As my sister’s visit last January was drawing to a close, my father and his two friends rolled into Phnom Penh. Norm, Don, and Bernie, the self-titled Dharma Bums were here for 10 days of fun in the sun. My job as tour guide had just gotten more intense.
Our first few days were spent exploring the city and gearing up for a bike trip. As they only had about 5 days, I decided that we could cruise north to the border temple of Preah Vihear, over to Along Veng (resting place of Pol Pot) and then down to Siem Reap to visit the temples of Angkor.
The morning that Natalie left town (back to dreary Tacoma and schoolwork) we headed out on the road. The tarmac up to Kampong Thom was initially congested but the three Cambodian traffic rookies handled it well. We arrived in time for lunch and prepared for our next stretch of road. The road from Kampong Thom to Tbeng Mean Chey has recently been graded, but it is still a gravel road. To me, this means that road conditions are sometimes suspect, and you have to watch out for anything.
The being the dry season, we were soon coated in red dust as we ticked off kilometers. As I was crossing a bridge, I saw some Cambodians in a car suddenly get all excited and start pointing their fingers back behind me. I turned around and saw that Don had gone down. As he came to the bridge, he must have hit the front brake a bit hard and had the front wheel skid out on him. He had some deep gashes to his left knee and elbow, but said he was OK. I poured some water over them and wrapped a couple of scarves around the wounds and we headed back down the road.
A short while later, Norm and I were coming up to a wooden bridge. As we started to make our way across, both of us saw a large hole right in the path of his bike. Down he went. He had managed to keep the front wheel from falling down, but the rear end of the bike was lying on top of him as he hung precariously on the edge of the hole. We rushed over and pulled the bike off of him and hoisted him up. With minimal damage to Norm and the bike, we pushed on. After cruising through some landmine country, we arrived in Tbeng Mean Chey at dusk and settled into our hotel rooms and started tending to injuries.
I walked down the main street to find some iodine and bandages. At the first pharmacy/clinic I walked in to I was met by a cross-eyed woman assuring me that there was no doctor or medical supplies. All around the room were beds full of old people hooked up to IVs, each moaning and groaning in the darkness. The woman didn’t have to tell me twice, as I made a quick about-face and headed back down the street to find a more reputable medical establishment. I found what I was looking for and went back to the hotel to clean up Don’s wounds. After a delicious meal of provincial Khmer cuisine we hit the sheets. I think everybody slept good that night.
The morning came quick. We had a quick discussion about what our plans should be. I recommended that we change our itinerary and head straight to Siem Reap in order to get Don’s gashes looked at. Everyone agreed. Our new route was still desirable as it took us past two spectacular temple complexes, Koh Ker and Boeng Mealea. Herewe are at the top of the pyramid temple of Koh Ker. Here is Don in good spirits despite his injuries. Here is a common billboard seen around the countryside.
The road down was a bit more fun (I’m not sure if Don and Bernie looked at it that way), but we made it two Siem Reap that evening with only two more crashes. Don went over the handlebars and Bernie pulled a similar maneuver to Don’s and locked up the front brake while coming to a stop. Back in civilization (compared to where we just were), we had some dinner and drinks next to hundreds of those “soft” tourists who took the easy way up to Siem Reap. If only they knew the pain and suffering it took to get us there.
The next morning I took Don to a Thai medical clinic where he got his wounds properly cleaned and his elbow stitched up. The process was fairly interesting for me and from the looks of it fairly painful for Don. With bandages and painkillers we hired out a car to go explore the temples. We managed to see Ta Prom, Ta Som, Preah Kahn, Angkor Thom and the Bayon, and Angkor Wat. It was another exhausting day, but well worth it.
We left Siem Reap the next day around noon, deciding to split the drive back to Phnom Penh in half by stopping in Kampong Thom for the night. It also allowed us to go check out some the ruins at Sambor, a temple site that predates Angkor Wat by some six centuries. It was interesting to see the continuity in the architecture and bas relief carvings between the two sites.
We made it back to Phnom Penh in the afternoon after dodging Land Cruisers and tour buses on National Road 6 coming into town. We returned the rented bikes to the shop where everyone had to pay a bit extra for damaged parts, bent handlebars, and scratched paint.
The next night we had a small going away celebration at Pancho Villa Cafe. Lots of friends showed up to partake in the festivities. Though the Dharma Bums visit was short, I think they got a good taste of Cambodia.