Mountain Biking in Siem Reap
On my last day in Siem Reap I decided to rent myself a mountain bike and pedal myself out to the ruins. The flatness of the countryside made riding a little easier, but the heat was certainly challenging. I rode in to Angkor Thom, the largest of all the ancient sites, and headed for the east gate (not the victory gate, which is also on the east wall, which is the one the roads pass through).
The trail leading up to it was rough and bumpy with lots of large rocks and didn't seem like it got too much traffic. Upon reaching the gate, I was met by the spectacular sight of the massive gate poking out of the jungle, without a huge clearing around both sides as all the other gates seem to have. I got off my bike and explored for a bit, and sat down to reapply sunscreen and got hassled by a bunch of butterflies that just kept on landing on me and my stuff, the bullies!
Just as I was nearly leaving I saw the first other people since I left the main roads; what appeared to be two people and a tour guide, also on mountain bikes, heading off through the gate. This gave me confidence to continue down the path a few minutes later when I had my stuff together and was ready to leave.
The path got narrower and narrower, eventually getting to parts where I was going through mud, barely fitting the bike between bushes, and was dropping down flat with the handlebars to fit under branches. I started to think maybe I'd missed a turn or something, and wonder just how well cleared the area was of landmines, but I figured that an obvious path wouldn't be there if there were still mines about. Finally I found the paths end, coming out just down the road from Ta Promh, exactly where I wanted to go to next!
As I approached I noticed a dirt road along the south wall which I followed along to the south gate past some stunning sections of wall being slowly destroyed by trees. Since there was nobody there to stop me, I headed on into the temple grounds on my bike and followed some weaving tracks right in to the main ruins in the center, and then out again to the collapsed north gate.
By this time I was drenched with litres of sweat and feeling very dehydrated, so I made the drink sellers at one of the temple entrances happy by buying several bottles of water and a coconut. I sat and drank, and I took my shoe and socks off and hung the socks over the bike in a effort to dry them a bit while I rested. I need to remember to take spare socks if I do this sort of thing again.
I looked at my map to get my bearings, and decided to go to Preah Khan next. There was an obvious long way there via road, but there was also some roads the looked close together that I suspected I'd be able to find a trail between. Along my way to the road I passed another cycle tour going the other way and asked their guide if there were any trails linking the two roads on my map. At first he said I should go the long way because there was no road and I might get lost, but after I told him about my earlier adventures on tiny walking tracks he told me there was a walking trail but still warned I might get lost. This sounded like a challenge, and I actually don't mind being lost.
I headed along the actual road looking for a trail, I passed something that I thought might be it but wasn't sure, so i went a fair way past it until I hit a bridge from the map and knew I had gone to far, so I doubled back. Even the "road" was very rough with many huge rocks making for a bumpy ride, interspersed with sand that made the bike slide all over the place.
I headed into the jungle along the trail and it quickly became apparent that this one really was an infrequently used walking trail. The gaps in the foliage were even tighter here than the last off-road trail I followed, and a good number of steps made from large rocks gave the bikes suspension a good workout. Very glad I opted for the mountain bike at this point.
I came to a few forks in the road and tried to pick the ones that i thought would keep me going in generally the right direction, until eventually I came to a creek maybe 2 meters wide and 30-40 cm deep. There were a few small tree branches laid across it like a very shonky bridge, but even they were under a few cm of water.
Now was one of those moments where I thought I should really turn back, but stubbornly pushed on anyway. I definitely wasn't game to try and ride across, but I figured maybe I could walk across it carrying the bike. I rested the bike on its own log to trying and distribute the weight a bit and stop me breaking the one I was standing on. The logs flexed quite a bit and I was very thankful that my shoes were waterproof as they got pretty well submerged, but I made it across without any mishaps, and thought "well, there's no turning back now".
After riding a little further the path started to widen up a bit and after a while longer I finally came to a wall. Hooray! I followed the wall for what seemed like a very long time, passing many ruined patches destroyed by beautiful trees, while the creek to my right got wider and wider until I must have been 15 metres across.
Part way along the wall I came across a section that was being reconstructed/restored by a group of ~20 Thai men, who at first seemed a bit startled that someone was coming from the direction I came from, and then greatly amused it was a foreigner. In hindsight I probably should have stopped and observed a bit more, and taken some photos of how they manage to move all the large blocks (not a crane in sight), but I felt like I was somewhere I probably wasn't supposed to be, in the middle of a construction site so I rode on until I finally found the entrance gate.
I entered, thinking it was odd that there was no ticket inspector at the gate, and rode on for a bit thinking that this didn't look anything like I remembered Preah Khan looking, and then realised too that I was riding on an actual bitumen road, so I definitely wasn't where I thought I was. I passed a roadside distance marker that indicated I was heading towards the Bayon temple; I had a look at my map and deduced I was now riding in the wrong direction along the "long route" that I chose not to follow earlier.
It turns out that the "creek" that I crossed is one of the now very narrow parts of the moat of Angkor Thom, and I had snuck into the old city without even realising. that section of the wall that I followed was 1.5KM by itself, compared to the 800M total length of the wall of Preah Khan that I thought I was following.
I turned around and headed to Preah Khan, but they wouldn't let me take my bike inside so I had to lock it up outside. A bit of a bullshit double standard, when all the locals hawking shit are allowed in on their overburdened motorbikes. I don't think they should be allow in to hawk their shitty T-shirts and postcards at all, but that's a whole other rant.
On this visit I almost completely avoided the inside of the center part of the temple, preferring to explore the other ruins, free from tourists and hawkers. I found some amazing tree roots with a gap tall enough for me to stand under with my arms stretched up, and another tree that completely covered the top of a building, surrounded by walls and rubble so I couldn't get a good view of it.
I ended up scaling part of the inner wall about 3 metres high, behind a "danger - do not pass" sign, in order to get a good look and a photo. So keep in mind that if I die travelling, chances are it was me being curious and a little reckless, and probably my own fault :P
I rode back home, with a quick stop to watch some monkeys playing on some ruins inside Angkor Thom, which was very entertaining until the alpha male attacked another male in the group, leaving a huge bloody gash across it's face. A good reminder that they're not really as fun and playful as they often appear.
That pretty much sums up my mountain bike adventures.
Here's some bonus photos of monkeys checking out my bike from earlier in the day :D