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British Bikers Loop the Lake

How do the Khmer stack up against other Asians for hospitality an friendliness? Just

ask three British bicyclists who rode 9,600 kilometers across Asia-including the

first circumnavigation of the Tonle Sap on two wheels in recent history.

"The Khmers are the friendliest people we've met so far," said Anthony

Ainsworth, 30, the leader of a United Kingdom-based NGO called Bike Aid, "and

we've just spent eight months pedalling through 16 other Asian countries."

The cyclists, seeking to raise funds for primary schools in Asia, left Phnom Penh

against the advice of the British Mission. The three self-proclaimed "adventurists"-

including Edward Kay Shuttle-worth, 29, and Mark Curzon, 26-took 15 days to complete

their trip around the lake, travelling through eight provinces.

"Whole villages would burst into laughter as we rode past," Ainsworth said.

"Women and children were the most amused by this spectacle-some jumping up and

down waving 'hello' frantically, others rushing from their homes to catch a glimpse

of the three of us."

Many villagers along the cyclists' route are becoming accustomed to U.N. or NGO vehicles

speeding past on their way to their next destination. Moving at a much slower pace,

the bikers gave many villagers their first close-up glimpse of a foreigner.

"A crowd would gather whenever we stopped," said Ainsworth. "The people

were curious and quickly discovered that the bikes had 21 gears. One person would

usually explain how the gear system worked to the rest of the onlookers."

The Brits had no problems finding accommodations wherever they went. "People

offered rooms that they would normally use for their own families," said Ainsworth.

"We also stayed in a wat, an UNTAC house, a house belonging to a monkey dealer

in Battambang, and once we even just strung up our hammocks by the river in Kompong

Cham."

During their trip, the cyclists only had to pay for accommodation four nights, the

rest provided for free by the people they met.

Commenting on the security concerns that some voiced before their departure, Ainsworth

said, "We never felt our lives were at risk. There's more of a chance of being

killed in Phnom Penh in a traffic accident than on the roads we travelled."

The trans-Asian pedal pushers did have one close call though. "About three kilometers

from Steung in Kompong Thom Province we ran into two bandits with AK-47's,"

said Ainsworth. "They weren't in uniform and showed no insignia. Initially,

we thought they wanted money.

"They weren't interested in riels as they brushed aside our offer of

500. We guessed they might want cameras or something more valuable as they started

prodding our panier bags with their guns."

When Ainsworth pulled out an UNTAC poster showing the different factions disarming,

the bandits waved the cyclists on.

"Maybe they thought we had some connection with the U.N.," Ainsworth said.

The three cyclists headed off for Vietnam where they will bike to Ho Chi Minh City

before flying to Hong Kong, the last stop on their trans-Asian odyssey, which began

last Sept. 25 in London.

To date Bike Aid has raised through contributions and pledges over $35,000.

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