Thursday, January 2, 2014

15. Monkey Business

Preah Phnom Udong (Udong Chedi(e) and Temple District)

120 km

I needed to get out of the city this morning and I thought the motorcycle would appreciate a little exercise as well. It was sitting already for too long now (4 days). I emptied the aluminum panniers and only took the air compressor and the tire repair tools with me.

The destination was Udong, the former capital of the Khmer Kingdom. As the capital it was called Oudong Meanchey; Oudong means 'noble' or 'superior', and 'Meanchey' means victory. Since the Siam Kingdom regularly invaded the area around the former Khmer capital Longvek, the seat of monarchy and Khmer power was moved to here. From 1618 until 1866 it was home to a succession of Khmer kings..

To get to Udong one doesn't need GPS, really. National Road No. 5 follows the Tonle Sap river to the north, and only a few turns and a steep climb up the mountain gets you to the ancient temples, hidden in the dense, otherwise impassable forest.

'National Road No. 5' sounds heroic, the road however, has stretches which are very bad, some construction makes the ride bumpy, dusty and difficult; it seems that they are preparing the highway to be widened. One has to keep the eyes wide open, as usual here. I also wished that the garment laborers wouldn't have been on strike again, since where this is the case the road is blocked and the entire traffic in and out of Phnom Penh goes through narrow alleyways of villages, literally through peoples backyard. Everything takes a while, but it is what it is.

The temple district, also briefly featured in Matt Dillon's movie 'City of Ghosts' is very remote and devoid of any tourism, foreign or local alike. On weekends, however, local people come here in hordes, I was told. It is a holy site and the Khmer spend the day at the bottom of the hills, spreading out on the wooden sleeping platforms. or in hammocks, eating and chatting with friends; the physically more fit climb the staircases to the top. The view from here over the Kandal plains is spectacular.

Compared to the noise of the capital Phnom Penh it is very quiet up here, even in the daytime, and all of a sudden I could here the unusual sound of a muffler of a big motorcycle in the distance. One is sensitized to sounds like that since the mosquito-like humming of the typical scooter swarms is all what can be heard otherwise. I thought by myself that since there isn't really another destination for somebody on a big motorcycle I just wait and see who is coming.

And here they came: A fantastic KTM 990R, and on it Dave, an American missionary from Colorado and his mother-in-law who is visiting from the States!

Monk, and Dave from Colorado on a KTM 990R, in the monastery.

The soft drink vendor family.

The excellent German HEIDENAU tires. Now, that's a tire you can try to find in Cambodia!
Dave has contacts to car importers. They typically load four used cars into a shipping container, wheels off, resting on 2x6 scaffolding. In the trunks one can ship motorcycle tires from the U.S..

Dave lives in Cambodia since the early 1990s, works mainly with medical support teams for remote villages, speaks fluent Khmer, and knows pretty much all the dirt- and other roads in this country. The KTM is his 'Company car', he says. I like that! He puts about 900 km per month on average on the bike, travelling the remote countryside from village to village. 

We were talking a lot, looking at maps and figuring out my upcoming trip to Siem Riep/Angkor, and had fun. His story how he purchased the KTM in California and shipped it over here was amazing, yet lengthy, and I will not post it here.

The temples and surrounding forests are basically owned by hundreds of wild monkeys who roam about, playing, fighting and eating, in other words behaving just like humans. Below I post some images of the amazing creatures.

Got to check the trash.


The so-called "Dangerous Week", the New Year 7-day holiday in Thailand has claimed so far (on its 6th day) 334 lives in traffic, with motorcycle casualties being at the top of the list. Thailand is just a little larger in size than California; in less than one week one third of Chicago's annual traffic deaths have been recorded (2008: 1,043.)

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