- What a difference
a border makes!
-- Story by Chris --
We arrived back in Bangkok (BKK) on Saturday
night, April 29th, and checked into the New World guesthouse (just north of the famous
Khao San Rd). There were 2 other BMW world travelers (Anke & Jan) already
there, and Liam was on his way from the airport, having just flown in from Nepal.
Throughout the next 2 weeks, motorcycle
world travelers would come and go (mostly on BMWs). We shared meals and drinks,
shared information and stories, and friendships were made/strengthened. E-mail
addresses were exchanged, and we slowly separated back into our own itineraries with
expectations to bump into each other again. There was talk of a
"gathering" in Sydney during the Olympics.
The following were in attendance:
- Andreas: German guy riding a Yamaha TT600
- Andy White: Englishman riding a DR600 (I think)
- Anke & Jan (a.k.a. Si Baba): German couple on two BMW R1100GSs
- Benka Pulko: Slovenian woman on BMW F650
- Chris, Ki, and Brigit: German 3-some on two BMW R80GSs
- Erin & Chris: That's us!
- Hamish & Derek: English guys going home from NZ on two BMW R80GSs
- Liam: Irish bleached blonde bloke on a Honda Africa Twin
- Philippe: Belgian guy on Honda Transalp
- Tom & Kirstin: Irishman on BMW R100GSPD & Kiwi gal on Yamaha XT600
Sunday, May 7th: With new
"knobby" tires and some other work completed on the bikes, our 3-some headed
towards the Cambodian border -- Benka is 3 years into her RTW trip, heading west chasing
the sun. We spent the night in the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet, and crossed
into Cambodia the next morning. We were a bit nervous as we'd been warned that the
roads (or lack of) were bad enough, but the rainy season had started and there could be a
lot of difficult mud.
In the morning, we would exit
Thailand and enter Cambodia in about 1 hour, Carnets properly stamped, and medical papers
approved in Cambodia (First time they were ever checked!)
Monday, May 15th, enter Cambodia: WOW,
what a difference a border makes!!! The asphalt instantly disappeared and muddy
trenches were our immediate greeting. We slip-slided through the first 8kms, then
stopped to discuss whether or not to go on -- Our goal was to make Siem Reap/Angkor Wat,
another 145 very difficult kilometers away. We started to rethink all the hardship stories
we were told in BKK (before the rainy season). Thankfully, we gathered our courage
and pressed on. After a short while, the road got a little drier/less slick, and we
got into a bit of a rhythm.
It was about 10:30am, the sun was bright and beating down on us like we were in a pot of
boiling oil. It was about 110F/42C degrees, and there was little/no breeze. So
there we were, 15kms from the border, when suddenly Benka's bike shut down -- poof!
As luck was not too far away, we found a sliver of shade 150 meters up the road, and
pushed the bike off to the side. Not really sure what was wrong with the bike (other
than nothing happened when the key was turned on), we looked under the seat and discovered
a blown fuse -- OK, we thought, lets just replace it and go! Yeah, yeah, yeah, you
tech folks already know -- the next fuse blew instantly. While a gathering of 20+
locals looked on, we fiddled with the wires but couldn't find any obvious
problem, so we stood around the bike scratching our heads, melting in the shade. We
were (literally) stuck in the middle of nowhere, and our limited options were not
Along comes Andre, a Swiss surgeon (and former BMW rider), and his cook, working in the
area for the World Health Organization. He hailed an empty truck with the help of
his cook/translator and we man-handled the bike in (with the help of a bunch of
locals). The bike was hauled another 35kms to Sisaphon over a lousy road. On
the way we had a brief shower which made for challenging road conditions for Erin and I,
while Benka held on in the truck for dear life.
In Sisaphon we unloaded the bike at the hotel,
checked in, and that evening Andre picked us up and took us to his home for a fantastic
dinner including champagne and wine -- It was Benka's 33rd Birthday, and one she'll never
The problem with Benka's bike: The radiator fan lost the screws holding it
to it's mounting, and the fan started scraping against the radiator,
eventually burning out the solenoid ---- causing the short. The
next day (Tuesday), we located a solenoid from a car fan (12 volt parts are
not readily available in Cambodia), modified the mounting, and had the
problem fixed by the end of the day.
