Cycle Touring Through Cambodia
The Cambodian leg of my SE Asia cycle tour would prove to be a stop-start affair; with prolonged stops because of sicknesses and injuries.
Leaving Phu Quoc
I cycled across the island to the ‘Superdong’ ferry point (that will never fail to be hilarious), took about 50 minutes for 15 km or so. Very pleasant scenery. Arrived at the ferry terminal a good hour early, the only other westerners going to Ha Tien were a couple of German Guys.
Cost of ferry was 230,000 VND + 50,000 VND for the bike (Total: $12.40; £8.25; €11.4). It takes about 1.5 hours on the ferry and then it is about a 5 min cycle across the bridge into Ha Tien proper.
I stayed at the Gia Phúc Guesthouse at 48 Dang Thùy Trâm Street (200,000 VN? a night ($8.90; £5.90; €8.10). A newly built place near the river, very clean smallish but nice air-con rooms.
I went for a roam and met up with the Germans guys from the ferry, who were looking a little lost. They had booked ahead on Agoda for a night in Kep. When they got to Ha Tien they realized the reason the taxi drivers would not take them to their destination was because it was in a different country! They had not realized Kep was in Cambodia. I do like that they had no real plans, just flew into Phu Quoc with the aim of seeing a few interesting places in Vietnam over a couple of weeks. Anyway, I showed them the guesthouse I was staying at, had a few drinks with them, and gave them a few pointers, leaving them buying a bus ticket up to Can Tho.
I quite like the feel of Ha Tien, it’s a very small place, but pretty clean. There only appears to be one ex-pat bar (Oasis bar); the guy who owns it says he is the only full time ex pat in town, with a few other people being in town for a few months a year. The bar is good as it is the only place to have western food in town, if you fancy a change from all of the Vietnamese food. They also change Dong to USD, essential for crossing the border.
Stage 9: Ha Tien (Vietnam) to Kampot (Cambodia) via Kep
November 27th 2015; Distance 64.58 km (40.1 miles). Total Distance: 736.4 km (457.6 miles)
After a breakfast of sizzling beef and egg with a baguette I rode to the Cambodian border (7.6 km).
Getting through the border was easy enough, the official cost is $30 for the Cambodian tourist visa (30 days) but I knew in advance that there would be a few extras involved.
Leaving Vietnam was a simple stamp out, a ride down a road to a little security box, where they check that you have got your stamp, then a ride to the Cambodian side. I locked my bike up outside the office, then filled a few forms in and was asked for $35 for the visa process (a $5 add on). I knew at this stage that I had two options (1) pay and be done with it (2) argue about it – in which case (from first hand reports) I would be told to sit down, ignored for an hour, then called back and asked to pay $35, if not then be told to sit down again – they’ve got all day – but after a few hours of this game, you will eventually get the visa for the real price of $30. I went for the first option, three minutes later I had my visa. I then filled in a customs form (no charge) and was then sent to have my health checked (temperature measured in my ear) for a further charge of $1. So all-in-all it cost $36 to cross into Cambodia.
I then cycled towards Kampot, the scenery is instantly different from Vietnam, it is obvious that there is a lot less money around, the motorbikes are replaced by cycles, the way people dress was simpler.
The scenery was pleasant, I was thinking of staying a night in Kep, so I rode in that direction. As I was running out of water, and had no dollars or local currency on me, I stopped at an ATM for cash. Got $200 fast cash, got two $100 bills, that would be no use at all to buy a 12.5 cent bottle of water with! The ATM charged a $4 access fee, so I didn’t bother getting any more money out.
I decided not to stay in Kep, it looked nice, but I’d seen all I wanted of it from the bike, I decided to head the extra 15 km to Kampot, which is one of my favourite places in Asia. I had no water and only $100 notes, and typically the road got bad and very dusty.
Fortunately, there were a few garages about. I found that in Vietnam that all the garages had 20 litre bottles of water for their customers and were more than happy to let you top up your water bottles, some even gave me some free fruit J Fortunately it seems the same in Cambodia, a few smiles and friendly hellos and they are more than happy to give you some water. I was very thankful in this case.
