I had once seen a documentary about a mountain temple on the Thai/Cambodia border that had been disputed for years, the temples name was Preah Vihear and I was hoping to make a detour to visit this amazing place on the way to the Laos border. All the research I had done suggested that it was quite remote and difficult to get to, it had rained for the last few days and the thought tackling long stretches of slippery mud covered roads didn’t thrill me but I decided to give it a try for adventures sake. I pulled off the main highway and after passing a few small villages the sealed road soon turned to dirt and I was riding through the mud, the road condition wasn’t as bad as I had expected and I was pretty glad to ride some off road after spending the last few weeks on Cambodias flat, sealed roads. I passed a small convoy as I made my way through a small village and the sign on the side of one of the 4wd’s caught my eye….. Demining crew. I chatted to the team leader about the work he was doing and was amazed at the sheer number of mines and UXO’s that were still scattered throughout northern Cambodia and Laos. These relics of the Vietnam war were still killing and maiming civilians 40 years after the war had ended, the demining crew had detonated 8 UXO’s that day and warned me to stay on the roads as I headed north.
There was surprised that there was only about 40 km of dirt road to contend with before I was back on tarmac, which lasted right to the temple. Reaching Preah Vihear ended up being much simpler than I had expected, a reminder not to take other travellers advice as gospel because we all have different opinions as to what constitutes an adventure and what you would call remote and difficult to get to. I arrived half an hour before the road to the temple closed so I decided to back track to the town of Angkrong and visit the temple the next morning. I rode the bike up the steep winding road to the base of the temple until I reached a parking area with a few makeshift shops, it was still quite early so I was the only tourist there and ended up walked up to the temple complex with a group of caretakers, who were the only people I saw for the next few hours as I explored. On a clear day the view would be spectacular from the mountain top but today it was shrouded in thick mist which turned Preah Vihear into a temple in the clouds and added a ghostly atmosphere to the old ruins.
I had a few hundred km to reach the Laos border, I had arrived back from Preah Viheer in the late morning so I decided to try and make good time and reach the border that afternoon. Things were going quite smoothly and I was sitting on a steady 120km when the road condition allowed me, all of a sudden out of my peripheral vision I saw a bird fly across my path. There was nothing I could do to avoid it and the bird (which was about the size of a crow) hit me dead in the center of my visor. The bird bounced off and somehow I was able to stay upright and pulled over to the side of the road, it must have been a decent hit because I had a dizzy spell and saw stars for a full 5 minutes after I stopped. On a hot day I sometimes ride with the flip top of my helmet up, luckily the helmet and visor were down otherwise the situation could have turned out much worse. My helmet was already looking worse for wear and the crack in the visor just emphasised the fact that I should be upgrading soon.
I made the border by early afternoon and it was a little strange that after the road condition being quite good throughout Cambodia the final few km to the Laos border were covered in large potholes that looked like the remnants of mortar shelling. It seems almost everyone I talk to has a bad border crossing story but so far I have been lucky getting the bike in and out of countries and other than a few US Dollars paid to the official behind the desk to get my stamps the Laos/ Cambodia border was no exception. My original plan was to cross from Cambodia to Vietnam and then ride north and cross into northern Laos, It turned out Vietnam was just too hard and costly to get the bike into so I decided to save it for another time and another adventure. As I rode north from the border and took in the amazing scenery of Southern Laos (an area I would have by passed had I done Vietnam) I couldn’t help but think that not being able to do Vietnam on this trip ended up being a blessing in disguise.