Archive | February, 2012

Our first visit to Sustainable Cambodia

26 Feb

By Gary

Day 7 – Early morning ride to Pursat.  We got on the road at 8 and everyone had made it to Pursat by 10:30am or so.  I stopped at a moto shop and got my headlight fixed and had an oil change.  Big bill this time – $4 🙂

So we were in Pursat to meet with Sustainable Cambodia.  Dean called them and they sent Dimang to lead us to their campus in Pursat.  Lots of introductions were made.  Too many to remember really, but I do remember the name of Polin (sp?) because he was a project director and spoke particularly good English.

They gave us a quick overview of their projects and we inferred their close relationship  with Rotary International – aka the Rotary Club back home.  They seemed to really have their act together and this was echoed by several of the volunteers we spoke to.  The best thing about SC was that they do not give handouts – all of their projects revolve around helping people become self sufficient.

The campus had a library and some school rooms, a community fish pond, rainwater collection system and several biosand water filters.  The people working there and the kids going to school there all used the facilities on the site, but it was clear that they also doubled as a showcase of their projects.

After lunch and another couple quick presentations the kids were getting out of class and we got a couple photos with the kids and the bikes and then headed out to one of the villages just outside of Pursat.  I got the impression this village was a mature SC project.  SC has several different projects, but to explain the first place we went requires a little background.

As I understand it, the way SC organizes is that they setup village community ‘councils’.  The councils oversee the local projects and do community funded microloans to the villagers.  The microloans are actually genius as long as the village as a whole has enough resources to fund them.  They only charge 2% interest, 1% goes to the council admin costs and the other 1% goes to the community members that sponsored the loan.  That stands in stark contrast to Kiva or other microfinance places that typically end up charging between 30% and 40% interest.

So, the first place we went was the house of the current council head.  Their very modest acre or two farm implemented at least two very ingenious SC projects.  The most impressive is a biogas generation system.  Essentially it is an underground holding tank into which they add a slurry of 20 liters of water and 20 kilos of cow dung every day.  That produces enough methane to run gas lamps and cooking stoves – the modest farm house had gas plumbing and fixtures and they all worked with the turn of a knob.  The system had a consistent 9kpa of pressure so it must have had a regulator outside the house.  The excess pressure in the tank would force out the old manure into a holding tank that they then could use as fertilizer for their crops (corn and various types of squash).  Ingenious and cheap.  The whole system was less than $500.  Sustainable Cambodia picks up half the tab for the biogas installs and the family pays the rest.

The also had a shallow water pump, cistern and I think a biosand filter as well.  They were pretty much entirely self sufficient.  I didn’t see their cattle – they must have been out grazing, but the dung was all over the fenced area around the house and I imagine the rainy season provides more than enough water to make the whole thing work indefinitely.  Really ingenious setup.

Then we went to the village school campus and community center – cute kids running around after school, women making baskets, a some bee hives and a palm wine distillery – lots of stuff going on there.  Very cool and all are/were Sustainable Cambodia projects.

Afterwards we headed back to Pursat for dinner and a couple beers.  We need to get on the road early today to get to the next outlying project.  Breakfast and get on the road by 8am – gotta run.

2012 Ride for Cambodia team and Sustainable Cambodia kids


The kids were super friendly


A few of the villagers who SC works together with


Methane collection system in Cambodia


Methane gas lamp at villager's house


Farming food


Well water system and pump




Biosand filter to produce clean drinking water


SC built the building and helps train teachers for this school in Pursat provence








Gary checking out bees


Another SC classroom


Kids having fun at SC school


Villager weaving basket


Offroad through rice patties and shortcuts by Dean

24 Feb

by Dean

It was a late start. It’s always a late start at r4c. Paul waited patiently as Gary went to post a package, Sam had a basket fitted to the front of his scooter (hmmm), Matt went to find a bank, and everyone else filled with fuel. So what was supposed to be an early start turned into a 10:30 start…

Then one of team Roger’s (Frank and John) bikes developed an exhaust leak so they were held up (and consequently decided to take a different road today). Then Laurence’s bike broke the exhaust off as well, which held up Sam, Gary, Laurence and Dave. This left Paul and Matt and I to continue ahead and try to find the mystery dirt road that would lead us to Battambang.

I call it a mystery road because it doesn’t occur on any map or gps, i found it pouring over satellite imagery months ago while planning the ride and trying to avoid the highway. I could see what looked like a road that led south from the highway just outside Siem Reap down to Battambang, but couldn’t be sure it was a road and not a canal or river… i plotted the track in google earth and then downloaded to my gps with absolutely no idea how reliable it would be.

Meanwhile Laurence’s exhaust repair was taking forever, and as the mystery road was an unknown quantity, we decided to push on without the rest of the gang and at least be able to let them know what to expect.

It started surprisingly well. The road was exactly as per my gps track, every turn was within 10 metres of our actual position, i was feeling good about things…

“hey i think i have a puncture… does my rear tyre look flat?!” i yell at Paul down the intercom
“yep it sure is…”

I turn around and try to make my way back to the main rd while it’s still partially inflated, i make it only just but walk it the last 100m to a tyre repair shop where a 13 year old boy slowly repairs the 2 nail holes in it for just $2.

Rule no 55 : you never need to walk more than 100m to get a puncture repaired in Cambodia.

On the road again but it’s Ground Hog Day and the tyre goes down again, this time too far from the road to consider returning though. So it’s out with the rear wheel which Paul heads back with this time looking for a new tube.

Matt and I wait…

Matt makes a fire and then heats water in a plastic bottle to make coffee.