Stage 10: Kampot to Takeo
December 1st 2015; Distance 87.12 km (54.1 miles). Total Distance: 823.5 km (511.7 miles)
As I mentioned above, Kampot is one of my favourite places in SE Asia. I especially like it in late afternoon as the sun is setting over the river. The view is pretty much how I imagined the Orient to be before I had ever visited: red skied sunsets over large rivers with tropically forested hills in the background, it really is beautiful.
The place has grown in size of ex-pat community and restaurants, number of visitors, and number (and sadly speed of) motorbikes since I had last visited. That said, I still think it has a few years left in it before it loses its peaceful demeanour; hopefully it won’t go the way of Sihanoukville and Siem Reap, where everyone is on the con, and become full of mafia controlled kids and mothers with drugged up babies aggressively begging everyone for money.
I intended to stay in Kampot for a couple of nights but ended up staying for four as I had a bit of a dodgy tummy. Still I was more than happy to extend my stay for a few days, I just made sure I avoided certain foods.
I was lucky enough to find a place that had home made wonton and noodles, served with duck: I was happy.
I set off to Takeo, mainly because it was about half way to Phnom Penh (where I was now headed to get a spoke on my rear wheel repaired). As I was still a bit weak from the dodgy stomach, I took the ride at a pretty steady pace. Towards the end, when I turned off route 2 onto a side road, the surface got very bad. I had my tyres quite lowly inflated to help protect my spokes so could not ride out the bumps very well, the last 10 km were very painful on my arms and I was tired, 38°C heat didn’t help. I was more than glad to get it over with.
Takeo was a nice enough place. Fairly quiet and I stayed at a nice place (Daunkeo Guest House: $13 air-con; $7 fan). The place is on a lake in the wet season, but at this time of year the water had subsided to wetland, it was interesting watching the people dig for shrimp, which seemed to be a popular option at the many street food BBQs, as I had had a bit of a dodgy stomach I opted to have Spag bolognaise and a couple of beers from Le petit Bistro, it was very good.
Stage 11: Takeo to Phnom Penh
December 2nd 2015; Distance 78.25 km (48.6 miles). Total Distance: 901.8 km (560.4 miles)
Today was a bad day. It set off well enough; the road was good through Takeo and for the first 15 km or so. Then it got busy, and I mean big fuck off lorry busy, minibus busy, SUV busy. It was also dusty. Not pleasant at all, but this was bearable.
Unfortunately about 25 km out of Phnom Penh I developed a little pain in my right knee. Five km later it was painful, I stopped at a café for 30 min. Another five km I was in agony. From then on I needed to stop about every kilometre. I was glad the surface improved towards Phnom Penh, as did the traffic, I just rode slowly, and by this stage I was mainly riding with my left leg and taking it very slow.
Eventually, I, painful knee, & bike, broken spoke got into town and booked into the first decent guesthouse I could find.
I stayed at the ‘Fancy Guest House’, it was $15 a night, not that bad as it was in a pretty decent location (quiet, easy to walk to the river). I ended up staying there for seven days. My knee was bad that day, but I could walk on it a lot better than I could ride on it. Next day there was no pain at all (walking, I did not ride the bike for five days).
The first thing I did in Phnom Penh was take the bike to be repaired, I did this at Vicious Cycle shop. As their prices were so reasonable, I decided to have a full strip down service done too; it would be daft not to, as our Dan would have said. I also picked up some extra spokes and a spoke wrench. It cost $30 all-in, and the bike looked like brand new, and was set up much better than it was by the Giant shop in Vietnam. I was happy. Their charges are shown in the photograph below. Highly recommended.
Now Phnom Penh, I first visited here in 1997 when I was backpacking with my friends Chris and Dan. It was cowboy country back then. I remember we had to register at the British embassy (down a dirt track somewhere). The city has changed a lot, largely for the better, but…
It is amazing the amount of SUVs you see driving around, especially Range Rovers, with the 110% import tax, these cost about $150,000. Now everywhere you look, you see poor people, yet there are so many SUVs, you have a feeling that it’s all based on corruption. A lot of SUVs are owned by NGOs, who pay themselves $60,000 a year, drive around in a brand new over the top car, and feel good about themselves, because they are helping out the poor. A lot are also owned by people in Government and those who do business (some legit, many stripping Cambodia’s assets).
