Cycling into Cambodia the sudden plunge in standard of living is immediately obvious. Despite the poverty it is a country bursting with life and colour. As we pedal along we are overwhelmed by the sights and sounds all around.
People are packed like sardines into sagging minivans, they overflow onto the roof where a further dozen or so perch amongst a load of baggage at least as high again as the van itself. These vans lurch along the potholed road, swerving violently amongst a chaotic rabble of vehicles, motorbikes, bicycles and oxcarts going in all directions.
Old women wearing the traditional checkered headscarf grin toothlessly at us with mouthes stained red with betelnut juice. It is now stinking hot by 9am each day and we are grateful for the roadside sugarcane juice stalls, where delicious freshly wrung juice is served with crushed ice for just a few cents.
Temple in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We were amazed at how beautiful structures such as this survived the scourge of the Khymer Rouge when much of the country was laid to waste.
We had a break in Phnom Penh for a few days, spending much of this time struggling to come to terms with the legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime. At the Tuol Sleng Museum, a centre of torture and imprisonment under the Khmer Rouge, a palpable sense of unease permeates the buildings.
Out at the ‘Killing Fields of Choeung Ek’ where many victims of the regime were killed and buried in mass graves, it is surprisingly peaceful. The raw horror of what happened here is softened by the beauty of the surroundings and the prayers of visitors burning incense at the memorial stupa.
We cycled out of the city amidst a sea of traffic, which soon eased as we headed for our next major stop – Siem Reap and the world renowned Angkor Temples. It was good to notice large numbers of local visitors amongst the crowds of international tourists, and to see their obvious pride in these magnificient structures.
We spent several days exploring the many different sites by bike, awed by incredible feats of construction completely beyond our comprehension. Equally awesome were the efforts of Mother Nature to destroy these man-made wonders as huge tree root systems slowly strangle and engulf the ruins. It is a wonderous place and we left somewhat reluctantly.
Our thoughts now turn towards home as we begin the run across Thailand and south down the Thai-Malaysian Peninsula. With winter awaiting us back in Anglesea we will definitely take some time out to sit in the sun on the beach along the way …..