Elated by the good experience of the rehearsal ride to Ratanakiri, Sarah and I decide to go on the dirt roads via Tbeng Menchey, Prasat Prev Viher and Koh Ker towards Siem Reap and the temple ruins of Angkor. With a few information on road conditions, expected mileages and opportunities where to sleep we cross the Mekong by ferry and immediately enter a fairy tale land with small but good dirt roads through the forests. A view very friendly villages on the way, and almost no traffic at all. During the breaks Sarah sometimes plays Ukulele and we sing with the kids, sometimes we just make fun with them. Their smiles and the Sugar cane juices are our fuel – it all works out perfectly. The first night, we are very happy to stay in a small village in some locals house after cycling about 55 miles on dirt roads and no chance to get anywhere else anymore. Brave Sarah! The second night, we arrive in Tbeng Mengchey, a nice market town, and decide to spend Christmas Day here. No funny Christmas trees, just two other “Farang”. We call our parents and celebrate the day with good lunch, a swim in the nearby river and splendid evening on the veranda of our guest house. Our next destination is Prasat Prev Viher, the UNESCO World Heritage close to the Thai border in the North. Another day on dirt roads, a lift for the last 30 miles to Sa Aem, a little junction town with guest houses. We spare an entire day for the temple ruins with the most unspeakable ascents I've ever tried on the bike on the last 3 miles uphill. Army officers invite me for shrimp and rice wine at the top. Great temple ruins and stunning views from the mountain. Little shadow since there are barely any trees up here, and big clouds of smoke down in the lowlands indicate current deforestation projects.
Koh Ker turned out to be the much nicer site of temple ruins on the way, with many temples scattered on a 8 miles circuit track in the woods. Piles of rubble between the still standing walls of the temples, giant trees taking over the crazy materialized dream of a single emperor who did not want to life in the Angkor area and decided to have his own capital build in just 20 years about 80 miles away instead. Rich carvings and ornaments on the sand stones, pieces of the construction look like petrified robot heads, unable to smile nor to scream. The spirit of the emperor seems to be all around us. Really really impressive! Only a few other tourists were there, and the neighboring village Soryong was very welcoming with great street food on the small market and a nice wooden guest house.
On the next day, we make our way further towards Siem Reap, reaching at the Beng Mealea temple site at lunch time. Still overwhelmed by yesterdays temple site plus little invited by the crazy prices of the tourist restaurants, we decide to skip the ruins and move on. A few miles further down the road we enjoy a tasty street food for a fifth of the prices of those restaurants before, plus the company of the smiling local kids. Just 30 miles to go from the junction town on the National Route 6 where we sleep that night, and an easy ride into Siem Reap on the following morning. We made it – yeeha!