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Riding in the Cambodian Countryside

by Going Slowly

The skies are overcast this morning; the refreshingly brisk weather is a welcome respite from the likes of yesterday's steamy ride. As we cycle into the countryside, further from the dust clouds of Phnomn Penh's dirty sprawl, the roadsides are teeming with activity.

Sugarcane Scooter Pickled Stuff for Sale

Along with the usual markets, overloaded vehicles, and friendly smiles we've come to know and love here, there is something new to take in. We can hear it long before it comes into view: it's a distant, unidentifiable CLANG-clang-CLANG-clang-CLANG-ing.

Just starting another 100ish kilometer ride, we're both tempted to blow right by the racket without investigating. We have ground to cover. While the ringing in the air grows louder as we roll past, rubbernecking and straining our eyes to discern the nature of the noises, we start to think better of it.

A few seconds later, as the source of the clatter begins to fade in the distance, we decide, hey, that's not the spirit! So, we turn around to investigate.

Smithing a Hand Scythe

Just off the road, amidst a pile of discarded leaf springs (for raw material), there are two men working together, smithing what looks to be a machete. The process sounds just like I'd imagine workin' on the railroad all the livelong day to sound like.

Smithing a Hand Scythe

Next to them, a boy sits at the ready to stoke their handmade forge.

Cambodian Steelsmithy

Like almost every Cambodian we've met, they seem pleased to show us what they are up to, and happily consent to our taking photos. We almost buy the machete, but then decide against it (and now regret it!). As we're walking back to the bikes, Tyler quips, "You can't see that on a bus!"

We've covered nearly fifty kilometers, our breakfast fuel is long spent, and new pangs of hunger are setting in. Finding food in Cambodia has been exceedingly easy, and today is no exception. Moments after we both realize we need food now, we stop at what looks like a cafe for some iced coffee and something to munch on.

It turns out the cafe doesn't serve iced coffee or food, but there's a little stand nearby with a friendly-looking woman waving hello, beckoning us over. Whatever she's making sure smells good, so we head over to give it a try.

Roadside Kebab Hawker

There, we gorge ourselves on skewer after skewer after skewer of deliciously-marinated, smoky, barbecued meat. They are served with bowls of tangy pickled green papaya salad, and some shockingly fiery chili sauce. As we're eating, the woman calls her husband to come chat with us.

Fresh Kebabs

Though he says he hasn't practiced his English in about fifteen years, he is very easy to understand. We learn he's a mango farmer, and he tells us all about life in the area. He also tells us that the meat his wife is cooking is beef, which comes as a surprise to me. It's so tender!

Cambodian Mango Farmer

Then, an older man comes along and proceeds to tell us about how the cow we're eating was killed just this morning, and how good Cambodian meat is. While the griller's husband translates, the older man scowls and warns us about meat in neighboring Vietnam. How in Vietnam they bring the meat all the way from Ho Chi Minh city, so it's not as fresh!

No matter where we are, people seem to think poorly of their neighbors! Has this old villager ever been to Vietnam?

After paying our shockingly small bill (roughly 75 cents!) we hit the open road once more.

……….but not this one, thankfully!

Muddy Cambodian Trail

Our rides in Cambodia can more or less be summed up as such: ride a bit, get an iced coffee, ride some more, drink more iced coffee, ride a bit, rise and repeat. This time around, we stop a roadside cafe where a skinny mama dog and most of her many skinny puppies are bounding around.

Cambodian Roadside Stand

One of them looks like it's sleeping under our table, but the women who runs the cafe conveys to us that it's injured, showing us a gash behind his tiny little ear. As best we can understand, his mom bit him when he was nursing, because there were too many puppies to feed. We rub his belly gently as we sip on our iced coffees, but he doesn't really respond. How sad :(

Sleepy Puppy

Leaving the cafe, these girls join us for a little while on their motorbike, chatting and giggling as they slow down to keep pace. It's nice to have a bit of company to distract us from the weariness of a long cycling day. When they turn off on a side-road to go home, leaving us with smiles and waves, we just keep on a pedalin'.

Cambodian Girls & Tara

After ninety or so kilometers, we're ready to be done for the day, but we have yet to pass a hotel. So, we keep riding as the skies darken, threatening rain.

Cambodian River