Third Annual Nomadic Journey: Mountain Biking Cambodia’s Ancient Temples of Angkor

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Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins

Greetings from Cambodia for my 3rd annual nomadic expedition, a rediscovery of life, unique cultures, freedom from attachment, and enlightenment. I’ve been traveling for over 20 years now but just recently began traversing the globe to native countries on solo missions. From Phuket to Nepal, the appeal of a simple life, thankfulness, ancient spices and herbs, and nurturing foods entices my pallet. So I continue digging deeper for truth, perspective, and the freedom of life while doing so on a mountain bike utilizing the best local tour guides in the field. Welcome to my world.

After a 25-hour commute from Washington Dulles to San Francisco to Korea and then on to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I landed somewhat restless. As usual, it was confounding circumstances at the airport when I arrived at 11:30 pm, so I feverishly picked out my $9 Tuk Tuk driver and headed to the Grand Boutique II in Phnom Penh for two nights. The streets from the airport into town were pretty dusty and awaiting trash pickups. The open ride let me get a feel for the city before the next day’s explorations. Food cart vendors were open for business, and those that weren’t were preparing for the next day’s busy day. Mopeds and Tuk Tuks rule this town like most cities in Southeast Asia. The 3-star boutique hotel was a small, quaint spot situated in the middle of the hustle off of 5th street. For about $50 a night, it surprisingly included complimentary breakfast (exotic fruit platter, fresh mango juice, and vegetable stir fry rice), free WiFi, and prompt customer service. Mental note, trust is an essential trait for travelers and jet setters, so your senses must be keen and instincts impeccable to avoid ominous scenarios. You will never see me rocking headphones to drown out the environment while I’m abroad.

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I popped up bright and early and went for a run to view the bustle of Cambodia’s busy capital streets. By far, running and biking are the most strategic ways to enjoy new lands while simultaneously energizing the body. With 90-degree weather, the entire 10-day stay I spent outdoors soaking up Vitamin D. First up was a trot to the National Museum, which is actually a temple rich with Cambodian history and relics. Later that night I caught a legendary and magical dance performance put on by the Cambodian Living Arts, which was the highlight of my day. The revelry is fixated on love, food, and peace. For example, in flourishing countries the masses are devoted to obtaining elaborate jewelry, luxury cars, and the grandest houses, while the poor Cambodian farmers dance fervently in solidarity — Beh Krawine Dance — to bless their crops and well-being. It’s the unpretentious things in life that generate happiness.

Next up was a short flight on Bayon Airlines to Siem Reap for day 1 of mountain biking (MTBing) while visiting the ancient temples of Angkor. After extensive research, I selected Cambodia Cycling as my tour guide of choice. The 3-day ride totaled about $600 and included 3-star accommodation, an experienced cycling guide, your bike (Trek or Giant) full board and meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), boat trip on Tonlé Sap Lake to see the floating fishing village, a support van, and a 3-day Angkor pass. In fact, Dara, Son, and Greg ascertained that every need imaginable was handled under their care including the litany of vegan grub in the area which I have a penchant for. Directly from the airport, we hit the ground pedaling to the temples. Combining the love for cycling with nomadic travel is the best and most modest act a spiritual outlier can ask for.

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The route took us to Prasat Kravan Temple, the Buddhist Temple Banteay Kdei (meaning a citadel of chambers), and the infamous Ta Prohm Temple, which is adorned by the roots of enormous fig trees and gigantic creepers. It was built in the 12th century by King Jayavarman VII, who is discernibly looked upon by historians as the most formidable Khmer monarch. Keep in mind that roughly 80% of all Cambodians are Buddhists. We also admired the Bayon Temple and the temple complex of the breathtaking Angkor Wat. On the gentle ride back to the Angkor Boutique Villa I felt like a kite dancing in a hurricane, flowing freely with thoughts as pervasive as the Andaman Sea. For dinner Son reserved a table at Chamkar Vegetarian Restaurant where the open atmosphere was meditative since I was seated next to the garden. Trees grow inside the eco-friendly eatery and bamboo dividers can be rolled up or down depending on the weather. Chamkar serves organic foods using fresh, local veggies. Yes, the meals were light and pleasing.

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Each day we road out from my art deco suite to a uniquely, mystic pocket of the country ripe with fascination. For the next 48 hours in Siem Reap I embraced adoration of living in the countryside to explore the simple life and the floating village where the locals (mostly Vietnamese fishers) dwell and work. In the country, a little girl eats her rice in what seems to be a private abode behind a bush while roosters scream in excitement and rustic bike shops tend to the villagers’ number one mean of transportation. Both the Cambodians and I were equally curious about each other. Humbled is an understatement, primarily since the people here survive off the crops they grow. After MTBing I went back to the hotel to relax, find more veggie grub, and attend another dance and art show. Indeed, I will return to this region of the world, possibly Vietnam.

The nomadic escape on two wheels was another unforgettable experience that I will cherish dearly. No man or woman should ever fear the unknown. Self-discovery is a powerful awareness tool.