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Pete & Natasha's First Ride

by Guest


Every time we take a long bus ride to get to a new tourist destination, we gaze longingly out of our tinted windows as we pass the things we really want to see – stuff like small villages bustling with activity, and roadsides full of Cambodians working in their shimmering green rice fields.

While the places we've visited so far have been awesome, they've also been very touristy. Often, there seem to be more westerners than Cambodians.

After talking with Tara and Tyler in Sihanoukville, we began to envy their mode of transportation. So, we decided to try it out for ourselves, making plans to ride 25 kilometers with them, from Kampot to the fishing village of Kep.

When we caught up with them yesterday to prepare for our ride, they delivered some unexpected news: we'd be starting our day at the crack of dawn! They don't normally start this early, but they wanted to save us from the blistering sun and un-inspiring light of midday.

Waking at 6:30AM is not a part of our normal routine. We were a bit groggy, but we managed, thanks in large part to the iced coffees Tara kindly bought for us. Once we'd shaken off the cobwebs, we rented bikes from our hotel, strapped our heavy backpacks to them with Tyler's spare bungee nets, and started our first ever cycle tour at the early hour of 7AM.

Pete & Natasha

We quickly realized that the added weight lashed to our bikes made balancing the already rickety machines a bit of a challenge, but we got the hang of after a kilometer or two.

Natasha & Pete Riding Bikes


Cycling out of Kampot in a wobbling parade of squeaky brakes and excitement, I led the way, doing the only navigation required of today's adventure: reaching the road to Kep. From then on, it was a straight shot through the Cambodian countryside. Both Tara and I were nervous and giddy, as if it were us going on our first ride.

Watching the two of them was both inspiring and amusing – it reminded me very much of what it was like for us at the beginning of our trip.

As I was packing my pannier I managed to tip my bicycle over twice, once scraping my shin and the second time almost pulling myself into a thick wall of nettles trying in vain to hold it up.

Tyler, in The Canal

They had to learn things like, when you take a break, where do you put your bikes? Or, when your riding partner gets off to pee or take photos, how do you hold on to their unwieldy, oddly weighted bicycle with one hand?

Pete & Bicycles

During the first of many stops, Tara and I leaned our bikes against a tree as normal, while Natasha used her kickstand. Her heavy bike promptly tipped over, the flimsy metal bending in half under the weight of her backpack! I was really relieved it was the kickstand and not the chain-stay.

Pete & Natasha's Rented Bikes


It was slow going, as we stopped every hundred meters, eager to take photos of almost everything in sight. Tara and Tyler were very patient with us, they were more than happy to stop as often as we wanted, and took plenty pictures of their own.

Cambodian Market Woman Cambodian Market Woman

At one point, we took a break in a tiny fishing village to watch as a group of Cambodian guys expertly prepared their nets.

Cambodian Fishing Net Cambodian Fishing Net Loading Fishing Nets onto Boat Cambodian Fisherman

Tara and I pored over flowers…

Lotus Flowers Lotus Flower Lotus Leaf

…and we saw many smiling faces throughout the day.

Morning at the Food Stall Wedding Flowers Cambodian Monks

The landscape, the food and the monstrous temples are all incredible, but it's the people that have made us fall in love with Cambodia.

While traveling, we have developed a newfound love for photography. Unfortunately, riding on a bus doesn't really offer many picture-taking opportunities. So, we were really excited about having the ability to stop whenever we wanted, leaving our bikes by the side of the road to go exploring.

We really admire Tara and Tyler's photography skills, and since we are both fairly new to the process, we asked them for some tips. Among other things, Tyler suggested that we shoot in aperture priority instead of manual, as I was instructed to do in my photography class.

This small suggestion made all the difference. Instead of worrying so much about our camera settings, we could pay more attention to the pictures we were taking. Also, having Tyler & Tara along gave us more courage to walk up to people and ask them if we could take their photo, which was almost universally met with a huge smile and a shy pose.

