TRF:Hi Dave, great to meet you. You've taken your motorbike all over the world, what have been your standout trips?
Dave:It is very difficult to say; all trips have their adventures and moments of wonder. Travelling the length of Africa on a Suzuki DR600S in 1988 and 89 was a profound experience, partly because I was travelling for seven months and partly because at times it was like being in a different time period, if not on a different planet. Spending seven weeks riding the Trans Am Trail (TAT) with Danielle on our KTM 690Rs last year was also outstanding. It really brought home how large and varied the USA is and also how sparsely populated it is away from the main cities. In terms of organised trips, riding around the middle of the Sahara with Chris Scott in 2007 stands out because we were riding through areas with no evidence of human passage.
TRF:You're obviously a seasoned traveller and handy on a motorbike. So what attracted you to Cambodia? Why not just book some flights and take yourself off on your own?
TRF:There's plenty of bike tours on offer in that part of the world that cater to all sorts of experiences. What attracted you to Red Dirt?
Dave:The description of the trip and the (excellent) photos on the website covered the culture of the country as much as the riding. Talking to Tim confirmed that he had a real love of the country and its people and one of his aims was to share this with other riders. I got a good vibe from him; which turned out to be correct.
TRF:Did you do much preparation before you left? I imagine your travel experience has taught you what to take and what to leave behind.
Dave:We always take the minimum possible, indeed we have a standard checklist to which we refer ever trip, to make packing easier. The most important thing on any trip with off-road or dirt-road content is lightweight but protective riding gear, plus a backpack with water bladder. I used a Gore-Tex Klim Traverse jacket and trousers plus a Dainese one-piece mesh body armour with integral body belt. Most of the time this worked well but on a couple of days the high temperature and humidity resulted in me leaving the jacket off. Maybe a Forcefield body armour shirt, without a jacket (as recommended by Tim in his rider notes), would have been a better choice for the conditions. Gareth, one of the other riders, used this and thought it worked well.
TRF:So Cambodia. What's it like?
Dave:Cambodia appeared to us to be shaped very much by two periods in its history. The first was at the height of the Khmer Empire, around AD800 to AD1300, when the great temples, such as Angkor Wat and Ta Promh (of ‘Tomb Raider’ fame) were built. The second was in the 1960s and 70s, with the Vietnam War, Cambodian civil war, Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. Strangely, for a country with such a troubled period in its relatively recent history, the people have a real warmth and kindness to them. An example of this is the traffic in the bigger towns and cities. Although it looks manic, it is all very co-operative, like a strange dance, and road rage is virtually inconceivable. Most Cambodians are Buddhist and this does seem to have a very positive effect on the way that they look at things. Dan and I spent a few days in Phnom Penh, prior to the Red Dirt trip, looking at museums, markets, palaces, etc. and about a week in Siem Reap after the trip looking at temples, museums, and more temples. Our Christmas dinner was a bowl of Cornflakes outside Angkor Wat. We would recommend to anyone doing one of Tim’s tours to visit some of the temples around Siem Reap afterwards as they really are interesting. You actually come across temples in the jungle during the trip, one of which we camped at overnight.
TRF:And the riding, it must have been pretty unique - especially to anyone who has only really experienced Europe?
Dave:Away from the towns there are areas of real ‘Apocalypse Now’ jungle, which can be challenging to ride for the inexperienced. It certainly helps to be bike fit and to have some previous off-road riding experience.
TRF:Do you think your experience was unique to Red Dirt's approach to operating tours in Cambodia?
Dave:I have no experience of other operators in Cambodia but based on my experience of tour operators in other countries, I would not hesitate to recommend Red Dirt to anybody wanting to ride a bike in Cambodia. Tim has actually married a Cambodian woman, Fon, who he met while travelling in the country a few years ago and they now have a son. Tim has really embraced the Cambodian lifestyle and wants to share it, and his love of riding the country, with others.
TRF:It sounds like you had a great time with the Red Dirt team. What's next?