Paul returns and i refit the wheel as Matt greedily drinks all the coffee himself…

“hey Matt could i have a sip of that coffee please?”
“ahhh no sorry i drank it all…”

and Americans wonder why the rest of the world hates them!

By the time this was over i had Dave on the phone who was only a few minutes away, so we waited a little and eventually the team was reunited, but by now it was 1:30pm and we had 60km to ride offroad in about 4½ hours. That doesn’t sound like much but i use the term ‘road’ quite liberally here.

“right guys, we’ve got a long way to go and it’s getting late so we really need to make this happen without messing around too much, is everyone good with that?”

Leading the team away i felt a little like mother duck, with all the ducklings following in a line.

The track quickly degenerated to the point that it occurred to me that this must be how it would feel to try to ride a jack hammer. It might be my imagination but i’d swear that i could actually feel all the bolts coming loose in the bike. The track was just so rough, and no matter how we rode it there was no escaping the vibrations.

Even when we stopped it still felt like our hands and feet were vibrating – crazy.

“how much more of this can these little bikes take until something breaks in half?”

Rule no 45 : The Dailem is one tough little moto

Every now and then i’d stop for a head count, and at each stop i could see the team’s nerves starting to fray more and more. We rode along gravel tracks, we rode through rice paddies and over precarious handmade wooden bridges, hey we even rode right through the middle of a rural school without even breaking stride. It was fantastic!

I was watching the km count down and in a morale boosting tactic continually relayed the good news to the team…

“we’re half way there already!”

“not far to go now!”

“the good road starts just the other side of this enormous channel that has no bridge…”


In adventure motorcycling, the point of no return is when you’ve gone too far on the fuel you have to be able to turn back to the last fuel stop. I’d had a sense of impending doom for some time after we passed that point, and when my until-then-perfect gps track took us off any semblance of a road, across 2 broad rice fields and into a river – i really started to worry.

So did the team, half of whom by then were about to run out of fuel. I’d barely made a wrong turn all day but at this point had to admit we were in trouble as i rode up and down the rice fields along the river looking for some way to cross.

A family living in a makeshift shelter nearby did an excellent mime of a person drowning to convince me not to enter the water with the bike, their vivid mimes of water over my head and bubbling noises, along with one of them wearing a plastic leg was enough to stop us for a moment to regroup.

We delayed there for a little while as they somehow produced some petrol, all of which somehow went into just one of the bikes…

“hey Gary did you just put all that fuel into just your bike?!”
“yeah i did”
“why didn’t you share it!?”
“hey man i frikkin asked everyone if they wanted some gas and no one responded alright!!!”

Things were getting tense.

Paul doing what he does. Paul Waiting.


Matt and his Monk friends


Laurence offroading on the "shortcut"


Daveg crossing the sketchy bridge


Our farmer guide leading us through a route we never would have found


Dave paying the guide. Total money spent - $7. Total lives saved - 7.


We were trying to understand the directions from the village family without any success, until finally it occurred to me to call Visa.

Rule 33 : Visa is the greatest person in the world.

The father of the family offered to take us to the place where we could cross the water, Visa said we’d just need to give him some small money for the fuel he’d use.

“hey this guy can lead us to a track, what do you all think?”
“hell yeah!”

So Mr Saviour poured a litre of fuel into his busted up old bike, put on some clothes and led us off down another nightmarishly bumpy track. We were now heading in the opposite direction to the mystery track, but with a local guide now lighting the path we all rested a little easier. He took us a kilometre or so along the river until it eventually dried up enough to cross it, steep banks made of slippery clay made this a bit of fun but eventually we all got across and continued on down the bumpy path.

Gary was first in line and I could tell by his fist pumping antics that we must have found a road, or at least a maintained track of some sort, Mr Saviour stopped and pointed us in the right direction smiling broadly. We each paid him $1 for his trouble and hugged him goodbye, our gestures of appreciation seemed to confuse him a little, as though he didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. The $7 payment might seem like a pittance, but when most rural Cambodians live on about 30c per day, $7 represents almost a months wages. His already broad smile was even bigger as we rode away.

This track was elevated above the fields and took us through several villages and small camps, and eventually into a bigger village where a shop was selling petrol. Phew.

A quick check of the GPS and i saw this little diversion had taken us about 50km out of our way and used up lots of time, so the initial aim of reaching Pursat that night was no longer possible. We all agreed to make for Battambang instead and ride to Pursat early the next morning. Another 10km of dirt track before we popped out on the highway, and another 30mins at full speed (70km/hr) saw us arrive in Battambang.

We’d been looking for a really testing ride to give the group some lasting memories of this trip, and Dave and I agreed this was just the ticket. Another great day for the R4C team.

Rule no 31 : Getting lost is not always a bad thing.

Offroad through rice patties and shortcuts by Gary

22 Feb

By Gary

Laurence getting his exhaust fixed


Laurence getting his exhaust fixed at a village side machine shop


One of the village stops in the "shortcut" offroad route


Day 6 – tired.  Long slog from Siem Reap to Bathambang.  We were supposed to be in Pursat tonight but didn’t make it.  There was the usual dilly-dallying of breakfast, packing up and generally trying to herd 9 bikers, but I also wanted to ship a souvenir back home so I delayed the departure a bit more than usual.

So there was a road from Siem Reap in the direction of Bhatambang and there was a road from Bhatambang in the direction of Siem Ream.  But they didn’t connect on any of our maps.  Dean had checked Google Earth and decided that there was indeed a way between the two, but it looked like it crossed a marshy area or stream bed or something.  So we needed to get an early start because there was no telling whether we would make it through or have to backtrack to take the long highway around.