Cambodian Kids on Bicycle


For the past few days, Natasha has been lamenting the fact that her photos weren't very good. When we finally had a chance to examine them, we were happy to tell her that she was just plain wrong. Nevertheless, she seemed to take all of our advice to heart, especially one of Tyler's favorite photography quotes:

If your picture isn't good enough, you're not close enough.

Robert Capa

We were both thrilled to see her go tromping out into the fields to get a picture of a water-buffalo, or scooting a few feet closer to get a good portrait of a friendly kid, coming back excited about the results every time.


Eearly in our ride, while Tara and I were taking pictures, a group of people motioned for us to come sit with them and have coffee. This has happened to Tara and Tyler on several occasions, but never to us. Once again, this is an experience you're probably not going to get while riding on a bus!

Natasha & Friendly Cambodian Man Natasha & Friendly Cambodian Man

Our favorite thing about Cambodia has been the people, but up to this point, we had only been able to experience a tiny bit of their warmness and hospitality. Unlike the tourist areas where everyone speaks English, communicating with the locals was a welcome challenge. Our hosts taught us some new Khmer words, and practiced counting with us, much to their amusement and delight.

Serious Cambodian Man Friendly Cambodian Man Tyler Looking in the Phrasebook

It's surprising how far hand gestures and a smile will get you!

Cambodian Girl


When we left this morning, both Tyler and I were a little worried. What if all these kids we've been waving to, all the adorable faces that line the roadsides… what if they don't show up? We had basically promised Pete and Natasha friendly children galore, but what if there were no kids from Kampot all the way to Kep?!

Thankfully, our fears were unfounded.

Cambodian Kids

From every child we heard an enthusiastic "Hello, Hello!", and many of them were excited to pose for photos. Tara suggested that we show them the results on our digital screen, and this always produced a wave of excitement.

Wild Cambodian Kids


After we had a few kilometers under our belt, we tried out Tara and Tyler's big touring machines. Riding on a flat surface wasn't too bad, but there is no way we would want to take these and their extra weight up a mountain! They said it would be no big deal, since there are gears, unlike on our rented bikes.

Natasha & Pete Riding Our Bikes

After a few kilometers, we traded back, and stopped for food, pulling over to a small roadside restaurant. There, we got to test out our new Khmer words, trying to order a bowl of god-knows-what meat and hardboiled eggs in a dark brown mystery-sauce. It was pretty tasty!

Lunch with Pete & Natasha

Once again Cambodia has amazed us, never have we experienced a more friendly, welcoming culture. The day has become one of our most memorable Southeast Asian experiences so far, and it will change how we continue to travel. It may not always be easy, but we will try our best to get of the well worn tourist trail, maybe incorporating more bike trips into our travels.

Four Touring Bikes

The ride back to Kampot a few days later was not nearly as pleasant. We left later in the day, so it was unbearably hot, and we had to pedal against strong a headwind. After the return trip, our envy of Tara and Tyler transformed into awe at all they have accomplished.

Thanks for letting us be a part of your journey guys!

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What an awesome day that was! Love how you ended up tying the article together, sounds great!
Posted by Natasha on January 18th, 2011 at 2:53 AM
I love the guest post!

Tyler, why Aperture priority?
Posted by Magalie on January 18th, 2011 at 5:54 AM
I don't agree with the elitist manual is the only setting position that a lot of photographers take. I find it especially silly when all they do is line up the meter to perfect exposure every time. This is pointless work that the camera could do automatically if you let it.

I am firmly in the "use what works" camp, and for us, aperture priority works best for 90% of our shooting. Usually, we care most about depth of field, so that is the setting we choose to actively control. Using aperture priority allows us to focus more of our attention on composing a photo and less on fiddling with dials.

The only downside I've ever encountered with the semi-auto modes is getting slightly different exposures on images in a series, due to minor fluctuations of the chosen shutter speed. Even so, the range is always well within the variance that can be imperceptibly post-processed away.

Obviously there are times when shooting in manual is a good option (super low light, using flash etc), but aperture priority is the mode we gravitate to.
Posted by Tyler on January 22nd, 2011 at 11:57 AM