In the interest of budget travel, I decided to see the Temples of Angkor by bicycle ($1.00 per day), instead of renting a tuk tuk and driver ($15.00 per day). I know, it’s not that much more expensive to get a driver, but I like the idea of biking throughout the countryside and seeing temples on my own. I guess I feel more like an explorer or something.
Most of the well-known temples of Angkor are relatively near one another-3 or 4 km max between temples. However, I wanted to visit Banteay Srei, located 35 km outside of the main complex. That’s quite the bicycle ride-especially given the fact that my bicycle was a single speed bicycle that was made at least 30 years ago.
Siem Reap to Banteay Srei:
As I started the ride from Siem Reap, I constantly kept my eyes behind me for a truck to flag down a ride from. After several kilometers, I heard the unmistakable sounds of Cambodian patriotic music and pre-recorded political rhetoric. A political parade was gaining on me fast. There were people on motorbikes, cars, and large amounts of people crammed in the back of large trucks. They all had matching shirts and hats that had the emblem of their political party, which happened to be the Cambodian People’s Party. This party is referred to by Wikipedia as “reformed socialism” but still retains some of it’s communist roots. It is definitely my kind of political party (sarcasm).
A big truck loaded with people overtook me, and I got flashbacks of the classic 1979 movie, Breaking Away when Dave raced the truck on the highway. I kicked my cycling into overdrive and re-passed the truck. Enjoying the game, the driver passed me again and we continued to overtake each other. The political activists in the back of the truck got a kick out of this and started cheering me on. After a little while playing this game of cat and mouse, one of the political activists in the truck held out his hand for me. I cycled up to the back of the truck and grabbed a hold of his hand, all the while traveling about 30 mph on a poorly paved Cambodian road.
Nobody in the back of the truck spoke ANY English, but they were all very excited about their new American friend holding on for dear life to the back of their truck. One of the guys slapped a Cambodian People’s Party hat onto my head and stuck a flag into my backpack. I guess I’d spend the afternoon as a Socialist-Marxist. They were giving me a ride. After about 15 km, I released my death grip on my political activist buddy. I had made it to my destination-Banteay Srei. Easy!
Banteay Srei to Siem Reap:
I definitely didn’t have it in me to bike the entire 35 km back to Siem Reap. Therefore, I was determined to hitchhike my way back. I biked a couple of kilometers away towards Siem Reap and stopped off at a small shop outside of a lady’s house and got myself a cold Coca-Cola. She was passed out in a hammock when I arrived and was quite surprised to see a tourist rolling up on a bike. Plus, she didn’t know any English. This was quite a welcome change from the onslaught of “you want cold drink, sah” and “you want souvenir sah? Good price for you” that covers every inch of the Angkor complex. I waited outside her house for a truck to wave down.
After waiting literally 2 minutes, a large gravel truck came down the road and I waved down the driver. The guy didn’t speak any English, but was eager to help me out (mostly because I don’t think he’s ever seen a white guy hitchhiking in Cambodia). I put my bike in the back of the truck with the gravel, and sat up front with him. To break the ice, I opened a package of cookies and set my iPhone to play some music that he would know. Which music was this? Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. Hitchhiking in rural Cambodia while listening to Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber with a guy who didn’t speak any English is definitely something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
My driver took me all the way back to Siem Reap. For free! Easy day! Despite the fact that Angkor is one of the most visited tourist areas in Southeast Asia (more than 2 million people per year), I managed to have a cheap and authentic morning. Sometimes traveling on a budget is not always about saving money, but rather about not choosing the path of least resistance. That’s when the adventures happen.