Alternate Argus Sunday: The Angkor Wat Cycle Tour in Siem Riep

A low carb ride in Cambodia, on an empty stomach and with a single bottle of water.

Argus Sunday finds me riding a bike furiously, as per normal for the past sixteen years. Sweat drips off my nose onto the cross tube sandwiched between my whirring, burning legs. This year I am not wearing my timing chip, nor do I have Chapman’s Peak or Suikerbossie in my itinerary.

My destination is a long way from Cape Town. I am wheeling down Pokambor Avenue, outside a small town called Siem Reap, heading for Angkor Wat. For any history buffs out there, Angkor Wat is a temple city, built by a Khymer king a thousand years ago. Siem Reap owes its existence to the tourists who come to this part of Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat.

I ride into the torrent of traffic. The local cyclists quickly realize that following mywheel is futile and I end up tucked in behind a bunch of mopeds heading through Wat Bo towards Seam Reap. We dodge and flow between the people, the tuk-tuks and the bicycles.

The biggest challenge besides the 38 degree heat and humidity, is the dust. It coats everything, even the trees, which are so dusty, they seem to be out of focus. Small islands of tar clinging stubbornly to life, litter the dirt and ditches road. The department store mountain bike I’m riding, jars and jerks but I’m determined to stick with my group of mopeds. For my safety, I rely on the only rule of the road in this town, “Never get angry”. This means that you can pull any manoeuvre you like and the traffic will adjust. No one will ever purposely baulk you or get mad, you just need to make sure you know your purpose and the hoard will accommodate you.

I soon find myself in town, hustling alongside the river. The museum and rows of fancy hotels blur past. Humidity envelops me, sweat pours. In sympathy with the Argus riders this year, the wind blows hard in my face. My legs cry for help, so I seek shelter behind a tuk-tuk carrying two beauties, who I assume to be Spanish judging from their conversation which wafts over me from their back seat. Staying with the tuk-tuk takes some effort but I stick like glue to its battered bumper, exchanging occasional eye contact with its driver through his rear view mirror.

Even though my helmeted head is inches from theirs, the Spaniards remain unaware of my presence. Heads together, they are engrossed by their holiday snaps, which they whisk through on the cell phone held between them. A photo of them in front of some tourist attraction catches their attention and they giggle and nod at one another. I agree and say “Nice pic”. Their heads whip round, hands flying to cover their surprise, then they grin at me and go back to their photo show.

Which proves to be lucky because, I am not distracted when seconds later their tuk tuk suddenly veers off. They have to stop at the official check point to buy pay day passes for Angkor. I swerve past and ride on, past a group of officials, who start after me. They shout and gesture. I stop and go back. They are angry and make it clear that without a pass I cannot visit the temple, even by road. I refuse to pay and eventually meet the commander of the check point who, after some deliberation, agrees to send me on my way for free.

I ride on.

Past the entrance to Angkor Wat and then through a tunnel of trees leading to Angkor Thom, joining a long line of traffic as we pass through the South Gate and head towards the temple Bayon. Tourists are everywhere in busses, in tuk-tuks, and on foot. And on elephants.

At the entrance to Bayon a pack of tourists, riding atop giant elephants, appear from the trees on my right. In seconds I am among them. Too afraid to look up, I thread the bike through the parade, between the hot breath of the animals and their padded, terrifying legs. My only near death experience of the day!

With the giants behind me, I settle my heaving chest and cycle serenely along the long wall called the Elephants Terrace. I soon pass though the East Gate, and over a bridge lines with rows of massive stone heads. A traffic cop motions for me to do a U-turn and go back the way I came. The road is blocked.

I retrace my route and head back to Siem Reap. My goal this time is a lot more modern. It is beloved by cyclists the world over, the wonderful beverage called cappuccino.

My best Argus Sunday ever!

(Re-posted from my original in 2014)

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