Across Cambodia: The story behind my bike accident
Last time we posted about Cambodia it was our Complete Guide to Battambang, our favourite destination in this country. I briefly mentioned then how we were still traveling on our bicycles at the time. Today I wanted to tell you all about the time I fell of my bike in the middle of nowhere in Cambodia. Now when I think about it, the memory does put a smile on my face, however back then it was one of the scariest moments of our trip.
We thought the heat was the only thing we had to fear.
Before arriving to Cambodia, we struggled with the cruel Thai heatwave. It was rough! The temperature on a daily basis reached up to 43 degrees in the shadow. We spent most of the time on our bikes cycling in the sun towards the Cambodian border in Poi Pet. Our bike computer would show up to 55 degrees Celsius! It was an intense and tiring couple of weeks when we monitored carefully our liquid intake and we made sure not to cycle between noon and 4 pm. Of course, sometimes it was impossible to avoid, but we tried our best.
We had a few scares, especially when Greg nearly fainted from heat exhaustion one time and we were praying to find accommodation as soon as possible. But everything ended well. We crossed the border on time and we were happy when the longest heatwave in 65 years finally came to an end.
Feeling accomplished, we thought now it could only get better. But we didn’t do our homework before we decided to travel on bicycles across South East Asia between March and June. The weather had a few more tricks up its sleeve and we weren’t expecting things to go so bad, so quickly.
Once the heatwave was over, we only had about three days in Cambodia to enjoy nice and stable weather. Soon after that, the rain began.
It happened on the day we had to cycle nearly 70 kilometers from Sisophon all the way to Battambang. And it would have been fine had the weather not gone crazy.
The first half of the day we struggled with the heat on the National Road 5 full of speeding trucks and lorries. Red dust was blowing in our faces and the road was not in the best condition. The shoulder was barely existent and full of holes in the asphalt.
I remember clearly looking at the road all the time, trying to concentrate to avoiding any bigger rocks or holes. I quickly became hungry and tired that day. Nothing was going our way and Greg also wasn’t at his best.
Also, just to inform you upfront – yes, due to the weather, we cycled in flip flops. Not the smartest idea, but otherwise our feet would have boiled in our trainers. And to be fair I still think it was the best solution considering the weather.
Falling off my bike in the middle of nowhere in Cambodia
Is there a term for that when you experience a flash forward of what is about to happen? Or should we just call it a ‘feeling’? A sensation? A deja vu?
As we cycled, I had a brief conversation with Greg about whether or not we should have lunch soon. And as he cycled a bit further ahead, I screamed towards him to watch out on the curvy shoulder of the road. The holes and rocks have made our ride really difficult, but now we also had to watch out for quite a high level of the edge of the road compared to the side of the road. I would post a drawing of what I mean, but that would probably only complicate it even more.
I saw him manoeuvring around a big gap in the asphalt and reminded myself to do the same once I got to it. Unfortunately as I turned around it, my back wheel fell off the asphalt and onto the gravel side of the road on a lower level. Having a set of panniers on the back of the bicycle only made balancing so much harder. I lost control.
My bike collapsed together with me. I remember hitting the ground hard. My legs felt numb. I was covered in dust, I was hot and exhausted. At that point I was done. I couldn’t get up.
I turned my head back and looked to the side to see Greg. He already stopped his bike and was running to help me.
The lorries kept going, blowing more dust over us. I felt hot and sick. I could feel a panic attack coming. ‘What are we gonna do now?’ I kept asking myself.
Panic at a Khmer house.
There was a house just a few meters away from the place where I fell. I remember hearing the family speaking Khmer. Shortly after, I noticed that it wasn’t only Greg who was helping me to get up. Even now it’s all a blur. I was in shock.
Two other men came along and gave us a hand. They sat me down in the shadow of their porch. Within a minute they offered us water and Tiger balm for my wounds. They also put an electric fan out to help cool me down.
Breathing really fast, I couldn’t calm down even though I couldn’t feel any pain just yet. I looked at my bike, left there in the middle of the road. Greg went to grab it and left it by the porch as well. It was then that I looked at my bleeding foot. My bicycle’s cassette must have ripped the skin on my foot as the bike fell over my leg.
I suddenly became lightheaded and felt sick. Not because of the heat and not because of the blood. It was mostly because of the fact that we were literally in the middle of nowhere, between Sisophon and Battambang. And I was scared, still unsure if I hadn’t broken any bones. I was waiting for the pain to come. I knew it was just a question of minutes.
‘I’m done,’ I remember saying. I felt defeated. For weeks we’ve been struggling with the weather and the conditions and it was because our own stupidity. We shouldn’t have been cycling that time of the year. And we did our best, we’ve been giving it our all and just like that within seconds I end up on the side of the road? It made me angry and upset. That and the fact I didn’t have anybody to blame but myself and bad luck.
