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Simpson and his cyclo

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Simpson with his cyclo on the way to Siem Reap.

DESPITE meticulous planning, the nightly urge to “devour a whole chicken like a caveman” was one of the unforeseen complications Nick Simpson encountered on a five-day cyclo trip from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, an irresistible urge after pedalling up to 100km each day.

Travelling on a cyclo, or bicycle rickshaw, common in Phnom Penh but rare in the provinces, Simpson rolled into Siem Reap last week after completing his five-day challenge on schedule, despite his turbo-charged appetite that saw him stopping to eat up to five times a day.

Still recovering when 7Days caught up with him prior to beginning a new job in Siem Reap, Simpson said he began planning the trip two months ago to raise money for NGO Khmer for Khmer.

Taking the long route, Simpson travelled across the southern side of the Tonle Sap then up through provincial centres including Battambang and Sisophon before arriving hungry and exhausted in Siem Reap last Friday.

To differentiate the trip from other charity bike trips, Simpson chose to travel by cyclo, which caused mayhem in provinces where the device is little known.

“There was one incident where there was a young guy on a moto pulling quite a long trailer. He’d overtaken me but was so amazed to see a cyclo on the road he kept riding for a long way looking at me. I kept pointing at him yelling, ‘Look out, there’s a truck coming the other way!’ He only swerved out at the last minute.”

The further the cyclo got from Phnom Penh, the more the local fascination with the exotic machine and it’s rider became.

“When I stopped to get food or stay at a guesthouse people would say, ‘Why don’t you take a car or the bus?’”

Simpson started to ponder this same question himself when it dawned on him that the expedition would be harder than originally anticipated.

“The first day was a really bad day because I was mentally beat due to not having done much training. I wasn’t completely sure how much distance I could cover in a day. I started panicking thinking it’s going to take 10 days, people have sponsored me already, I can’t let them down.”

Before departing Phnom Penh, Simpson raised $1000 in donations for his trip, $100 of which was spent purchasing the second-hand cyclo he used.

“I didn’t actually have a cyclo until about two weeks before and so I didn’t really train specifically riding a cyclo. I realised once I started that because the gears are fixed in place you have to continually pedal to maintain your speed. It can be dangerous if you’re going downhill because the pedals spin so fast you have to stick your legs out the side.”

Cyclos have a top speed of 12 kilometres per hour that’s maintainable “not for very long” according to Simpson, and his planned five-day trip with plenty of rest breaks soon turned into a series of gruelling 13-hour days that left him with little time to enjoy the scenery.

With plans to settle in Siem Reap, Simpson says the cyclo that carried him across Cambodia will soon be transformed into a living room table for his new home, a monument to the success of the trip; the likes of which Simpson said is one of the main reasons he loves living here.

“Really what first attracted me to Cambodia was the sense of organised chaos and freedom. Every day is an adventure.”

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