Wednesday morning: 7am, we left Sisaphon for our 102km ride to Siem Reap. All
I can say is I'm glad we did it -- In 3 years there will be new bridges and the road will
be completely paved -- leaving behind only memories (and pictures). We crossed over
bridges with the bikes that I was afraid just to walk across. Taking a 280kg (600lb)
2-wheeler across a 5-10meter metal/wood beam, 5 meters above a river was......well, pretty
In between river crossings, we had
"pot-holes" (for lack of a better word) in the dirt road the size of VW Beatles
-- Seriously!!! AND, about halfway to Siem Reap a storm blew in and we were forced
to take refuge under a small tree. The tires were in the mud up to the rims, and
again we contemplated our options -- wait for the road to dry or press on.
We opted to press on, hoping for better weather and fearing more rain in the afternoon.
After slogging through the mud, we finally came upon some broken asphalt, clearing
skies, and a bit of hope. We picked up our 10th water bottle of the day, and
continued with renewed strength and confidence. Our ride on the (broken) asphalt was
short-lived, giving way to more roller-coaster dirt/mud. We took it slowly, got
doused by a second rain shower, and eventually pulled into Siem Reap around 1:00pm -- only
6 hours to travel 102kms/63 miles. We were exhausted but filled with excitement,
giving each other "high-fives" and patting ourselves on the back -- Sure, we're
world travelers, but that doesn't mean we're "off-road experts". In fact,
we're quite the opposite. We made it when none of us (including some of our friends)
thought we would, and most surprisingly, not one of us even fell!
We spent 2 days at Angkor Wat, checking out one
of the "man-made wonders of the world." The temples of Angkor were built
at the height of the Khmer rein of power between the 7th and 11th centuries. Much of
the area is still covered by dense jungle but several of the temples have been restored
(or at least partially restored) like Angkor Wat. Besides this most famous of the
temples, we also explored more fully the temples of Bayon (known for it's ominously large
stone heads), Ta Prohm (a huge Buddhist temple left completely as it was found over a
hundred years ago-----taken over by the jungle), and Phnom Bakheng (one of the first
temple mountains built and great for watching the sunrise over the the other temples).
The Angkor complex is huge, spanning some 10kms in all directions. Most of
the temples are Hindu and the bas-reliefs on the walls closely resemble those we saw in
India. We were lucky to have arrived during the rainy season as it is at it's most
spectacular in color.
Saturday, May 20th: The last day of Year
#1 of our Ultimate Journey. We departed Siem Reap heading south east to Kompong
Thom, 148kms away. We were told that the road was no worse then the road to S.R.,
some even said it is better. Well, the bridges were definitely better, and there
were only a few tricky spots, but what a lousy road it was!! This stretch of
the road had at one time been paved, and at another time been attacked, leaving the
surface scarred and eroded, basically dirt-packed rubble. Today the rains came
early, making the dirt/mud shoulder too difficult to negotiate, and forcing us to ride in
the center of the bone-jarring debris. In a way the ride was actually kind of boring
-- rattled us to pieces, yes, but nonetheless, tedious.
During the day Erin began to feel ill, and we
stopped several times to rest, drink water, and gather our strength. When we were
just 2kms away from Khompon Thom (and finally on pavement), Erin pulled over and got sick.
Saturday night was a quiet night as the 3 of us retired early for some much needed
Sunday, May 21st: Our 1 year anniversary
and start of Year #2. We awoke feeling revived, rested, and refreshed -- especially
Erin. We had a short ride of 170kms to the capital city of Phnom Penh, all on
asphalt. After settling in at a friends place, we went to the Sunrise Bar and had a
small party with Darrel (our host), Tom & Kirstin (RTW bikers), Julian (only local BMW
rider/club president), his wife Noiy, Benka, Erin, and myself.
Ahhh, this is living....