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Alan & Clint's Ancient Tribal Enduro

Loading a dirtbike onto a boat to cross the Mekong

After a challenging three days of constantly fixing the bikes we’d rented for Rob’s tour, (see previous blog) I was looking forward to being back on our beloved blue steeds; the trusty Yamaha WRF. Every tour has its challenges but you have to be able to rely on the ride and at Kickstart we take great care to ensure our bikes are running top notch. This tour had it's own challenges too, from unfamiliar terrain, exhaustion and a nasty crash that put me out of action for 7 months.

Day One – Siem Reap to Koh Ker

Bikes Ready to RollWe had met Alan & Clint; father and son duo briefly the day before, wen they had came in to touch base and go over the tour. We normally have a welcome dinner but they had been here with their family for a few days and they were going out so we just decided to meet in the morning. After a safety talk and going over today’s route we crawled out of Siem Reap and were soon on the great trails that wind out of town. Alan had gone for the Yamaha WR 250-F, while Clint opted for The Honda CRF 250-X. After a particularly wet season, it was nice to have things dry for a change. January is a good time to come as it’s not too hot or dusty. We cut through the forest towards Kulen where we hit some fast single track at the base of the mountain. Alan hadn’t ridden for several years and was a bit rusty, so we took it easy in the sandy bits. As we left Kulen, we cut through the hills towards Kabal Spean for a quick lunch before heading to Koh Ker.

There was a nice section ahead with a couple of creeks and mainly dual track with deep sandy ruts. It was still a bit wet here so we had fun roosting each other for a bit. Clint had a small off as his Go Pro got caught up in a tree, but man and machine were all good so we carried on. After a while we jumped on the red dirt roads, which Cambodia is famous for, and soon arrived at the best section of the ride for today: Ou A Gok. In Cambodian an “Ou” is basically a river crossing or a Fjord.

We filled up on petrol, had some drinks and filled up our Camelbaks. The next section was only about 30km or so, but it was fairly remote and there wasn’t really anywhere to stop on the way. After crossing the fjord and then a particularly bumpy, rutted section that kicked up so much bull dust that you couldn’t see more than two feet in front of you, we headed into the first forest section. To begin with it was nice loose gravel and windy corners so you could get some nice power slides down through the corners. Alan had his first off of the day but it was at a fairly low speed so no problems again. The late afternoon heat was quiet unbearable, and I think that and getting use to the bikes and sandy terrain caused Alan to have a few more offs. The sand was a lot deeper here and after numerous wet seasons there are deep ruts under the surface which you can’t always see, so it’s very easy to get crossed up. But the good thing about these longer tours is you really get a chance to hone your skills and become one with your machine. Needless to say, Alan was attacking the trails like a beast by day six.

We took the slightly shorter route that went through Phum Thmey Village so we could get sunset at Koh Ker Temple. A few dried out, rocky riverbeds later, and we rocked up at the late 10th Century Temple of Koh Ker. Built in 921 AD it was one of many temples in this complex that was dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, and the Linga {a big old sandstone Phallus} was a common feature in several of the temples here. Koh Ker temple itself is the only pyramid style temple built, and used to feature a massive Linga at the top of the monument. Since it caved in it was rumored to have buried all the gold and treasure hidden away. There was quite a climb to the top but the panoramic views of Kulen to the west and Preah Vihear in the North was definitely worth it. I pointed out the various landmarks we would be heading too.

There was a fair bit of daylight left so we headed to the guesthouse and relaxed. After a great local spread of various meats and stir fried dishes washed down with a few beers, we were ready to hit the hay.

Day Two – Koh Ker to Preah Vihear

I woke early, so I got up and went for a walk to watch the sun come up. It was a nice temperature and it was nice to be up early. I went over the bikes and did some minor adjustments to the chains and checked the oil before sitting down to one of my favourite breakfasts of pork & rice. Several coffees later we were raring to go. Saying our goodbyes we jumped on the bikes and headed back into the forest. We back tracked to Phum They which was about 4km, before heading east and into deeper forest. We weaved through the trees, passing remote little hamlets and before we knew it we were in Kulen, (not to be confused with Kulen Mountain). We were making good time and after topping up on petrol, we jumped on to the red dirt that left the town following the canal for a bit before we were back in the jungle. We soon came to a river. It was pretty wide and still had a fair bit of water so I walked it first to find the best line. After getting my bike across first I waited in the middle to help the guys in case they got stuck. Other than Alan sliding out at the top of the bank we all got over fine.

