When people say they've visited Cambodia, it usually means they have been to Angkor Wat. This ancient temple complex is often listed as one of the top travel destinations in the world. Many travelers fly in and out, bypassing the rest of the country.
At first glance, Cambodia doesn't have the elements most travelers are looking for in a bike trip — there are few paved roads and lots of dust. The country is relatively flat, so no epic mountain passes to climb. And yet, this small country is one of our favorites. Ask us (and just about any other cyclists who has braved the bumpy, dusty roads) why we loved it, and the reply will come quick ... the people.
Maybe that is the answer to why I've loved every country I've traveled. But the people of Cambodia hold a dear place in my traveler's heart. Pedal the back roads of Cambodia and you will be greeted with a tapestry of smiles more beautiful than a hundred Sistine Chapels.
One afternoon, Kat and I were pedaling near the Mekong River. We stopped to fill our water bottles at a roadside pump. There was a little girl, struggling to fill a five gallon plastic container. Her little muscles could barely move the pump handle. I offered to help, and took to the task with gusto. The little girl laughed. Then we heard a chorus of giggles and laughter and looked up to see a dozen faces looking out of the doorway and window of a wooden dwelling on stilts across the field. The harder I pumped, the louder they laughed.
It was just one of the hundreds of daily encounters. Nothing truly epic about it. And yet it is one of my fondest memories of our time in Cambodia.
Grand vistas please the traveler's eye ... but simple smiles warm the traveler's heart.
Photos by Willie Weir and Kat Marriner