DAY 8 (18 NOV): BANTEAY SREY & BOENG MAELEA (86km cycling)
Due to the cloud cover yesterday, we decided to give sunrise over Angkor Wat another try. The team waited in anticipation as the sun slowly rose behind the massive three-tiered pyramid. The clouds stopped most of the light coming through but it still was an incredible site to see. Post-Angkor Wat sunrise, we headed back to the hotel for breakfast and prepared ourselves for the fancy dress competition.
One by one we entered the foyer getting into character for our chosen costume. We had multiple Batman’s, a Buddha, some geeky tourists and some Super Hero’s to name just a few but there could only be one winner. Amanda was given the honour for her creative interpretation Buddha. She had us all in stitches as we all looked over and she was sitting on the stairs, eyes shut with a straight face in the meditation pose wearing a swimming cap and metallic purple bed sheets – great costume Amanda!
We ditched our costumes and donned our cycling gear before setting off on our last 80km. Today Vuttha decided to take us the back way to Banteay Srey so we could do a little off-road mountain biking. For 20km we dodged pot holes and puddles and most of us ended up with mud all over our legs, bags and shorts but no one seemed to mind. We enjoyed the change in the road conditions and scenery.
We arrived at Banteay Srey, the ‘citadel of the women’. The walls of this temple are densely covered with some of the most beautiful, deep and intricate carvings of any Angkorian temple. The temple’s relatively small size, pink sandstone construction and ornate design give it a fairyland ambiance. We didn’t stay for long as we could see a massive storm rolling in and we still had 40km to ride back to the hotel. We rode fast with only one short stop in between and made it back with two minutes to spare before the heavy rain started pouring down. Team Amnesty cheered and hugged – we had finished 420km in 7 days!!!
On Monday morning, we headed to a local temple to learn mediation with a monk. What a relaxing way to finish our gruelling journey.
Thank you Team Amnesty. I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of people to cycle around Cambodia with – what a great 10 days!
Inspired Adventures Tour Escort
DAY 7 (17 NOV): ANGKOR WAT (56kms cycling)
We woke up at 4.30am to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat, only to discover it had been raining all night and there was too much cloud coverage to see anything. Instead we decide to head back to bed for a few hours and try our luck tomorrow morning.
After some more rest, our cycling began at the gates of the Angkor complex. The roads were crowded with tourists all with different means of transport – tuk-tuks, bikes, buses and elephants. It was competitive as they all weaved around one another trying to get to the temples first.
Our first stop was at the Angkor Thom complex and seeing the Bayon, giant stone faces that have become one of the most recognisable images connected to classic Khmer art and architecture. There are 37 standing towers, most but not all sporting four carved faces oriented towards the four cardinal points. The temple also consists of extensive carvings depicting unique and revealing scenes of everyday life that are interspersed amongst battle scenes, market scenes, cockfighting, chess games and scenes of childbirth. We had a bit of time to explore before jumping back on our bikes and setting off for our next adventure at Ta Prohm.
Ta Prohm is probably the most famous temple of the complex due to the shooting of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in 2000. Vuttha (our guide) explains this temple was one of Jayavarman VII’s first major temple projects and that he dedicated it to his mother. This sprawling monastic complex is only partially cleared of jungle overgrowth – massive fig and silk-cotton trees grow from the towers adding the jungle atmosphere. We take picture after picture trying to capture the beauty of the temple.
Before cycling to Angkor Wat, we stopped again for a quick lunch. Our first encounter with Angkor Wat was unforgettable – it is a massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five lotus-like towers rising 65 metres from ground level. It is the centerpiece of any visit to the temples of Angkor. We stand in awe and peer over the moat absorbing the breathtaking scenery before us. We spent about an hour wandering around the temple, looking at the beautiful design and detailed carvings, before jumping back on our bikes and heading home for the day.
DAY 6 (16 NOV): BATTAMBANG TO SIEM REAP (56kms cycling)
As we cycled out of the main part of town we saw the vegetation and landscape change from previous days. The streets were lined with all sorts of different exotic fruit trees and Sol, our mechanic, explained that Battambang’s primary industry is farming. This region supplies a lot of produce to the rest of Cambodia. Throughout most of the ride we saw farmers and their families harvesting chillies and drying them out on huge mesh mats – a pleasant aroma as we pass them by.
Today was the most humid day we have experienced but it wasn’t until we stopped off at Wat Banan, a beautiful 11th century temple, that we really started to feel the heat. It was a slow climb to the top of the temple and after 350 steps, everyone’s foreheads were dripping with sweat. Thankfully, the impressive architecture at the top made it worth the climb.
