Cambodia’s roads are hot, flat and straight as a rail, but for all that, cycling on them is an exhilarating multi-dimensional experience
Just for a moment, the piglets stopped their squealing. Wouldn’t you, if a panting, sweating, red-Lycra-shirted cyclist loomed into spitting distance of your personal space?
I was drafting – riding the slipstream of a motorbike crackling its way to market on Highway One in Cambodia, its ten porcine pillion passengers crammed into a barrel-shaped basket tied to the back.
It was around high noon on day three of my 12-day cycling tour from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Angkor Wat. We had a total of 55 kilometers to ride for the day. It was 35 degrees Celsius in the shade and around 95% humidity, so I was pretty keen to make any stop that would mean our next cold-water-and-banana break, even if it did come with added pungency.
By now my ten companions and I had made some important discoveries about how to maximize our cycling pleasure and efficiency – like what gear ratios suited us best, how to alternate as lead windbreaker, and how foolish it was to try to keep up with the alphas of the group. Unfortunately, we never did find the buttock rejuvenation therapy station we yearned for most of the time.
I’d signed up for the tour with World Expeditions with two niggling worries – it would be too hot and sticky in early July and I’d be riding with complete strangers who were scarily young and freakishly fit.
I needn’t have worried too much on either score.
Eleven of us met on day one in the Lavender Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (still called Saigon by most locals). I was secretly pleased at the mix – three men and one woman of mature years like me, the rest from mid-20s to late-30s but not looking too obviously alpha.
Apart from Reidar the Norwegian, we were all Australians, and a good mix of professionals, businesspeople, academics and public servants from almost all capital cities.
The only alarm bell rang through the stories they told. It seemed they’d all just got back from climbing Kilimanjaro, cycling Cuba, walking Kokoda or rafting the Franklin. These were adventurers, but reasonably soft ones. They reassured me this trip was easily manageable by the inexperienced. It was true – the travel company had it about right when they graded the trip four out of ten on the hardness-ometer.