28-Jul-2004 -- 28 July 2004
I packed the motorbike with a few essentials and set off quite late at 10am, to search out the point 12N and 106E. After about two hours, I refueled in Kompong Cham, headed over the great new bridge over the Mekong river and stopped at one of the popular restaurants about a kilometer further on for lunch.
The weather was great as there was a lot of cloud cover, so the riding wasn’t too hot. I was really impressed to be riding on a nice new sealed road. My last bike trip over this same road left our group with a few punctures and many stops to rest.
I had a few waypoints in my GPS and was constantly keeping a watch so I wouldn’t miss the turn off to head north towards some of the cities along the Mekong. Leaving this wonderful sealed road (a rarity in Cambodia), I was surprised to find the red laterite road was in great condition and I was cruising at 70-80kms/hr. After around 26kms, I was looking for the turnoff as shown in an old map. In these areas the new tracks are very often in totally different places to the old one. This usually comes about because of the land movement in the monsoon season, there are also new roads (tracks) built around areas which have been mined and not cleared.
The turnoff was in a new place, but very easy to find. A right turn at the round-about. I was once again more than happy to see that an organization called TRIP had been real busy in this area and built a huge number of small but fully functional roadways.
I stopped and chatted to a few farmers as danger mines signs were lining the roads and I was thinking this trip was going to be an incomplete visit.
The area is covered with cluster bombs commonly called bombies. Apparently there were no landmines in the area. Most of the bombies are ‘relatively’ safe in that they have to be hit before exploding, small comfort to a visitor such as myself.
Continuing along these great TRIP roadways, I came across a few minor intersections and turned in the general direction I had marked a waypoint in my GPS as the closest point on the old road to the 12/106 point. As I was getting fairly close, I set the GPS to the 12/106 point and kept following these roadways until I arrived at a village called something like Phum Srey Koh.
Halfway through the village I was stopped by a bog. Black mud and murky water blocking the road. After chatting to the folk in the nearby house I found out the whole area around the village had bombies scattered all around and I was even more certain this would be an incomplete visit. So, now around 2.7kms from the point I set off to the pagoda which I was just told about.
Once again the road was a slop hole, however it did have a walking track around it which young boy came along riding their buffalos and cows.
As I was able to get around this track on the motorbike, I was once again on track to get closer than 2kms for the incomplete visit! The track was getting very sloppy and about a kilometre further I was stopped by water covering the track for about 150m. I was temped to ride through, but decided it was time to park the bike at a little over 2kms from the point and to take the walking track around the water. Surprisingly, I was being accompanied by a very scrawny puppy that had adopted me when I stopped by the pagoda. He accompanied my all the way from then on, a round trip of about 8kms. We went around the water and I was off in full stride. I was becoming quite happy to see that I was now under 1km from the point. After taking a few side trails the puppy and I were now only 300m away when we came across an amazing sight of a huge area that had been cleared for farming. This land was elevated and very slightly undulating and so the ubiquitous rice was not being grown here. I searched out the farmer so that he wouldn’t be too stunned by a westerner way out here in the back blocks of Cambodia walking around his farm with a tiny puppy in tow. It must have been a very strange sight for him. A family of four had planted cashew nut trees and string beans and were ploughing to plant a whole range of vegetables. Very impressive.
After repeatedly telling the farmer he couldn’t have the puppy, I set off with the puppy close on my heals to get as close as possible to the point. The forest looked very thick however I felt sure I could get to within 100m.
After very carefully finding a way through the bush, I came across yet another track and by following this track I ended up only 25m from the point. I stopped and took a lot of photographs and was then surprised to see some boys bicycling about 50m from me. I went over to that track and was then less than 20m from the point. I was really happy after being so sure the visit would be incomplete.
This was close enough as the tree cover was very thick at the exact position and I was too nervous about unseen bombies hidden in the undergrowth. More photographs and then the puppy and I headed back to the motorbike.
I was worried about the batteries going flat on me and then I would have had a lot of trouble fining my way back to the bike. Luckily, no problem there. The biggest delay I had was passing a small group of local villagers. The puppy was too scared to go anywhere near them and they had to move well out of the way before he would rush up to me once again. I had really won a friend and it was a shame to have left him when I went back to Phnom Penh.
My return trip was along another trail I saw in the map. It now follows quite a different path to when the map was made, however I ended up back on the main sealed road and was caught in the rain on my way back to Kompong Cham where I stopped for the night.
The scenery was some of the nicest I have seen around Cambodia and this excuse to go and see it was worth the hassles of the traffic and the amazingly sore bum from riding an off road bike for such a long trip.