Janice, Megan & Irma's tour:
Thailand - Cambodia - Thailand
(1 669km - 54days)
(334km - 5days)
20 January - Jomtien – Phale Beach – 60 km
After three days of organising bikes and panniers, we were finally off. I always find cycle touring a kaleidoscope of colour, sounds, smells and sights. Today was no different and I think it can be overwhelming for a person on their first day of cycling. Although our ride was only 60 kilometres, our route was filled with an abundance of interesting sights. Our first stop for the day was at Ban Chak Ngaeo. Ban Chak Ngaeo is a community of Thai Chinese who still maintain their traditional lifestyle. The amazing thing is that there are two cinemas in this tiny settlement. We cycled out of the village in the direction of the enormous Wat Yansangwararam temple complex. The complex is set in a vast park, housing several buildings of very different architectural styles, as well as well-kept gardens and a large lake, making for a peaceful setting.
From there, we followed small roads in the direction of the coast and eventually landed up at Phale Beach. After asking around, we found a guest house right on the ocean where we could sit wriggling our toes in the sand. We straightaway dipped into the lukewarm water of the Gulf of Thailand. At sunset, we took a walk along the beach and watched the sun set while fishermen were preparing their boats to go out to see. We ended up at a local restaurant with tables on the sand and we, once again, sat wriggling our toes in the sand. The food was delicious, and we sat watching the moon rise over the ocean. Well done to Janice who did amazingly well on her first day of riding.
21 January - Phale Beach – Ban Phe – 60 km
After a quick swim, we were on our way again. We made our way through the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate. Thailand’s largest industrial estate and the world’s eighth largest petrochemical hub. We followed the coast for most of the day past long stretches of idyllic beaches with hardly anyone there. Along the way, we stopped for coconut juice and sat watching the ocean while digging out the soft coconut inside the shell.
Around midday, we reached Rayong but continued along the coast until we reached the coastal village of Ban Phe. In Ban Phe, we found a room and took a walk to the pier where boats carted people to and from the nearby Ko Samet. The town is mostly known for seafood processing, mainly fish sauce and it was, therefore, no wonder that fishing boats were anchored three to four deep along the many piers. It was an early evening as Janice came down with a cold and did not feel well.
22 January - Ban Phe – Kung Witman Beach – 70 km
We had a slow start to the day but eventually got underway and followed the coastal road for another day. It was a lovely ride as we stuck close to the ocean for most of the morning, stopping every so often to fill up with water or just enjoying the view. We cycled across bridges where we could see a large number of fishing boats anchored along the banks. The road was in a good condition and, although not a main road, it had a dedicated cycle lane for most of the way.
As in the previous days, we were amazed at the large number of units available, either for sale or to let. Eventually, we reached pretty Kung Wiman Beach where we found a room across the road from the beach. We had hardly offloaded our panniers and we were drifting in the ocean. We sat watching the sunset over the Gulf of Thailand and what an impressive display it was.
23 January - Kung Wiman Beach – Chantaburi – 61 km
I first went for my morning jog that took me over two small hills to a beautiful viewpoint and then on to a tiny fishing village. Back in the room, Janice was busy packing up, and it was already late by the time we were ready to leave. It was another marvellous day of cycle touring as we followed the road past fish farms and more of Thailand’s idyllic beaches. Along the way, we stopped for a bite to eat as I had no breakfast and was starting to feel somewhat peckish. Along the way, we met Kim, a cycle tourer, whom I met on Facebook. Kim was heading in the opposite direction and, after chatting for a while, we each headed off on our own path again.
Then it was on to Chantaburi where King Taksin rallied the troops here after the fall of Ayutthaya. We first stopped at a local bicycle shop to fit mirrors on our bicycles. Just as we crossed the Chantaburi River, we spotted the River Guesthouse. The rooms were reasonably priced and the perfect spot for us to overnight. Later that evening, we took a walk to the night market, via Sri Chan road, well-known as the Gem Road for trading gems and jewellery. It is one of the big gem markets in Thailand. The night market did not disappoint and we found an abundance of food stalls to choose from.
24 January - Chantaburi – Ban Phakkat – 83 km
We left Chantaburi via the Historic market, the oldest part of the city. We cycled down the narrow lanes, and it felt that we were transported back in time. We cycled past old wooden shophouses, red Chinese lanterns and stalls selling interesting eats. Soon we found ourselves on a rural road heading in the direction of Khao Khitchakut National Park and the Khao Bunjob Waterfall. The way to the waterfall was far hillier than expected. It was, however, a beautiful and peaceful area but minus any waterfall. We spotted a Buddhist temple and road on the opposite bank of the small river and instead of cycling back the way we came, we tried to get across, bikes and all. A short walk upstream revealed a path through the forest as well as a suspension bridge. We dragged, pushed and pulled the bikes through the forest and across the suspension bridge. We were delighted to find a much easier road and freewheeled back to the main road.