The average monthly wage in Cambodia is $75 (and if you were unlucky enough to work in one of Wal-Mart’s factories then you would not even get paid your $60 salary owed in back pay when they shut their factories down to comply with human rights; but that’s another story). So to see cars worth $150,000 everywhere is quite bazaar; there really is a massive difference between the haves and have-nots here; more than anywhere I’ve seen, I dare say enough to eventually cause a revolution. I hope this is not the case, but I think it will need a major redistribution in wealth, payment of taxes, to bring the rich and poor closer together.
Phnom Penh itself is fine for a couple of days, its very busy, and walking the street I feel unsafe from traffic more than anywhere else that I have ever been to in SE Asia. The Tuk Tuks and SUVs own the road, and drive like jerks.
Stage 12: Phnom Penh to Oudong
December 10th 2015; Distance 52.87 km (32.8 miles). Total Distance: 954.6 km (593.2 miles)
It was the best of times it was the worst of times.
Getting out of Phnom Penh should have been simple, straight down to the river, then turn left. Unfortunately their was a religious procession going on, so I had to brave the interior Phnom Penh traffic (SUVs and Trikes doing what ever they feel like) and ride around for about 30 min until I could get back in the right direction; on hindsight I should have just watched the procession. I eventually got onto route 5, which I had to follow for 10 km, very busy road, lots of large vehicles.
After about 15 km I turned left onto the ‘Basith Mountain Road’, which is a road through the lake. It was at this point that my beautifully serviced, quiet as a mouse cycle hit a massive pothole (I’ve not worked out how to bunny hop with panniers yet) and since then I’ve had a clicking come from the back, oh well at least I have spare spokes and a spoke wrench now; I need to keep an eye on it, but can’t seem to find any super lose spoke to tighten up).
The ride was nice here, the road much quieter with pleasant views.
It then got better. I turned right, about 10 km later up the Udong Mountain Road. This was a dirt road of about 20 km going through tiny villages, and eventually back onto tarmac when approaching Phnom Udong mountain temple, of which you get nice views of from the dirt track ride.
I then reached Oudong, where I intended to stay the night (I decided to lower my distances a little to protect my knee; and to be honest most of my rides have involved some pain or other, especially in the last 10 km or so). I rode around for 20 minutes until I found a guesthouse; it is best described as a bit of a shithole ($6, fan, free insects). It was opposite a KTV, and I had a feeling that some of the rooms in the lower section, in a separate block, were used as short-term rooms, if you get what I mean. All that said, the shower wasn’t bad and it was glad to get rid of the fine red-dust that I was covered in.
I was thinking of going back to the temple, I could have rode there easily enough, but it was only about a four mile walk so I headed out, boy was it hot, I was soaked and for some reason my GPS wouldn’t pick up a signal so I was unsure of the way. I decided to call it a day after about two miles, one of which I think was slightly in the wrong direction, did I say it was hot; I was soaked.
Got back to the hotel, it was full of insects, gave the room a spray with some insect killer I picked up in ‘nam. Went for some food, it was dark now, the town was dreadful, it is mainly along rRoute 5, and there are no lights. Plenty of big wagons going by, blowing dust everywhere, lots of barking dogs. Found a place that did Chinese dumplings, bought some beer (and ice in the bag), went back to the room and watched a movie. Fortunately I was pretty tired from riding/walking so fell asleep quickly.
Stage 13: Oudong to Kampong Chhnang
December 11th 2015; Distance 51.65 km (32.1 miles). Total Distance: 1006.2 km (625.2 miles)
I followed Route 5 out of Oudong in the morning, more than glad to leave the scruffy guesthouse. The ride was not particularly that exciting though pleasant enough, fortunately there seemed to be less traffic on the road once I got out of Oudong town. It was pretty dusty though, a fine red dust, and I could feel that I was getting a bit of a sore throat.
I was planning on a rest day in Kampong Chhnang as I didn’t want to push my knee so much and I also wanted to see the floating Villages. I ended up staying six nights!
The day after I cycled in I woke up with a very sore throat and a little bit of a cold, nothing too serious.
I walked the three miles or so to the jetty (I’ve always enjoyed walking, it’s easy to get a tuk tuk/moto for about $1 if you prefer) and then had a lady take me for a ride on her boat for an hour to see the Vietnamese floating village ($5 for one hour). The river and the village were very pleasant and are well worth a visit, it is amazing how people can live their lives so differently; I especially liked that many of the floating houses also had floating gardens.
