“Hello Sir, why are you in my country on a bicycle?” The girl sitting before me asking the question was young, slim, and beautiful. Her lips were unmistakably Khmer, the same unusual sensual curves as those carved a thousand years ago on the temple complexes scattered around the country, the most famous of which is Angkor Wat. “You speak very good English” I tell her. “Thank you sir, I go to school every evening at five PM to study”. The same story I have heard half a dozed times already as young Cambodians seeing the opportunities before them reach out to seize the day. I have stopped for a bite to eat and a rest in the market of a little town on the banks of the Mekong River, typical of the small towns that are rarely visited by any foreigners other than cyclists.
I have been riding through Cambodia as preparation for my first tour of the season. Cambodia is a new tour for and, although I have been here twice before that was many years ago and I feel like a new comer to the land. So to familiarise myself with the country, it’s people and the route I will be following seemed like a fine plan.
The ride itself is physically easy, ideal for less experienced cyclists with its flat terrain and generally good roads. There are some unsealed stretches but they are smooth, and as a rule fairly quiet traffic wise with far more ox carts that cars.
The people of Cambodia are quite lovely. Smart, friendly, honest and beautiful they are a big part of what makes the country such an attractive destination.
To we Westerners cycling through exotic lands seems wonderfully adventurous, but how to explain it to the smart hard working girl asking why I am doing it. Cycling is after all the transport of the poor, working is the sun is for peasants. She works all day in a market to earn the money to attend English classes every evening. She, like so many others, sees the potential to rise up above the poor background she comes from and is doing all she can to achieve this. And yet here before her is a European; a man from the Land of Milk and Honey with enough money to fly across the world and swan around doing as he wishes, and what doe he choose to do, cycle in the sun. Poor girl, she probably wonders why she is bothering.