Four days and 200km into our little adventure me and mum were both impressed with the quality of the road infrastructure and ease of cycling in Thailand and Cambodia. We hadn’t encountered any pot hole laden roads or got involved with any road raging tuk tuk drivers but instead had cantered through the countryside down leisurely roads and even a few cycle lanes. Sun burn and sore bums aside the cycling had been going all to well, so it was about time we were faced with an anarchic road and the impending possibility of being run over. It was a ninety kilometre trek to Battambang, and the first twenty was a relatively easy downhill cruise, but the simplicity was short lived as the roads levelled out, the roads got busier and the tarmac turned to dirt.
The road into to Battambang from Pailin was horrendous. I had been wondering why we were all on mountain bikes rather than road bikes as we had been on well made roads the entire trip but this road of death which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Mad Max movie explained it. Every inch of suspension and every tread of the tyres were required to help on this stretch of the highway to hell as the bumps and rocks repeatedly shook me. As the road was unmarked, lorries would hurtle down the middle of the road or barely on it, ignoring any notification of lanes and cars would overtake each other into oncoming traffic. Some of the larger vehicles would spray dust and rubble, leaving in our group blindly cycling into the abyss of potential head on collisions with lorries, cars and goats. I won’t exaggerate the terrifying nature of this stretch of so called ‘road’ but I nearly got hit by a million trucks as I weaved through the carcasses of previous bikes which had failed to make it to the other end. My hands had been battered by the shaking handle bar and my spine had been continuously rattled as the shuddering seat sent the reverberation through by beaten bum. Every part of my anatomy had been subjugated to prolonged oscillations so brutal that it wasn’t just my legs that were gelatinous at the end, but every limb and every muscle.
At the other end, after all the pain and misery of the road of death, mum suggested that we should get a massage to prep us for the next day and relax us after the torture of the current one. The thought of being gently relieved as all the stress was alleviated from my destroyed body was comforting itself. Listening the recordings of waves crashing, smelling some aromatic scents and quietly drifting off to a happier place away from bike induced suffering seemed like a good idea. It was a terrible idea, massages are as excruciating. They had the relaxed ocean sounds and the waft of Asian spices, but the small Cambodian masseuse also had the touch of a rampaging hippopotamus. Shen may have well just hit me with a mallet or thrown me under a freight train for half an hour. Every little knot in my back was tenaciously attacked, as if she had just left a woodpecker on my back and told it to go wild. I have never been less relaxed in all my life. Every ounce of remaining tension in my muscles from the pounding day of cycling was exacerbated as they were broken down to get ri of all the bad stuff built up from too much exercise. The woman tried everything to break down to goliath knots in my back, from hands into elbows, pogo sticks and using me as a trampoline, but my robust ties would not give in. The slow torture finally came to end, and I was in the complete paradoxical state of relaxation, and on my way out I bumped into my mum who declared tranquilly ‘well that was lovely’. I think she got us very different treatments.
I thought that the agonising pummelling I took at the hotel spa would be the end of my anguish in Battambang, but then we got on the bamboo train. Battambang’s bamboo train is one of the world’s unique rail journeys and one of the cities stranger tourist traps. Sitting on a thin bed of bamboo across some barbells, propelled by a small detachable engine, rail riders are transferred down the rails to a small village occupied by small shops selling train based souvenirs. The journey itself is crazy. The train itself is constructed before your eyes before you jump on and are taken along the shifty looking track that doesn’t exactly line up in full congruence. The track is a bumpy affair as you sit a few feet above the floor, until you meet another cart coming the other way, must disembark, deconstruct the train and let the other one pass. As interesting as the dicey journey was, the shops at the other end are a dull tourist trap, full of touting kids and cheesy t-shirts. The bumpy journey subjected me to a bit more discomfort before we got back to the hotel, where I was finally able to relax with a swim and a beer.