John had issues with his exhaust and bought a new one in Siem Reap.  Not sure what his exhaust problem was exactly, but when they fitted the new exhaust they snapped off one of the studs in the head.  So Frank and John were getting John’s fix fixed and were going to take the long highway route rather than doing the silly route with the rest of us.

About 1/3 of the way down the highway to the silly route “shortcut” Laurence’s bike also had an exhaust failure.  The header pipe snapped off at the flange – probably from some prior off-roading.  So Sam, Dave, myself and Laurence stopped at a road side welder to get it fixed.  Dean, Paul and Matt kept on humming along to the shortcut.

The brazing took a long time because they didn’t get it put back on at the right angle, and then it didn’t seal and blah blah blah – long story short, 2 hours in the sun waiting for what turned out to be a completely botched job.  But we got tired of waiting and just went on with the exhaust partially sealed.

Meanwhile Dean had a flat tire at the beginning of the shortcut route.  They patched it and rode on a short distance, and it went flat again.  And again.  By the time they had Dean’s flat completely sorted out we had made our way to the shortcut turn off.  So they waited a bit for us to catch up and we set off together down the ‘shortcut’ starting at 1:30pm.  Very late but nobody wanted to be the one to say it was a bad idea.

The connecting road didn’t technically exist.  There were a series of tractor ruts and cattle paths.  Some of the ruts were particularly deep for long stretches.  The consequences for not keeping a good line were steep – if you were to veer off of the lumpy 18 inch wide strip into either of the tractor ruts you would lose your bike into it up to the handlebars.  A couple guys ended up paying the price once or twice in some of the deeper sections but were not injured.  We crossed some truly dodgy bridges and kept getting remoter and remoter.  There was one long muddy delta type of section but as long as we kept the speed up we didn’t sink in too much and were able to make it through without incident.  So I figured that was the midpoint and the road would then start improving.

We thought we had it made when Dean’s GPS indicated we were about 2/3 of the way.  But then the road just deteriorated into what was essentially a series of cattle tracks and we were left in dry fields bordered by swampy mush. Dean scouted for a bit but the road we wanted was about 1 km on the other side of a wide and deep area of stagnant water.

Where one of the routes petered out, we happened upon a family that was living under a large tarp in the middle of a field.  Literally.  If I ever think I have it hard I will remember these folks.  After an akward attempted conversation about direction and a successful but weird purchase of 1 liter of fuel by me, Dean had the brilliant idea to call Visa from Sustainable Cambodia to help us convey what we wanted to ask and to translate their answer back.

So Visa helped us to negotiate with the family to guide us through the fields to the other side where we could pick up a road.  The father (presumably) led us through the fields, across a mucky stream, onto a dirt track, then finally to a decent dirt road.  We were particularly grateful and everybody each gave him a dollar.  The theory was he probably wouldn’t take $7 for the guide, but that he might be winning to take $1 from each of us – it worked.  We figure that might have been as much as a month’s worth of wages for his family.  We might have made it across eventually by dead reckoning but it would not have been pretty.

The dirt track eventually made it to a highway that was only 34kms from Bathambang.  We were supposed to make it to Pursat, but it was going to be another 100+ kms and light was beginning to fade.  One of the casualties of the beating of our scooters took was Rocinante’s headlight.  The endo she did on day 2 didn’t do her eyeball any favors and the severe rattling she took sheared off the remaining two headlight bolts.  So I was pretty keen to get somewhere for the night before I had to try to use my zip-tied headlight to light the road.  So when Dean said Bathambang, I pointed Rocinante that way and rolled on the throttle.

Laurence was keeping up with me and the other guys hung back and took a little time to fuel up.

So, to understand the next bit – there is a jealous rivalry we have with our scooters and Honda Dreams.  The Dreams are 125cc instead of 100cc and fuel injected instead of carburetted and have disc brakes instead of drums and a plush suspension instead of squishy crap.  Basically they have everything that our little Daelims lack in terms of modern technology.  So when a couple Cambodian kids flew past on a Dream, Laurence and I looked at each other and both thought the same thing.  We cracked open the throttle the little way that was left and tucked in to chase them down.  It took a really long time but we did manage to close the gap quite a bit before we passed through the next town and had to slow down.

Once we entered the little town, Laurence thought it was Bathambang and he stopped at a moto shop that was selling new exhaust systems.  The crap brazing job the roadside moto guys did on his exhaust flange had given way much earlier in the day and his bike was both loud and ridiculous sounding at the same time.  So first chance he had to get a new exhaust he jumped on it.  Meanwhile I was still tracking that Dream and it was miles before I realized he wasn’t behind me.

I made it the next 20 kms to Bhatambang and talked to Frank and John who had taken the long/easy highway and already had checked into a hotel there.  On the way to the hotel I ran into the rest of the guys minus Laurence.  After an hour or so we began to get concerned and were texting and calling Laurence’s dead cellphone to no avail.

Right around the time we were discussing backtracking in the dark to find him, he pulled up.  We were relieved to see him so he didn’t get too much of a hard time for 1) getting lost and 2) not having a working cellphone.

Not long after, Paul dropped the gauntlet and bet we could not be on the road to Pursat by 8am the next day.  The stakes were high enough that we only had a few beers each, ate and went to bed.  Much more tame than what we were planning when we were flogging our bikes to death, sweltering in the middle of a field on a cattle trail while getting our fillings rattled out.

Day 7 we would leave at 8am for Pursat and meet up with the Sustainable Cambodia folks by lunch.