By the evening my cold was getting worse and I had developed a cough. I got something to eat and an hour later I was feeling absolutely knackered, I ended up going to bed at 7 pm and waking up at 10 am. By now all the muscles in my body were aching and I thought that I was developing flu, I didn’t seem to have a fever though (it is difficult to tell when it is 39°C outside anyway), and I didn’t have headache and sore eyes (nor have I gone on to develop a rash) so I don’t think it’s the Dengue (which I think I’ve had a mild case of in the past). After a few days the pain in my muscles subsided and I had a little ride around town (10 km or so, very leisurely pace). Next day I was still full of a cough, runny nose, sore throat, but feeling much better energy wise.
So my two nights in Kampong Chhnang turned into six; the Cambodian legs of my trip seem to be very start-stop.
I weighed myself at Kampong Chhnang and had lost 6 kg. I was pretty happy about this as I thought that all of the prolonged stops, coupled with western food and beer, may have had me stuck around the 4 kg loss mark (measured in Can Tho), especially as I do not appear to have lost anymore off my waist (as this is the only place I bothered to measure, I’m guessing the weight has been lost from other areas, especially just above the waist, chest, and legs).
Recently I seem to have spent more time still than riding. I was fairly relaxed with just a few rides in Phu Quoc over six days due to the broken spoke; I had four nights in Kampot; seven nights enforced rest in Phnom Penh because of my knee; and six nights in Kampong Chhnang as I had cold, nearly a flu, some sort of bug anyway.
Stage 14: Kampong Chhnang to Krakor
December 17th 2015; Distance 63.45 km (39.4 miles). Total Distance: 1069.7 km (664.7 miles)
Glad to be on the bike again after six days of being ill. Still not feeling 100% but wanted to get things going again.
Once I got away from the main towns the road was much quieter, this made for nice cycling. I was feeling strong and thinking of going beyond my target town of Krakor and on to the next main town.
My first puncture, back wheel. I lazily replaced the tube under a tree in the shade, and then just cycled the next few km to Krakor and called it a day.
Stayed at the Paris guesthouse, bit basic but clean enough: $6.
Stage 15: Krakor to Pursat (via Kampong Luong Floating Village)
December 18th 2015; Distance 41.77 km (25.9 miles). Total Distance: 1111.5 km (690.7 miles)
It was only a short ride to Pursat so I decided to first ride down the dirt road from Krakor to the Kampong Luong Floating Village.
I’d already done a boat trip out to the floating villages at Kampong Chhnang (and it was quite a painful experience on a very hard seat) so I decided just to ride down to the village. I was so glad I did. There must have been 1000 kids shouting and waving at me along the way, and probably a hundred adults too. Got to the outskirts of the village, took some pictures, had my cycle inspected by some locals.
I then rode on to Pursat, which is not a bad little town.
I was a little disappointed that a Pizza place, that got rave reviews on Trip Advisor had closed for renovation Still, I managed to find another pizza place so my cravings went answered. Stayed a night, found a nice coffee shop.
I quite like Pursat, not much there to see and do, but the place has a nice feel to it. I stayed at the Phnom Pech Hotel, good value at $8 for a fan room (it’s was quite cold at night so no need of air-con here).
Stage 16: Pursat to Battambang
December 20th 2015; Distance 107.80 km (67.0 miles). Total Distance: 1219.3 km (757.6 miles)
I had been dreading this ride. It was far the longest I’d done since injuring my knee and being ill. I’m glad to say that despite a light head wind for most of the way the ride went pretty well. I got pretty tired at about 60 km, but a can of coke sorted that out (I usually avoid soda, but it don’t half give you an energy boost when you are cycling). My knee began to hurt at about the 95 km mark, but nothing as serious as on my approach to Phnom Penh.
There were a few nice temples along the way, especially at Moung Ruessei.
There was a guest house there too, so could have stopped overnight if I had needed.
Stage 17: Battambang to Pailin
December 23rd 2015; Distance 104.42 km (64.9 miles). Total Distance: 1323.7km (822.5 miles)
Mmh, this was meant to be an 80 km ride. I took the wrong road and ended up doing an extra 25 km, and adding about 40 km of dirt roads to the journey.
What can I say it was a fantastic ride.
