

At the end of our day’s ride was our hotel, where our room had a perfect view of the Mekong. Our guides had chosen well! A beer and a hot shower later I felt more like a human.