CARDOMOMS (playlist of youtube videos I took)
Wednesday and Thursday 11th and 12th April Jim and I did a loop through Pursat, Pramaoy, Koh Kong and back to Phnom Penh. This took us through the famous Cardomom Mountains in western Cambodia, along a dirt road/track built by the Chinese as part of their hydro scheme south of Pramaoy. It was an adventure! I'm very glad I took Jim 1's advice and hired a Baja 250 as my bike doesn't have the suspension travel to cope with the ruts and pot holes now in the road. This bike was also a lot faster on the highway, I think due to a smaller front sprocket. An indication of the speeds we reached is that we nailed Kampong Chnnang to Pursat in an hour! Basically, to get to the Cardomoms, head left at the Total petrol station in Pursat. You'll bend through a few villages for a bit before a Y junction (the other road comes in on your right at a left hand bend). Continue on, the road will turn to dirt and you'll start heading into the mountains. It's all pretty tame until after Pramaoy. Pramaoy is a good place to stop and have a rest, there's also a petrol station and a few places to eat. The one we stopped at was also where Jim 2, a retired US airforce mechanic, was having lunch. It was nice chatting to him about his 1.5 years living in outback Cambodia beating around the fire trails on his '90 Baja. His was better than ours as the headlights turned with the steering. He'd fixed F4s and F16s, amongst others, during his 21 years in the service so it was a pity we didn't have more time to quiz him.
After refuelling an an obligatory pose in front of the rather thorough sign listing about two dozen types of potential UXO in the area, off we went south
. I promptly had my first moto crash in Cambodia, running into two kids on a Daelim who simply pulled out in front of me without looking. There was a lot of high grass on the right where they came from so I had about half a second to react. I got a bit out of their way but things weren't helped by them coming to a panicked stop in my path rather than getting across the road. Finding myself on my back and them next to me I jumped up and picked up the boy left lying on the ground. He wasn't quite writhing but was in enough pain as not to be able to move. Thankfully it was only grazes, although quite a few - as had I on both shoulders, and my left leg. Of course half the village quickly gathered round and I was very grateful to have Jim 1 with me to talk in Khmer. The elders acknowledged freely that the boys were at fault although I also should have been riding more toward the middle of the road and beeping my horn periodically. Thankfully I was only going about 20km/h. I paid them $25 compensation just to make things right and limped off down the road a bit to repair my own wounds, filled with sickening thoughts about being a typical white colonist smashing through the villages/ers for pleasure, never to see them again. Now I'm a horn fanatic.
The bike was fine, thankfully, apart from a bent front mudguard, broken clutch lever (just the end of it) and bent gear lever. So on we went. The next thing making this an adventure was it poured with rain. A real wet season type downpour which made us sodden in a minute and the road a mudslide. Cowed by the threat of capsizing, we minced along until finding a poaching spotter's hut. He had room for both of us to sit for half an our whilst the worst of it passed. There was also a cat making itself at home which was a quaint touch. He said he was there to stop people taking animals out of the mountains, including tigers(!) although I wasn't born yesterday
. On we went sliding up the road, although it wasn't as bad as it might have been, the Chinese had done a little thinking when the built it, covering the track with gravel that meant we still had a bit of grip despite the wet. We soldiered on till another downpour forced us to shelter in the verandah of someone's hut, this time continuing despite the rain still coming down only slightly less vigorously since we figured we were soaked through and could still make progress.
Of course we had to make a river crossing! The water was flowing pretty swiftly although there were flat rocks right the way across with only 150-200mm of water flowing over so it was easy just to ride across. Soon we came upon the hydro project, quite an impressive bit of concrete. It looked like it still had a year's worth of construction to go. You'll see in the photos. Then on we went, past a few sites down the hill where they were making materials for the hydro project such as cement... there was also a sub station. Soon enough we reached the last village before Koh Kong, about 60km away. It was on dusk and we decided to eat something. The day had one last trick left up its sleeve though, killing my headlights. Just as we were taking off I turned them on, then off and on again for fiddling's sake. Only thing is, they never came on again. Not for the next 60k of darkness! Wet, slippery dirt road in the middle of the bush after starting at 6am in Phnom Penh. Never ridden that type of bike before that day. Never ridden the road before. Riding in darkness. Luckily I'd packed a fairly decent head torch but they're actually pretty useless for anything more than walking speed due to the very small patch of light offered. So I kept it on anyway and road in Jim 1's headlights, still quite an effective way to travel. On we plodded for another 3 hours. It was whilst loping through the night, blackness except for a small pool of yellow light I sometimes stayed in for all of Jim 1's efforts to navigate himself along the rutted, potholed track, that I realised this was our best ride yet . (Yes, going by other stories on gt-rider.com, we haven't seen nothing...)
Chinese hydro scheme, Cardomoms
Eventually we saw the lights of Koh Kong. It was something of a relief to see so many as I'd never been there and thought it'd just be a little river side village with a couple of shacks, maybe one guesthouse and so all of our efforts pushing on would be for nothing. Thankfully we found a nice hotel/civilisation to shelter in. The ride back home was brisk but fun. The highway up through the hills out of Koh Kong is my favourite in Cambodia so far (my favourite track of course being the one we did the night before). It's got a lot of nice bends and elevation changes making for a good test of one's apex hunting skills. We got back 5 minutes before the bike shop closed, with me all in a rush to get to the copy/photo shop so I could get my documents in order for the trip to Thailand the following day.