Crossing the Border for PEPY Empowering Youth: A Reflection
Two countries, two big cities, two bikes and two dedicated cyclists: Cho and Joe’s fundraising bike ride from Phnom Penh to Vietnam was more than just an adventure – it was a chance to learn, experience and reflect on the year that was drawing to a close. The two friends arrived back in Siem Reap on the 2nd of January, happy to have made it back in one piece, but at the same time almost wishing they could go back and do it all again. Fortunately, PEPY Empowering Youth was able to catch up with them and hear some details of their trip.
While it was Joe’s first ever cycling trip in Cambodia, it was Cho’s first time on the route that they had planned (with some help from Cambodian cycling champion and Mr. GPS himself, Lucky), so the journey promised to be full of new sights and sounds for them both. For Cho, this bike ride also represented the fulfillment of a personal dream to see the lower Mekong, a river of such incredible significance to Cambodia and its people. It was a chance for both bikers to delve deeper into the culture and history of two countries that have both suffered greatly in the past and are still working to rebuild their societies, but in very different ways.
First, to the route: the most direct route from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City is some 250km long, give or take a few kilometers, but our intrepid riders were keen to get off the main road and take in the scenery of rural Cambodia and Vietnam. This led to them, and Lucky, devising a route which totaled around 500km, heading first of all down to the Cambodian coast. Day 1 kicked off with a 95km ride from Phnom Penh to Takeo, and both Cho and Joe agreed that they passed through some of the most beautiful countryside of the whole trip on this day, taking in vast green rice fields on almost every side. Day 2 from Takeo to Kep was perhaps the most challenging day in terms of terrain: it was a much hillier route than the day before, so the 85km were certainly no easy feat. Day 3 was a necessary day off the bikes to take care of some Visa issues (and to celebrate Christmas!), but it was straight back in the saddle on day 4 to cross the Cambodia-Vietnam border. This part of the trip proved a real highlight for Cho and Joe, as they followed the Cambodian coastline and saw some spectacular scenery along the way. Having waved goodbye to Cambodia, day 5 took the two cyclists around 85km to the city of Long Xuyen – the second most prosperous city in southwestern Vietnam. From Long Xuyen, they cycled some 100km to Cai Lay (day 6), before finally pulling into Ho Chi Minh City on the 7th day of the journey. Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, is Vietnam’s largest city, and the whirlwind of cars, mopeds, buses, bikes and everything else in between was quite a change from the quiet, rural roads that our cyclists had gotten used to over the last few days.
While this bike ride was of course a huge physical achievement, for both Cho and Joe it was also an amazing experience in terms of learning about the history, culture and people of both Cambodia and Vietnam, as well as each other. As this ride took place at the end of the year, and during the break of a hectic work schedule, it was a great opportunity for the guys to take some time out and think back on the past year, as well as consider what the year ahead may have in store. Whilst on the road, Cho and Joe shared their views and experiences on a huge range of topics, from Buddhism, Communism, Vietnam’s history with the USA and colonial history, right up to more personal topics such as family and friends. Cho explained how easy it is to get caught up with work and the routine of everyday life, and how it’s important for him to be able to step out and take a break from time to time. For Joe, it was very interesting to be able to deepen his understanding of life in both countries; to see how this is intricately connected to cultural, political and economic changes that have taken place in recent history, whilst at the same time considering these aspects within the context of his own experience over the course of the bike ride. Both Cho and Joe were surprised to see the differences in economic development on either side of the border and commented that the people in Vietnam seemed to have more economic freedom, a greater sense of ownership and more choices. This, they discovered, is largely down to a number of economic reforms that took place in Vietnam in the 1980s. It was points such as this which really enriched their journey and enabled them to understand the countries, and by extension the people, much better.
There may have been some tough times on the trip (sharing the road with some pretty big trucks, for example), but these were vastly outnumbered by the positive experiences. It is very fitting that both Cho and Joe learnt a lot over the course of the ride, showing that you never stop learning – not just about the world around you, but also about yourself. PEPY Empowering Youth believes in lifelong learning and this incredible journey is testament to this notion. We would like to take this opportunity to say a HUGE thank you to Cho and Joe for their passion, commitment and drive. If you haven’t already donated in support of their trip, and PEPY Empowering Youth, there is still time to do so. Simply go to https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/PEPY. Congratulations and THANK YOU!
If you are inspired by Cho and Joe’s journey and would like to do your own fundraising challenge to support PEPY Empowering Youth please contact our team – we would love to support you!