The Hartridges eat dinner with Ester (third from the far right) at her Khmer Homestay. (Photo submitted)

Quesnel Bikers tour Cambodia

Chris and Heather Hartridge are nearing the end of their Good Neighbour Tour of Southeast Asia

When we last updated you guys on the status of Quesnel Bikers – Good Neighbour Tour of SE Asia, we were finishing off our Vietnam visit with a ride across the far-reaching Mekong River Delta. The delta is a fabulous place for cycling, with its off-the-highway rural roads that pass by the hugely diverse agricultural community. It’s said that at least 10,000 square kilometres are dedicated to rice growing — one of the largest areas in the world. The delta is created by enormous amounts of silt that may have travelled all the way from the Himalayas to get here. We took a few days to absorb the atmosphere of the area, staying in cozy homestays in small towns along the way. The tiny villages eventually led to a much larger community called Chau Doc in Vietnam. It was the port on the river that hosts the ferry to Cambodia, our next destination.

The ferry ride to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, took us and our bicycles four hours. It was a chance to see how much the Mekong River had changed since we first saw in NE Thailand a couple of months ago. Here, it’s massive. The ferry made an important stop at the Cambodian border, where we got off and did the required paperwork for a VOA, visa upon arrival. The cost was $30 USD for one month. We had no problems, and before we knew it, we were pulling into the huge, stunningly unpredictable city.

It is a city of inequalities, with immaculate Lexus SUVs sharing the same road as tuk tuks piled high with pigs in cages on their way to market. Unlike Vietnam, we were soon faced with abject poverty and begging in the street. We made our way through the changeable picture to a hotel we had booked online. Turns out we had reserved a room in a place that had a Rolls Royce parked outside! We felt a bit uneasy with this. Prior to arriving in the city, we had been alerted to the overt corruption within the government. There has been a cascading effect, and the dishonesty has made its way to various administrative bodies in the country like the police, army and big business. We decided we’d just mind our own business…

Our goal was to ride north from Phnom Penh to the bustling city of Siem Reap, home to Angkor Wat, a Hindu-Buddhist temple complex in Cambodia, which is the largest religious monument in the world. Due to the distance and the need to be off the road before it got too hot, it took us six days to ride there. The roads were good, but with little shade, lots of dust and smoke from trash fires, it was a challenging ride. One section of dirt road took us to a tiny village where we saw the “real” Cambodian people, making the most of the very little they had. Along the way, however, we met many wonderful Cambodians who were trying to make ends meet and do good things for their communities. Here’s a story of one of those people.

We arrived just after noon at the Khmer Homestay in Baray. A beautiful little Shangri-La, part way to Siem Reap. Our welcoming host was Ester, a lovely woman with an extensive history in this area. When we first rolled into town, we thought it looked a little more put together, a little more progressive. After meeting Ester and reading her autobiography, Taking Root, it’s no wonder. Ester has spent the last 20 years educating, setting up schools, churches, providing support and business education for all of Baray’s population. Ester is originally from Malaysia but had a calling to come to Cambodia and help the very poor people deal with life after the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime. What a remarkable lady … who just happens to run and equally incredible homestay. Definitely a Good Neighbour!

We arrived in Siem Reap ready for a quick rest before we readied ourselves for the historical highlight of our SE Asia adventure. Angkor Archeological Park is not just the temple of Angkor Wat, but rather, it’s a collection of mind-blowing structures and their accompanying stories that covers an area of over 400 square kilometres. We put aside three days to explore as many of the ruins as we could. A tall order! For our first two days, we set out on our bicycles with the main temple, Angkor Wat, being our first objective. We were soon astounded by the overwhelming detail and subsequent stories behind the statues, carvings and unbelievable features in front of our eyes. It was a fantastic experience, one we’ll remember for a long time. The third day of our visit came, and we still had more important temples to visit. We chose to hire a tuk tuk and its capable driver for the day to take us around. It was a good idea, as one temple was 38 kilometres from our resort motel! The day was full to the brim, and in the end, we learned so much about a history we previously knew little about.

We spent the following three days pedaling to the Cambodian/Thailand border. Still dealing with dust, heat and smoke, we kept the daily distance under 60 kilometres to make sure we were off the road by noon. These last days in Cambodia gave us the chance to confirm how incredibly lucky we are to be Canadians. The living conditions and the degree of opportunity compared to Canada is minimal. That said, we recognize how education is front and center here. Apart from all the great people like Ester, it is the one shining light in Cambodia.

We’d like to thank the Quesnel Cariboo Observer for encouraging us share our stories with you.

We have one more destination, the Isthmus of Southern Thailand. With only three weeks left in the adventure, our next story will be a chance to look back at the last six months. What a journey it’s been!

If you’d like to see more photos and read some daily stories, please visit our blog at Till next time!

— Chris and Heather Hartridge

Quesnel residents Chris and Heather Hartridge are spending five and a half months cycle touring around South Korea and Southeast Asia on their Good Neighbour Tour. The Quesnel Bikers, as they are known, will be sharing their journey with the community by sending periodic articles and photos to the Observer.

READ MORE: Quesnel Bikers meet the friendliest Good Neighbours in Vietnam

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During their Good Neighbours Tour, the Hartridges have been meeting other cyclists from around the world, including these cyclists who are from Iran. (Photo submitted)

Smiles from the village people happy to see Quesnel Bikers Chris and Heather Hartridge in Cambodia. (Photo submitted)

Cycling through villages on the way out of Phnom Penh. (Photo submitted)

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