Up to the Laos Border and back

Adventure Moto HQ

Adventure Moto HQ

With 5 days off for the Birthday of His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Baromneath Norodom Sihamoni, King of Cambodia, it was time for a bike ride out to the Provinces. My good mates Jeff and Brady from Adventure Moto and their mate Andy were planning a trip to Ratanakiri Province which is in the far North on the Laos border and when I asked if I could tag along they were all for it . I had proved I was a competent rider last year when I rode out to Kirirom with them and we had since become good friends. Preparations were made in advance, first aid supplies were procured, all clothes were packed in zip lock dry bags, GPS Units, cameras and MP3 players were charged, spare batteries were bought, bikes were thoroughly checked and after waiting like a little kid on Xmas night it was time to go. So on Saturday morning 12th May at 7am, two XR250s, two DRZ400s and 7 people (all the guys had their partners but Leakhena could not make it due to work commitments) rolled out of Phnom Penh and were soon winging it through the countryside at a leisurely 100kph with the first stop to be Kratie on the Mekong River and home to the rare Irawadi Dolphins.

We decided on taking road 76 (a left turn about 2 hours our of PP) which cuts 90kmh off the gloriously paved National Road 7 that goes all the way to Kratie but what you get in exchange is a slicker than shit mud road that after some heavy rain (which we got for an hour) takes all your skills to stay on your bike. I took a small fall at low speed and there were many close calls with all riders. I felt for the guys riding two up because as much as I love my girl, I was glad I was riding solo! The good old Toyota Camries passed us at warp speed and it was an exercise in timing to ensure you were nowhere near a water puddle when they went by because they stop for nothing. It was then that one of Cambodia’s random and dangerous situations reared its ugly head. As we crossed a small bridge on road 76 in the middle of nowhere we came across two cars ramming each other head on. Reverse, accelerate, BANG CRUNCH. What the ^%$? So we stopped to see what it was all about and then one of the Khmer guys jumps out of the car with a pistol and starts popping off rounds. The girls started screaming and you have never seen 4 dirt bikes take off so fast. The cars actually followed us down the road as they continued to ram each other and we thought it was going to get real messy but luckily we lost them and were soon stopping for a debrief “ Jesus Christ did you see that !!!!!!! “

We stopped every hour and a half or so to have a drink and give the bums a break and after 6 hours we arrived wet and muddy into Kratie and in desperate need of a shower. After checking into our $5 rooms on the Mekong riverfront, we made for the You Hong Guest House next to the Market for a well earned nosh up. Much food and cold beer was consumed and I decided to take a small walk to digest my grub. As I walked around the corner I noticed a monkey chained to the back of a pick up truck full of people and luggage and I smiled at everyone and got my camera out to take a picture of the monkey. The monkey must have been camera shy because it turned away from me and as I patiently waited for it to turn back to my horror its owner went over and openly handedly slapped it in the head with enough force to knock a man over. I told him not to hit the monkey and said it was OK, I will wait for the photo and please don’t hit the monkey. The owner smiled at me and as I waited he DID IT AGAIN! This time I swore at him loudly and made it clear that if he hit the monkey again, I would do the same to him. Maybe my Khmer isn’t as good as I thought and after this little arsehole hit the ( by now cowering ) monkey in the head for the third time, my wick was lit and I went over to this chap and slapped him in the head so hard it knocked him over some boxes and left him laid out on the ground. I looked at the crowd in the pick up who were all gawping at me “ anybody else want some ?? “ and then I went and stood over the monkey’s owner and told him to get up for another wack. He just cowered on the ground and I was sorely tempted to kick the shit out of him then and there. I walked back to the You Hong in a small state of rage but feeling better for having giving the owner a taste of his own medicine. Sometimes you cannot just stand by. We left the You Hong and moved onto Red Sun Falling restaurant for a few more drinks before retiring exhausted to bed and sleep came quickly.

Sunday 13th May was Ratanakiri Day and I was told were facing 250km off extremely crappy roads. However the first 2 hours was up the incredible National Road 7 which is so good you could seriously land a 747 jumbo on it (cows, dogs and chickens not withstanding and there are plenty of them all over the road so be careful !). It is fresh, wide bitumen all the way to this intersection in the middle of nowhere and then the fun begins as you hang arig
ht to Ratanakiri and it disintegrates into a dirt road of varying quality. At some stages it was greasy and rutted out and other stages were hard packed clay through tall forests. Plantations of all types rolled by and we were blessed with sunny weather and a relatively dry road. Ratanakiri is extremely lush and there were photo opportunities galore as we crossed little streams and timber bridges and blasted through small villages waving at the kids. After stopping in the middle of nowhere for the dodgiest meal in the dodgiest shack restaurant I have ever been into in Cambodia we rolled into Ban Lung around 3pm and whilst my mates opted to stay at some god awful hotel near the roundabout in the centre of town, I decided to search for something special and at the advice of a work colleague I checked Terres Rouge Lodge but all the UNDP Landcruisers parked outside were a bad sign and on entry to the ( admittedly lovely ) grounds, I was confronted by a pod of fat white NGO whales drinking gin and tonics and that always scares me off. On the other side of the lake I could see a large hotel with some lovely looking bungalows and 15mins later I was ensconced in one ($15) with incredible views of the lake and mountains beyond, bath tub, cable television and shuttered windows all around. I rang my traveling crew to say “HA HA ” and they were soon joining me in the lovely timber restaurant overlooking the lake cursing their decision to stay in downtown Ban Lung which , frankly, is a shithole. They made arrangements to stay the next night in the adjoining bungalows and I made arrangements with my ever accommodating boss to stay another day. That night at the girl’s insistence we went and get a karaoke room and it was the dingiest experience I have ever had. It was certainly no X2 or Rock Club (PP’s finest karaoke clubs) that’s for sure however Jeff and I belted out John Denver’s “ Take me home country road” so all was not lost.