Once on the main road, we encountered a rather steep pass over the mountain, but at a slow and steady pace, we reached the top. Shortly afterwards, we turned off in the direction of the Ban Phakkat border. After all those hills I wanted to give Janice more uplifting news and mentioned that the road to Bam Phakkat should be more level except for a few small humps. Janice, afterwards, claimed that the camel had at least 12 huge humps!
Ban Phakkat is a rather low-key border crossing, and we were happy to find a bungalow at the entrance of town for 400 TB. It was a tough day on the road and Janice did exceptionally well to make it up and over those hills and all the way to Phakkat.
(1 320km - 41days)
25 January - Ban Phakkat, Thailand – Pailin, Cambodia – 20 km
We biked the short distance to the border where we first had a breakfast of noodle soup and omelette before continuing to the immigration office. At first, we had some difficulty in finding the departure office for our exit stamp as a massive and brand spanking new building loomed in front of us, but not a single office was occupied. We were pointed to a pre-fab building where we got stamped out of Thailand. Then it was off to the Cambodian immigration where we purchased a visa for 1500 Thai Baht, something that should have cost only 1000 TB. Welcome to Cambodia.
Janice did not feel her usual energetic self as she was suffering from a cold as well as an upset stomach. We slowly made our way up the hill until we reached our first town in Cambodia. The inviting-looking sign for the Bamboo Guesthouse caught our eye. On closer inspection, we found lovely bungalows, a swimming pool and a top-class restaurant, all in a beautiful setting between bougainvillaea. The price for the room was the “exorbitant” sum of $12. We were more than happy to offload our bikes and take a rest day.
The restaurant served the most delicious food, and we could not believe our luck as we scoffed huge plates of wholesome Cambodian cuisine, all washed down with an Angkor beer. We still had no Cambodian Riel but, fortunately, got away by paying with Thai baht, all making for a comfortable and relaxing day, albeit its history. Pailin is known as the area where many of the Khmer Rouge leaders came from and retreated after their fall. It is said that almost 70 per cent of the area's older men were fighters for the Khmer Rouge but, unfortunately, none have yet been brought to justice.
26 January - Pailin - Sdao – 60 km
We first stopped in the village to get new SIM cards for our phones. Janice also wanted to get a blanket for the nights we camped and, on the way, we spotted a pharmacy where we picked up an entire box of Royal-D – the local oral rehydrate.
Then it was back on the village roads, and we bumped along a dirt track to the delight of the locals. At water stops people could not believe their eyes and stared in disbelief at the two farangs on bicycles. Our back-road eventually spat us out on the main road from where it was easy riding to Sdao. Roadside stalls never fail to amaze. The earliest horseshoe crab fossils date back to roughly 450 million years ago. An interesting fact is that horseshoe crabs use hemocyanin to carry oxygen through their blood. Because of the copper present in hemocyanin, their blood is blue. Then there are the very popular grilled chicken tails and, of course, the ever-present mice, rats and squirrels.
Janice was still not feeling well, and we made it a short day camping at the Buddhist temple in Sdao. Supper was somewhat of a disaster as I took a walk to the shops while Janice set up her tent. I found cup noodles and the famous Cambodian baguette. Sadly, Janice found the cup noodles to spicy and did not enjoy the strange variety of ingredients on the baguette.
27-28 January - Sdao – Moung Ruessei – 68 km
We left while the monks were still chanting their prayers. Outside the temple gates, and in a typical Cambodian setting, we found the lady selling pork pau. I had the feeling that the entire village came to watch two farangs having breakfast. With dust swirling around us, we continued along a dirt road past naked-neck chickens and barebum kids playing in the dirt.
As we were overtaken by carts carrying monks under yellow umbrellas, I realised just how foreign we must seem to rural Cambodians. The cultural gap appeared even more significant as I watched old ladies shuffle along the dusty road, while others sold beef feet or carried large piles of hay on their heads to waiting wooden carts. We chose a very rural area to cycle and found village houses on stilts where cattle are still kept in the front yard.
By then we had enough of the bumpy, dusty road and headed for the main road where we passed carts laden with pottery. We called it a day in Moung Ruessei as Janice was still unwell. Covered in dust, we found the very comfortable Kheang Oudom Hotel with swimming pool and all the necessary facilities. We wasted no time to dip our dusty bodies in their pristine pool. I had to smile at our fortune as we sat sipping a Cambodian beer on one of their comfortable deckchairs.
We were so comfortable that we also spent the following day in Moung Ruessei.
