Before this Asia trip, I calculated that I hadn’t found my way on to the seat of a bicycle in around seven years. In Sukhothai, it was impossible to see the ancient ruins of the temples without cycling around them, and I was really surprised by the feeling I had when I sat on that bicycle seat for the first time in such a long time. Without much effort, I was propelling myself around the temple ruins, creating a breeze for myself, and it felt really great. Since then, I take the opportunity to hop on a bicycle whenever I can, and so a five hour bicycle tour of country villages around Kampot in south Cambodia sounded right up my street.
The ground in Cambodia is pretty flat so my guide and I only needed push bikes to get around. Probably the best thing about this cycle journey was taking in the landscape around us as we cycled along the dirt roads that are bright red, a striking juxtaposition against the green of farm land and palm trees all around. I kind of wish that I took more photos of the landscape, but it seemed silly to stop and take photos and interrupt our journey – sorry I don’t have more to share with you but I wanted to enjoy the experience of cycling around with my lovely Khmer guide without having to stop and start all the time.
Of course, I could have just rented a bicycle and cycled by myself through the dirt tracks, but I appreciated having a guide with me for the afternoon. For one thing, my spatial awareness is severely lacking. I get lost in my London neighbourhood all the time when I’m at home, so navigating my way around country roads that don’t have names would undoubtedly leave me lost and panicking. Using a guide also meant that I had more of a local insight. I was taken into places that I wouldn’t have ventured into if I was cycling by myself.
Firstly, my guide took me into the garden of a house and I wasn’t sure why. It turns out there were outbuildings where people produced simple coconut sweets and other cylinder shaped thin biscuits. I guess they were kind of like tuille biscuits (which I like to make at home – waaah, I miss baking), only longer. It was great to see the women frantically at work, producing bags and bags of these sweet things, and at the same time, I was wondering how anybody can engage in such a repetitive task day in day out. Needs must, I know that, but it’s difficult for me to get my head around still. Visiting a “factory’ for ten minutes where people push out coconut cookies is one thing, but imagine doing that every day, hour upon hour?
An hour or so more cycling and we stopped at a local coffee shop. Everyone was enraptured by a boxing match blaring from a television. The idea of boxing is completely repellent to me, but it was interesting to see the group of men so taken with it, and I sat and had an iced coffee. Just across from the coffee shop was the riverside, which offered a truly stunning view. The family living there had built a pier that leads out on to the river with a small bed at the end of the deck. It seemed such a perfect way to relax that I was tempted to ask if they had a spare room. I am contemplating spending my summer in Cambodia, and suddenly had visions of myself sprawled out on this deck every day, writing for hours on end while sipping cool drinks.
At another village, we stopped for Khmer noodles and… doughnuts! Wow, these doughnuts were really something. Freshly fried so they were hot and perfectly fluffy inside, and drenched in palm sugar. It occurred to me then that I hadn’t consumed a doughnut since I left the UK, I had never craved one on my trip, but suddenly putting one, two, three, four, five in my mouth was giving me everything.
Another highlight of the trip was the amount of the young kids who were practically screaming ‘Hello’ (the only word they know in English, and in fairness, the only word I know in Khmer) at me as I cycled past – overjoyed to have a ‘Hello’ said back to them. Just the cutest.
And then we cycled back to Kampot town, my legs weary from all that pedaling but with a smile on my face.