My Non-Conventional Cambodian Christmas

Megan participated in the 2013 PEPY Ride by PEPY Tours. They biked through Cambodia, from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh.

Christmas for me normally consists of the following things: flying home to good old England, walking through the door, receiving a suffocating hug from my parents (suffocating is, of course, meant in the most affectionate way possible) and then eating. The eating generally doesn’t ever stop, just ebbs and flows like the tide. So when Christmas 2013 rolled around and I found myself facing a 1000km bike ride across Cambodia -- and a whole lot of rice -- needless to say I was ever so slightly nervous.

The route

The route

Maybe you’re wondering what on earth drove me to forego the usual food-based festivities in favour of risking a month of inevitable, interminable muscle pain. The honest answer is adventure. I wanted to see something new. To smell something new. To taste something new. But when I signed up for the PEPY Ride XI, I never imagined that, above all of the things I just mentioned, I would feel something new. And that something, whatever it was, has more or less changed the way I look at the world and all the funny, strange, sad, glorious, confusing and downright brilliant things in it.

A 1000km bike ride is in itself one such downright brilliant thing: getting up before the crack of dawn, hopping on the bike and watching the world wake up is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s like looking at hundreds of different photos for less than a second at a time-the split second you whizz past someone, you get this teeny, tiny snapshot of their life and it’s pretty amazing. Sometimes it’d be a gaggle of kids messing around on the way to school, sometimes an older chap watching us with great bemusement as we blitzed past him, waving and grinning like lunatics, or maybe a group of men herding ducks into a roadside stream (yes, you read that right-duck herding).

Megan's group in action

Megan's group in action

Whoever it was, one thing is for sure: Cambodians like to say hello to people on bikes. Every day, and I really mean every day, as we were cycling merrily along, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, a couple of kids would suddenly come racing out of thin air and ambush us, screaming 'hellohellohellohellohellohello'. This would start a kind of chain reaction and the next half hour would pass in a frenzy of shouting and waving, which is quite dangerous on a road full of pot holes. 

But pot holes aside, travelling through a country by bike is a very unique experience. Of course, there were times when I debated whether or not it was possible for just my rear end to die, independently from the rest of my body, such was the level of numbness, but there is really no comparison to the feeling of freedom you get from cycling. We saw corners of Cambodia that are more than a world away from our normal lives, corners where the tourist buses can’t get to, or the hoards of backpackers that come with them. Nothing against backpackers, but sometimes it’s nice to escape the masses.

Megan's group

Megan's group

Ok, a three week bike ride is indeed a rather incredible feat, but really a life-changing experience? I can almost smell your scepticism! But it really was. Not in the ‘I’m going to sell all my worldly possessions and wander the world, touching the lives of everyone I meet’ kind of way; it was quieter than that. It wasn’t so aggressively do-goody. It just kind of made me want to smile more. I don’t know about other people, but I am definitely guilty of letting the little things stress me out too much in my ‘normal’ life.

Sunrise in Angkor

Sunrise in Angkor

Spending three weeks in one of the poorest nations in South East Asia, with its unfathomably devastating recent history, certainly shook me up and made me realise that I have it pretty good. All the daft little problems which I worry about suddenly weren’t problems anymore. What’s the use in using all that energy on something that, in all likeliness, won’t change, no matter how much you kick and scream and tear your hair out? Cambodia is a country on the mend, or at least that’s the impression I had, and sometimes it was all to easy to forget that behind the smiles, many people have seen more ugliness and pain than you or me could ever imagine. Yet despite the horrors this country has lived through, it seems to radiate an energy and spirit like no other place I’ve ever visited.

I think it’s easy to become disillusioned with the world: you watch the news and you feel a bit hopeless because really, how on earth can you help? To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that question. But Cambodia gave me hope for, well, hope. I know that sounds horrendously schmalzy, but I can’t describe it in any other way. Seeing all these incredibly cool and inspiring projects, only someone with a heart of stone could refuse to be touched by the optimism. There’s always going to be good and bad in the world, for sure, but now my eyes and heart are more open to the good stuff.

Find out more about how you can participate in a PEPY Ride here!

 

MEGAN SKINNER

Meg is earning her keep as a freelance English teacher, translator and interpreter in the tropical climes of Northern Germany. As exciting as the world of patent translations is, her mind often wanders to adventures in more exotic locations. Or food. Or both.