The reason I'm dragging Janice to Phnom Penh is to meet Megan and Erma for a cycle ride around Cambodia. Both Megan and Erma hail from Namibia. I cannot imagine two more contrasting countries than Cambodia and Namibia. Namibia is a desert country and the driest country in Sub-Saharan Africa, whereas Cambodia has a tropical climate. Namibia measures 825 419 square kilometres and has a population of 2 620 000. Cambodia on the other hand only measures 189 000 square kilometres with a population of 16 382 000. The average rainfall in Phnom Penh is 1407 mm per year where in Windhoek it is a mere 370 mm. Megan is a photographer (see https://www.24atlantic.com). Erma is an avid hiker, so there are sure to be some hiking along the way. Watch this space!
29-30 January - Moung Ruessei – Pursat – 62 km
We followed the main road to Pursat, something that never makes for interesting riding. Janice’s backside needed a rest and it was more comfortable going on a paved road than on the bumpy dirt roads. Nothing of interest happened along the way and we soon arrived in Pursat, capital of Pusat province. Our room only cost us $8, which we considered a bargain. Janice once again picked up the tab for the room and I thanked her for her generosity. We took a walk to the busy market area that was a jumble of stalls, colour, bodies and motorbikes.
We also stayed in laidback Pursat the following day as Janice felt unusually tired. Pursat is an old railway town and we took a walk to the railway station, but the old station building had been demolished. Then it was back to the market where we looked for cooler clothes for cycling, not an easy task in Cambodia where people are so tiny. There is not much to do in Pusat but eat. Although there are many interesting restaurants and street stalls, ordering food remained a problem as we cannot speak the language.
31 January - Phnom Penh
We were out of time and took the bus to Phnom Penh. I wanted to get there before Megan and Erma arrived. We found a room at the Golden Boat Guest House/Khmer Village Hostel. Although not the cleanest of places, it was reasonably priced at $15 for a large twin room. We took a walk to the waterfront and later went for a beer with Dan, Chop and Teressa. It’s always a pleasure to see them again and we chatted away for a good few hours.
The following day was spent wandering around town, not doing very much except for visiting the central market and looking for a bike shop where Janice wanted to purchase an inner tube.
1 February - Phnom Penh
I went for my morning jog, something I always thoroughly enjoy in Phnom Penh. The riverfront makes a perfect running route, and there is always something of interest to see. Afterwards, I met up with Janice, and we took a walk to the local supermarket. We weaved our way through the bumper to bumper traffic, and one can only stand in awe of the patience drivers have. As always, we walked in the road, trying our level best not to get knocked down as the pavement is taken up with stall owners, motorbikes and baguette sellers. The baguette remains a favourite food in Cambodia.
I find it remarkable that in this chaos it is possible to round a corner and find a peaceful temple with large grounds, old trees and colourful monks. That evening, we took a walk along the riverfront and watched the sunset over the city. Monks returned to the monastery, pigeons flew home in a golden sky, and ferries carried passengers to the other side of the Mekong River. We sat on a low wall overlooking the river and watched as a multitude of boats took visitors on a sunset cruise. Then it was off to the night market where there is always a large selection to choose from.
2 February - Phnom Penh
Megan and Erma finally arrived in Phnom Penh. As it was already after 5 p.m., there was little time to do anything of note. We did, however, take a walk to the river where we strolled along with other Khmers who came out to do their daily exercises.
The Tonle Sap River connects the Tonle Sap Lake to the Mekong River and the two rivers meet at Phnom Penh. We sat watching the river flow past as it makes for a cool place to watch both locals and foreigners enjoying the cooler evening air.
Later that evening, we popped into the night market for a bite to eat. The market is a place where one can pick delicacies from the many stalls and then eat it while sitting on mats provided for that purpose. As expected, it was an early night for my guests as they left Namibia 24 hours earlier and were, understandably, dead tired.
3 February - Phnom Penh
Together with my jetlagged friends, I was up at the crack of dawn to take a walk towards the Royal Palace and to make the best use of the early morning light. It is always a pleasure to be out at that time of the morning. As Kipling said in his poem, the sun came up like thunder as we strolled along and past the very popular Preah Ang Dorngkeu Shrine where people come to pray for good luck. Even at that early hour, devotees where already lighting and burning candles.
We wandered around the grounds of Wat Ounalom, the headquarters of Cambodian Buddhism. It was founded in 1443 and I understand that the head of the country’s Buddhist brotherhood lives on site. Behind the main building is a stupa, said to contain an eyebrow hair of the Buddha.
Then it was time for breakfast and to reassemble the bicycles. After the bikes were up and running, Megan and Erma went by tuk-tuk to visit the sites around the city. Janice and I did a few outstanding chores and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the river for our sunset cruise. We bought a few beers and boarded a ferry that was accessed via a rather narrow gangplank. It is always a pleasure to spend an hour or so on the river. Our supper was an interesting affair as we did it in true Khmer style by ordering various dishes and sharing the food amongst the four of us. The frog was delicious, and so were the salad spring rolls and other dishes.
