27 January 2012
My first bike tour was from Kunming to Hekou for four days over the Christmas of 2009 with Chris. Then followed an ill-fated but educational five dayer around the Lincang area with Dan for Christmas 2010.
Redemption came on the beautiful and challenging six day Nujiang trip, again with Dan. I did a four day trip with Cat in May 2011, and then another six day trip over to Dali and Xizhou with Jesse and Chris in August 2011. That's a total of 25 days over five trips. Today I made a half century - I've done 50 days on the bike since Kunming, and I've racked up nearly 5000km.
Am I tired? Yes, but not in quite the way you might expect. Physically, I feel like all the machinery is still working okay. I have no serious ailments, injuries or nagging aches. I still have very minor symptoms from the cold I caught back in Saigon, a little numbness in a couple of fingers on my right hand, and that's about it.
I'm concerned I'm not getting enough sleep. Evening time feels like it's all mine, rather than the bike's, so I try to spin it out, causing some late bedtimes. I'll sit and chat with people over beers or dinner if it happens, but I'm off the beaten track so often, I read or if I can get online I research UK matters for my return home (how far away is Great Yarmouth? can I get computer parts shipped to mum's place so that I can build up a machine the first day I'm back?) This lack of sleep, coupled with several hours a day on the bike can leave me feeling a bit drained.
I deliberately try to make today a slow and steady one. I know I'm tempted to do a long day of some 170km all the way to Kampong Thom, so I leave late, knowing that this tactic will make that distance impossible. I'll stop at Skun after 80km. Should be four hours or so, no need to stop for food.
The slowest 20km is the first block, taking an hour. The road's very rideable, with the occasional bumpy section. I ride around 40km while only a short distance from the Mekong. I catch the occasional glimpse through the houses, but don't get a proper chance to say goodbye.
After 50km, a road cuts left to go up the west side of the Tonle Sap lake towards Battambang. I go right, to take the east side, planning to eventually curl around the northwest end of the lake to Battambang. The size of the Tonle Sap varies with the seasons, like a steadily beating aqueous heart for the whole country. Dry season now, and some areas are parched, but there's obviously some careful water management going on, as the farmland is lush green. It's flat with sporadic interruptions of trees - a very green version of the Fens.
There are a few construction sites on the road, most of them involving bridges, this probably being the best time to work on watercourses. The construction company is from Shanghai (上海建工) and some of the warning signs are solely in Chinese. Imagine what The Sun would have to say if German-only signs appeared on UK road projects.
About 3km before Skun, restaurants start to appear, all seemingly aimed at the long distance bus trade. Skun is where the busy highway 7 from Laos hits highway 6. I can always head back out here if the town's short of options. I roll into Skun, take the left towards Siem Reap, and pull in at the first guesthouse I find. It's splattered with Chinese signage, but the girl by the door doesn't speak the language. Later, when I'm handed a Chinese/Khmer/English menu and I see a photo of the owners in front of Tiananmen gate, I ask the older woman if she speaks Chinese. She's hesitant for a moment, as if reconnecting wires on her circuits, and then says she understands me. She doesn't, however, express any surprise that I can speak Chinese, and quickly heads back to her TV show.
I pop to the bakery next door for some bread and dessert. The guy running the place (I think he also just hopped out of a van marked 'The Ice Cream Man') is fluent in English, polite to the point of good customer service, and even hands me back money when he realises he's remembered the price of something wrong.
I think there's something to be learnt here. Maybe it's that English and Chinese is a powerful combination of languages in these parts, or maybe it's just that if you ease off on yourself cycling-wise, things go smoother in the evening.
80km, 21.7km/h, 3hr40min, 4858km