Feeling defeated, weak and overwhelmed
If you look at our vlog from that day, the first clip recorded after I fell is very telling. You can see it in my eyes and in the way I speak. I tried to make the best of it and look at it from a positive perspective, but I felt weak. There’s no point in denying that. I look at that video now and I see what a big mess I was. Tired, panicked and with pieces of toilet roll stuck to my eyelids. Desperation doesn’t look good on anyone.
I felt overwhelmed at the time not only because of the accident, but also by all the help we received from the Khmer family. They saw we were in need and didn’t hesitate to give us a hand. They welcomed us to their home and offered everything they could have. I remember taking a quick peak inside the little wooden hut.
They had very basic accommodation there, only a few hammocks, some pillows and curtains in the entrance. It was very dark inside. I could see some mosquito nets and a few plastic utensils. They did, however, have a flatscreen mounted on the wooden wall and were all watching an Indian soap opera. I smiled. I still felt numb.
Bleeding in the middle of nowhere in Cambodia
When I calmed down after a few minutes, I started to feel the pain. My foot was still bleeding.
Only after I took a proper look at it I noticed it was also covered in dirt. A few scratches all over my leg weren’t an issue, but there was a big patch of skin missing off the bone in my foot, just behind the big toe. It looked awful and every time Greg poured clean water over it, the blood kept coming. I left him to it, he looked after me as he saw I was in no state to do it myself.
For the first time I was really happy we carried a well-equipped first aid kit all this time during our long trip. We could finally put it to good use.
After Greg cleaned up my wound, he put some antiseptic on it and then sprayed it with a disinfecting liquid plaster spray thingy we had with us. I was screaming and crying from pain at this point, I can’t lie. The whole time I was praying that I would be able to walk once Greg is finished with my foot. I couldn’t imagine what we would have done if I had fractured any bone in my foot.
Can I walk?
The perspective of cycling another 35 kilometers towards Battambang was scary even without knowing if I had anything broken. What would we do? How would we get to Battambang? We were literally in the middle of Cambodia, in the middle of NOWHERE, and it’s not like we can catch a taxi off the National Highway! Not that any taxi would take us with our two bicycles all the way to Battambang.
‘I think you’re good to go,’ Greg said finally, taking me out of my dark thoughts.
‘Okay,’ I whispered, trying to bravely stand up and find out if there is any pain in the foot as I walk.
I clenched my jaw in nervousness. Closing my eyes, I carefully took a few steps forward. My ankle was throbbing, my wounds and scratches were extremely annoying and my overall mood was honestly awful… but it felt like I didn’t break anything in the fall! I took a deep breath, thinking I was actually going to have to get back on that bike and keep cycling, but it was the best scenario for us anyway.
It couldn’t get any harder – but it’s the rainy season in Cambodia after all!
We thanked the lovely family for their help and hospitality. They just waved at us from the inside of the hut, still busy watching the dramatic Indian soap on their telly. We drove away.
As we cycled ahead, I tried to focus on the beauty of Cambodia. My foot kept throbbing me and the heat didn’t help at all. It felt like it was burning. We had no choice, but to push forward. Half an hour away from Battambang, it started raining.
What at first seemed like a pleasant drizzle, soon changed into a freaking monsoon. We quickly had to escape the rain and hide under a little stall where a Khmer woman sold drinks and snacks by the road. The ground was so wet at this point, we got stuck in the mud with our bikes. My wounded foot covered in dirt, the plasters falling off in the rain and wind. It started bleeding again.
I was upset. ‘Oh God, please, let me get out of this situation with both my feet.’ Every minute it was getting more and more painful. I feared getting an infection. Even the smallest scratch, when infected, can be life threatening. We were drenched and tired, covered in dirt from head to toe. It felt like the longest day ever. I remember throwing my hat and my sunglasses on the wooden platform, screaming poetic curse words combinations. And then suddenly the sun came out again.
The video from the day of my bike accident on our YouTube channel
Getting stuck in Battambang
When we finally arrived to our hotel, the only thing I could think of was taking a hot shower. Afterward I cleaned up and bandaged my foot again. I was happy the day was nearly over and I could go to bed and rest.
Unfortunately, the next day I couldn’t walk. My foot was heavily bruised. The wound would start bleeding every time I got out of bed. It was swollen and I could feel how the whole part of my foot was hot because of it. I looked after myself and changed bandages regularly. I carefully disinfected the wound a couple of times a day and avoided walking for the first few days. Thanks to that, it healed up pretty nicely. I’m still relieved that this part of our story had a happy ending.
Recovery after my accident
Back in shape? Exploring Battambang
Would I go back to Cambodia?
Even though it was a tough experience, now I have a cool scar on my foot reminding me of our great adventure full of misfortunes. At the time I could only see bad sides of it, but now I smile when I think about what we’ve been through.
Cambodia is a great place to travel. Beautiful temples, great landscapes and awesome, helpful people. And, of course, it’s tiring when the weather’s boiling hot and drivers on the roads go crazy, but nevertheless, you should definitely go there and experience it yourself.
Battambang was our favorite place in Cambodia, hands down. Delicious food, friendly atmosphere and plenty of things to do around the area. Check out our Complete Guide to Battambang to find out more.
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