4 February – Phnom Penh to Koh Dock - 52 km
Preparations for Chinese New Year (5 February) were in full swing as we cycled out of Phnom Penh in the direction of Koh Dach, or Silk Island. Koh Dach is located at the confluence of the Tonle River and the Mekong. It was a cycle ride of about 9 kilometres to the ferry, a route that took us through typical Cambodian suburbs, with wooden houses on stilts, where wooden carts are still pulled by manpower. People shouted “Happy New Year!” from their doorways while others burned offerings of paper money for those who had already passed on. The temples were hives of activity as villagers brought large quantities of food for the monks.
Eventually, we reached the ferry, and a short ride brought as to the island known for its silk weaving. Cambodia has a lengthy silk-weaving history, and I believe it stretches back to pre-Angkorian times. Although the art is dwindling, Koh Dach is dotted with weaving communities. We met a woman who offered to take us to her home where they spin silk items manually. We watched as they went about their trade, and I, for one, was in awe of their ability to weave such intricate patterns.
We followed the country road around the island, stopping for coconut juice. The lady skilfully hacked the coconuts open with a machete, after which we eagerly drank the water. Once finished, we handed them back to the vendor, who cracked them open and crafted spoons from the side so we could scrape out the coconut meat within. Delicious. We continued along the rural road past small kids, who looked somewhat apprehensive of us. Later, we stopped for a light lunch of pork pau and ice cream, and then it was back to the ferry via a slightly dusty road.
Erma discovered that her seat was broken, and there was nothing we could do but hail a tuk-tuk to take her back to the guesthouse. On arrival at the guesthouse, Erma and I headed to the bike shop, but it was closed due to Chinese New Year being the following day. We cycled to the next one but found that also closed. Our third stop was a lucky one as they were still open and could replace the seat stem. Then, it was back to the guesthouse for a shower before we headed to the night market.
5 February – Phnom Penh – Oudong(k) – 52 km
We left Phnom Penh on Chinese New Year and headed in the direction of Oudonk. It was a surprisingly easy ride out of crazy Phnom Penh, and I was impressed with how well my friends handled the traffic, something that can be rather intimidating for newcomers.
Soon, we found ourselves on smaller roads where we stopped at interesting brick-making kilns. Our route took us past rural areas where kids still rode a “broom-horse” or played “kick the flip-flop”, a game I still cannot quite figure out. Roadside stalls sold tamarind and lotus seeds, something that turned out not to be as tasty as expected. To the surprise of one roadside stall owner four women on bicycles stopped and ordered noodle soup. The soup was delicious albeit prepared with instant noodles. We forgave them as it was, after all, Chinese New Year.
With renewed energy, we set off and soon found the remarkable Wat Sowann Thamareach. This is not your traditional wat but appeared to be a copy of an ancient temple. The buildings were exquisite with amazing light inside. The temple seemed little known, but it was absolutely worth exploring.
Then it was back on the bikes along a dirt road to Phnom Udong, a hill topped by the spires of stupas like some fairy castle. The stupas on the main hill house the remains of past kings and stunning views greeted us once we reached the top of the hill. Vistas like that seldom come without first having to ascend a few stairs. My friends took the stairs in their stride and never complained once about being dragged up a hill after a day on the bicycle.
Once back on the main road, it was a short ride to Oudonk where we found a guesthouse that served our purpose just fine. The fact that there was a restaurant just across the road made it an easy choice. So came to an end our first day of riding. Kudus to Janice, Megan and Erma who cycled like seasoned cycle tourers, never complaining even when the road was in poor condition.
6-7 February - Oudongk – Kampong Chhnang – 55 km
On waking up, we discovered that our room had been invaded by ants. Just about everything was covered in ants from my delicious snacks to the towel. I dressed quickly to take my panniers outside, only to discover that I had not only the proverbial ants in my pants but real ones as well. I promptly ripped them off but by that time I was already covered in ant bites! Phew! We headed out following the main road that was busier than what I remembered from previous times. The lack of smaller roads made us stay on the main road, only turning off once to follow a dirt road that ran through the countryside.
On rounding a corner, Megan slipped in the loose sand and fell into a ditch next to the road. Before she could dust herself off, the entire village was there to help. Fortunately, all was well except for a dirty bum. Not much further along the way, we stopped in the shade to drink coconut water. As always, the lady hacked it open for us so we could scoop out the soft flesh inside. Janice wanted to give the “hacking open” a try but instead nearly chopped her thumb off! Clearly, she needs lots more machete practice. We cleaned and bandaged it as best we could and then cycled on to Kampong Chhnang.
In Kampong Chhnang we found a room at the Garden Guesthouse, a real travellers lodge. Janice and I caught a tuk-tuk to the local health care where they cleaned her wound and re-bandaged it. During the evening we discussed staying on another day to allow Janice to get an anti-tetanus injection and to have a look at the nearby floating village.
