Don’t get me wrong; Angkor Wat is unbelievable. But if traveling has taught me anything, it is that if you really want to experience a place, you’ve got to go behind the scenes. And for our time in Siem Reap, that meant…
Yes, you read that right. Dirty, smelly quad-bike riding.
Arriving in Cambodia earlier that afternoon, I hadn’t known what to expect from the country. Having traveled around Thailand and Vietnam for the previous three weeks, I had borrowed ideas from the more rural provinces and improvised somewhat, but there were still a lot of blank spaces left to my imagination. As we drove from the airport to our hotel, it quickly became apparent that Siem Reap — a resort town in northwestern Cambodia — was no Bangkok. Siem Reap was rustic and relaxed; a breath of fresh air after the commotion of it’s Southeast Asian siblings.
Cambodia also saw a friendly return of the tuk-tuk. We had farewelled the tuk-tuk culture in Thailand earlier in the journey, and had been less than satisfied with the cyclo experience of Vietnam. We were picked up in a tuk-tuk from our hotel and arrived at the Quad Adventure base five minutes later with wind-swept hair and knuckles whitened around the edges of our seats. If I had thought Vietnamese traffic got the adrenaline pumping, then I was in for a surprise.
You know something is going to be good when the first thing you do is sign a form stating that the company is not to be held responsible in the event of any injury acquired as a result of the activity. After signing our liabilities away, my travel companion Poppy and I were each assigned a guide to teach us how to operate our quad bikes. Having spent a considerable amount of time on farms as a child, the controls felt natural to me. After donning a motorbike helmet and face mask to scare away any potential Insta-worthy snaps, we were unleashed into the countryside of Siem Reap.
With our guide in the lead on a motorbike and Poppy bringing up the rear, we were off! My butt three feet off the seat as we bounced over potholes and puddles, we streaked along the red pathway out of the township and into the provinces. The village life was an experience in itself; you’d pass open shacks furnished with the bare necessities, and yet the inhabitants would be sitting there, playing on an iPhone. It was the most bizarre, juxtaposed thing.
And then there’s the temples. I’m not talking about the commercialised temples you’ll queue behind a hundred other tourists to see in Thailand. I’m talking about the quietly resplendent works of art you’ll find nestled in thickets in the Siem Reap countryside. Their modest nature drew me to them, and I found myself wanting to learn more about their history. Unfortunately, my burning questions went unanswered. That’s the difference between a quad bike guide and a tour guide; the former is merely concerned with getting you from point A to B.
The Siem Reap locals were one of the unexpected focal points of the trip – especially the children. On every leg of our journey, kids would be running alongside us, waving fanatically as we passed. Every time you waved back, their faces split into enormous, gleeful smiles. At one point, Poppy strayed from the track and I had to pull over and wait while our guide circled back to find her again. I amused myself with a posse of kids who ran over and decided to make friends. Their English wasn’t perfect and my Khmer was non-existent (to demonstrate the embarrassing extent of my knowledge, let me confess that I just had to google what the official language spoken in Cambodia is called), but we still managed to introduce ourselves.
Between them, the temples and the cattle – seriously, if I had a dollar (or Cambodian riel) for every time I stopped to take a picture of a cow, I could probably afford to take the quad bike tour all over again – I was falling in love with this lesser-known side to Siem Reap.
Last but not least… the sunset.
Now, there’s a reason why the tagline for The Ginger Passports is ‘honest travel blogging’. I don’t want to propagate any illusions here. When we embarked on this tour where experiencing a highly-acclaimed Cambodian sunset was the anticipated highlight, I had my expectations. I imagined psychedelic hues painted across a sun-kissed sky like something out of a Baz Luhrmann film… but alas, was disappointed. Maybe I take our gorgeous New Zealand sunsets for granted, but the close of day in Siem Reap – or at least the one we experienced – fell slightly short of it’s mark.
Expectations aside, when we finally pulled back into the Quad Adventure base an hour and a half later with aching backsides and stiff knuckles, we couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces. Or the red dirt from every crack and crevasse in our bodies. But that’s another story.
4 Tips for the Quintessential Quad Bike Experience
- Only go as fast as you find comfortable. In saying that, don’t sit on your guide’s tail the whole way. Don’t insist on passing them either; it’s not a race to the finish line! It is remarkably easy to take a wrong turn (see Poppy), and your guide knows what is a safe yet adrenalised pace.
- Don’t wear your Sunday best. It will get caked in red dust, and you are not going to receive any sympathy when you complain that your $100 boutique top now needs dry-cleaned.
- Don’t feel like you have to wear the visor on the helmet or the face mask. Both are purely designed to shield you from any unwanted dust on the road, but depending on factors such as the weather and/or traffic, this may not be an issue. Aside from the fact that the face mask makes you look as though you are entering a quarantined area, you’ll probably find them redundant. I personally found the visor to impair my vision, and tolerated the little dust that there was so that I could see clearly.
- Be prepared. If you intend to bring a camera, make sure you have somewhere to store it when you need both hands on the handlebars. I had to get creative when I realised I had no pockets to keep my camera in when I got on the bike; and believe me, it’s not a pretty sight to have to fish it out the front of your pants when your guide offers to take a photo of you *insert eye-roll emoji here*
Stay tuned for my upcoming Cambodia vlog, which will showcase footage from the quad biking experience. To ensure you don’t miss out, follow The Ginger Passports to get email notifications when new posts are published. Or alternatively, subscribe to my Youtube Channel to receive updates when new videos are uploaded. I’ll see you there!