The next section you could barely see the trail, as the tall grass on either side engulfed our bikes. Wary of hidden obstacles and tree stumps we eased through this section. Then the trail opened up after a little bridge and we welcomed the breeze as we flew along powering through the sand. It was about midday and getting very hot. We rested up for a bit as Alan was feeling tired. After what would have been a kilometer of bog in the wet we crossed a wide expanse of grassland that had the most ridiculous ruts that had been caused by remorques churning up the trail as they carved through. Now it was dry but fairly treacherous in places and easy to take the wrong line. There were a few muddy sections, but we got through ok without getting stuck.

After a while we hit a large copse of Bamboo, and it was quite a battle getting through the overgrown thickets. Eventually, after being slashed, spiked and getting caught up on our helmets, we got through; only to find the radiator tube on Clint’s CRF had been punctured by a piece of bamboo and was spraying out hot water. We let it cool down, and then I tried to fill up the hole with epoxy glue and gaffa tape. It seemed to hold just fine as 15 minutes later it wasn’t leaking at all.

It was around 3pm now and the trail had been tough with the sand being pretty relentless in places. So as not to overdo it we stopped several times to recuperate causing our pace to slow a lot. Then, Alan caught his foot badly on a tree stump or a rock which shook him up a little. He had been doing really well, but he was exhausted and the heat was getting too much. We pressed on as we were close to the next village. After a flooded section we arrived in the village and found a place that had noodles.

Several Red Bulls later and full up on noodles, that took forever to boil, everyone felt a lot better. I decided to cut back on to the highway on an alternate trail, as we wouldn’t make it before dark if we carried on. We still had a fair old way to go when I looked back and Clint wasn’t there. I headed back and found him trying to kick the bike over. I checked the sparkplug which seemed to be running a bit rich. So after adjusting the Carby and cleaning the spark it eventually kicked over. However after 10 minutes it died again. We had an hour of daylight left and probably about half an hour left of dirt road, so instead of wasting time trying to work out the problem I decided to tow Clint the rest of the way. The first ten minutes or so was fairly rutted still with a lot of sand so Clint dropped the rope a couple of times, but we eventually made it to the highway and then it was an easy 20km ride to Sra-Em town.

We checked into the hotel and after a shower, and some GoPro editing we headed off for one of the best beef soups in the country. You get your own hotpot full of beef broth and add the vegetables and beef cuts as you like. We eat well on our tours! When we got back to the hotel I had another look at the bike, and decided to get my partner La to send a spare up just in case.

Day 3 - Preah Vihear to Kampong Sralao

The next morning I had another bash at getting the bike going, thinking it was the jets or something, but in the end I was fairly sure it was something electrical. It ended up being a problem with one of the wires connected to the Alternator. By the time we’d worked out what it may be the other bike had arrived so we decide to use that.

We had a long day ahead so we shot off to Preah Vihear. The temple is an ancient Hindu temple built during the period of the Khmer Empire, which is situated atop a 525-metre cliff in the Dangrek Mountains. It has recently been declared a UNESCO heritage sight and there had been fighting between Cambodia & Thailand over who owned the land at the base of the temple just after, around 2007. Unlike other Khmer temples Preah Vihear is unusual as it is constructed along a long north-south axis, rather than having the conventional rectangular plan with orientation toward the east representing Mount Meru and the surrounding Universe. The ride up there although not technical is good fun with some very steep windy sections and fantastic views. Once at the top it was a long trek up the mountain to the temple itself, that then stretched for over 800m. Once at the rear of the temple we rested and took in the views over the surrounding plains below.

