World Travelers-Cambodia and Laos: Mekong Meanderings

Text: Simon and Lisa Thomas • Photography: Simon and Lisa Thomas

With Pakistan, India, and Nepal behind us, we are flying low over Thailand’s hedonistic capital, Bangkok. Through the small oval window, we can see mile upon mile of rice paddy fields; the entire shimmering 
landscape is still submerged after recent heavy rain. Shantytowns intermingle with newer structures until 
all we can see are the concrete skyscrapers and the immense superhighways that sweep across the city.

Our plan is to ride east to the Cambodian border—where our next adventure begins.

Under my helmet, a heavy drop of sweat runs from my forehead to the end of my nose. As it falls and hits my map, it is instantly absorbed by the colorful but fragile paper. A thin red line denotes Highway 6. Hmm … I’m not convinced. Sitting on my GS at the roadside, I run my finger underneath a few tiny but legendary words as I contemplate our destination … Angkor Wat.

Riding into an Ancient Gateway

The bikes are topped off with good fuel and feel strong as we ride east along new smooth tar. The moving air passing through our Touratech riding suits is a respite from the sweltering temperatures. Entering Cambodia from Thailand had been a breeze; the young, enthusiastic immigration officer had thumped our passports with enough gusto to snap his wooden stamp, and from his low desk he’d looked up at us and beamed a wide, toothless grin.

We stand amid a jumble of modern cars, belching trucks, and mule carts, posing for a photo under a wide ornate archway that spans the road. In its center, a bold gilded plaque reads “Kingdom of Cambodia.” As we negotiate the narrow streets through Sisophon, the sweet smell of spicy cooked pork hangs heavily in the air, and our bellies rumble at the thought of the clean, simple flavors of Cambodian street food. On the outskirts of Siem Reap, we ride a raised ribbon of tar that splits an immense rice paddy field before delivering us to the center of the Siem Reap Province and the ancient gateway of the Angkor region.

Embroiled in city traffic, we never get above second gear as we crawl along. On a wide boulevard, framed with an enchanting mixture of colonial and Asian architecture, we ease past traffic, ever mindful of the flocks of tuk-tuk drivers who seem oblivious to our presence. It would appear that the old motorcycle adage “They can’t see you, and if they can see you, they’ll aim for you!” holds truer than ever in these crowded southeast Asian cities where vehicles outnumber humans 3-to-1.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2013 back issue.