Rural Cambodia doesn't have the frenetic pace of Saigon. My hosts for the day, Cambodia Motorcycle Adventures, run a fleet of dirt bikes for serious enduro riders. But that's not me and my choice was the Countryside Immersion Tour on a Honda 125 Dream. Now, don't under-estimate these bikes! They are the backbone of Cambodia's economy and solo, with the whole family, pulling a 'tuk tuk' (taxi) or farm trailer these little bikes are indestructible.
My guide Narith and I had the best day exploring the countryside around Siem Reap. I won't bore Blog readers with a blow by blow recounting of the day, but rather the philosophy of invisible tourism.
Tourism impacts the destination country in many ways and it's often impossible, no matter how hard you try, to visit and just see the country in its natural state. Tours must be organised, temples marvelled at and trinkets accumulated.
Riding a Honda 125 Dream in Cambodia (along with hundreds of other identical bikes) makes you invisible. We wove our way through back roads, along the top of rice paddy dikes and around water-filled potholes that you'd swear were result of an artillery barrage. Riding at between 20 and 40 km/h, I saw village and rural life at its best. If I made eye contact, there was a double take, a smile and a wave.
Narith just pulled into tracks, driveways, village stalls and farms and explained to me what activities were going on. When I asked Narith whether these people were his friends or part of the tour he said no. He was a Khmer and they were Khmer and that they were genuinely interested in telling a Barang (me, the foreigner) about their lives.
We rode all day and covered just 98 kilometres. So different from 600 kilometre days in the Northern Territory just six months ago. I left with nothing more than a 500 ml water bottle of farm-brewed rice whiskey, purchased from the farmer/distiller for US$1 and some fantastic memories. Returning to the luxury of the 5 Star Hotel was surreal.
Cambodia has beauty, tragedy and optimism all mixed together in the middle of a complex political situation. My day on a Honda 125 Dream gave me a precious window to the Cambodia that most tourists don't see, and I loved it. My thanks to Narith for his insights into Cambodian life, and Po the tour boss for organisation and photos.
|Rice whiskey distillery, direct to the public|
|Family business husking dried beans for market|
|Narith making it look easy|
|How deep is that shell hole?|
|A Barang, a Khmer and two Hondas|