After a delicious lunch of Fried Chicken and morning glory we got back on the road to our next stop. The rest of today’s ride was over 100km on red, dusty, dirt roads, which followed the Dangrek Mountains up towards the border with Laos. Alan & Clint were sucking my dust all day [benefits of being the guide ;) ] and were almost unrecognizable when we arrived. Again we arrived after dark due to the wait this morning. We had dinner that night overlooking the river of the sleepy little town of Kampong SraLao, nestled on the banks of the river that divides Lao & Cambodia.

Day 4 - Kampong Sralao to Ban Long

I was looking forward to today as it has one of my favourite trails in Northern Cambodia. We met early and watched the sun come up over the river as the little fishing village awoke. Being close to Lao we had an awesome breakfast of stick, rice, grilled beef and omelette. The coffee, however was probably the worst I’ve ever had; it was like used engine oil, which probably tasted better!

We carried on a bit further where we had to cross the Mekong to get to the road to Siem Pang. We found the guy I always use and gingerly edged the bikes down the banks, and manhandled the bikes on to the boat, which was no more than 10 meters long. Cambodian river boats in general don’t have a keel, so are fairly unstable. After balancing the bikes carefully we all jumped on and kicked back for the half hour ride down the river to nearby Laos. It was very relaxing and it was a nice respite from the heat with the cool breeze kicking up the spray from the boat.

Thanking the boat man we rode the bikes off and set on our way, passing the Lao border crossing. Then we had a long bumpy dirt road before stopping in Siem Pang for lunch. We watched the bike ferry crossing which was a great place for people watching and watching the world go by. We jumped on the next ferry and were soon on a fast flowing, deep, sandy trail. Not particularly technical, but the roads are wide open sand riding so you can just get on the throttle and have a blast without worrying about trees too much. There are some great little features on this section with some cool bridges and river crossings. Our adreneline pumping we’d done 30km of the 60km route, and decided to have a rest in a nice shaded section in the forest. There was a guy just living here in the middle of the forest all on his own. I think he was a forest ranger. He came over for a chat and we gave him the extra noodles and water we had.

The next section started to get a bit chopped up and you could see where it had been ravaged by the previous wet season. The rest of the afternoon took us through river crossings and a couple of boggy fields, before we got to the Vuen Sai River. Another ferry crossing later and we were on the final stretch. As we climbed in elevation the temperature dropped which was lovely as it had been very hot today. Before long we had arrived in Ban Long, and the comfortable hotel we would be spending the next two nights in. The rooms were great and we had AC and cable TV so we could kick back and relax. Tomorrow was a rest day, and there was quite a lot to see around town.

Day 5 - Ban Long [Rest Day]

After a later start we met for breakfast and admired the view over the lake. The boys went to check out some of the surrounding waterfalls, while I went to clean and service the bikes. By lunchtime we had freshly oiled air filters, oil changes and I had done a general check over of our rides.

In the afternoon we decided to check out the Yeak Loum volcanic lake and jumped in a Tuk Tuk. I came here first in 2000, and it was one of the reasons I fell in love with Cambodia. Back then it was like the wild west and there were literally tumble weeds and a thick layer of red dirt over everything. Now with it’s fairly modern shops and boulevards it was unrecognizable. We had a nice afternoon just chilling at the lake, but didn’t feel like swimming and after a while headed back to the hotel to rest up. We had another long day tomorrow.

Day 6 - Ban Long to Sen Monorom

Our ride today ventured onto an old trail called the Death Highway, so called because of the insane conditions that occurred during the wet season. However in recent years they have built a super highway, so now only sections of the old trail are accessible, so it meant jumping on the bitumen for a couple of sections. There are some nice technical parts as you near Sen Monorom however.

We had a section of Tarmac before we reached Lumphat, where the new bridge that crossed the Srey Pok River was. The Srey Pok featured in Apocalypse now, where Marlon Brando lost the plot in Cambodia. Back in the day there used to only be a couple of small boats with that were tied together to get across.

