Towards Cambodia, over a mountain

Wednesday 13th December

Miles: 88   Climbing: 6286ft

Today I decided that I couldn’t continue to let the mountains further inland stop me from getting to Cambodia and hopefully Laos. I was going to cycle right over them. I mean, how hard could it possibly be?

I thought it would be about 10 hours of cycling so I left early and had charged my lights just in case.

I stopped quite early for breakfast, thinking I could get some lunch in the last village before the climb started.

As soon as I started heading inland the landscape changed dramatically. Lots more trees and rivers and mountains fast approaching.

It was a very hot day and with only 2 bottles of water with me I saved them for the climb and stopped a few times for cold drinks. I finally reached the last village before it got really steep and stopped at a restaurant for some lunch. I ordered a drink first and steadily more and more locals started gathering around me just watching me, laughing, taking photos and saying things I didn’t understand. There was also an old lady who kept prodding and poking me. I was feeling very uncomfortable so I ended up leaving without any food.

So I began my steep climb, a climb that would last for the next 50 miles. A few miles in and I was really struggling with the heat. Luckily there were streams at the side of the road which I started dunking my head in to cool off but I had to start rationing my drinking water which was a struggle. At one point I passed a police check point and someone there was washing down his truck with a hose. I stopped my bike and signed for him to spray me with water. He looked a little nervous to begin with but when I asked again he very happily complied.

It felt like I was climbing forever and when it started to get dark I still wasn’t at the top but I was out of water and very dehydrated. I put my lights on and continued to climb. Just before it got completely dark I reached a tiny village which consisted of just a few wooden shacks. One of them appeared to serve as a shop so, ignoring the barking dogs, i approached and made the universal sign for drink (usually only used for ordering beer abroad). He didn’t appear to understand so I grabbed an empty bottle of some sweet green tea stuff that I had drank earlier, pointed to it and said “same same”. For some reason everyone here understands “same same” but they’ll never just say “same”. Smiling, he then proceeded a bottle of the same drink and showed me a 10,000 dong note. I purchased 3 bottles, thinking that I could use the calories as well as the hydration they would provide. I was just opening the first bottle only to notice what looked like a huge zero on the front of the bottle. I quickly checked the back and, sure enough, it was a zero calorie drink. Oh well, I’d gotten this far, Only another 30 miles to go. The only trouble was it was now pitch black, I was in the clouds, on top of a mountain, in the jungle. And I didn’t know exactly where my hostel was or have a room booked there.

So I continued with the scariest ride of my life. My light was only succeeding in lighting up the cloud in front of me and the road had turned into not much more than a dirt track in some areas. I was having to dodge potholes and snakes. Twice my front light reflected eyes looking back at me from the edge of the road. One set was fairly small, maybe a large cat or similar but the other set was a lot bigger. I could also hear rustling coming from the undergrowth all around me and the night was full of jungle noises.

I had started to think that this was just too hard, that I couldn’t carry on with the trip. I had even started thinking of ways I could cut the trip short, to change my flight home.

Finally, I was approaching the village the hotel was in. Considering it was on the top of a mountain range I wasn’t expecting much but when I saw the glow of street lights I was very surprised. There was a whole town on this mountain plateau. It was now 9pm. I’d been cycling for 14 hours and hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast so when I found my hostel and they still had room for me I was over the moon.

The ladies there didn’t speak much English but they appeared to understand that I was in a bit of a state. Without me ordering they brought me a huge bowl of noodle soup and some drinks. They then showed me to the shower (I probably stank) before showing me my bed which was a tent inside a barn on stilts.

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