Bad roads and worse bridges
Have a look at our video about Lara in Cambodia: we forgot to add the link to the post last time!
The roads throughout Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia have been much better than we expected and certainly better that those you find around South Australia and Adelaide – which we consider to have the worst roads in Australia. Anxious to justify bringing a 4WD, we decided to make the trip across the Cardamon Mountains in the south west of Cambodia. This turned out to be an adventure exceeding our expectations.
Firstly though, we took a detour to the Arang Valley, in search of the elusive Siam crocodile. We’re really in remote areas now and English is hardly spoken, but with a combination of arm waiving and crocodile miming, we think we were heading the right way. We push through some very boggy bits of road and found a track to the river through the jungle. We finally reach the pristine stream after a lengthy hike, but we only stay for a brief hunt for the crocs as it is now raining and we need to make it out of here before the roads get too muddy.
We make it out by the skin of our teeth, the roads are impossibly steep and turn to mud quickly. Lara has to fight her way up the slopes and inch down them again, with lots of slithering towards huge ditches. Just as exciting was watching the wheel tracks of the local motorbikes, which seemed to be skidding rather than riding down the slopes. It’s evident why these areas get cut off for months in the wet season.
The next day the clouds had gone and we set off on the ‘proper’ crossing of the Cardamons. The road climbed from the south coast up into the mountains and we enjoyed views of jungle covered ridges as far as the eye could see. For a while that was…
We were soon engulfed in a world scale construction project. The friendly Chinese were here to build four successive hydroelectric dams for the electricity starved Cambodians. With new roads everywhere to the dam, quarries and construction camps, we lost the way and ended up right in the middle of the construction site. The Chinese attitude towards safety was an eye-opener: trucks poured concrete from the top of the dam wall with no safety barriers – one false move would have sent the truck plummeting down a 100m high dam wall, taking the team of concreters working on the wall itself with it. No wonder they can build things so cheaply.
Eventually we figured out the way, but had lost a couple of frustrating hours. The road beyond the dam projects was less traveled and hence less maintained, and poor Lara suffered as we crashed through endless potholes and corrugations. She needs to last all the way to London after all.
We stopped for lunch at a shady spot by the road, which is where we met Mr Lim, a local ranger, conservationist and most important, an English speaker. He insisted we stay with him that night. Mr Lim was also a demon 125cc motorbike rider and we had a hard time keeping up with him on the way to his village. It was a little embarrassing to see that Lara was almost as big as his house.
We helped with the cooking: fish and a green vegetable called ‘morning glory’! After dinner a couple of Mr Lim’s friends took us down to the local river to again look for the elusive Siam crocodile. Luckily we didn’t see any, because Jon fell in and would have been a goner otherwise… (luckily our non-waterproof camera survived the swim).
Day 2 in the Cardamons and things got worse, not better. The potholes grew to the size of a small car and the local Toyota’s, which are used as buses on the route, were most often seen broken down by the side of the road. The bridges were worse still, the wooden trunks and cross beams were mostly in very bad shape, and some were clearly collapsing. And we hadn’t seen any cars bigger than Lara on this section of the road, so we tried to ignore the creaks and groans as we inched across them….
Eventually we were out. Certainly it was more than we had bargained for. Have a look at our video Lost and Found in the Cardamon Mountains (link to you tube as we can’t add it here directly).
From there it was on to Battambang, our last stop in Cambodia. We went for a ride on the bamboo train, a simple dismountable train with a wooden platform, 2 axles and an engine which allows trains to pass each other on a single track. It was an awesome ride!
At our final dinner, we had to evade a massive scorpion running around the floor of the restaurant and we also met Dale Amesbury of Next Generation Cambodia. She was an Aussie expat who had set up a home to give kids from remote villages the opportunity to get an education (if you’re interested you can sponsor a kid, check out the link for more info). She had a huge amount of energy and we spent a pleasant evening listening to her stories. Apparently, after the school was built they discovered half a dozen land-mines still buried in the grounds (and this is after the government had given it the all-clear!).
We loved our 2 weeks and 2,500km in Cambodia. The people were delightful, as were their fish curries, and there is so much diversity for such a tiny country.
For us, it was back to Thailand, we were heading for the mountainous north and the Buddhist New Year celebrations.