Ankor Wat

20 Feb

By Gary

Day 5 – When I asked, the front desk guy pointed me to a moto shop just about 30 yards from the hotel.  I walked right past it not even recognizing it as a shop.  This is because it was a small semi-permanent lean-to just off the sidewalk.  There were a couple scooters there that looked like they were being worked on so I did find it on the second pass back up the street.

The mechanic was sitting on the ground working on one of the bikes and I did the best pantomime I could about needing a valve job and I think he got the message.  To my surprise he crawled over on his hands and knees dragging behind him two wasted limbs.  Back home this guy would be holding a sign on a street corner.  He was clearly dirt poor, unable to walk and had many mouths to feed.  I don’t know if you could call them homeless or not – it looked like they lived in the tiny lean-to just off the sidewalk.  As I sat watching, a guy with no hands and very cloudy eyes wandered by begging quietly.  The daughter slipped some bills in his shirt pocket and sent him on.

Despite my admiration for the guy – he had it wrong.  He did a thumb over the spark plug hole compression test, and took off the tappet covers and had his wife kick over the bike.  I suppose on the basis of that he decided it had good enough compression and that I had incorrectly diagnosed the issue.  Next he pulled the spark plug boot and did a ‘how bad does this hurt’ test of the the ignition coil.  His howl seemed to indicate the though it had good spark.  At this point I try to tell him it is not an ignition problem through his daughter who spoke a little English, but he didn’t want to hear it.  He had his wife bring out a new spark plug and he put it in the head and motioned to his son to come crank the bike.  They must have cranked it for five minutes trying to get it to run and I am beginning to get frustrated – especially since the kick starter strokes are smacking into what is left of my right footpeg after Day 3’s tumble.  Sometimes you have to watch the guys here – they work fast bust often cause as many problems as they fix.

When he pulled off the spark plug boot and jammed the wire onto the plug and they proceeded to kick it some more I stood up and started waving my hands ‘No no no no’ and explained through his daughter that I just wanted him to put it back together.  Reluctantly, he did.

I tried to hand him $2 for his trouble.  He indicated he only wanted $1 and wouldn’t take the second dollar.  Have I mentioned before that every Cambodian I have met is particularly honest?  We have had a chuckle about this a couple times – the only reason you wouldn’t leave your bike on the street is because someone might sneak up and wash it for you.

So, I pushed the bike back to the hotel and asked the front desk guy where a proper moto shop was and he pointed me to one a few blocks up the road.  When I found it, they had a storefront with tires and oil and parts and such, but were doing their rebuilds on the sidewalk in front of their shop.  The guy at the counter understood English somewhat and I got a pen and paper and did the best impromptu sketch I could of a valve job and they got the picture.  They told me to come back in 2 hours.

Rocinante’s top-end rebuild cost a whopping $7.50 US and there was no drama this time.  The exhaust valve was seriously burnt – it is a wonder she ran at all.  When I got back to the shop she fired right up with one kick and purred like a kitten.  Since I was so pleased, I also had them rebuild a leaking left fork for $2.50.  In hind sight, for that price I should have just had both done, but at least now she is no longer leaking fork oil.

Matt decided that it was worth the preventative measure to have his valves resurfaced as well and left his bike there when he brought me to pick up mine.  His valves were ok – not burned like mine was, but for the cost – why not get the valve seats cleaned up.  Better to have it rebuilt today when it is not srictly necessary than tomorrow when we are stuck in the middle of the swamp.  Yes tomorrow will probably be a hard day’s ride.

Angkor Wat – Laurence, Matt, Sam and  I went to Angkor Wat today.  We found an unofficial tour guide there – just some guy stationed at a key point who started showing us stuff.  We knew he was angling for a tour guide gig so we asked him how much.  $12.  Not cheap by Cambodian standards but Laurence had been there earlier in the day and had paid $22 for a tour so it sounded reasonable.  Pin, the tour guide, knew quite a lot about the temple history – specific dates and times and different events that shaped the temple in the past.  He also gave us a recent political history of the temple starting from about 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took it over.  It really is a fascinating place and still has a working Buddhist monastery on-site.  Pin showed us how the temple was built by mounding up earth into a hill to build the uppermost heaven level and then excavating for the earth circle and then excavating back down to ground level to build the hell level.  I am sure the wikipedia article will do a better job than my second hand writeup so I will just link to it 🙂

After being in the sun for several hours at Angkor Wat, I was ready to be done.  I had some dinner and a few beers with the guys and ducked out of the activities for the night for a few hours extra sleep.

Today we are going to try a short cut to Pursat – covering the short section between two good but otherwise unconnected roads (according to the maps).  The chance of success of this route drops every time we discuss it.  Dean gives it a 60% chance of success, Dave 20%.  So we need to start early so we have time to backtrack and still make Pursat this evening.  Pursat province is where Sustainable Cambodia operates for the most part and we are going to visit a water project they are working on in Pursat city.

Having an early breakfast now and getting ready to head out.

Gary getting his bike fixed in the AM


Moto repair shop in Siem Reap


A view of the main Ankor Temple


Ankor Wat


Gary and his new friend.


