Archive | March, 2012

The New Chinese Hydroplant Stung Atay Road to Sihanoukville via Koh Kong

4 Mar

By Dean

“tomorrow night i want to be sitting on the beach drinking cocktails… whatever it takes, i don’t care if i have to ride for 12 hours. But it’s everyone individual decision, if you’re up for it – do it, otherwise take it easy and we’ll meet again in Sihanoukville in 2 days time”

Rule no 34 : you set your own pace in r4c.

It was a long dusty ride to get to Pramoy yesterday, most of which was spent fixing other bikes or waiting for other riders, and the smug messages of “i’m drinking beer already” while we repaired Sam’s puncture, followed by a late arrival and welcoming scene of the gang drinking beer after dinner with pretty dutch backpackers got me thinking…

Rule no 33 : what goes around comes around.

So we were up at 6am this morning, and the early bird gets the worm, so with 350km to ride we mounted up and left with whoever was ready at the time. This put us in 2 groups for most of today. Paul, Sam, Matt and I in the first group, and Dave, Gary and Laurence not far behind in the second.

We worked out quite early in the trip that small groups travel faster than one big one, as problems surface all day only a few people are delayed and inevitably they repass the rest when they are subsequently delayed, so when Paul had a flat leaving Pramoy we continued on without him assuming he’d catch us up again or ride with the second group instead.

Sam, Matt and I stopped for a feed of little bananas an hour into the trip, where Paul joined us 5 minutes later with some bad news. Laurence’s bike had seized. Oh dear. We were a long way from any repair shop in steep mountain roads so pushing or towing the bike wasn’t an option. I spoke to Dave on the phone briefly and discussed options for having it put on a truck to Koh Khong or Sihanoukville, before our group headed off again, figuring one of our bikes would stop sooner or later too.

Riding through the Cardamom mountains was really fun (for our group J), it was dense forest or jungle, with birds calling, little wooden bridges to cross and an endless well maintained dirt road built by the chinese hydro commissioning company all the way to Koh Khong.

The little bikes struggled to climb some of the hills at any speed, but down in first gear they were unstoppable (if miserably slow), and mile by mile we ground through the day arriving at the main paved road just to the east of Koh Khong at 12pm. We received a message from Dave that Laurence’s bike had been revived and they were moving again too – Good News!

We stopped after a few km for fuel and a bite to eat, and in this unlikely little roadside restaurant had one of the best meals of the trip. Chilli crab, stir fried pork and vegetables, steamed rice, iced coffee and a beer for good measure. We were happy.

Rule 88 : Dont judge a roadside restaurant on it’s looks.

It was 220km to a cocktail on the beach, and with 6 hours of daylight remaining, things were on track. My little Dailem had been running like a dream all day (get it?), assisted by my weight advantage i was roaring past the rest of the gang up the steep hills in the Cardamoms, and the rolling paved road along the coast from Koh Khong to highway 4 was more of the same. With the throttle held open all the way i eased away from Paul, Sam and Matt and enjoyed the ride – destination Mojito-ville.

I stopped after about an hour and a half, almost half way to my Mojito, and waited for the rest of catch up. Paul and Sam arrived after 5 or 10 mins but Matt was nowhere to be seen. I pulled out my phone to find a few messages from Matt…

“bike intermittently stopping, making my way to repairer”
“bike completely stopped”
“moving again”

I tried calling – no answer, but Matt was moving again so we decided to ride another 30 or 40km and then stop for lunch and fuel at the halfway point to give Matt a chance to rejoin us. When we stopped at a road side food stall the 4 messages from Matt were grim news.

“i have a puncture, please help”
“i have a puncture, please help”
“i have a puncture, please help”
“my coordinates are N???, E????”

I entered these on the GPS…

“shit, he’s 40km back down the road”

In retrospect we probably should have waited for Matt earlier, but you make decisions as you go and the awaiting Mojito may have clouded ours. I called Dave to find he was already leaving Koh Khong, 70km from where Matt was… we did the maths.

It would take team Dave an hour to get to Matt, but they were carrying a spare tube and a pump. On the other hand it would take us 40 mins to get to him, then another 45 to get the tyre out and to a repairer and back before we were moving again. Team Dave would have him moving faster than we could so it didn’t make any sense to turn back from there.

Plus there were Mojitos waiting!!

Matt wasn’t pleased at all, and i did empathise, but team Dave would be along soon enough so we pushed on to Sihanoukville.

The rest of the day was uneventful except for the torrential down pour an hour out of Mojito-ville, the visibility in the rain was appalling, and when i finally came out the other side and didn’t have Paul and Sam behind me it was an anxious wait by the side of the road for a few minutes until they arrived looking a little pale having just been run off the road by a Range Rover driver!

Rule 67 : Range Rover drivers are assholes all over the world.

The beer flowed fast when we arrived at 4:30pm, but we were really disappointed to hear that Team Dave still hadn’t gotten to Matt. Eventually team Dave got him going again, but it was too late in the day for them to make it to Sihanoukville in the daylight, and Gary’s headlight was out so they were stopping in a little town an hour away for the night.

The last sms from Matt read…

“we are in a crappy hotel with no electricity, there is barely any food here”

We really enjoyed the Mojitos J

We got an early start to try to make it to Mojitoville


Lots of elevation changes through the jungle


Packed lunch


One of the villages we crossed


One of the Good Bridges


Sometimes no bridge


No Bridge. No Problem.


