It felt good to be back in Laos after 2 weeks – familiar, but also very different than the northern part we had left to enter Isan Thailand. We were feeling glad that we cycled south on the Thailand side, as the road was in better shape and probably had less traffic than the main route 13 in Laos.
We cycled south from Pakse and after a few days, we turned off the main road onto a smaller road until it ended at the Mekong. In less than a minute we found ourselves on a makeshift “ferry” to take us across – two skinny wooden boats, a few planks of wood in between, and a small motor. We stood balancing with our bikes on the planks as we headed across…then the motor sputtered and died. All the while, the driver had been bailing water out of the bottom, now he put the bucket down and was calmly (that’s the Laos way) trying to restart the motor. We had visions of us floating down through the Mekong Delta to the South China Sea when the boat sparked back to life and got us safely to Champasak.
Champasak is a one street town, and about 6 miles past it is a Unesco World Heritage site – Wah Phu Champasak. We happened to be there along with many thousands of Asians during the annual 3 day Theraveda Buddhist festival. A peaceful visit to the ancient Wat was not to be, but the people watching was great.
We cycled on to Don Khong to relax on an island in the Mekong for a few days. Serene island life is just what we needed. Men weaving fishing nets, boys herding ducks down to the river in the morning, goats grazing randomly, small wooden boats out fishing at dawn and dusk, women washing clothes down by the river, naked children swimming – day to day life is simple there and is very much the same as it has always been.
The next 30 miles south in Laos to the border, and the first 140 miles in Cambodia are known to be incredibly hot and without many services, so we opted to take a bus for that part. It has been so great getting around on bikes for the last 4 months (and 1,800 miles!) – so much nicer than loading onto a bus crammed with people when we want to get to the next place. The places in-between the “tourist destinations” are where a lot of living happens in these countries and we like to see that, letting it all unfold slowly for us. That said, we were happy to be on this bus, as it would have been a long, hot 3 day cycle to Kampong Cham, without much for services along the way.
Cycling the 60 miles into Phnom Penh from Kampong Cham we started super early since we had a long way to go and it was sure to get up around 100 degrees again. The first 10 miles were paved, close to the Mekong… and full of friendly welcomes. Children came running, parents holding children waved their hands for them, everyone was smiling and saying hello to us! We saw lots of Muslims along the way, and even 2 mosques. Horse drawn carriages delivering ice, delivering hay, delivering sugar cane stalks…plenty of people on bicycles…this was rural Cambodia at its best. Our favorite part was seeing the women in matching flannel pajama sets! They are the new style here, and they wear them all day. Once in awhile you will see silk, and sometimes the pajama sets don’t match, but hey, whatever works. For me, flannel long sleeves and matching pants don’t work when it gets up near 100 degrees.
Then the pavement became a fine, sandy dirt. It blew at us when a car would pass, getting into EVERYTHING! We slipped in it, having to stop to balance at times, and were constantly dodging deep potholes. We had this for about 28 miles. Finally we got the pavement back, and merged with a busy road heading into Phnom Penh for the last 20 miles. The traffic picked up in volume and speed, we could feel the energy of the city ahead.
We spotted a car wash and pulled in, took our panniers off and they sprayed our bikes off (badly needed), then they sprayed us off too (even more badly needed)!! Just from the knees down, but since we were caked in dirt, it helped so much. The woman there even dried our bikes off, and wouldn’t take any money for it, they were just tickled we had stopped by.
Finally we crossed the Japanese Friendship bridge into PP and eventually found the Boddhi Tree Guesthouse. They brought us cold water, carried our panniers to our room, then returned a few minutes later bearing two cold washclothes with eucalyptis oil on them. Perfect to sit back and put on our foreheads in the cool serenity of our room.
We were last in Cambodia 6 years ago cycling and are amazed to see how much more traffic there is here now. We will report more after we have been here for a week or so but for now we are happy to eat some good food, see some films and do some laundry!