Just after the bridge we jumped onto more single track that wound through the forest. On our right were great swathes of forest thathad been razed to the ground to make way for evil palm oil plantations, which we had to cut through to get to the next jungle section. Once through, we had a nice 40km or so section of deep sand, ruts, rocks and a couple of river crossings to keep us occupied. Alan was on form today after resting up and we all enjoyed flying through sandy corners and splashing through rivers, which gave us a good drenching in the heat. It had been a while since I’d done the trail and the route can change slightly from season to season, due to detours from being too wet or farmers growing rice over the trail.

My rear wheel was losing air, but I decided it should be fine until we got to Khao Nhek, the half-way point and lunch. I pumped it up with about 25 psi and it was good for another couple of hours. After some local fare and a couple of coffees, we pressed on as we still had over 90km or so to go. A few kilometers out of Khao Nhek we jumped on a potholed dirt road that was part of the old trail, passing villages with kids screaming Hello and old folk waving. Then my tyre lost pressure again, so I decided to change the inner tube there. Soon we got to a river crossing that was fairly deep in places, with lots of hidden rocks and crevices. Once across we bore right as there was a nice hilly section about 20km down the track that was also part of the old trail. However as we got to the last village before entering the jungle again, we were told the trail was blocked with lots of fallen trees and a couple of the rivers were very high due to rain the previous night. It was about 3pm, and not wanting to get too far into the trail to have to turn back, I decided to back-track a bit and get onto another trail that headed back to the highway.

As we rode back I couldn’t help but think maybe we should have pushed on, as its always disappointing not making it through, but we weren’t planning on getting stuck so didn’t have hammocks, plus the guys didn’t really want to ride the jungle at night. Also I wanted to get on a part of the old Kings road just before Sen Monorom. This trail was nice & technical with some steep climbs and descents, also part of the old Death Highway. As it was, Clint had a puncture which set us back a bit, so again it was too late to attempt this section. We had done some great riding already today, so the boys were happy to hit the highway and have an easy ride into town. Before we reached the tar the sun had gone down, so we ended up riding in the dark for a couple of hours. One section the road was blocked by fallen down bamboo, so we made a detour through and along a shallow river, which was great fun in the dark. Soon we reached the highway, which on a nine day trip people are quiet grateful for as it gives everyone the chance to rest up as you don’t need to concentrate as much. It did however rain heavily most of the way in, so we relished the hot showers at the hotel.

There was a great western owned restaurant/guesthouse that did a good burger, and after several days of local fare we loaded up on carbs and good coffee. Almost too full to move we dragged ourselves back to the hotel to get horizontal.

Day 7 - Sen Monorom to Chi Moan

After noodles and more “Heart Attack Coffee” from across the street we jumped on the highway out of town. We were planning to ride the rest of The Kings Road, but due to the rain the night before I knew Alan would struggle. There are a lot of steep climbs and descents and it is quite rocky in places, and in Mondulkiri the earth there is clay based so when it rains it is ridiculously slippery. The locals all wrap old bicycle chains around the tyres to combat this. It’s not a particularly long section but a friend of mine went a few months earlier with a group and the conditions were so bad they ended up camping out for 2 nights before getting back to civilization. So I decided to get to Snuol on the main road and then head up to the Vietnamese border. There were some nice trails through the rubber plantations and it was very beautiful riding through the rolling hills. If it had been raining though, it would still be very slippery.

We were in luck and had a smooth ride to Chi Moan. After the first rubber plantation section we dropped down into a little valley where the dirt was nice and loamy, and a couple of fun hill climbs later we got to the last section where there were a couple of river crossings. We stopped to check out a nice waterfall called Howng Waterfall where there are some strange crocodile sculptures. We got in at mid-afternoon today so had a chance to go over the bikes and do some minor repairs before heading out to dinner. Tonight was a “Beef Volcano”. Basically you barbecue your own beef on a round grill set on the table and there’s a little circular trough on the edge of the grill where you add vegetables and the soup… very nice.