The following morning, we were up early to visit the health care centre where Janice got the necessary injection. Better safe than sorry. Janice, Megan and Erma took a boat to the floating village, and I returned to the room to see to some chores. Most of the rest of the day was spent eating and relaxing.
8 February – Kampong Chhnang – Ponley – 55 km
Shortly after leaving we cycled through the pottery village of Andoung Russey. As Chhnang means pottery in Khmer one can expect to find pottery in the area. Andoung Russey is a small rural village where one can see pots stacked high under stilted homes. We stopped at various home industries and found the process fascinating and very photogenic. We clicked away for quite a while, then waved the families goodbye and headed further north. We cycled past the old Khmer Rouge abandoned airport, a complex built by the KR with the help of Chinese engineers. I understand that the airport has never been used and that it is still in good condition. We did not explore.
We followed country roads past villages where people still pumped water from wells. Along the way, we spotted a young man scrambling up a rickety bamboo ladder fixed to a sugar palm tree. It appeared that containers are left in the tree overnight and that the full containers are then collected in the morning. I was offered a sip and, at first, was somewhat apprehensive, but tasted it anyhow. It was sweet and surprisingly delicious. I read that the juice is boiled to make palm sugar.
We cycled past rice drying and the ever-present Buddhist temples. Farmers herd cattle along the dusty road and both kids and parents looked up in surprise as four foreign women cycled past on loaded bicycles. Even the village dogs were too surprised to give chase.
At a roadside stall, we stopped for watermelon which the lady cut up for us (we did not allow Janice anywhere close to the knife). The watermelon was served with a side plate of sugar, salt and chillies, a rather unusual combination. Then it was on to the tiny village of Ponley where we arrived in the heat of the day. We were happy to find a guesthouse with air-con to relax for the rest of the day.
9 February – Ponely – Kampong Luong floating Village – 35 km
We left Ponely in the company of krama-clad ladies on bicycles and found roadside stalls selling fruit we had never seen before. Milk fruit or star apple is a round purple fruit with a soft inside and a vague blueberry taste. Other stalls sold the sugar discs made from sugar palm juice or fermented vegetables and dried buffalo meat. As it was weekend, we came across many wedding ceremonies. It appeared that the entire wedding party was dressed in matching, brightly-coloured sild costumes.
Once in Krakor, we turned off the road in the direction of Kampong Luong. A few kilometres down the road we found boats waiting to take people to and from the village. We organised to leave our bicycles at their “office” and we hopped on a boat that took us through the many floating homes to a homestay. It was a unique experience as we were pointed to a room with a mattress on the floor and a mosquito net. We sat on the veranda, watching in amazement as life went on in this floating village. It appeared that kids who could hardly walk could quite comfortably row a boat. Kampong Luong is like any other village, with shops, petrol stations, schools, temples and a police station. The only difference is that everything floats. We were astonished to see that the water is used for just about everything, from having a bath to doing dishes and laundry. At the same time, everything also seems to go into the water.
It was a fascinating insight into the lives of the people who live there.
10 February – Kampong Luong – Pursat – 65 km
First thing in the morning, the boat taxi collected us and dropped us where we left the bicycles. Right from the start, we were on rural roads and we cycled past scrawny white cows and ornate temples. Houses on stilts sold petrol by the litre in coke bottles while others were busy dehusking rice. Small stalls sold water and penny line sweets while others offered noodle soup and something stronger than water.
It was a hot and dusty day on the road, and we were soon covered in red dust from head to toe. We stopped at just about every stall to fill up with water. By the time we met the ice cream man, we were as excited as the local kids and lined up with them to wait our turn. We were more than happy to cycle into Pursat where we found a hotel that even had a bathtub!
11 February – Pursat – Moung Ruessei – 62 km
First thing in the morning, we explored an old and spooky brickmaking factory, making for an interesting start to the day. We watched as monks and their helpers collected food. The monks do not speak, even to say thank you. The giving of alms is not thought of as charity. The giving and receiving of alms create a spiritual connection between the monastic and lay communities. Laypeople have a responsibility to support the monks physically, and the monks have an obligation to support the community spiritually.
We continued along the main road, stopping at a temple for a quick break and found an interesting monastery with boy monks. We snapped a few shots, but the young monks were very shy. As always, we stopped not only to fill up with water but also to sample food offered at the roadside stalls. The favourite seemed to be the fruit, especially the pineapple which was sweeter than usual and very tasty.
On arriving in Moung Ruessei, we found the Oudom Hotel with a lovely pool and could not be happier. Later that evening, we had supper at a local restaurant next to the hotel and met Steve, a friendly Cambodian that not only bought us beer but also proceeded to pay for our meal. Thank you, Steve. It was much appreciated.
