Cycling Across the Cardamom Mountain Range in Cambodia (Day 4)
This is final post in a four-part series describing my cycling trip with a friend across the Cardamom Mountain Range in Cambodia. You can read Day 1: Pursat to Red-Hat Man’s House (Follow the Steel Pylon Road) here, Day 2: Red-Hat Man’s House to Oasom (The Climb Up “I Hate Myself” Mountain on the Cardamom’s Front Range) here, and Day 3: Oasom to a Riverside Campsite (or “Climb Mountain, Downhill Single Track, River Crossing, Repeat”).
Day 4: A Riverside Campsite to Koh Kong City
Throughout the night, Steve and I have gradually slipped on every piece of clothing and oil-stained kroma we could dig out of our panniers. Still I toss and turn to generate the least bit of warmth. The sound of the flowing river just a few meters from our hammocks is a pleasant companion in the pitch black darkness. I listen to it for awhile and finally pull out my GPS to check the time – 3AM, just barely a suitable hour to get up and start a pot of tea.
I do a few stretches on the deteriorated bridge foundation next to the river. Steve rolls out of his hammock and gently coaxes our fire back to life. I filter a bit of river water and we enjoy a tin cup of hot green tea next to the fire. We only have another 85 or so mountainous kilometers to Koh Kong, so we can afford to take our time and enjoy the scenery.
After a brisk swim in the dark, we pack up our gear, switch on our headlamps on and push our bikes up the first steep climb. I hate pushing a bicycle – it’s so unnatural and demoralizing – but, alas, the sand and the grade make the trail unrideable. There’s no option but to put my head down and push it ever upwards.
Reaching the top, we sit to watch sunrise over Tabletop Mountain and listen to the plethora of birds singing around us.
We take advantage of the cool morning air and make our way up and down two more mountains.
After “Woohoo” pass, the trail begins to widen into a dirt road and we see more half-constructed bridges. We gather from the date (2000), that they are from when the Thai army helped plow through a road from the border (Koh Kong city) down to Route 4 near Sihanoukville. They were obviously a bit too ambitious in their decision to also push northeast through the mountainous, dense jungles of the Cardamom Mountains. Why did the Thai government decide to build this road to nowhere in northwest Cambodia? Well, they always had an economic interest here – especially with the Khmer Rouge, which funneled high-quality wood and gems (both of which have long disappeared in Thailand) via their borders and likely the coffers of Thai government officials. As an American, however, who am I to judge? After all, my government did destabilize the entire region, leading to the Khmer Rouge era in the first place. Only Steve, my Molson-drinking Canadian friend, is guilt-free here.
We approach a t-junction. If we had the time, we both agree, we’d turn left and head a few hundred kilometers into Southern Cardamoms and the secluded village of Chi Phat. Alas, we turn right and continue our downhill descent toward Koh Kong city.
We speed by a construction crew working on the road. This time it is the Chinese, repairing some of the original road but cutting a trail that runs north along the Thai border toward the dam we passed earlier. This will make the Smugglers’ Trail (used by the occasional motorcycle loaded with cargo, illicit and otherwise) all but useless. With no one taking the time to maintain the trail, we’ll see how long it takes the jungle to envelop it.
We complete the long downhill at a your usual provincial traffic circle. Extraordinarily hungry and hot, we head into town and devour a few Porn Marinas (a brand name that is hilarious to us, perhaps due to dehydration).