There’s something about waking up in a new city. Your eyes peel to the sunlight with a stream of thoughts flowing through your mind — things to do, places to see, food to eat. As we stepped out of our nights’ hide-out, we were fully excited about taking a tour of Cambodia in our bug-eyed Baja 250s (bike).
The tour’s first stop was Kep, a coastal town in southern Cambodia that seemed isolated and unexploited by tourists.
First stop — Kep
We, the group of bikers zoomed in our Bajas, which are quite unlike anything available in India. Powered with 250 cc motors and built to look like dirt-bikes, these motorcycles are capable of going anywhere and everywhere you’d possibly want to take them. Highway 3 leads down to Kep but with the annual reconstruction work on, we took a detour. It is roads like these that give you a true perspective of Cambodia. It’s far from Phnom Penh’s rap-star lookalike Khmer boys in their Chevy Suburbans and glass buildings.
It’s the place of stilt bamboo houses and hammocks made of torn fishing nets for furniture. Where a square meal consists of rice and a broth of any kind of animal or insect that can add flavour.
Kep arrived a few hours later as we rumbled down a sea front avenue with decrepit and ghostly French bungalows. Once a popular beach resort in the colonial times, the place is now stuck in a time warp with a couple of eco resorts sprouting up just recently. There was a motocross rider who led us through some tight tricky trails up the mountain in Kep’s forest reserve.
Cambodia’s great lake
With Kep checked off the map, we were bound to circumnavigate the great Tonle Sap lake. But before that, there was a night’s halt back in the capital city and a mandatory visit to the Genocide museum which bore witness to Cambodia’s dark past. As we entered the eerie gates of Choeung Ek, an orchard that the Khmer Rouge used to systematically execute 17,000 victims, bolts of lightning and deafening thunder rumbled in the skies on a bright summer day.
Lake or playground?
Going around the Tonle Sap via Siem Reap and Battambang was the plan. But who was to know that the Tonle Sap had now been reduced to a stream and what was once the lake was now an open playground for us Tomb Riders. We took a detour off the highway and rode for miles on end in chase of the elusive waters of the lake but found nothing.
En route to Siem Reap, we stopped at a Stoung, a small town known for its deep-fried delicacies — tarantulas (hairy spiders) and crickets. While the locals say the tarantulas act as an aphrodisiac, my take was that they tasted taste like, well, spiders and I passed.
Having visiting the Angkor ruins before, visiting them wasn’t a priority for me. But an outing on National Road 66 is what made the road trip worth it. National Road 66 skirts around the main Angkor complex before turning deep into the forest. The serenity of the place was briefly interrupted by our motorcycles as we rumbled in.
But as soon as the dust settled, the magical sight of the Beng Mealea temple draped in a beam of moon light emerged. The thought that I was so far from civilisation and yet so close to its origins was an overwhelming feeling. And all it really takes to get you here is a motorcycle. Two wheels really move the soul.