Monday 14th May was Jungle riding day and we decided to head for the 7 steps Waterfall. We had a map and we were all packing GPS units and we headed out through the glorious Ratanakiri countryside on a sunny, cloudless day confident we would soon be swimming in a lovely waterhole. Not so. The track soon got smaller and smaller and then became single track through some extremely heavy jungle and after asking many random country folk out in the middle of absolutely nowhere where this pace was and getting all sorts of conflicting answers, we eventually conceded defeat and headed back for a well know and better marked waterfall. I will say the riding through the jungle was INSANE though. Challenging single track through lush rubber plantations and bamboo forests and over streams and around small lakes. It was seriously dirt biking heaven and it really took my riding to a new level and I am proud to say I did not take one spill. We only had one mishap, that being Andy dropping his bike front wheel first into a deep rut and suffering minor pipe burn. At stages along the road where it was almost impassible due to being washed out there would be these little alternative tracks and on these tracks little kids had built bamboo gated toll ways and were holding everyone to ransom for a safe crossing. Well, I was having none of this and the first one I rode at so fast they opened it before I even got there. The second one was staffed by a bunch of 16-18 year old thugs all smoking and leering so I just popped a mono and rode straight over their boom gate smashing it to pieces and the final one there was a bunch of 6 year old kids standing around smoking so I stopped, grabbed each and every cigarette and through them in the mud and then blasted off into the jungle as they all stood there dumbfounded. Cruel you ask? Well…. little kids should not smoke and I do not appreciate being extorted. Make of it what you will. After a swim in the waterfall we headed back to the Bungalows via lunch in a nice restaurant in Ban Lung overlooking a valley and I also procured a jug or rice wine for the evening’s entertainment. Beers flowed and the jug was passed around and again sleep came swiftly.

Tuesday 15th May and it was back to Kratie and we all made it with not a single mishap. This time we checked into a different hotel on the river and we all pretty much showered, flaked out for a few hours and then did our own thing. I went down to the markets for two bowls of Bo Bo sait cherook and a couple of beers (total bill $2) and then it was back to the room, some National Geographic on the TV and then a sound nights sleep.

Wednesday 16th May and were off back to Phnom Penh. We decided on taking National Road 7 the whole way even tough it was a bit longer we just did not feel like battling road 76 again. All was fine until Memot and then the road gets busier and busier and soon it is warfare as you head back the last 50km into PP with all manner of vehicles doing their best to kill you. We did make a stop for lunch at the fantastic Mekong Crossing restaurant in Kampong Cham which serves a wicked burger and has a great view. I arrived back to Adventure Moto first and after a cold beer I started to get a bad feeling in my stomach as the others were taking too long too arrive. I then got a phone call from Jeff to say that Andy had t-boned a drunken Khmer on a scooter who had turned in front of him just near the Japanese Bridge and whilst Andy and his partner were ok, the Khmer guy was a mess. Could I organise a Doctor to make a statement to say he was drunk? Well I tried but I did not know too many Doctors so I headed back over the Japanese Bridge to see if I could help. On arrival there were police and wailing family members and it was a general shit fight of the highest order. I went into bullshit mode and told them I was from the US embassy and demanded a blood sample be taken to Calmette Hospital and was told this wasn’t possible. The amazing thing was that I was able to just stroll into the operating room and so witnessed then putting this guy’s foot back together in all its bloody glory. His foot was laid open to the bone and looked like it had been tough a mincer and a coupe of his toes had almost been severed. I actually held his head still because he was writhing around and I was not even sure if they had given him a local anesthetic and at the same time I tried to console his screaming sister. In the end I left Andy to deal with it because it was just drawing on and when he showed up at the bar later it turns out he paid $160 for the medical bill and was also going to sling the family a couple of hundred for drugs etc. Shit…what a way to end an otherwise awesome trip.

I can highly recommend Ratanakiri for the serious riders out there. It really is motocross heaven and I will definitely go back there for a week of riding and exploring. Go with a friend though and preferable one up on your bike as there are spots where having a passenger is definitely a hazard. Enjoy!

Distance Traveled; 1300km
Actual Riding Time; 26 hours
Maximum Speed; 107kph
Nights away; 4

Cost all inclusive of gasoline, accommodation, meals, beer etc; US$200
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One Response to Up to the Laos Border and back

  1. NIGHTMARE BELIEVER says:

    Great post! I imagined that I was there. One thing: The photos are great, but is there anyway you can make them larger when they are ‘clicked on?’

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