We explored the temples for about 30 minutes before cycling back to Battambang. Upon arrival, nearly everyone jumped into the pool with their cycling gear still on. It was a much-appreciated opportunity to cool down and relax our muscles before a long bus ride to Siem Reap.
I would like to make a shout out to Tony, our eldest team member. He injured his wrist before coming over to Cambodia but he continues to cycle impressive distances and keep up the pace. At the spritely age of 72, Tony is really showing us younger team members a thing or two. Well done Tony!
DAY 5 (15 NOV): BATTAMBANG (92kms cycling)
After three days of cycling and not enough padding in our pants, we slowly eased our way back onto the saddle. We set off in the outskirts of Phnom Penh where the traffic was still busy we cycled in single file until we get out to the quieter country side. As we passed through little villages, locals were out working on fish farms and drying clams in the sun. Their houses are built on stilts over the Mighty Mekong river which we followed for the first 35km before turning off to Udong to visit the temples and three large stupas in which the ashes of the three former kings are preserved.
When we arrived at the temples we were challenged with a 508-stair climb to the top. The view was sensational and the temples offered a tranquil feeling as we looked over the vast fields of rice. The stop is only a short one as we still had another 25km to cycle before lunch.
After lunch we jumped back on the bikes and Team Amnesty cheered as I shouted “only 30km to go!”. A much-welcomed light rain followed us for the first 10km before passing over. Vuttha (our guide) sets a great pace and the team smashed 92km in just under four hours! Everyone was high-fiving, relieved that the hardest day of our cycle challenge is now over!
We then had a fun filled bus ride back to Battambang. Team Amnesty split into three groups and played a few rounds of trivia, kindly hosted by Dave and Redd. Caz pretty much nailed all the questions thrown at her, leading team Angkor 5 to victory.
DAY 4 (14 NOV): SIHANOUKVILLE – PHNOM PENH (56kms cycling)
We set off on our bikes at 7am and were immediately faced with a challenging 20km of hills. As we cycled through the busy rush of traffic we saw the contrast and division between the rich and poor, there are mansions and hotels on one side of the road and wooden huts on the other.
Sihanoukville is on the Gulf of Thailand and offers a broad array of beaches, bars and market stalls. It focuses strongly on tourism as one of it main sources of income but its primary industry is shipping. This becomes evident as we see semi trailers carrying containers heading down to the wharf. Drivers boom their horns as they pass by, keeping us alert and on our toes. The first few hills have only a slight incline until we reach the outskirts of town. Then we see it looming in the distance - the hill we have all been dreading! Most of us solider on through the burning pain in our legs while a few of us hop off to push bikes up the hill. Finally it’s over and we can have our first break.
The next 40km is relatively flat and sections of the road are lined with eucalyptus trees offering much-needed protection from the scorching hot sun. However, to add to the difficulty, we are hit with strong head winds during the last hour of our ride. Thankfully we are able to distract ourselves with the beauty of the landscape – the lush green rice paddies, the water buffalo, and the excited children – all help us push through to the finish line.
DAY 3 (13 NOV): KEP – SIHANOUKVILLE (35kms cycling)
After an early 6am rise to avoid riding in heat of the day, we left our hotel at 7am and drove 20km by bus to the next town where our bikes were waiting. Today there were less trees to shelter us from the beaming rays of the sweltering hot sun and an oncoming wind creating quiet a challenge on slight inclines. Dave and Redd continue production of their Viking Biking documentary with camera man Dan filming from the back of the mechanics’ truck. They have Viking horns on their helmets although the locals assume they are buffalo horns and giggle as the ride by. Each time we pass through a little village the constant calling of hello, hello, hello can be heard and kids run from their houses to line the road and slap our hands as we ride by.
Today’s cycle finished at lunch time when we headed to Ream National Park.Team Amnesty was divided into two boats; boat one set off with no trouble but boat two got about 100 metres down the river before the motor stopped working. Our driver tried several times to get it started again before we were rescued by another who got it going again. A slow boat ride through the mangroves and forests took us to a rickety, old watch tower, which we climbed for an amazing view of the forest. We returned down the river to the bus for our last leg to Sihanoukville. Hot and exhausted, we went to the beach for a much needed swim, followed by a relax by the pool as soon as we arrived.
DAY 2 (12 NOV): PHNOM PENH – KEP (35kms cycling)
This morning we headed to Beong Kak a once thriving vibrant community, set on a beautiful lily-filled lake, where generations of the same families have lived. The only place they have ever known as home, this close net community is now being taken over and destroyed by greedy developers. Roughly 7,000 people are set to lose their homes and are being offered very little compensation. As developers slowly push the people out you can see the wrath of their destruction; the once beautiful lake is now just a barren pile of sand. Homes and businesses have been bulldozed and only rubble remains.
