Monthly Archives: January 2012

French Indochina Bicycle Tour – Cambodia 12/9 to 12/12 (Siem Reap to Phnom Penh)

* 12/9 Siem Reap to Battambang (by boat, mostly. total km: about 10 km)

We got up bright and early to get on the boat to Battambang. They strapped our bikes on top of the van to get to the pier – no problem. We skirted by Tonle Sap and wound through the rivers, passing by floating villages. Lots of kids waved at us, some blowing kisses. There were a couple of Austrian bike tourists on our boat, who Carissa chatted with briefly. They’d been on the road for five years!

Once we arrived in Battambang, we wandered around town a bit trying to look for a suitable guesthouse before settling on the very clean, beautifully decorated Lux Guest House ($12). We grabbed dinner at the local market and then headed back to the room to bask in the internet.

Sure those bikes would be safe... why wouldn't they?

The floating village on our boat ride to Battambang

Locals would row up to the boat to get on board

* 12/10 Battambang to Pursat (bike route: , total km: 105.89 km)

Having had a room with big windows, and having forgotten to draw the curtains at night, we woke up bright and early and got on our bikes before 8am. For breakfast, we each had a mini baguette with some meat paste, sliced meats and green onions, as well as the ubiquitous Khmer pickled salad, before heading out on the highway. Even with the flat I got about two hours into the day (the first flat of the tour!), we made good time. We saw one particularly overloaded truck which we kicked ourselves for not getting a picture of – the truck was loaded with bags of rice, with people sitting on top, and had dozens of ducks (presumably dead) hanging off the left and right sides, and three motorcycles hanging off the back of the truck with the front wheels on the truck bed. After we got settled into the not-so-creatively-named Pursat Guesthouse ($5), we headed out to get some food and spotted another bike tourist. He was an Englishman who had started from Chiang Mai. We exchanged a few stories, mostly about routing, and then headed out to the market for food and supplies for tomorrow. Not having internet back at the guesthouse, we were able to get some blogging and reading done.

Hey, we're getting pretty good at this! Standing our bikes during a sugary drink break.

The sun setting over the river that runs through Pursat town.

* 12/11 Pursat to Kampong Chnang (bike route:  , total km: 64.519 km)

We had asked the guesthouse the night before, but they didn’t know when the bamboo train left or exactly how far it would go, so we headed out early just to be safe, at 7am. Between the train operator’s very rudimentary English and my notepad, he was able to communicate that if we wanted to go now, he would charge us US$80, which was negotiable but not too much. If we go at 10am on ‘schedule’, he would charge us US$10. We were probably still being way overcharged, but we thought it a fair enough price for us. We biked around Pursat a bit, sat at a riverside park, grabbed second breakfast, and returned around 9:30am.

After four northwest bound trains passed, it was our turn. The train operator first put the wheels down on the track, and then five men put the platform on the wheels. Maybe fifteen or so passengers along with a motorcycle, our bikes, and some other cargo, all crammed onto a platform about 3 meters by 3 meters made of pieces of wood about 10 cm wide. The train sped ahead and stopped along the way, picking up and dropping off a couple of passengers along the way. Once, we encountered a train coming the other way (there’s only one track), so after our train operator talked to their operator, it was decided that our train should be dismantled to allow the other train to pass. It didn’t take more than a few minutes.

Most of the passengers got off at the terminal ‘station’, where we negotiated with another train operator to get to where we could get off so we could bike to Kampong Chnang, our destination for the day. Again, we encountered another train, but they were going to same way, so we waited for them to finish loading their cargo (about a dozen logs), and then off we went. When we got to our final destination, some locals gathered around – I’m not sure if they had originally come out to unload the logs or maybe they just walk over to see whenever the trains roll by, but they were a bit curious about us. They helped us steady our bikes as we got them off the trains and as we put all our luggage back on. One of the women ‘helped’ Carissa pull her socks up (??). We ate lunch in town while the local kids circled around and shouted “hello!” at us.

The dirt road to the main highway seemed to stretch for a long, long time. We stopped at one store where the lady spoke some English. She asked where we were going and we told her Kampong Chnang today and Phnom Penh tomorrow. She was puzzled why we were going to Kampong Chnang, and she was amazed that we were going all the way to Phnom Penh by bicycle. I wondered what she would’ve thought of the rest of our routing. Once we hit the main highway, it was smooth sailing as always.

We arrived in Kampong Chnang and stayed at a $6 guesthouse – again, fairly basic but clean enough and hard to complain for the price. Dinner in town was pleasant, and we had a cat guest at our table, which for me is the true measure of whether a dinner is successful.

Dismantling the southbound train.

Two of these + platform + engine = train

Aww yeah, baller as hell on our private train

* 12/12 Kampong Chnang to Phnom Penh (bike route:  , total km: 94.507 km)

Carissa was starting to feel the effects of heat exhaustion and/or the side-effects of the malaria pills. We stopped early in the day to get some sugar cane juice, which is served in a little plastic baggy with plenty of ice. Once we were done drinking, she grabbed the bags and stuffed ’em in her back jersey pocket to cool down on the ice – that seemed to help a little. We made steady progress on the dusty highway despite the sun beating down on us. As we were nearing Phnom Penh, two passed the two Austrian bike tourists we had met on the boat to Battambang, as well as the Englishman we saw in Pursat. Carissa was a trooper and managed to make it into town despite her illness.

Our first choice of hotel, the Anise, was booked full, but it looked rather pricey anyway – I think it was $42 for a single. We took a room at the closest hotel a few doors down, the Golden Gate Hotel, at $28 for an air conditioned windlowless room (well there was a window, but it faced a wall about 1.5 inches away) including wifi and breakfast. There was a litter of hotels on the same block with the name Golden ____ Hotel, including another Golden Gate Hotel. I’m sure one of them had been mentioned in some guidebook somewhere. We called it an early evening – it had been a long, hot riding day, and Carissa wasn’t feeling so well.

The central roundabout in Kampong Chnang

Legitimate Forms of Transport (tm)

Annnnnd... one of the central roundabouts in Phnom Penh

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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


French Indochina Bicycle Tour – Cambodia 12/6 to 12/8 (Bangkok to Siem Reap)

I’ve been keeping some hurriedly written narrative about our tour progress, with the intention of cleaning them up before posting.  Rather than just keeping good intentions on my mind and notepad text files on my netbook forever, I’ve decided to post these instead.

* 12/6 Bangkok to Sisophon (bike route: ; total distance: 57.2km)

At the Aranyaprathet train station, about to set off

We took the train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet (48 baht ticket + 90 baht cargo fee) bright and early at 5:30am.  The third class wooden seats were adequate, but I got a bit stiff sitting there for six hours.  Once we got off the train, we got our gear on and biked from to the border, about 6 km away.

It was nice that I had done the border crossing before – everything went smoothly (visa on arrival cost $20 and 100 baht standard ‘tea money’ for the officials).  I had been warned before that Poipet, the border town on the Cambodian side of the border, was a dangerous, scummy place, but it seemed fine as we rolled through on the main highway.

We sat down at some seats at a street-side restaurant, and at first we wondered if the place was still open – the staff didn’t seem to understand why we were there. It took them a while to get someone over to serve us, but the food was great. It was a kind of spicy and sweet greasy soup with pork, served with some really good baguette-style bread.

Sweet, sweet tractor drafting

We biked straight along the nearly completely flat, smooth highway. My rig, a rather heavy (for an aluminum frame) Merida 24-speed mountain bike with front suspension fork and Schwalbe Sammy Slick tires (26 x 2.1), was working out quite well. As we neared the halfway mark between Poipet and Sisophon, we were passed by a tractor full of bags of what I assume is rice. Carissa slid in behind the tractor to draft off of it – it was going about 25 km/h, compared to the 18-22 km/h we were doing. We managed to draft for most of our way to Sisophon, going significantly faster than we could manage without and putting in much less effort.

At Sisophon, the owner of the first guesthouse we tried came out with such a comical caricature of an angry/refusal face that no one needed to speak a word before we left – we understood. The next place was very clean and they asked for 250 bahts, although they accepted 200 bahts rather than having to make change from three 100 baht bills.

We had a nice sit-down dinner with a kind of Khmer crepe with bean sprouts and chicken, washed down with some Angkor beers. We called it an early night after washing up.

* 12/7 Sisophon to Siem Reap (bike route: ; total distance: 108km)

Breaking for first lunch! We got better at standing our bikes against each other as our tour went on

Breakfast consisted of some meat over broken rice.  We broke for first lunch at a small market and had some noodle soup and bananas.  As we were eating, the rain had started, so we waited a while for that to clear up. Second lunch was much more substantial.  After 100km of smooth, rather boring road (in fact, we commented about how the flat roads through repetitive farmland reminded us of the American midwest), we made it into Siem Reap. The boulevard of giant luxury hotels and Korean restaurants on the outskirts of town greeted us first, but we pushed on into town and biked to the Old Market area.  We stayed at a clean A/C room at Shadow of Angkor 1 ($16).

* 12/8 Siem Reap (bike route and distance not recorded)

Carissa went to Angkor Wat and nearby temples, while I went to the Roluos Group, as I had already been to Angkor Wat.  I toured Preah Ko, Bakong, Prei Monei first.  Preah Ko and Bakong were impressive, but not as off the beaten path as I was told – there were legions of tourists there, even tour-group tourists.  Prei Monei was much less impressive, but on reachable by a sandy path barely passable by a tuk-tuk – a Japanese couple, their tuk-tuk driver and I were the only people there.

I tried to find a few more temples on the map that I got from the guesthouse, but I mostly ended up wandering around villages completely lost.  My GPS had a few roads indicated, but it was mostly unhelpful.  Eventually, I gave up and made my way back to the highway and headed home. 

Carissa and I both returned to the guesthouse after our morning adventures and had lunch.  I walked over to the post office to send Kimberly the kramas (Khmer scarves) she wanted – 22 in all.  I had planned on going out again to the West Baray temples, but I got sidetracked by the sweet glow of internet.  It was a good thing, too, because it started pouring about 15 minutes later. After the rain let up, Carissa and I went down to the Night Market area for a massage, had dinner and a few drinks out on Pub Street before calling it a night.

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Posted by on January 5, 2012 in Uncategorized