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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.


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.


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


Which scooter? Dream? Super Cub? Chaly? Daelim?

27 Jan

Day 1 by Dean

This morning we headed out full of enthusiasm to start the search for the scooters, to find another hotel and also buy some doxycycline.

The doxy was easy, $10 for 100 pills from the first pharmacy we came across (no prescription needed), but the hotel and scooters were more of challenge.

After looking at more than 10 alternatives, in classic travel mode we concluded that the place we are already staying at will do just fine, and since it’s is in a lively area we’ve booked 4 extra rooms for Sunday and Monday night for the rest of the gang. Rooms are twin share for $18/night, clean, with AC, hot water and wifi. The only downside is that they dont have any windows… but we aren’t planning to be in them much so this is no big deal just as long as the place doesn’t catch fire! If you want a room to yourself just let us know and we’ll book you an extra one. The name of the place is Royal Mekong Palace, on the riverfront. (if you want to stay elsewhere that’s cool too, just let us know and we’ll cancel the booking).

Scooters… so we eventually found ourselves walking a stretch of the city where the was shop after shop of scooter places, all selling Honda dreams, albeit new. (A new one is $US1200 in case you’re curious). We quizzed some shop owners about the price of second hand bikes but the language barrier makes it a bit difficult, and being a foreigner the prices were hard to take seriously.

Happy couple working at one of the scooter shops. She insisted we take her photo.

We did work out that the older version of the Dream, called a Honda Super Cub, is being imported second hand from Japan, and are held in high esteem by the locals as a strong reliable bike. They are available with engines ranging from 50cc to 100cc, (90cc is quite common), and prices paid by locals are about US600. We really like these bikes.

Then there is the Honda Chaly, much cheaper than the Cub, we were offered 9 of them for $400 each without much negotiation, so they must be available for half that in the right place. Down side is that they have little wheels and a 50cc motor, top speed of 60 or 70km/hr (think ‘Dumb and Dumber’). We think it would be hilarious to do the ride on these – but it’s a last resort.

Last night we met some locals who were helpful with advice on where to go looking for bikes, so today we have a list of 4 different markets and shops where we should be more successful in finding older bikes for sale.

Dave test driving a Daelim

Also quite interestingly, we were offered a buyback arrangement on new Dreams at one of the shops, buy at 1200, sell back for 1000 (depending on the condition). This could be an option too, but we’re worried about the potential loss if we sink a bike, or when we fall off them, so buying an old one is still the preference. It might be that we buy secondhand for a little more than originally budgeted, then sell them back to the same shop and then make whatever donation to SC from the proceeds that each person can afford.

We also found a great local produce market, (complete with slabs of meat covered in flies), and adjacent Khmer food district where we’ll eat on Sunday night. While sitting on the street drinking Angkor beers for 75c each, we were spotted looking at bikes by one of the kids parking them. He promptly brought over a chinese copy of a supercub and told us we could have it for $200!! It was old and very tired looking, (and only 50cc), but still this was really encouraging that it should be possible to pick something up for a good price.

The plan for tomorrow: Go to the Russian Market to look for some second hand bike shops, and try to find a source for offroad tyres 🙂