We spoke to the community leaders who told us that only 3,000 families remain fighting to save their homes. They have created a petition in which four different communities have signed to help them fight this unjust forced eviction and they will be lodging it with the Cambodian Government over the coming weeks in hope that this helps with their appeal against the new development. Amnesty has been reporting on the destruction of these forced evictions for years. Here’s some links with more information:
After leaving Beong Kak, we made our way to the Royal Palace only to find that we were too late – it was closed for the morning. Vuttha, our local Cambodian guide, suggested that we check out the National Museum instead. To our delight it was rich with ancient artefacts dating back as far as the 4th century.
After lunch we took a short bus ride to the outskirts of Phnom Penh where we all changed into our cycling gear and we took it in turns using the back row of the bus as a changing room. Excitement spread quickly amongst the group as we saw our bikes lined up on the side of the road, each one labelled with the names of our team members. I clumsily knock one of the bikes over which created a domino effect. Four of the bikes went down with the fifth one saved by Meagan.
Finally we begin what we have all been waiting for – the Amnesty International Australia Cambodia Cycle Challenge! We set off in a single-file line trying to dodge the pot holes and avoid the dust clouds created by the constant stream of traffic. We see families of four piled onto scooters and truckfuls of people wedged together like sardines in a can. After about 5km, Mark’s tyre pops but is was quickly fixed by our mechanic Sol and we continued on the rest of our 35km journey without any trouble. We took the support van on the final leg into Kep while we enjoyed a celebratory drink and played a few games to make the time go faster.
Inspired Adventures Tour Escort
DAY 1 (11 NOV): EXPLORING PHNOM PENH
The sound of horns echo through our bedrooms as the scooters and tuk-tuks weave through the seemingly organised chaos of Phnom Penh. These noises became an early morning wake-up call for an emotionally challenging day as the we set out to learn more about the confronting history of Cambodia and the challenges they still face.
Our first stop was the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights whose main objective is to empower people by educating communities about civil and political rights as well as organising and facilitating grassroots participation in human rights issues. The staff were kind enough to come in on their day off and take us through their current projects which gave us a greater insight into how much work still needs to be done to create a non-violent Cambodia in which law prevails and all citizens are treated equally.
After lunch we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21) where it is estimated that between 1975 and1978, 20,000 people where held prisoner and brutally subjected to cruel torture techniques and interrogation. The prisoners would spend roughly 2-4 months behind the walls of this former high-school, living off a few spoonfuls of rice and water per day before being sent to the “Killing Fields” for an inhumane execution. When the prisoner arrived at S21 their image was taken and sent to the leaders of the Khmer Rouge, now thousands of these images line the walls in each of the cells to remember the oppression, anguish and suffering caused by this bloody regime.
Leaving S21, we headed to the Choeung Ek Killing Fields on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. As we arrived, so did a massive storm which just added to the already eerie feeling of the place. It is sobering knowing that thousands of men, women and children were killed in the exact spot that we were standing and that their bodies were just piled into mass graves. Everyone in our group tries to process and take in just how and why something like this could happen, especially in our lifetime. We also wonder why only now are the leaders of the Khmer Rouge being held accountable.
After a long day, we head back into Phnom Penh to reflect on our experience. We enjoyed a delicious meal before retiring early to prepare for our first day of cycling.
10 NOV 2012: AUSTRALIA – PHNOM PENH
Here’s a team photo taken by Amanda. After a long journey, the team have all arrived safely in Cambodia and are excited about starting the cycling challenge!
More from the Amnesty International Australia Cambodia Cycle Challenge 2012
- About Amnesty International Australia
- About the Cambodia Cycle Challenge
- Cambodia Cycle Challenge team fundraising page
- Tweet about it! @InspiredAdvntrs @AmnestyOz (Suggested Hashtags: #Cambodia #Cycling #Adventure #HumanRights)
- Visit the Inspired Adventures Calendar
- Read more stories about Cambodia
- Inspired Cycling Tips: Top Tips from Inspired Cyclists
- Inspired Cycling Tips: Connect to a Cycling Community
- Run the 2013 New York Marathon for Amnesty International Australia
- Climb Kilimanjaro for Amnesty (July 2013)
- Meet our Adventurers supporting Amnesty International Australia:
Amnesty International is a global movement of 2.8 million supporters, members and activists in more than 150 countries and territories who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights.