Bipolar: Part 1

The view from the highest view point in Khao Yai. The valley below is beautiful from up here. It’s a STEEP climb for the last 5-6km 10+% for most of it. Beware!

It’s been a while since I wrote anything on the blog. Actually, the last post was well before I arrived in Southeast Asia. It’s not that Thailand isn’t worthy of a post, it’s just that everything was so uniformly good that it wouldn’t be very interesting. The only real excitement was riding into Bangkok, everything else was all smiles. If you are looking for a great place to take a cycling holiday, I whole heartedly recommend Thailand as one of the top countries I’ve cycled. The roads are generally in good to great condition. The drivers seem to be generally respectful of cyclo-tourists, the smiles and thumbs-up from passing motorcycle/car drivers and constant “Hello!” being called out by smiling children are great mood enhancers when the day is long and hot. I look forward to returning to the north of the country in a few months after looping through Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. 

A stop in Ayutthaya, the former capital, before heading to the northeast and then Cambodia.

Now for the real reason for the post. Cambodia… 

Cambodia has me in this bipolar state of love or hate, happy or sad. Every day I seem to swing from one to the other in the blink of an eye. Whether it’s the terrible road conditions and drivers that get me down, or someone taking advantage of the fact that I’m a cyclist in sometimes remote places, the stringent rules on appearance of the currency you want to exchange (mine has been folded and sweat on too much), or the emotional distress caused by seeing so many people (especially children) that truly need help; this country really puts me in a funk sometimes. But, almost immediately after reaching some low in my mood something will happen that makes me feel happy but also extremely petty at the same time. 

Every day I am reminded of how small my problems are. So what if someone in a village charges me 1000 Riel ($0.25) more for soap than a local? That’s not going to break my budget. So what if the exchange agency doesn’t like my folded, sweat-on $100 bill, and I have to use an ATM to withdraw a crisp $100 bill? At least I have that capability. So what if I have to ride over and through this rough terrain ONCE in my life? It’s not like I have to deal with it on a daily basis. 

Most afternoons and evenings in the Cardamom mountains it pours down rain for a while and turns the roads to this. By mid-morning the top is dry, but puddles and road-width mud pits are frequent obstacles.

This is literally a country where on less than $20/day I live better than most of the population. If I want, I can feed myself three meals a day for $3-$5 ($0.75-1.75 per meal) including at least one beer. Guesthouses generally run $6-$20 depending on whether it has a fan or AC and cold or hot water in the shower. I can certainly afford to deal with a little discomfort and “price gouging”  for the short time that I’m here. 

So why get worked up about  any of those things in the first place? I guess because at that instant it is the focus of my attention. When the focus changes to the lives of the locals, my perspective suddenly returns.

A map of western Cambodia to reference.

I recently completed a small unplanned adventure through the Cardamom mountains. The original reason I decided to come this way was because after my first day in Cambodia, riding on HWY 6 and 5 from Poi Pet to Battambang, there was no way I was getting back on either of those roads to get to my original destination of Siem Reap. In reality, HWY 6 (Poi Pet to Siem Reap) is a fairly decent road to ride on, but its really busy and there’s not much to look at. HWY 5 on the other hand, branching towards Battambang, is a nightmare to ride. Still busy, no shoulder, and quite rough for the entire ~70km to Battambang. Having arrived in Battambang though, I had four choices: return to HWY 6 via HWY 5 (nope), return to HWY 6 by looping through the countryside to the west of Battambang, continue on HWY 5 southeast for at least 100km to Pursat (maybe further depending on side roads), or go Southwest through a less touristy area and see some of the most pristine Cambodian nature left. I made the decision to exclude the two choices involving getting on HWY 5 leaving only the two options involving the countryside.

Day one of either back road choice was the same; having located what I thought were two guesthouses/resorts in an area to the southwest of Battambang. Along the route there were opportunities to stop at a winery (horrendous wine, but good grape and ginger-honey juice), and a Khmer temple on top of a small mointain. The route included some dirt road, but google had street view of it, and it looked good when the pictures were taken. When I reached the dirt section, it was a bit bumpy to start, but after about 4km the road was deteriorating quickly and a local stopped me and intimated through gestures that the road is impassable even on motorcycle. At this point I was a bit frustrated that none of the other waving, smiling and hello-yelling locals in the last 4km had stopped me from continuing. I looked at my map apps, and looked for an alternate route. I found one that appears as a very minor road on the map which was my only choice to avoid returning 40km to Battambang for the night. The minor road was a perfect dirt road that eventually turned to chip-seal. 

Lesson 1: Maps of cambodia are not to be trusted!

From right to left: red wine (terrible), “brandy” (more like loza, smooth, but very little flavor and what it did have was not great), grape juice (tasted like good cran-grape juice which probably explains the bad wine/brandy flavor), ginger-honey juice (delicious)

I continued to my intended destination for the night, Chrolong Bopta Farm and Resort. When I arrived, I was immediately struck by how beautiful the resort was. I found the manager and asked if the resort had any rooms available. He replied “This isn’t a resort. It’s a park.” A small frustrated laugh was my reply as I thought about the time of day and the 60-70km to the next place I knew had accomodation. Then he added, “But, you can stay here with the guys who take care of the park. How long are you looking for? One night?”

Everything in the park was done by hand. The amount of work done is really inpressive. There river edge has been turned into a nice area to wade in the clear waters in the shade of the trees. There are also hammocks to lay in over the water and nap to the sounds of the flowing river.

The feeling of relief and gratitude was immense as he told me there would be no charge. After cleaning up and relaxing by the river I was treated to a wonderful dinner and dessert prepared by the managers wife. He explained to me that he employs local people to care for and expand the park facilities ($7-10/day is a good wage in the area), and that the income of the park barely covers those expenses. He teaches in Battambang and his wife is an art curator in Phnom Phen. His goal with the park (someday resort) is to provide an off-the-beaten path destination for tourists to visit to further provide opportunities for income that don’t destroy the forest and mountains of the area. An eco-tourism business. Currently the local economy relies on farming and logging, and is constantly in threat of being flooded by yet another proposed hydro-electric dam to be built by the Chinese. He wants to transition the economy to farming and eco-tourist services, as he believes the only way to protect the area is to make it profitable and known to the world. 

I asked how he promotes the park, mentioning that I only found it on google maps, and there was very little information given. He said he wasn’t good with that stuff, and didn’t know it was even on google maps. I showed him how to “claim” the business, and add info to google maps. I also made the location page on Facebook so he can edit the info there and potentially get some further exposure if someone does see it on the map. I also mentioned that he should look into getting a webpage built and talking to the tourist/day trip agencies in Battambang. He offered me a place to stay and food (all grown on his farm or in the park) indefinitely as long as I was helping to achieve his goal of protecting the local environment and provide jobs for the people. It was actually very tempting. Since arriving in Battambang, I had been thinking about what I could do to help people here. It’s very hard to not want to help Cambodians, but as I read, you have to be careful whose effort you choose to take part in as many are more-or-less tourist scams to make you feel like you’re helping, but really the funds could be better used in other ways than providing you with a photo opportunity. I declined for the time being. While I support his efforts and truly hope he succeeds, it’s not my time to settle. Maybe someday I’ll return and help him out a little more. 

The morning view of the river.

He convinced me to continue through the Cardamom mountains to experience real Cambodians and the beauty of the area. As I set off the next day with a fresh bunch of bananas in my panniers, I was happy and ready for the coming adventure. I had no idea what I was getting into…

110km of dirt ahead. Maybe more than that…

Other pics from Thailand:

A small comunity around a Buddhist temple near a national park south of Surat Thani in Southern Thailand. 

One of the islands used to film “The Beach” near Koh Phi Phi.

A beautiful wat on top of a mountain along the coast just north of Chumphon, Thailand. Short but steep climb to get there.

I just liked this painting at a pre-christmas festival in Samut Songkhram. I would like to meet the model 😉

Um… delicious. Basically green tea oreos. Gotta fuel the fire somehow, might as well taste awesome.

My first thought when seeing this: “Is that what the World Trade Center would look like if it stayed standing?”  

Too soon?

Ayutthaya is a really nice relaxing place to take a walk. The scale of the city must have been really impressive in its day.

The famous Buddha head in the bodhi tree.

The views alone in Khao Yai are worth the 400 baht ($11.50) entrance. Beautiful park.

Um, did I transport to eastern Colorado?

No filter needed in northern Thailand. Couldn’t quite get the whole moon in the frame, but you get the picture.

You are never far from a bike shop in Thailand. This one on the border with Cambodia has some impressive gear. Pinarello, Lightweight wheels, Storck, Colnago etc. I’m not really sure why it’s in that town if all of it is genuine. It didn’t seem like a rich city with a bustling cycling community, but whatever.


Published by: Andrew Monfort

I am a former engineer who decided to follow my dreams. After 9 years of working as a process engineer in the oil & gas production and refining industries, I decided to follow my passions (cycling and travel) to see where they lead.


6 thoughts on “Bipolar: Part 1”

  1. Andrew what an adventure you are having! You are enjoying a part of our world most of us have never seen and personally I will never see especially from your perspective, cycling! You tell a great word story and your pictures tell it visually. Thank you for writing and posting on FB! Stay safe and healthy (probably your moms prayer too) I admire you so very much for taking on such an awesome adventure. I would think a published work sharing your adventure would sell.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s