As I was off the main route I don’t think people were used to seeing cyclists, especially the kids. They usually shout and wave at you in Cambodia, here they look at you and when I waved and shouted hello they all screamed in excitement and then started giggling hysterically, often running off to their parents to tell them about the great adventure they had just had.
This area is very interesting. It was one of the last strong-holds of the Khmer Rouge; it is close to the Thai border, is known for its gems (mainly Sapphires and Rubies; the same stone: corundum), and has mountains close by to hide in.
Fortunately there has been a big effort to clear away land mines in this area. The effort is still on-going and as recently as 2013 there were 111 casualties from land mines in Cambodia. Very very sad.
The roads were pretty bad in this area and I managed to break another spoke. Despite having three spare spokes and a tool I could not fix it as it was on the cog side of the back wheel and I don’t have a tool to remove the cog. I will need the services of a bike shop once again.
After travelling fifty odd kilometres I re-joined the road to Pailin, about 25 km from Battamburg.
The road was mainly uphill for the next 45 km, and then a nice few km of much needed downhill into town.
I stayed at a new hotel that had just opened (Palin City Hotel, on the left hand side as you head to Thailand, just across from the market). They gave me a room for $15 a night, as they did not yet have many guests. It was an excellent deal, more like a $60 room with great views up to the temple and of the mountain. I was happy and tired. I spent the next day in Pailin, spent an hour or so exploring Wat Phnom Yat.
The main Stupa/Pagoda is very beautiful with bells atop chiming gently in the wind, truly wonderful.
Stage 18: Pailin to Chanthaburi (Thailand)
December 25th 2015; Distance 87.84 km (54.6 miles). Total Distance: 1411.5km (877 miles)
If you are not with family and friends then cycling your bike from one country to another is probably one of the best ways that you can spend Christmas day, and you get to lose weight to boot.
An undulating ride to the Thai border with beautiful views of the mountains in the background. This was one of the easiest and friendliest border crossings I’ve ever had in SE Asia. Both the Cambodian and Thai officials were all smiles as they processed my passport.
I then rode on upwards towards Pong Nam Ron.
According to Strava the road went up, down, then up again for another 150 m in height. The road started going down and down. As I was getting closer to town I was beginning to get a bit despondent thinking that I’m going to end up going up a 1 in 10 slope or something. But it never came, and I arrived in Pong Nam Ron wondering what the fuck had happened to the hill. As the rest of the ride was as expected from the profile I can only think that the height of the road around the Thai/Cambodian border is much much higher than what Strava has it as.
I arrived at Pong Nam Ron needing food, and there it was, my first Thai 7-11 of this trip, only one thing for it: a cheese and ham toasty, 390 calories of pure joy (especially after a few beers (or in this case a few miles)).
After a rest, I headed down to Chanthaburi, which included a nice 200 metre drop over a few km, I got chased by a dog, as I was going at 60 kph it wasn’t an issue.
The road then flattened and I had a pleasurable ride to the gem town of Chanthaburi. An interesting place for a night. It has a beautiful cathedral (I can’t recall seeing any other cathedrals in Thailand, there probably are others), but it was the hundreds of gem shops that were more interesting; these were mainly occupied by traders sat at desks (a lot of middle easterners) inspecting stones (again it was the Sapphire/Ruby that caught my eye, but lots of other less valuable gems too) that the locals had collected. This is meant to be a great place to buy gems, lots and lots of shops selling polished stones and jewellery. I know nothing about gems (well I have an A level in Geology so I know a little bit I suppose) so I did not buy, though I did check out a sapphire necklace for my mum. Sorry, maybe another time mum.
Cambodia Round Up
Thoughts: I enjoyed cycling the minor roads in Cambodia immensely. Unfortunately, most the time you need to travel on main roads as they are the only point-to-point options. The lorry drivers usually give you plenty of room but the minibus and SUV drivers go crazy fast, often coming at you in your lane and overtaking on blind corners like complete dickheads. The roads are also very dusty.
Weight Loss: Now lost 8.1 kg.
Things lost: Sony headphones at a Phnom Penh café
Things repaired: 1 Spoke, 1 puncture.
Things broken: Another spoke (Sprocket side – needs a special tool/bike shop to repair).
Total Distance of trip including ride abouts/sightseeing: 1565.5 km (972.8miles).
Total distance since buying bike (includes training in Mui Ne): 1970.7 km (1224.5 miles).