Drunk locals with one leg have little credibility when pointing you to a mine field

18 Feb

By Matt (with commentary by Dean)

Ride for Cambodia: Day 4 Travel Update from Tbeng Meanchey to Siam Reap

Today was a particularly dynamic day in comparison to those prior. Because so many things happened throughout the course of the day, I think a list of bullet points will be suiting. It is worth mentioning that with the type of riding we are doing and the given terrain, the Daelim City 100 may not be the most suitable vehicle. Apparently, it’s a “good moto, but poor-man moto”. We’ve had our share of breakdowns, but in a country where the most expensive repairs would be hard pressed to eclipse $20 and a 3 hour repair time, it fits the bill. After all, they cost +/- $550 each with a buyback arrangement of around $500, if they are returned intact (which is left to be seen). We are now spending a full day in Siam Reap, home to Angkor Wat. It is our plan to visit the religious site this afternoon, prior to departing the city Sunday morning. For the next leg of our trip, Dean has built a GPS map from Google Earth imagery, as the area is largely uncharted. Interestingly enough, he informed us last night that streams and trails are nearly indistinguishable on the satellite pictures.

• The most magnificent thing happened this morning. Dean asked the day and everyone was collectively unable to remember that it was Friday. In terms of everyone’s expectations, the trip is most definitely meeting one of its intended goals. However, we are constantly reminded by Dave and Dean that Ride for Cambodia is neither a tour, nor a vacation.

• Our first major engine repair took the form of a top-end rebuild on Paul’s scooter. It had consistently lost power and drivability until it would no longer idle nor accelerate properly. The repair took a few hours and $8.50. My scooter barely escaped the same fate when a valve adjustment restored compression to the weary warrior. That being said, this trip has proven that the mechanical condition of our scooters can change much more rapidly than the beautiful sunny weather of the Cambodian dry season.

• Upon arriving at a temple on the way to Siam Reap, we were met by a group of scarf wielding salesladies with a passion for the aggressive sell. I’m not sure how this helped to rid us of our unwelcome pursuers, but Sam and Paul felt led to portray themselves as outwardly affectionate to one another. This apparently offended the modest sensibilities of our captors who quickly fled.

• We went truly off road for the first time, as opposed to areas where roads had been created but left unfinished. When we turned off the dirt road, we were immediately met with a plethora of obstacles in the form of rice paddy barriers made of dirt and rocks. For the most part, they had been previously traversed, though most proved quite formidable to our street-intended scooters. It was humorous watching the group as we attempted to cross each berm, frequently ending in a stranded position atop the mound.

• At one point, we came across a stream which, after having waded out into it to check the depth, was decidedly much too deep for our scooters to cross. We were quickly greeted by a man with one leg who motioned into a lightly wooded area seemingly suggesting that it was safe to circumnavigate said water by that course. This trail was accompanied by a sign stating that the Germans had cleared it of mines. However, not very far behind that sign was another, much newer sign which clearly suggested that mines yet existed. We were collectively struck by the irony of a one-legged man giving directions through a possibly still lethal mine field. We turned back.

Inserted by Dean

I was a little hesitant at leading the gang into the rice paddies, (knowing that some of Cambodia is still land mined), but I figured that the trauma the rice tractors do to the fields should have set off any unexploded mines long ago. We bumped and crashed our way back and forward searching for a track marked as route 66 on the gps (someone has a great sense of humor huh!), with the gang initially laughing hysterically, but eventually a little hot and bothered by the chaos.

At risk of really pissing off the gang I persevered one last time looking for the track, and sure enough there it was, initially along the top of the mounds that separate two fields, but eventually it crossed a stream and we found a real track.

It was great going and lots of fun for about 15km until we reached the first water crossing – too deep to ford.

“now that was a lot of fun!” contributed Gary

“lets carry them across” suggested Laurence
“I wanna ride across” – Matt is crazy and will try anything.
“those air intakes are lower than the water level” – Sam was thinking the same thing as me
“there’s always another way around these things, the locals sure as hell arent riding through it” I countered, a little sad to be dampening Matt’s enthusiasm, but not keen on filling a bike motor with water so late in the day.

After a quick search and helpful advice from a man living nearby, we rode right past the man’s hut and around the water back onto the track.

“cool, we’re going to do this” I thought, all excited about the prospect of riding into Siem Reap from the east, on the road that runs straight past Angkor Wat!

More fun on the sandy track and then another water crossing. Once again there were different opinions about how to cross, the group a little tired by now, and then the slightly frayed nerves were set alight by the “warning mine field” sign just off the road.

I back tracked a little and was met by a very drunk villager who wanted me to ride into the field with aforementioned sign. He seemed convinced it would be ok but I was still really hesitant – oh did I mention he only had one leg. Well, he only had one leg.

Ignoring his advice I continued back until eventually I found a another established track spearing off the one we were on, this one led to another one, which eventually led back to route 66 but on the other side of the water.

I doubled back again, a little worried that the gang might have moved, and found the drunk amputee now trying to talk to the rest of the gang, some of whom were obviously worried about the mines, and rightly so. I assured them that I had found another track that would take us around this water and we set off, but not before several worried looks were exchanged. At the fork in the road we stopped for a moment, I wanted group agreement before proceeding.

“hey I just wanna check that everyone is cool with continuing, I don’t want to push someone into doing something they arent comfortable with”
“um yeah I suppose” – Dave
“yeah I guess…” – Paul
“Hell yeah” – Matt
“Um… ok” – Gary
“I’ll do whatever everyone else does” – Laurence
Sam was at the end of the row of bikes so I couldn’t hear him, but the shoulder shrug was enough for me to tell he was a little worried, but would follow regardless.

The blank expressions made my mind up though. I checked with Paul and Dave, the two other most experienced riders in the group, and after a moment they concurred in turning back. It was 5pm so only another hour of light, we had a long way to go on single track where we would most likely encounter more water, and Gary’s bike was fading fast so he was worried with good cause.

“ok then, lets pull it, back up the track the way we came, we’ll leave this one for next year” I yelled through the helmet.

