During a two-week motorcycle journey across Cambodia, Matador contributor Allen Burt experiences the contrasts of a country steeped in beauty and ancient grandeur, yet overshadowed by a recent bloody past.

THE ROAD IS NARROW and the traffic is…interesting? Cows wander aimlessly, playing a perpetual game of Frogger with each passing bus and farm tractor. Locals scream by on scooters hauling everything from live chickens and hogs to dressers and bed frames.

I’m stuck in the middle of the madness — clinging to the seat of a rusty dirt bike I learned to ride yesterday. My companions and I have set out to pierce the heart of this misunderstood country, and it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

Our journey begins in Phnom Penh…


Tuol Sleng Prison, Phnom Penh

1. Grasping the unthinkable horrors of the S21 prison, where over 17,000 prisoners were interrogated, tortured, and executed during the Khmer Rouge rein -- only a handful survived.


Tuk-tuk in Phnom Penh

2. The impact of our visit to S21 and the "Killing Fields" hangs heavy during a moto-taxi ride through downtown Phnom Penh.


Riding a motorbike in Cambodia

3. Forced off the road by a local bus, we regroup before continuing our journey south to the coast.


Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia

4. View from our bungalow porch on the island of Koh Rong Samloem. Pure paradise.


Playing frisbee on a Cambodian beach

5. Game of frisbee on a remote beach on the island of Koh Rong Samloem.


Motorbike tuneup in Cambodia

6. On the road north to Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor, a crowd forms to watch our bikes receive a necessary tuneup.


Sunrise at Angkor Wat

7. Sun rises over the spectacular temple of Angkor Wat.


Angkor Thom temples

8. The forest is quick to reclaim the land, swallowing the Angkor Thom temples.


Carvings at Ta Prohm

9. Carvings in the stone at Ta Prohm temple give a glimpse into the past of a once mighty civilization.


Sunset on Bakheng Hill

10. Watching the sunset from Bakheng Hill caps a surreal day exploring the vast complex of ancient Angkor temples.


Gas station in Cambodia

11. On the road into eastern Cambodia, unreliable and sporadic gas stations force us to carry fuel reserves in used water bottles.


Cambodian elephant rider

12. A local guide arrives with the morning's transportation as we prepare for our trek through the eastern Cambodian jungles.


Washing an elephant in Cambodia

13. Yes, washing an elephant is a serious ordeal.


Tuk-tuk and Buddhist monk

14. A local Buddhist monk catches a ride into town.


Backpacking in rural Cambodia

15. In rural Cambodia, every road leads to a new adventure.