12-13 February - Moung Ruessei – Battambang – 86 km
We left our very comfortable accommodation early in anticipation of a long day on the road. Instead of taking the main road we headed inland, but our paved road soon disappeared and turned into a somewhat rough and bumpy dirt road. Still, it was an interesting ride with the odd temple and villagers going about their daily duties. We came upon an old rice mill that looked interesting and we went inside to inspect. Inside there were a fascinating array of shoots, funnels, gears and belts.
Not much further along the road, we found a lady selling grilled rats and bought one for a mere 1 000 Riel ($0.25 US). Everyone tried a piece and we all agreed that it was delicious and better than chicken. The meat was tender and had a faint barbeque taste. I was impressed that even Megan tried a small piece albeit under the impression that it was a squirrel. Once we confirmed it was a rat, she politely declined another portion of tender thigh!
We realised that the ride was going to be far too slow and we headed back to the main road making for a rather unnecessary 20 kilometres. Once on the main road, we picked up a stiff tailwind and made good use of it. Not much further we turned off again and headed in the direction of Banan. Again, our good road came to an end, but we had no option than to persevere until we reached Banan with its ancient hilltop temple. We inspected this Angkor-era mountaintop temple, said to have been constructed between the 11th century and 12th century. Construction was started by King Ut Tak Yea Tit Tya Varman II (1050-1066) and completed by King Jayavarman VII (1181-1219). From Banan temple, it was an easy 22 kilometres to Battambang where we bunked down at the Royal Hotel.
The following morning, we took a tuk-tuk ride to the outlying Ek Phnom Temple, stopping at the rice paper makers where we also ate delicious and freshly made spring rolls. At sunset, we watched a gazillion bats fly out of their cave in search of food. A truly exceptional sight.
14 February – Battambang – Siem Reap – By boat 14 km
We were up unusually early to get the boat to Siem Reap across the Tonle Sap Lake. Previously, it was a short and uncomplicated cycle to the ferry pier, but this time the water was far too shallow, and it took a 50 kilometre tuk-tuk ride to get us to the boat. Although a fascinating trip, it was a very long day on a boat and we were happy to reach the end of our trip and get back on the bikes.
We cycled the short distance into touristy Siem Reap where we found the Jiu Yan Wu Angkor Hotel at only $20 for a twin room with a pool and including breakfast! We thought it a bargain and booked in for three nights. That evening we took a walk into the tourist Pub Street where we not only ate but also did a wee bit of shopping.
15 February – Siem Reap
The previous night we organised a tuk-tuk with Mr Lam for $30. The tour included the Angkor temples, bringing us back at midday as well as returning to Bayon Temple for sunset. It was a pleasure to have Megan with us as she guided us through shooting inside temples. I will be forever grateful to her for showing me the light! That evening we found a bottle of wine which we polished off before even going for supper, all making for a rather fun evening.
16 February - Siem Reap
We were somewhat templed out, and instead of revisiting the temples, we slept late. I went for a run, and we later met up for breakfast. We had a lazy day while each went off in their respective directions. The previous night’s wine gave us a taste of the good times and we took another bottle with us to the local restaurant across the road. Needless to say, it was a fun evening.
17 February – Siem Reap – Svay Leu temple. – 67 km
After a good breakfast at our hotel, we cycled out of Siem Reap. It took us no time at all to find a rural road which led us through tiny villages and seldom visited areas. We met ladies carting toddlers (to school?) in a homemade wooden cart. We shared the dirt road with pot salesmen, tuk-tuks and ladies walking their cattle to greener pastures. We stopped to eat boiled corn that was being sold by the side of the road and we popped into a temple where monks were preparing to have their midday meal.
Eventually, we landed up in Svay Leu where we asked permission to sleep at the local temple. It was a fascinating experience with monks preparing for Meak Bochea. Meak Bochea is a religious holiday in Cambodia commemorating Buddha's final sermon. To the surprise of the villagers, we walked down the road to a local restaurant where we, after a lengthy discussion and sign language, ordered noodle soup.
18 February - Svay Leu Temple – Preah Vihear – 98 km
I can’t say that we had a peaceful night’s sleep as the temple dogs howled for most of the night. Temple music played for what felt like the entire night. Early morning, the chickens started crowing, something that got the dogs howling again. I guess it was time to get up! We had an earlier than usual start and first stopped for breakfast that consisted of another bowl of noodle soup.
We knew we had a long day ahead of us and we did what we had to do. Fortunately, it was a cloudy day making for easy cycling. As always, we stopped numerous times to fill up with water.
We did not have as many as usual picture stops but, instead, kept our heads down and headed for Preah Vihear. Fortunately, it was an overcast day making for easy cycling. We passed large cashew nut plantations where these odd fruits were in the process of getting ripe. In fact, most of the area we cycled through was either planted under cashew nuts or were cashew nut nurseries.