Paul explained it well

“mate, I hate turning back as much as anyone, but in these situations you need to consider that we have little water left, no food, mobile phone service here is patchy and we’re tired so decision making is poor. Then if someone falls and hurts themselves it will be really bad. There have been 2 water crossings and probably will be more, and it will be dark in an hour. If we were fresh and had all day then we could do it for sure, but right now this is the right decision”

Actually the right decision would have been to turn back an hour earlier! The road home was totally dark for the last 30mins, after which anyone thinking we should have continued was well and truly convinced that it was the right choice. Live to fight another day.

Good team work R4C.

• Another humorous aspect of this jaunt off road was my close encounter with terra firma. There were many areas which were covered in deep sand. It was funny to watch as each of us struggled to make our way through the treacherous hazards and to wager who would be the first to fall. My appearance at the end of the trail, similar to that of a sugar-coated doughnut, was indicative not necessarily of the winner of the unspoken wager, but most certainly the loser.

• As dusk descended upon the greater Siam Reap area, we were still on a highway which was becoming busier with each passing minute. As we passed a very large truck, my scooter began to sputter with ever increasing frequency. Somehow, I was able to proceed to a filling station a few miles further down the road (Cambodians beside the road with whiskey bottles filled with fuel) as the scooter breathed its final breath.

• Finally, our group experienced its first death shortly after nightfall in route to our guest house. Gary’s scooter died in dense rush hour traffic and refused to start once again. We, however, fought the good fight and soldiered on to the guest house in Gary’s stead. Upon arrival, Dave valiantly returned to the scene for a post-mortem recovery of the brave scooter’s remains. At this time, the rest of us, with heavy hearts, consumed a frosty beverage in honor of our fallen steed. I will update later on the less than $10 repair which will most certainly breathe new life into it

No refrigeration needed. Farm fresh chickens


The driver and scooter loaded up and ready to go


Everyone here in Cambodia is super friendly


Waiting at a "gas station" in Cambodia for them to refill their coke bottles fill of fuel


Nice Cambodian kids everywhere


Friendly people!!


The Temple District Ride For Cambodia Team


Riding through CLEARED minefields


We're riding through rice patties hoping that the minefields were cleared as described


Uncleared Minefield that blocked us from going around the deep water crossing


Too deep for scooters, a local with one leg was telling us to go back and take the alternative route just past a closed gate behind the sign that said "DANGER: MINES"


This guy was stumbling on a main dirt road near Siem Reap trying to give us directions


After finally making it to the guest house, we were welcomed by this sign next to the bathroom.


First Day of Offroad to the Temple District

16 Feb

By Gary

Fun road yesterday.  We left Stung Treng in the morning on the way to Tbaeng Meanchey.  A couple of the guys bikes have been developing a cold start problem.  One of them was solved by adjusting the valves, but the other not so much.  We bought a a couple sockets to do nightly valve adjustments just for good measure since we are riding these scooters wide-open in top gear for hours on end.  Paul’s bike might have burnt valves though – his cold start problem continues to just get worse.

The road was new.  So new it isn’t complete.  Not even close 🙂  It looks like it will be a decent highway at some point but at the moment it is bladed and compacted earth.  It had many kilometers of perfectly flat wide sections that might as well have been an 8 lane highway.  But of course it is dirt.  They can probably get away with that in the dry season pretty effectively.  When the rains come it will probably turn into a mud pit though.  There were a few short sections of deep sand and a couple very narrow deep rutted areas.  At the transition of one of these, sand to hard packed ruts, Rocinante bucked me off and took a little dirt nap.  At about 70km/hr we came up to a sharp ledge about curb height and those little tires and archaic suspension did not take it well.  She managed the tumble quite well though – she escaped with a cracked front fender and I just got a tiny bit of dirt rash on my left love handle.  That was the only part of me sticking out from my protective gear <blush>.   These little scooters really are bulletproof.  They have to be at least 30 years old and they are taking the punishment we are dishing out admirably.

We stayed in Tbaeng Meanchey at a gob smackingly fantastic place for $16/night for a double.  Unbelieveable to stay here for $8.  In the U.S. they could just name their price.  Hand carved hard wood throughout, marble floors, high ceilings – just unbelievable.  We had to tour around the city for an hour or so to find it, but very glad we did.

The little Cambodian kids are adorable. I want to just throw a few in my suitcase and bring them back – they are living in some pretty dirty conditions and are obviously so poor – but they are all smiles and happy. One of the girls at the ‘restaurant’ we ate at spoke a little English (they have an english school here) but she kept getting really frustrated when she couldn’t understand me. I just motioned with my hands to calm down and I found in the shop what I was looking for and pointed to it and said again “RICE”. She was *so* pleased to have learned a new word and to be able to communicate. 😉 I am learning a tiny bit of Khmer too.

The dogs here live a rough life. Many of them are so thin they look like little walking skeletons. The ones that have any meat on them at all are usually nursing and just have teets hanging down. We were feeding three of them table scraps last night and we had a lot of scraps. Between everyone at the table there were six whole (small) chickens. The dogs were happy to get the feet and heads and fatty bits and bones. But at the end of the night I guess they had a little turf war out in the street – must have had enough energy to waste it on fighting after all those table scraps. Well it was pretty dark and they were fighting in a roundabout , and a local on a scooter just like ours rounded the bend and slammed on what little brakes these things have but still ran into one of them and dumped the bike in the middle of the road. The dog ran off and seemed ok but the guy was pretty out of it – he must have hit his head pretty hard.  They don’t wear protective gear around here and most, like that guy, don’t even wear a helmet.

