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Cambodia stop for global cyclist

Tobias Heimhalt pictured at Sihanoukville on his way around Cambodia, en route to New Zealand.

Heimhalt’s adventures have taken him through mountainous central Europe and central Asian deserts.

Cycling in China posed a challenge for global rider Tobias Heimhalt.

GERMAN cyclist Tobias Heimhalt has arrived in Cambodia after a 16,000-kilometre ride through 15 countries.

His 10-month odyssey has been raising funds and awareness for clean water projects run by German NGO Viva Con Agua.

And when the 22-year-old arrived in Cambodia’s Stung Treng province from Laos, he cycled to mountainous Ratanakiri where he stayed for two weeks to see the finished water project donated by the NGO.

Sponsors of his ride can follow Heimhalt’s progress on his blog, where he regularly posts articles and pictures from his travels.

He has raised money for the trip from people paying sponsorship money to Viva Con Agua for each kilometre he cycles.

“On my home page there’s a map so people can follow my progress and find out where I am,” he says.

His eventual destination is New Zealand, and the idea of cycling there came up after he had a knee operation and spent time poring over a world atlas.

“I was due to go to New Zealand on a student exchange, but couldn’t because of my health problem,” Heimhalt says. “When I looked closely at the maps, I discovered all these interesting countries between Germany and New Zealand, so I began thinking of how to get there by bike. The trip took about a year to plan and save money.”

Despite being slower than other vehicles on the road, Heimhalt says he feels free, without the sounds of car or motorbike engines.

But he carries about 25 kilograms of gear with him on his bike, including a tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment (gas cooker, pots, water filter), food, water, clothes, camera, notebook, spare parts, as well as a first aid kit. He sometimes has to sleep in deserts, on cliffs, or in jungles.      

“In Southeast Asia, you don’t need to sleep in a tent because you reach villages all the time. You can sleep in a monastery. But in China, it was hard to find place to sleep because of the large population, so you see people everywhere,” said Heimhalt.

Before he pitches his tent, he decides how to protect himself from robbers. “I’m more afraid of people than animals. I have to be careful that I put my tent somewhere either nobody can see me, or I sleep somewhere a lot of people can see me.”

The toughest times were in central Asia, he recalls. “The roads are really bad, mountains are incredibly high with altitudes up to 4,700 metres above sea level, leading to less oxygen, and I had to cross a lot of deep rivers, getting off my bike and pushing it through.”

He also endured deserts with daytime temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius, so he soon gave up travelling during the day and cycled at night instead.

He started cycling at 4am, riding until 10am when he sought shelter in local villages. After sleeping until 5pm, he would pedal on until 10pm.

“My main problems were in Turkmenistan. They give me a visa valid for only five days, so I had to cycle 120 kilometres each day. I didn’t have time to rest, I didn’t have time to get sick, and I didn’t have time to visit anything. I just had to cross the country. It was quite challenging,” he says.

As he crosses many countries, he notices that people are poor in Cambodia, Laos and Tajikistan, but people in these countries seem friendlier than people in others.

“So far in Laos, Cambodia, and Tajikistan, people, especially children, screamed at me ‘hello, hello.’ It’s really nice. I really enjoy it. That’s why I travel by bike. If you cross countries in cars, you don’t have such experience getting close to local people,” he says.

His agenda in Cambodia has taken him to Kep and the south coast, then Sihanoukville, Koh Kong, Battambang and onto Siem Reap. Heimhalt plans to use a narrow path crossing from Koh Kong to Battambang province without cycling along National Road 4.

Then his next trip will be to cross to Thailand and cycle through Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, then fly to Australia. He says Australia will be another tough challenge because he will have to cycle through the desert for up to 400 kilometres without water, so he’ll have to carry enough water for five days.

Tobias Heimhalt’s adventures can be followed at his homepage, www.wasserrad2010.de.

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