19 February – Preah Vihear – Chhaeb - 57 km
We had a slow start to the morning and first had a breakfast of rice porridge before heading out. Our first stop of the day was at the local Buddhist temple where Meak Bochea was being celebrated. Locals brought food to the temple and monks and nuns were sitting on mats, enjoying the feast.
We thanked the monks and headed out of town on a somewhat desolate stretch of road. Not much was happening, and we made good time, only stopping to fill up with water. It was a hot day, and even the local motorbike salesmen pulled off the road for a rest in the shade. We, however, continued and reached Chhaeb early. We found a local guesthouse that provided reasonable accommodation for the night. A short walk down the road brought us to the local temple where the monks were not only chanting but where there was a small fanfare in progress. We hung around waiting for the moon to rise as it was a full moon, but nothing came of our full moon photoshoot as it was a far too hazy evening. On our way back, we stopped at a street-side eatery where we had a beer and ate fried noodles and fried rice.
20 February – Chhaeb – Stung Treng – 88 km
We woke early and made a turn at the local temple but it was already too late to get any decent pictures (Megan went much earlier and was very excited about the pics she took), and we continued onto Stung Treng. It was easy cycling, and the weather was in our favour. The tarmac was excellent and the route gently undulated, just enough to keep the boredom at bay.
Once in Strung Treng, we booked into the Golden River hotel, situated right on the river. We considered it a bargain at $20 for a room with air-con and a river view.
21 February – Stung Treng – Kratie – by minivan
The stretch of road between Strung Treng and Kratie is 130 kilometres with very little to see along the way. We considered taking a bus, and our decision was made even easier when we were approached and asked if we wanted a minivan to take us to Kratie. We were quoted $20 per person including the bicycles, and we were happy to pay the price. Once in Kratie, we hopped on a tuk-tuk to the pier where boats left for the river dolphin viewing. We did not have to go far as the dolphins were playing close by. It is always a pleasure to see them.
22 February – Kratie – Peace Hut – 86 km
We followed the river road, a road that runs next to the Mekong. The Mekong River is the heart of Cambodia, and 80% of the population still follows a traditional lifestyle. We cycled along this rural road which felt like a never-ending village. Most villagers live from fishing and farming. Cambodians have a close connection to their family and mostly live together in extended families. It is not unusual to see three to five generations living together. Cambodians also love a big family and often have three to five children.
Towards the end of the day, we found the Peace Hut, a basic nipa hut on stilts right on the Mekong River. The two rooms had mats for sleeping as well as a small bamboo deck to sit on. A bamboo bridge with viewing platform was the perfect place to enjoy our nightly beer. All for $2 per person!
23-24 February - Peace Hut – Kampong Chan - 40 km
Shortly after leaving, we crossed the river by ferry and then followed the road to Kampong Cham. It was a short but interesting ride. The Mekong Hotel was a good choice at $15 for an air-con room with a view of the river.
We also stayed in Kampong Cham the following day as it was a nice place to hang out and enjoy our last day of cycle touring. We took a ride to the bamboo bridge, a bridge that gets built every year after the rainy season. The waters of the Mekong River separate Kampong Cham town from the roughly 1,000 families on Koh Paen. In the dry season, the waters of the Mekong become too shallow for a ferry and each year, for decades, the island’s residents have employed a unique solution: building a seasonal, kilometre-long bamboo bridge until the rains swell the river, then tearing it down again.
We had already decided that this will be the end of our journey and that from Kampong Cham we will take a ride into the Phnom Penh. The ride into the city is hectic and mostly along the main road, and there was, therefore, no reason to cycle. We, once again, arranged for a private minivan to take us into the city, making for an enjoyable way to end our tour.
25-27 February Kampong Cham – Phnom Penh (by minivan)
Our minivan picked us up at 9h00, and with bikes strapped to the back of the van, we headed for Phnom Penh. We were relieved to arrive in Phnom Penh with all four bikes still in tact.
The last few days were spent shopping, eating, and doing a few things we had not done on our previous visit. We had enough time to re-visit the morning market where ladies were busy frying and steaming their respective delicacies. We watched through a cloud of steam as early morning shoppers filled their bags or ate from the endless array of stalls where pots were bubbling and sizzling away.
With bikes boxed and shopping done, it was time for Megan and Erma to head to the airport for the flight back to Namibia.
What a delightful trip it was and I will always be grateful to Megan who so freely shared her photography knowledge with us.
1 March – Phnom Penh – Angkor Borei – 93 km
We left Phnom Penh amidst the morning traffic and past men eating noodles soup from their haunches at roadside stalls. After about 20 kilometres we were out of the thick of things and had enough of the main road. We turned off and followed a smaller path running next to the Tonle Sap river. Halfway Janice stopped and bought a new saddle, hoping that it would sort out her butt problem. The road was mostly paved, and we only encountered a short stretch of dirt road, arriving in Angkor Borei in good time.