Clearing land in the jungle


The Stung Atay Chinese built hydroelectric plant in the Koh Kong provence.


The site plan


Dusty dusty road


Dusty Dave after inhaling hours of red dust from the construction vehicles


Dusty Sam seems to be doing a bit better


Much later in the day Matt's bike kept stopping because of a loose spark plug. Here's his bush mechanic skills


Team Dave helping Matt out with a puncture repair


Remote School Visit and Flooding Scooters

2 Mar

By Dean

Pursat to Pramoy

Today was another 8am start, with the plan to meet at Sustainable Cambodia at 8 and then head out to see a couple of the projects they are working on. We followed Vutay and Siep out of the SC headquarters, the first stop was at a school about 15 mins out of Pursat which was built by SC as a tutoring centre to augment the state school education for kids coming from remote areas. One of the problems rural kids have in Cambodia is that the state schools are often a long way from home, and with parents needing their children’s help in working at home just to survive, school often falls by the wayside or is a very low priority.

This school serves as a resource for kids to be tutored and access learning resources (books and computers) which will enable them to keep up their education to finish school with the possibility to further study at University.

The school is a small two storey wooden building with 6 main rooms, 4 class rooms, a computer room and a staff room. We were really surprised to see 10 computers sitting in the computer room, a splash of technology amongst the small wooden tables and chairs. Some of us chatted to staff and students while others played hackey sack with the kids outside.

From here we took another short ride to the student dormitory, a 2 storey wooden building where a dozen boys sleep downstairs and a dozen girls are upstairs. I poked my head into the boys room and was greeted by the sight and smell of a ripe backpackers dorm badly in need of some fresh air. Suspecting the girls might be doing better, i asked permission to look upstairs and found flowers adorning the doorway, brightly coloured drapes around the beds and a perfectly clean room full of shy and giggling teenage girls. In some ways the whole world is the same.

Rule no 59 : boys smell and girls don’t.

Leaving here it was a 30km ride to the next school, initially along a small dirt roadway but eventually we turned off the track and into the jungle. There were a few small water crossings to splash through before we arrived at a river about 40m wide. Vutay and Siep from SC didn’t hesitate on their new-ish Honda dreams, in they went into water that completely covered the engines of the scooters, they bumped and splashed their way across and waited on the far bank.

I was a little surprised their bikes didn’t stop as the water was more than knee deep, but inspired by their lead, in we all went with mixed success. A couple of the r4c guys fell over completely and ended up saturated (hilarious!!), a couple made it across without incident and the rest made it part of the way and then had to push.

Rule no 53 : a new $2 spark plug cap is a sound investment.

It took some time to get all the flooded bikes running again, and there was mixed excitement and consternation from the group when we were told that we had to return the same way again, but on we went and arrived at the school building a little way down the track. Keep in mind that this water crossing was only just possible on a moto at this time of the year (impossible in a car), and it’s the end of the dry season! In the wet season (5-6months of the year) the kids in this area are unable to get to the nearest state school 30km away, so the small wooden building we found with 20 little desks and little plastic stools stacked neatly at the front, was the only source of education for this community for half the year.

The classroom runs 2 classes a day, one set of students in the morning, and another group in the afternoon. They teach math, physics, chemistry, khmer and english to the students. The subjects considered the most difficult and therefore the most important for continuing education.

We later found out that our friend Visa, SC employee, student in Phnom Penh and all round Saviour Girl, had helped to build this school when she was a teenager, and i think i can speak for the group when i say that it was both humbling and satisfying to see the type of project where the funds raised from r4c would be going.

When we’d had the bikes serviced at the beginning of the ride i purchased a spare new plug cap and carried it on the suspicion that we’d have problems with bikes stopping in water crossings for this very reason, so leaving the school i offered my spare one to the team for the bargain price of $35.

No one wanted to pay up, but fortunately for me, Dave had a completely broken exhaust flange which would have allowed water into the engine if it stopped mid crossing. As we approached the river i jacked up the price to $50 (all [proceeds to SC!)… Dave was mumbling something about inflation in this part of the world as i fitted the plug cap.

Rule no 66 : dave still owes me $50

In he went with water frothing from the broken exhaust and bit by bit the little dailem worked its way across and up the steep far bank, both Paul and I made it across without stopping but the rest of the team and the SC guys too, all had to push some of the way across… refer to rule 53.

Another delay in getting the bikes running again, a hug goodbye to Vutay and Siep and we headed into the Cardamom mountains, destination Pramoy.

It was a long hot and dusty ride this afternoon, with the group split up by some mechanical troubles and a flat tyre late in the day for Sam. It was evening when Sam and i finally rolled into Pramoy last of all, to find the rest of the team drinking cold beer at a table with a couple of attractive Dutch backpackers.

Rule no 91 : gloating while drinking cold beer with attractive girls is not a way to impress the late arrivals in r4c.

Frayed nerves restored with cold Angkor, we just found a guest house and checked in. Pramoy is quite remote and not many tourists stray out this far, so it’s cold showers, no electricity and mosquito nets for team r4c tonight. Fantastic!

Tomorrow we tackle the rest of the Cardamoms with an ambitious aim to reach Sihanoukville 350km away. Wish us luck.

Paul playing a hacky sack like game called "Saiee" at the first school's yard


Boys and girls at the dorm


The water crossing on the way to the 2nd very remote school


The R4C team is all in the water


Water Buffalo drawn carriages were the only other vehicles we saw after the water crossing


We met some great kids at the school on the other side of the river.