Day 8 - Chi Moan to Kompong Cham

Today most certainly did not go to plan. I’d had a fait bit of bad luck the on last couple of tours from an unplanned 15 hour jungle trek at night, to a fleet of decrepit old XRs that we had rented in Phnom Penh and constantly had to repair (see previous 2 blogs) … they say it comes in threes though. We had a nice easy ride to begin with as we rolled through the rubber plantations with the early morning light filtering through the trees. Then, nice smooth sweeping red dirt roads, and a mashed up muddy section which we roosted our way through before we jumped on some great sandy single track through the last forest section of the day. We had a good pace going and we were all enjoying the sandy ruts and berms, when I stopped to take a photo of Alan coming through a particularly muddy section.

I jumped on my bike and kicked it over. We were in a very deep sandy section with deep ox-cart ruts that after drying up were as hard as rock. I wanted to get over to the right hand rut as it was the better line. Going form a dead start in deep sand can be a bit wobbly so I gunned the throttle and standing up popped the front wheel over the central rut, but due to the 25kg of gear on my back my weight distribution was slightly off and my front wheel washed out. I went down quite hard with my forearm parallel to the side rut, and just the way I fell and the extra weight I was carrying, my arm had nowhere else to go and I saw my arm bend back all the way it wasn’t meant to. I knew my arm had snapped straight away. Normally you don’t see the break as it actually happens, but the angle I fell I was looking back, so I saw it all in slow motion. It was like one of those gnarly YouTube videos that you cringe at thinking glad that wasn’t me.

Anyway, Clint said I went as white as a sheet, then the adrenaline kicked in and it was time to get out of this situation. I knew there was a village a couple of km down the road, so after helping me up, I held my arm tight against my midriff and took a slow walk to the village. I asked the owner of the house if we could wait here until help came, and they were most accommodating. They went out of their way to make sure we were all ok and they were genuine concerned. This was the true Khmer hospitality that I had fallen in love with at the beginning of my time here. Amazing! Alan & Clint were great and helped bring my bike to the house, while I called my partner La to come down in the support truck and carry on the tour… they still had one more day to go! I also needed to get to hospital soon as I was in a lot of pain.

Fairly soon the entire village had surrounded us and it was fun chatting with everyone to pass the time. Clint started playing football with the kids and I tried to block out the pain. It took La 7 hours to get here, but I had some strong painkillers and had put my arm in a sling and strapped it tight to my body to stabilize it. When he finally arrived, we said our goodbyes to the sweet old couple who had looked after us. One of the bikes had a puncture so La sorted that while I jumped in the truck for the 5 hour drive to Phnom Penh, and they headed to Kampong Cham. It was one of the longest 5 hours of my life as the road couldn’t have been bumpier and with every bump my arm jolted with pain. But I gritted my teeth and we eventually made it, arriving at the clinic around 11pm.

Day 9 - Kompong Cham to Phnom Penh

The next day La took Alan & Clint down to Phnom Penh. It’s a nice trail that follows the Mekong River, winding through tranquil fishing villages, and a few little ferry crossings. They made it in good time. I was gutted I couldn’t finish the tour with them as I’d had a great 8 days of riding and getting to know them and really wanted to see it through.

As for me it wasn’t until the next day before I went into surgery. I had a spiral fracture so it needed a plate. 10 screws and 15 stiches later I was a new man…well sort of… I had a long road to recovery ahead. Writing this 7 months later, I’m pretty much back on track and looking forward to the new riding season. If you’re new to dirt bikes don’t let this put you off… you never know what could happen tomorrow. You’ve got to live life in the moment.

All in all it was a great experience; getting to know Alan & Clint and sharing the ride and this amazing country with them. The whole of the experience at the village who totally looked after us was great and a good bonus for Alan & Clint where they got a real taste of Cambodian village life and Khmer hospitality. I feel I’ve left the trip with more great riding buddies and I hope to see them sometime in the future. Alan apparently loved the WR so much he ended up buying a WR450F, which I think scared him a bit ;) That is what is so rewarding doing the tours from beginners who end up with a new passion in life to reigniting old passions in others.

Thanks for an awesome trip guys and your help and understanding. Stay in touch and keep the rubber side down!

River crossing with Alan & Clint

Preah Nimith Rapids on the Mekong River


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