After October’s intense but incredible trip to Nepal, we were itching to get back in the saddle for another dirt bike adventure. So where better to test our riding skills than the rugged, technical terrain of Cambodia?
Our journey began in the bustling capital city of Phnom Penh. Here, the group took a little time to get to know each other and acclimatise, exploring the museums, palaces and street markets – and later on, the bars and nightclubs.
The first stretch on the bikes was a choppy dirt run, heading towards Snoul – the site of a major battle during the Vietnam war. As we rode, huge ominous storm clouds gathered overhead. The monsoon season in Cambodia came late this year, opening us to extremely heavy downpours.
We rested in Snoul that night, hanging our dripping wet kit out before hitting the sack. Luckily, the warm air left it dry by morning and we got an early start, heading down the unseasonably wet King’s Highway for our first taste of the jungle.
The muddy, challenging conditions really put us through our paces and brought the team closer. We were working well together, laughing as we helped each other blast over the wet trails.
We arrived into Sen Monorom, right on the border of Vietnam, in great spirits. As the evening drew in, we relaxed with a barbeque by our resort’s pool.
It rained torrentially throughout the night. As a result, the double-drop Bou Sra waterfall was raging heavily the next morning. The thundering cascades of water was an incredible sight, and an exhilarating way to start the day before tackling the infamous ‘Death Highway’.
We rode through the remote village of Kon Niek before encountering some very tough conditions. Persistent rain had left a section of the road slicked in deep mud. It was horribly slippy and overgrown, and before long we threw in the towel and found an alternative route to the highway.
Our efforts to reach the Death Highway were rewarded with a stretch of fun, fast riding. We made quick progress for the following hour and the team were loving every second. But we soon discovered the late monsoon’s challenges weren’t over when we hit a submerged rice paddy. Unable to see what was under the surface of the water, a few of our riders were thrown off their bikes. To slow us down further, some of the bikes flooded and our mechanics had to step in to ensure they were fit for the remaining day’s riding.
Pushing on as a unit, we eventually popped out of the jungle onto a smoother road where we could make progress again. We gunned it to Banlung, arriving just in time before the sun went down. That night, we stayed in a fantastic little spa resort, tucked away in the middle of nowhere, to relax after a day of tough but rewarding riding.
The following day was a much-appreciated rest day, giving us the chance to unwind and explore the area. We split off into groups to enjoy a few different activities, including visiting a hill tribe village, an elephant sanctuary, and swimming in the beautiful volcanic crater lake of Yeak Laom. For the guys in need of some gentle R&R, there was a spa and massages too.
We awoke the next day, rested and raring for more adventure. Cambodia was 100% willing to deliver, as we received word that the Mekong River had flooded. Our intended route to Stung Treng was now a lake, so we needed to re-engineer our plan to accommodate a bit of highway followed by exciting off-road trails and dirt roads.
Making steady progress, we rode cautiously through Khmer Rouge village strongholds. There were lots of stark, harsh reminders of this offshoot of the Vietnam People’s Army, responsible for orchestrating the Cambodian genocide in the 1970s.
Though the CMAC (Cambodian Mine Action Centre) are hard at work to remove mines from the area, it remains littered with warning signs which reminded us to stick to well-trodden paths.
As we continued to push up the border, we rode alongside the mighty Mekong. Brimming with character, the river is scattered with rapids, islands and waterfalls as it drops from Laos and forms a natural border into Cambodia.
That evening we hopped on a riverboat, with a cool box full of beers and soft drinks in tow. There’s a stunning little island right in the middle of the Mekong, with sand banks about 100m long and 30m wide, where we set up camp for the night.
We pitched our tents and hammocks, grateful for a perfectly-timed respite from the rain. Just as the sun went down, we took a quick swim in the river to wash off the day’s dirt and sweat and made ourselves a roaring fire. We cooked up some lovely jacket potatoes with beef and chicken, talking and enjoying a few beers late into the night.
Though we stayed up pretty late, we managed to merge, bleary-eyed, from our tents early the next morning to watch the sun rise. After another quick wash in the river to get our blood pumping, we jumped on the boat and headed upstream to where critically endangered Irrawaddy river dolphins were playing. These amazing little guys are shy, with distinctively round heads. Recent population studies reveal there are only around eighty left in the Mekong River, so watching them breaching out the water that morning felt very special.
We stopped in Laos for breakfast, taking some time to check out a steam railway that was once used to transport goods from Laos into Cambodia.
Again, we felt the effects of the late monsoon when we attempted a dirt road through the jungle, but were unable to make it through due to too much water. All around us, rice paddies were flooded and river bridges had been washed away. Instead, we took an alternative dryer route through the forest.
We reached Preah Vihear that afternoon and headed to its ancient Hindu temple, atop a 525m cliff in the Dângrêk mountains, right on the border between Thailand and Cambodia. Climbing to the highest section of the temple gave us amazing views across both countries.
Next stop, Koh Ker. With a big day of riding ahead, we jumped on the dirt bikes early. Before long, we reached another flooded river with its bridge completely washed away. Luckily for us, a boat was on hand to take us to the other side. With capacity for just two bikes at a time, we got there slowly but surely.
Back on sandy, muddy trails, we enjoyed some brilliant riding. With fast sections and varied terrain, the route to Koh Ker regaled us with perfect dirt biking conditions. Perhaps a bit too caught up in the thrills of the trails, we made one wrong turn into the jungle and found ourselves tackling deep, tricky riding, with the light steadily fading.
Embracing the challenge, the group pushed forward over the tricky terrain, congratulating each other’s efforts as we finally reached Koh Ker under starry skies.
Having been put through their paces, the bikes needed a bit of TLC the following morning, affording us time to climb up the remote region’s beautiful 7-tier pyramid temple.
We took a less intense ride than the previous day, winding our way over to explore the deserted ruins of the Preah Khan (Sacred Sword) temple.
Preah Khan temple is one of the ancient Angkor temples. Right in the middle of the jungle, it’s very hard for most vehicles to access. But on dirt bikes, it’s no issue. We watched the sun set at the temple, listening to eerie sounds from the jungle as day turned to dusk.
Our final day’s riding was welcomed by another torrential downpour, leaving trails very wet and muddy. We made our way along potholed dirt roads, covered in a red clay that we were soon covered in.
That afternoon we were faced with two choices: take the highway to our final stop, get there early, relax and take some extra time to explore. Or attempt some previously untested backroads through paddy fields and farmland, with small alleyways winding towards our destination.
Of course, we chose to go off-road.
It was a decision none of us regretted. With fast, flowing tracks and no heavy ruts, we had the perfect riding conditions to finish our adventure. We eventually emerged from the Cambodian wilderness, high-fiving and cheering as we hit the wide city streets of Siem Reap.
The city is home to Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument and the Number One sight in the world, as voted by Lonely Planet. This epic Hindu temple was the ideal place to end our trip on a high. We spent our final day in Cambodia soaking up its astounding legacy.
In spite of the late monsoon’s heavy downpours, there were no dampened spirits. Thanks to all the riders who made Cambodia 2016 another fantastic trip. An amazing group of energetic, up for it, positive people. We salute you.