Monday, March 18, 2013

Road Trip | Siem Reap | Cambodia

Thanks to Nyepi Day, we recently were gifted a four day weekend. I put this free time to use and flew to Phnom Penh, Cambodia with Lauren and Jon where we promptly rented motorbikes and began the 315 km (196 mi) journey on mostly dirt roads to Siem Reap.

Having been on my share of road trips in Asia, I could never have predicted how our trip played out! About 50 km into our trip, we hit our first snare: my bike was unable to accelerate past 60 km/h (37 mph). I pulled over to check out the situation and black fluid was leaking from the side. As a blessing from God, a random bystander happened to speak English and graciously offered to drive us to the next town to a "body shop" and saw to it that the problem was adequately remedied.

We were good to go for another couple hours, with the exception of a suicidal cow that was determined to have a date with my motorbike. Soon after, we passed a road block (where we luckily encountered no problems from the police) and my back tire went flat. This was a particularly unfortunate place to encounter tire problems because at that same time, the entire town was attending a local wedding which meant no one was available to fix the tire. Again, an inconspicuous English-speaker pulled off the road to offer assistance. He had never changed a tire but worked with a local village woman to attempt to fix the problem.

In the meantime, we entertained the children. Sidenote: Cambodian people are gorgeous which means that Cambodian children are gorgeous. The kids tried to catch our attention by shouting their one English word, hi. We played hide and seek over a pile of rice stacks. They greatly enjoyed having their picture taken. When we finally reached our destination, I printed their pictures to mail to them.

Back to the bike. It seemed for a brief moment that the problem had been fixed...until I started driving. In the time that the back tire was being fixed, my front tire had gone flat. We decided to press onwards, in hopes of finding someone a bit more knowledgable to fix the problem since we were still about 140 km outside of Siem Reap. By this time, the sun was going down and we were starting to feel a little bit hopeless.

Again, God provided. In the last moments of daylight (when shops typically close), we passed a shack on the outskirts of the same town whose owner was actually there. Suprise, his 16 year old son, spoke perfect English and Korean (which wasn't useful to us but still pretty impressive)! We were able to get a brand new tube for the back tire and a patch for the front tire. While we were waiting as they mended the tire by torchlight, the local villagers could see that we were famished and brought each of us half of a baby watermelon. These people, who had close to nothing themselves, were sharing what they had available, with complete strangers. It is not often that I have encountered such hospitality and it was quite inspiring. We said our thank you's, and after politely declining a room in their home for the evening, got back on the road after a several hour delay.

For those of you who haven't been over here, driving in Asia at night is absolutely nothing like driving in the States in the dark. Everyone drives with their brights on full blast, only pausing to flicker them to signal that they are approaching you (as if you couldn't tell by the blinding light shining straight into your eyes). This meant that we had to drive slow and averaged a speed of 60 km/ hour, slowing each time we neared an oncoming vehicle. We were practially falling asleep while driving and with about 20 km to go, we recieved the final blow of our journey: the patch on my front tire blowing out. That meant our estimated 15 minute journey turned into an additional hour. We finally rolled into Siem Reap around 11 pm, looking as though we had been attacked with orange paint and ravaged by wild animals. We were saved one last time as the parking attendant at our hotel volunteered to take my tire for a permanent replacement the next morning. Our ride back was not without trial but we left earlier in the day to compensate for unanticipated problems. We only encountered a further broken chain and one last flat tire.

This experience will forever be engrained in my memory. As inconvenient as the problems were at the time, it gave us a chance to interact with the local Cambodian people that we would not have otherwise had. We got to see their kind compassion and their selfless attitudes, willing to share whatever they had with foreigners. If you are ever given the opportunity, I would highly recommend a trip to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

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