Today we are headed to see some of the temples in the North and then will head south to Siem Reap and meet up with Frank and John.  Several of us would really like to head up to the Thai border and visit one of the temples that are the source of a border conflict between Thailand and Cambodia.  Thailand is no longer shelling Cambodia in the disputed territory and I forget the name of the temple, but they are serious enough to have fired shots over it as recently as a year ago.  The temples here are quite spectacular and honestly sort of a dime-a-dozen, so that one must be pretty special to be so hotly contested.

However, the way to Siem Reap is just loaded with temples, so we will be stopping to see a few.  I am certain none of us will be clean enough to go inside after the hundred or so kms of dirt we will be doing to get there.  But it will be nice to see them from the outside.

Building up the ramp for the ferry from Stung Treng


Chaos of the ferry for the Ride for Cambodia team


Gary and Laurence are happy to be off the major roads


The new road to Tbeng Meanchey, Preah Vihear. This was some good riding


Gary explaining the crash to the guys after he picked up his bike (only a little damage to front fender)


We're all looking a little bit dusty after today's ride


Gary made it in without injury and is happy to be sitting on something not a Daelim


Sam is all smiles after finding the lady who not only speaks english but also s
ells beer.


How fast can a Daelim scooter go?

14 Feb

By Dean

Kampong Cham to Stung Tren

I’m sitting in the lower level of the Samapheap guest house in Stung Tren, laughing my ass off at the goings on. There are a bunch of little Dailem scooters parked in here with me, along with a dozen tables and chairs because this is usually a restaurant.

Laurence is sitting next to his bike beavering away at it, muttering something every now and then about the mechanical prowess of the Cambodian moto repair shops. It’s not pretty. Matt has just returned from a repairer who adjusted his valve clearances because they’d closed right up and the bike wouldn’t start anymore…

“i have bits hurting that haven’t hurt for a very long time” just tumbled out of Sam’s mouth as he sat next to me.

That’s probably because we rode 280km today, as fast as the poor little bikes would take us, which is only about 75km/hr.

After the sequence of loose bolts and broken things that defined the first day of the ride, today started with a quick check of the bikes, along with a trip to the nearest moto repairer for some tlc. We had a couple of bikes being repaired and the rest ready to leave, and given the long ride ahead of us, the decision was made to split the group. So those ready to leave took off while the rest waited half an hour for the repairs to be completed. We figured more than one of us was bound to break down during the day anyway so we’d probably end up leap frogging each other all day.

Along with this split, Frank and John decided to take a shorter paved route to Siam Reap so they could spend some extra time at Angkor Wat, the rest of us will meet up with them there in 2 days time… all things going well.

We had wanted to ride along the Mekong all the way to Strung Teng, so we crossed the bridge looking for a turn along the river, but no joy. Five minutes later there was still no turnoff and we’d well and truly left the river behind by then. Our group stopped at a turn off the main road that had a sign pointing to Strung Teng, consulted the map and decided to try it. I sent a message to Dave in the second group so he knew which way we were going and off we went.

The main road that had led us to that turn had been chaotic, not the sort of riding we have been looking for at all, so i was happy to see the level of traffic drop right off and could relax a little and look around at the village life scenery that flowed past us as we motored down the little roadway. Bit by bit through the day the villages became more and more sparse until we were in open country side and starting to ask a little more of the little 100cc Dailem’s.

This ended up with Paul, Sam, Matt and Myself riding at full speed (70km/hr), sometimes nose to tail, for basically the whole day… Although we did stop for though at a typical Cambodian rural restaurant on the Mekong, lovely meal for $1.25!

Arriving in Stung Treng we were all shattered – it had been a long hot day, so we parked up in front of a roadside stall on the river, ordered a few beers and relaxed soaking up the atmosphere. Still a few more beers passed and Matt decided to eat one of the local delicacies, a partially incubated, steamed egg. Yes that’s right, an egg with a partially formed baby chicken in it, steamed and then eaten with pepper and lime juice.

Paul physically couldn’t look at it, but to his credit Matt got it down and even went for a second one later on. I tried it, and to be fair it want really bad, but it wasn’t that great either (the idea alone made me wretch) so i left half of it behind.

We’d been in sms conversation with the other group consisting of Dave, Gary and Laurence so we knew they were not far behind, but after the fifth round of beers they hadn’t shown up so we were starting to worry a little. Another message from Dave confirmed that they were stopped with a puncture, poor Laurence he hasn’t had much luck with the moto so far.

Eventually they all made it to Stung Tren, which brings me back to where i started, a bunch of little moto’s in various states of repair, some of them in shops which seem to be everywhere and able to resolve absolutely anything for just a few dollars.

Good thing that!

Tomorrow we set out for Tbeang Meanchey, a little town a couple of hundred km’s from here, the map shows some tracks leading to it, but nothing on the GPS.

I’m a little nervous…

Houses on the side of the road


This photo is for those who thought that heavy westerners and our gear would be to much weight


Working boat on the Mekong River


Greetings from Cambodia


The bamboo bridge in Kampong Chang


First Day of Riding

12 Feb

By Gary:

Day 1 – We are in Kampong Cham – we had a change of route to avoid some wet weather on the coast where we were headed.

Yesterday was an eventful day. Between the crazy Cambodian drivers, the heat, the breakdowns and the, uh, “roads” it was a fun time. The way some of these guys are riding, I seriously doubt all the scooters are going to make it. It is pretty funny though to see them riding these things like it is a hare scramble. Most everyone is a pretty good rider but we are still developing into about three groups – fast, slow, and pepe l’pew. Two of the older guys, Frank and John ride slowly and deliberately and end up many kilometers back, yet somehow manage to be among the first to the destination. Probably due to less stops for repairs and picking up of thrown off luggage.