Dave:After our amazing trip to Arunachal Pradesh in India last December, We will probably be going back to the Himalayas or surrounding area this year; possibly to Nepal, Tibet or Tajikistan. Our biggest problem at the moment is too much World, too little leave. However, we certainly want to return to Cambodia at some time, maybe also riding to Vietnam, Thailand or Laos.
TRF:Hi Tim. Where are we chatting to you today? Sunny England or scorching Cambodia?
Tim:Hi Greg, much as I’d love to be in Cambodia right now, I am busy organising the future of the Red Dirt Tour from our UK base in the southeast.
TRF:It seems as though Cambodia has become the destination of choice for adventurous motorcycling. What's the situation on the ground over there?
Tim:Well, to put it into perspective, it’s a country that only started opening up to tourism in the late 90s, a country largely undeveloped after years of civil war and foreign occupation. As a result of over 40 years of zero investment in infrastructure, the transport network really is an adventure rider’s dream! I just can’t emphasise enough how exhilarating the riding is out there. The are over 44,000 kilometres of roads, yet only about 3,000 of those are paved! That’s just 8%. The remaining 92% is made up of wide open red dirt graded roads – most of which run through huge plantations up in the northeast – flowing riverside tracks, tight single jungle trails, ancient sandy oxcart tracks, and simple path systems too. The river crossings are amazing fun, and most of the rural bridges can certainly get the pulse racing!
TRF:How long has Red Dirt been up and running? I understand that Cambodia is more than a business location for you.
TRF:When I spoke to Dave, one of the things that really struck me was that even though he was a very seasoned traveller, he was looking for a package experience that helped him get a little deeper into the culture of the country and community. Something that's difficult to pull off for someone who normally travels independently. How do you think Red Dirt managed to help make this happen?
Tim:You know, I don’t really have a straight answer to that, I guess a few factors of how we run our tours contributed to Dave’s experience with us. But in a nut shell it would be down to the Red Dirt mission my wife established as the reason behind our business. Adventure bikers and off road riders tend to be quite independent by their very nature, and seem to prefer self sufficiency as we often feel more accomplished when we have reached our destination independently. That thirst for challenge is what may hold some clients back from signing up to a tour, but that’s a shame. Most riders don’t have the time or cash to co-ordinate their own motorcycle adventure in a long haul destination like Cambodia. So that’s where we come in. Everyone on our team is an adventurer at heart, so we all share the same thirst as our clients.
TRF:It sounds as though you personally have been quite moved by your connection with Cambodia and this is something that you are trying to help your clients experience. What are the key ingredients of a Red Dirt Tour? What do you want me to take away after I've spent a week with you?
Tim:The key ingredients?
TRF:Finally, what's next for Red Dirt?
Tim:Who knows. There are plans, and aims for the future of Red Dirt. But one thing I have learned out in the Kingdom of Wonder, is that John was quite right, life often happens while you are busy making other plans. I have an Advanced Wilderness Medical Training course to complete in May, that improves my first aid skills up to being able to administer injections, and carry out minor emergency invasive techniques if ever needed. I am looking forward to that, and you never know in Cambodia when those skills might be beneficial to the communities we pass through, or in my family network out there. The immediate future holds exciting potential, running big bike tours as well as the pure off road, and also getting involved with trekking too when the wet season is too challenging for dirt bike adventure. Offering bespoke tours to suit individuals or exclusive small groups will be more practical too — once we are living in Cambodia full time by the end of the year. Our hopes for the future are setting up workshops to train young Khmers in the field of preventive maintenance of motorcycles, mechanic apprenticeships and medical training similar to the First Aid courses run in the UK by the St John’s Ambulance. Also, as the developing of the road network is in full swing at the moment out there, lots of tracks are disappearing fast, as the locals start to favour the smooth stuff over the cross country routes. So there is an inkling we will get involved somehow over the coming years in preserving some of the favourite and most ancient highways and byways, a bit like the TRF maybe…