Trees. Birds. Rivers. Sky.
Running with my Uncle Hec.
– hunt for the wilderpeople
It’s nearly week 3 of PrincessLua and my SE Asia whirlwind tour, and we’ve been having a wonderful and adequately chaotic time. There have been many a mishaps, serendipitous adventures and general terribly planned Mowgli-ness. There have also been plenty of lazy days hiding out under fans, reading books and doing absolutely nothing too.
Like today, where I’ve taken a day off being the responsible adult and carer for my 16year old sister and have decided to spend the day inside our guesthouse room being totally antisocial, eating mango chips and writing.
But no one wants to hear about that (or about the hour of washing I just completed using soap and a spare toothbrush for scrubbing accumulated monsoonal season sweat stains from my clothing).
So let’s hear about our time so far in Siem Reap.
After catching a long bus from the smelly capital Phnom Penh, we arrived at the much smaller, much nicer Siem Reap, and to a cheap but awesome guesthouse tucked away in some quiet backstreet. After waking up early the next morning, nomming on some awesome banana pancakes and iced coffee, we hired out the guesthouse bikes and explored the streets of Siem Reap, enjoying our newfound sport of AsianTrafficDodging™. But before we could get 10m down the road, the ancient rusty skeletons of Hipster Bikes Past coughed and spluttered and Lua’s tyre went flat.
That was flat tyre number 1. The rest of the day we pedalled along the river, out of town and to the shady jungle road that leads out to Angkor Wat. We visited museums, had our souls and energy sapped from us in the way all museums do – even if there is airconditioning – then pedalled home through a storm.
Day 2: we woke early, breakfasted early and left early, only to find out the ticket office for Angkor Archaeological Park had moved 4kms away from its original place, and so after a long hot and sweaty detour – we arrived late.
The riding itself is brilliant. Flat roads, the wind of cars and tuk tuks passing 2cm away cooling you down, and the pressure of having to pedal your heart out taken away by the simple fact youre on an ancient rusty Fixie.
We chained our bikes up and entered the tourist mecca of Angkor Wat. I’ll write about our day in this awesome temple complex later, and skip straight to the cycle home.
A storm was rolling in and around us, teasing us with sprinkles. We decided it wasn’t going to get any better so we left the temple to ride home through the refreshing rain. At our bikes we immediately saw a problem. Lua’s front tyre was completely flat, sagging all over the place like old lady boobies.
I started walking around, looking for other cyclists who might have a pump or anything useful.
A tuk tuk driver approached us, asking if we needed a tuk tuk.
“No, but we need a bike pump.”
He grinned, licked his lips. “No bike pumps here. Have to go back to siem reap. Tuk tuk?”
I replied that there MUST be a bike pump somewhere here, with all these hundreds of stalls and vendors with their bicycles.
He insisted there wasn’t and argued we would have to take a tuk tuk instead.
I moved on, with a worried Lua tailing me, quietly wondering whether we should take the tuk tuk.
I found a banana stand lady. No English beyond “banana?”. I pointed to luas flat tyre. She pointed up the road.
We smiled, waved and left. Banana stand ladies were to become my favourite Cambodians.
Sure enough, down the road, was a tiny little shed with bike tyres pinned to the trees, plastic chairs, Coca-Cola umbrellas and chickens.
We arrived just as the rain started pelting down, and stood all together with 2 young guys, our bikes, us and a few scraggly chickens under the faded Coca-Cola umbrella. The young guys started disassembling the tyre, and replacing the torn-beyond- repair inner tube.
The rain had not subsided when we paid $3 for the tube, and the boys laughed and wished us luck as we rode out from the safety of the umbrella and it’s plastic chairs.
Within 2.5seconds we were soaked through. It was difficult to see where we were going, so with hands shielding our eyes we wobbled down the drowning road. Tuk tuks, with their shielded up windows, drove past at alarming speeds. The tourist occupants inside glanced out the windows on the back, staring at us with pitying eyes as we slopped down the road.
A lone motorbike came up beside us. On it, a mother, a child, a toddler and a grandma – all in soaking clothes – were laughing as they, too, shielded their eyes to try and see. They all waved enthusiastically at us, laughing with their faces turned to the sky, sharing in our refreshing misery. Even the grandma got in on the waving action. We laughed and waved back, sharing for a few moments the universal hilarity that is finding yourself absolutely drenched in a warm summer storm.
We slopped on home, through streets that were now rivers, and up our muddy little road.
Day 3 found us heading out again, tempting fate, on our rusty hipster bikes. We thought, surely after replacing the tubes and having 2 days of bad luck, we would be spared a third day of trial.
We hadnt even ridden 1km past Angkor Wat , when Lua’s back tyre started deflating. I could have quickly stopped at the same tyre place as the day before, as we had just passed it, but being me – I said it’ll last the trip.
At Bayon Temple, I went looking for a banana lady. I found one. I pointed at Lua’s tyre. She pointed back down the road we had just come along.
It seemed we would have to go all the way back to the same place.
Trudging, sweaty and thirsty, and extremely hot and annoyed, we wheeled the bikes in the direction we had just come. But not 5mins later, we stumbled on another chicken overrun, bike repair shed. Thank-you banana ladies of Cambodia!
After a small hole was fixed in Lua’s tube, I warned her that if she were to pop another tyre again this trip I would leave her to walk home.
Surprisingly (Praise be to Buddha and all of the Hindu Gods of the temples) the rest of the day went without anymore tyre incidents, and only a mild storm related incident.
Our clothes are now drying, and I’m doing research to find out if there are any tyre repair places out near the temples we are visiting tomorrow.