I have friends who bike. Several days. For fun. The last time I was on a bike was a troublesome outing to Tama HIlls for a cross country meet in 2011. (My seat fell off, and Brad gallantly rode my bike the rest of the way. No seat. Only a post. Picture that.) The time before that was a countryside tour in New Zealand, complete with sheep, in 2004. I don’t bike. And yet we thought it would be a good idea to rent bikes and ride to the temples of Angkor.
Brad had researched this and had found a good bike shop, but the concierge at our hotel recommended a bike shop across the street. Unfortunately his bike shop was not only closed, it was a pile of rubble. (It was across the street! And this was the Hyatt!) His second-choice bike shop had 4 bikes. Four. Only one which was small enough for me. (If I wanted to ride comfortably, I had to steer with my fingertips.) Their parting comment, “If the tires go flat, you fix.” Oh, and no helmets.
We were off. For the first couple of kilometers I was preoccupied with the fact that I didn’t have a helmet and that I could topple at any moment, hit my head, and well – die. This was about the time Brad’s bike chain came off. After watching us struggle, a kind gentleman crossed the street and helped Brad get his bike in working order. Brad tipped him. (We realized we were going to need a lot more dollars.) We were off again.
As we were beginning to get our rhythm back, we were stopped by the Temple Ticket Control. Now, our friendly concierge assured us we didn’t need tickets until we actually reached the temples. (Beginning to think we over-tipped him.) The Temple Ticket Control no longer sold tickets. You could see the abandoned ticket windows. Now you had to go to the shiny new government center 5 km up the road. (Oh, I don’t think so.) But for $8 (bargained down to $5) they would provide us a tuk-tuk ride and watch our bikes. I was certain we were never going to see our bikes again. But all was on the up and up. We got our 3-day passes and returned to find our bikes.
The rest of the journey consisted of four more bike chain mishaps, one near collision when Brad stopped suddenly to read a sign, several rehydration stops (rehydrating was easy – water was sold everywhere, “unhydrating” not so much), and temple visits (see pretty pictures below). Oh, and the shirtless, 20-something American male (trust me, you need that visual!) who shouted the words I had been longing to hear – “Go Cubs!” Then in quick succession, two more shout-outs. (I was wearing my Cubs’ shirt and wondered where all the international Cubs’ fans were. Apparently they hang out at Neak Pean.)
As we were nearing our final temple, hot, sweaty, tired, hungry (I was existing on an omelette and a cup of tea), and a little bike-chain weary, Brad uttered the next words I was longing to hear, “We’re hiring a tuk-tuk back.” Thank God! The only problem was, when you’re at a lesser-known – although now one of my favorite – temples, there are no tuk-tuks for hire. When our search proved futile, Brad called the hotel. After 25 minutes two tuk-tuks arrived – one for me and my bike, one for Brad and his.
I’d like to say I saw unique sights visiting the temples by bike, but to be honest, I was so focused on the road in front of me – loose rocks, the sandy shoulder, scooters coming at me on the wrong side of the road, buses hurtling past, and Brad’s bike chain (I thought that if I concentrated hard enough on it, I could will it to stay on.), that I really took in way more on the tuk-tuk ride. So much wildlife – dogs, monkeys, snakes, elephants, cows, rooster. No cats, Not a single cat.
Tomorrow we’ve hired a tuk-tuk for the day.
Angkor Thom and Bayon