2-3 March Angkor Borei – Kampot
I knew it was going to be a difficult day on the road and we set off as early as possible. The Angkor Borei/Takeo ferry, however, only got underway at around 8h00. Packed in like sardines, we sped across the lake, saving us a somewhat long and bumpy ride around the lake.
There was no paved road connecting Takeo to the main road, and we struggled along on a slightly sandy and rough road until we finally reached the highway. Once we arrived at the main road, the going got much more comfortable, and we made good time in the direction of Kampot. The road however deteriorated (to put it mildly) as a new road was in the process of being built. Together with other vehicles, and in a cloud of dust, we snaked our way around the potholes, making slow progress. Covered in dust, we eventually reached Kampot and headed straight for Kampot River Bungalow. To our dismay they were full but, fortunately, we found a nipa hut on stilts next door at the Naga House. Naga House is a beautiful setup, right on the river with a wooden dock extending over the water.
We also stayed the following day as one cannot leave such a beautiful setting in a hurry.
4 March Kampot – Sihanoukville – 105 km
Although February is the dry season in Cambodia, some rain usually falls during this time. We have not experienced any rain since leaving Bangkok, a month and a half before. More than three-quarters of Cambodia’s population relies primarily on subsistence agriculture. Drought can, therefore, tip large numbers of people into poverty. Needless to say, it was a dry and dusty day on the road. At first, we were on a brand-new road, and the going was good. Halfway to Veal Renh we, however, encountered the dreaded roadworks and found that most vehicles preferred driving next to the road instead of on it. It was only the minivan taxis that seemed unfazed by the enormous potholes.
We pushed on regardless, following the snaking traffic in a cloud of dust, eventually arriving in Sihanoukville in peak hour traffic. Sihanoukville was nothing more than a vast building site and all the old and well-known guesthouses were gone and, by then, were either empty lots, or new ones were in the process of being constructed. I was relieved to see the Big Easy was still holding its own, albeit at the absorbent price of $30 for a basic fan room. It was, clearly, time to head for the islands, and that was exactly what we did.
5 March – Sihanoukville – Koh Rong (by ferry)
We arranged to leave our bicycles and panniers at the Big Easy and, armed with only one small bag, we headed for the ferry port. In no time at all, we were on Koh Rong Island with its crystal-clear water and laid-back lifestyle. We lazed around and swam in the lukewarm waters of the Gulf of Thailand. We ate at tables on the water's edge and did very little except for lazing about.
We, however, soon realised that we would have to get going if we wanted to be back in Pattaya where Janice left her bicycle box and from where she planned on getting the bus back to the airport for her flight to Cape Town, South Africa.
6 March Koh Rong – Sihanoukville (by ferry)
There was a large choice of ferries back to the mainland and, therefore, no rush to get going early. Once again in Sihanoukville, we collected our bicycles and panniers from the Big Easy and looked for alternative accommodation as the Big Easy was fully booked. We enjoyed supper at one of the beach restaurants and, to me at least, it is always a novelty to eat while wiggling my toes in the sand.
(15km - 8days)
7-8 March Sihanoukville – Klong Yai -15 km
We were out of time and bought a bus ticket from Sihanoukville to the Thai/Cambodian border. The bus left at 8 o’clock and we were ready to get going at an early hour. The bus did not leave until much later and, instead of dropping us in Koh Kong, it took us all the way to the border. Border crossings can be tedious, but all went well, and we were stamped out of Cambodia and into Thailand without any problems. From the border, it was a mere 15-kilometre cycle to Klong Yai where we found not only a room, but also an interesting night market.
The following morning, we located a Songthaew (a covered pickup truck with open sides and seats along each side) to take us to Trat. Janice was not feeling well and suffered from stomach problems (it must have been from the previous night's food). It was an inexpensive ride to Trat, and the Songthaew dropped us at the Trat bus station. From Trat, we could buy a bus ticket to Pattaya.
Janice was very ill, and as we had at least four hours to wait for the bus, there was not much she could do but try and lay down on the very uncomfortable bus station plastic chairs. Eventually, we were in a very comfortable bus to Pattaya. By the time we arrived in Pattaya, it was already pitch dark, but we managed to cycle the last 10 kilometres back to Jomtien Beach without any problems.
9-12 March -Pattaya
We were a day ahead of schedule and made good use of it. We slept late and then took a walk to the beach. Fortunately, Janice, by then, felt much better, and we could do the last-minute shopping, pack her bike and get ready for her flight back to Cape Town. Far too soon it was time for her to get going and, as always, it was sad to see my friend leave.
13-14 March Pattaya
I had exactly one day to do laundry and repack bags as I was planning on heading to Bangkok where I was going to meet Rouen and Micah for a three-week holiday in Thailand. The easiest way of getting to Bangkok, for me, was to get a bus to the airport, and from there a bus direct to Khao San road, leaving me with a short walk to the Riverline Guesthouse.