Sunrise from our balcony view out over the Mekong pays testament to the fact that we were now getting into the swing of early rising, and actually enjoyed getting up at 5:30am (for once)! After a quick detour via the Bamboo bridge for some last minute photos and a stop at the bakery we were on our way.
Although our next destination was on the other side of the river, we had heard that the best ride from here was to stay on the East and then take the ferry across. We headed along a beautiful, tree lined and mainly tarmacked (hoorah!) road winding through some more Mekong villages. Our journey was broken by a visit to a hillside Wat with wonderful views over the river, and then we hit the last section of dirt road to the town of Strong Treng, where we stopped for some food before getting the ferry across to the other side.
Unfortunately the road conditions on the other side of the river deteriorated somewhat and we were back to the bumpy, dusty dirt track. After beginning to think once again that we must be mad for riding this road, we came across Lara, an Aussie girl riding solo in the same direction. (This in no way disproved any doubts about our sanity, but at least we weren’t the only ones.)
With our team population now swelled to three we pressed on further north, and the shear combined optimism quickly improved the road surface, and sped us along. Before we knew where we were, we were in Chlong, and we knew it!
We knew it because it was almost as bad as the various blogs and web pages had said it was going to be. The first guest house started by saying that a room was 3000 RIL (60p), but this quickly increased to $7 (probably due to hyper-inflation). We therefore pressed on and ended up in a slightly worse, but less expensive guest house further into “town”. (In fact, this guest house has recently been ranked “worst accommodation of the trip so far” so well done Chlong!)
The next day was a very short one with only 30k to do before Kratie. We, worried about looking soft in front of our new team mate, clawed our way out of bed at the crack of dawn, only to find that she was only just waking up when we knocked on her door at 06:45! Which was nice. We then boxed off the 30k before 10:30, proving that cycle touring is easy!!
Having arrived in Kratie we then started planning our next few days cycle. Sam had for a long time been trying to convince Jess with very little success to tackle the toughest part of the Mekong Discovery trail, the dreaded Island of Koh Khnhera!
Type “Mekong Discovery Trail” into google and you get a very professional looking website giving routes up the Mekong by bicycle with lots of photos of happy people in exotic place (although this does something redirect to a dodgy medical drugs site instead and we haven’t been able to work out why). Scroll down a bit, and you find the next 20 or so suggestions offered by Google are pretty much all cycle blogs recounting various attempts to cycle the trail, all of which end in varying shades of disaster and strife.
The rest of the afternoon was therefore spent planning for “our toughest challenge yet”. We hit the town market, and picked up food, water, hammocks, meths for Lara trangia, rope, and then when all was done we stopped for a quite bite to eat in relatively nondescript tourist cafe (Star Guesthouse)…
By the time we’d got back to the hostel Sam was already feeling a bit strange, and he then spent the rest of the evening “shouting into the giant white telephone”. Jess, although not quite as ill as Sam, also didn’t stray far from the bathroom.
Sadly the next morning we had to say goodbye to Lara (who had not visited the cafe with us), and spent the rent of the day moaning and clutching our stomachs.
The route for Champong Cham to Chlong
and the route for Chlong to Kratie