21 Feb Cycling the Mekong Discovery Trail
It is quite easy to find our way out of Stung Treng and onto the Mekong Discovery Trail: just follow the road along the river until it turns into a dirt road. Staying on the right path to make it all the way to Kratie, 100 and some miles down the river is a whole other story. Just after a few miles on the dirt road, we pedal through a construction zone. For a short stretch, the wet, clay dirt is dug up and loosely piled up on the road surface, ready to get plowed down again.
For the moment we have no other choice but try to ride over the sticky mess; and very sticky it is! Randy comes to a screeching halt before making it through. The unexpected halt is almost wrecking him and who ever rides behind him. Clumps of smeary, gooey clay wedged themselves between his rear tire and fender and locked up his wheel. After pushing his bike past the construction area he and Ron try to free his rear wheel. It should be an easy task, but it actually takes a good half hour to get rid of the persistent sticky mess from under the fender. At least we provide good entertainment to the locals, who stand around us, watching every move, while we try to get the bike road-worthy again.
After a slow start, we are back in the saddle and hope, that we will not encounter too much more of the clay-mess. We follow the dirt road through many small villages along the Mekong. Most of the houses are build up on stilts and are made of wood or bamboo. Hardly any of them have glass windows even less have electric or running water. Women wash clothes in the river or behind their hut with rain water. People take baths and showers with buckets of collected rain- or river-water. Chickens, pigs, goats, water buffaloes, dogs, and cats run around freely in the villages. Children greed us and wave at us from every where and of course we stop every once in a while to hand out some small candy, which puts even bigger smiles on the children’s faces and gets devoured in no time.
The Mekong Discovery Trail was a joint project between the Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia, SNV Netherlands Development Organization and the UNWTO and it aims to foster sustainable forms of tourism to reduce poverty in the region and to conserve the Mekong River Dolphin.
However, it seems, since its introduction in 2010, the trail has not been taken care of. Guesthouses along the trail are abandoned, signs have disappeared and the official website is offline. In short: nobody seems interested in it.–camboguide.com
Our nice dirt road eventually gets narrower and narrower. At times, we travel on single track paths that connect the small tribal villages. It leads through fields and through the jungle. Sometimes the path is hard packed and full of rocks and potholes, other times we find ourselves fish-tailing in deep loos sugarsand. During three days of touring along the Mekong, we cross several branches of the Mekong river on small ferries or make shift bridges.
Most of the wooden bridges are missing slats, others have planks just kind of strewn over a couple of beams. Many of them look like they should collapse under the tiniest load or that one of our wheels should break through a crack. Yet, to our amazement they hold up and the locals do not even hesitate to manoeuvre their motorbikes over them. At some point though we hit a dead end. Our narrow path leads right to another water crossing. Unfortunately, there is no bridge or ferry in sight, nor can we make out a path on the other side of the river. All we can do is backtrack and take a detour on the much dreaded highway 7 where we ride along crazy minibus drivers on the dusty, gravel road until we find another path leading back to the Mekong.
The Mekong Discovery Trail takes you into the heart of the Mekong where the beauty of the river and the friendliness of the people create unforgettable river life experiences in northeast Cambodia.
We encounter several people on water-buffalo drawn carriages or small tractor looking vehicles. All of them have a hard time manoeuvring on the difficult terrain and we are usually much faster riding our bikes past the many pot holes. Everybody is very friendly, we get many curious looks, lots of smiles and laughs and even more “hellos”.
The only thing, we can not find along our path is a guesthouse. We were told before that it is OK to spend the night at a temple; but unfortunately, whenever it is time for us to quit riding for the night, there is no temple in sight. Instead we end up spending one night at a police outpost by a small boat ramp. The outpost consists of a small building without electricity or running water, yet the nice policeman does not hesitate to offer us a spot for our tent next to the building. The second night we ask a family whether we can pitch a tent next to their sugarcane field. The man of the house points to an area for the tents and shows us the little pond with a bucket near the tents, where we can wash up. He just finished his and one of the children’s bath there himself.
Under the watchful eyes of at least a dozen children we set up camp and cook ramen noodles. When we eat, the children watch us some more while they sit in a semi circle around us and suck on the hard candy we handed out to them.
They check out our tents and our gear and are very content just to sit and watch until the parents finally call them back into the house for the night.
In the morning, about a dozen kids are ready to greed us outside our tents again as soon as we wake up. We share our chocolate wavers and bananas for breakfast with the happy bunch. It is very heartwarming to see how the children make sure that everybody gets a piece; no matter how big or little the kids are, they do a great job sharing what they have.
Well, time to get going to Kratie.