As far as a first day’s ride – there was lots of shake-down. Several people lost their luggage and their GPS and such, but with a couple minor exceptions everybody still has all their gear.

Damage for the day was mostly just to one guy’s bike – Lawrence’s. He broke his footpeg, lost his chain guard, ripped out (stripped already?) the case mounts for his pegs and had multiple and regular fuel problems until we finally found he had salt(?!) in his gas tank. By sheer dumb luck we found a welder on the road to Kampong Cham who welded and reinforced his footpeg bracket and re-fitted it for him. That was a lucky break. Riding these bikes at this pace on these roads, we have to be standing on the pegs just to prevent beating these poor little things things to death.

Rocinante is holding up fairly well. The front fender is a little off center and when the suspension compresses the knobbies eat up the right side of the fender a bit. I didn’t lose any luggage or have any mechanical issues. Actually she handled shockingly well in some of the deep sand sections on the road today.

I had a nice Khmer yellow curry last night. Best meal so far this trip – I keep forgetting to take pictures of the food. Nobody has tried to serve us dog yet except for some mystery meat in yesterdays lunch – of course I didn’t eat the meat so no fido so far. I haven’t had to break into the emergency meals I brought, though I might today just to shed some weight from my luggage.

Headed off to breakfast now. ttfn

Sand from Laurence's Tank


Improvised gas tank from water bottle


Traffic for the RFC riders in Phnom Pehn


The first fill up -- Buying gas out of a coke bottle on the side of the road before we take off


Riders Ready!


Scooters Ready!!


Buying Scooters in Cambodia

6 Feb

by Dean:

Team USA & Australia Arrive

It hurts me inside to know that i’m sitting on the greatest ever subject matter for a blog entry, but that i cant share it all with the world for fear of embarrassing some participants…

Rule no : 36 what happens on the ride, stays on the ride.

I will share this though.

Yesterday we went out to buy another 2 motos for Frank and John, a process which was much easier the second time around, then while they waited for a few things to be repaired Dave and i went out to the airport to meet the other guys arriving in the afternoon.

They were all really excited to have arrived in Cambodia, so much so that Paul and Gary doubled on the scooters with Dave and I for the ride back into the city

“i am so excited to be here, i’m literally jumping out of my skin!”

We went to a local market for dinner where they roast whole cows on a spit, drank some beers and got to know each other. The resounding theme from the evening was just how excited everyone was, and how much fun we were going to be having.

The beef on the spit was sensational, as was the Angkor beer that was flowing like the mighty Mekong itself and the night ended in a local bar in the wee hours. We did all make it back to the hotel though, and i breathed a sigh of relief when all the lambs were accounted for this morning.

Today was a repeat of yesterday in heading back to the moto market but this time to buy 5 bikes. The scenes were chaotic as almost every bike in the shop was test ridden by each person, and then the haggling for better deals began.

Sale prices were between $500 and $570, with the most expensive bike being bought by Matt after an hour of haggling, in which the price actually went up instead of down.

“this one how much??”
Wanna scrawls 600 into the dirt floor of the sales room…
“but when i came in here the price was only $550!?” retorts matt
The rest of the gang is trying not to laugh openly
“ok special price…” 580 is scrawled into the floor
“but i don’t understand, how has the price gone up?!”
“this one very good bike”
“yes but before it was only 550!”
“ok ok 570 but not less”
Now we’re all laughing pretty hard.

Rule no 54 : Don’t let Matt do the haggling.

Visa came to meet us towards the end of the process and was once again really helpful. All the bikes had a little something or other that needed fixing, so while that was being done Visa went to the Russian market with me to look for offroad tyres for the bikes.

We found a rear tyre but no fronts, so decided to leave it and just ride on regular scooter tyres.

A couple of hours later we met the rest of the guys who were now at the local repairer doing some preventative maintenance on the bikes, things like wheel bearings, brakes, getting faulty lights to work etc. It was really interesting to see the Cambodian mechanics work, and the biggest bill was still only $50!

At some point this repairer produced some offroad tyres (again only for the rear) but given the riding we have planned, we decided to try fitting them to the front as well, so it was now 7 bikes with full off-road tyres. For scooters they look really hardcore J

This all took quite a long time, so it was pushing 6

The same day after buying, we're now getting the scooters upgraded (new tires, chain, brakes, etc).


Everyone and their new Scooters!!!


Paul and Wanna's English speaking niece/.


Wanna Scooter Shop. She (and everyone else) seems to think we're impressed when they rev the throttle high. Apparently that means "Strong Scooter."


Frank and Dave on their way to the scooter shop. We may stick out a little bit compared to other Khmer riders


by the time we were all back at the hotel. A quick bite to eat and an opportunity for the most recent arrivals to meet Frank and John too. The mood tonight was somewhat sombre, but that’s what you get for drinking Anchor beer until 4am…

Which should bring me back to the point where i began this entry, but unfortunately rule 36 prevents me from sharing it with you all J

You’ll just have to come along in 2013 to find out!

Post Ride Edit:

Wanna ended up going back on the deal we set up and did her best to pay us as little as possible for the scooters.  Most scooters were returned in a condition much better than we bought them too!  She couldn’t even make eye contact with us as she knew exactly how she was taking advantage of us.  Ohh well.  The shop right before hers did a better job honoring some other participants deals.