Month 7: Cambodia by Bicycle

map_of_cambodia Cambodia

I wasn’t sure where to start my Cambodia adventure, and since I didn’t know where to start and I knew I had some friends in Siem Reap at the moment I decided to start there. I met up with my friend Lucas from Brazil at a guesthouse he was at and recommended. When I got there from a day in a van and crossing the border from the south of Laos to Siem Reap, I understood why he recommended it. It is a big beautiful inexpensive hostel ($3 dollar dorms or $5 rooms) that has an amazing swimming pool, restaurants and bars… and a beach football/volleyball field/court where tournaments take place every afternoon with beer prizes.

When in Siem Reap I wanted to do what most people that come to Cambodia come to do. Go see the world famous Angkor Wat temples. I got myself a 3 day pass and went by bicycle and explored just about every temple in the complex that is around 60km and it was a beautiful experience. Oddly enough, I found that of ALL the maybe 20 temples I saw, Angkor Wat didn’t seem like the most impressive and beautiful. Right now I don’t have the pictures from Angkor Wat and the other temples, but will post later when I reunite with my backpack and big camera.

Here is link to a video I made of the amazing hostel in Siem Reap, the Garden Village Guesthouse:

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Cambodian noodles…I got them from a street vendor a few times…tasty
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Swimming pool and beer pong are amazing things on their own. Imagine how nice it is to combine these two things…bliss
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Can you believe this is a hostel? Every morning I had a pot of tea in the pool…luxury backpacking
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I finally tried the famous Durian…a fruit that is famous for being rancid smelling (it is prohibited in public transport and some places) and according to some, rancid tasting… Maybe the stinky ones are older one’s or something but the one we had was nice tasting and smelling…

Even before arriving in Cambodia I started liking the idea of buying a bicycle and traveling Cambodia this way. When I got to Siem Reap I started looking to see if anyone else would be up for it. At the hostel I tried to convince a few people and most of them said I was crazy.

I remembered a Facebook group people write posts about South East Asia, so I posted a notice that I was looking for someone to do the trip with.  Surprisingly I got a message from a friend I had met a few days earlier, Leila from England who was also in that Facebook group and saw the post and she said she was interested in joining.
She asked me to wait for her a few days while she came back up North. I accepted as Siem Reap and the guesthouse were amazing. While I waited a few more days I enjoyed the swimming pool and beach football and nights out at Pub Street, and started searching for where to buy bicycles for the trip, and preparing a bit.

When Leila arrived we started our journey. We started by going on bicycle from Siem Reap to Ronal (80km) , where we spent the night with an amazing farmer family and our new friend, Titya, after he saved us when it was dark and we were tired and we couldn’t find a place to stay.

We then went to Battambang and spent a day resting and exploring the town before heading to Pursat. We also rested a day and then went to Kampong Chhnang and loved exploring the Tonle Sap lake and floating villages by boat.
We then made the ascent to the capital, Phnom Penh. We arrived during rush hour madness and made it to the hostel and swimming pool before dark. It was the first big accomplishment of the trip. It felt amazing.

This was my first time traveling by bicycle and I love it. It is supposed to be the rain season, but it has barely rained and the toughest part is usually the sun and heat while we’re pedaling. We’ve averaged around 100km / 62 miles a day, that depending on how fast we go and how many breaks we take can be around 8-10 hours of pedaling.
This time on the bike has been great for thinking and taking in all the amazing views and greetings we get from locals who are amazing.

Cambodian people are the friendliest people I have encountered and are quick to give a smile and greeting to us when we pass them.
And when we stop to eat, drink, take a break, etc they usually talk to us and are really friendly. This has made Cambodia one of my favorite countries. Below images of the bicycle adventure.

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The day we went to buy our bikes…
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The two chosen ones…our transportation right after we bought them.
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I left behind the bigger backpack and am now traveling with this day-pack strapped to the rack on the bike.
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About to leave the Siem Reap hostel to start our trip down to Phnom Penh with many towns on the way.

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A sad reality (for me at least)  is that in Cambodia and many countries around the world people eat dogs, as is displayed on this grill. One our first day of the trip we stopped for a break and drink and the stand had a grill where I saw this and took the picture. It is easy to judge, and being a dog owner and lover it is tough for me to see this. However, you have to have an open mind and realize that if you eat any animals it is not fair to judge others for the animals they choose to eat and have as pets, etc. Cultural differences.

 

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At the end of our first day of the trip, we weren’t finding a guesthouse and it got dark and we were pedaling in the dark and I asked a guy we passed if he knew where we could find a guesthouse. He looked worried as he wasn’t sure if there were any nearby, and told me maybe 10km ahead. We kept pedaling and around 15 minutes later I heard a voice and in the dark was the same guy I had asked about the guesthouse. He told us he spoke to his mother and they both said they weren’t sure we would find a guesthouse and incredibly generously they offered us to spend the night at their home. Honestly, we could not believe how nice this offer was and happily accepted. Titya, the families youngest son has won a scholarship to study in the capital and spoke english very well. That evening was one of the best things that has happened to me on my trip. Encountering such amazing and generous people offering to help others.
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Titya and his mother and the food they gave us the evening they took us in. One of the most beautiful experiences of my trip. We enjoyed conversation with them and they helped us continue learning Khmer, the language of Cambodia. The next morning we took off early to beat the hottest hours of the day.

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Loving life on the bike

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Leila on the move

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In Battambang, a town we stopped in we were incredibly lucky to meet our friend Sun, who opened his bike shop on a Sunday when it was closed to help us make some repairs and adjustments to our bicycles and then refused to accept any money in exchange….such amazing people in this country
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Not quite sure what these are, but I saw them on the side of the road…
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One day when I was melting under the blazing sun I stopped for a snack and break and this amazing shaved ice with fruit and other sweets treat was one of the tastiest things I have ever had…
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The woman who served me my shaved ice treat, saw how I was melting and in bad shape and also gave me corn on the cob and several iced teas…she saved me

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What most of the shops we stop at to get a drink and take a break look like. What is always different are the families that tend to the shops that are always really friendly and a treat us to amazing smiles and curiosity and allow us to practice our Khmer (the Cambodian language ) to try to communicate with.

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Our rival bicycle gang that are on all the ads for cheap rain coats. They think they look SOOooooo cool

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Some mystery fruit and flowers outside a temple

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The people of Cambodia are by far the friendliest people I have met anywhere around the world. Even more than Colombia, which is crazy friendly.
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The beautiful artwork painted on the roof of a temple we stopped at. I love this image

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We pass many amazing temples and we stop to explore and this was perhaps the most beautiful….
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Our faithful travel companions…The only bicycle troubles we’ve had so far are 1 flat tire each

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We stopped at a roadside place and had this lunch that was a soup with snails and veggies and rice… i tried the snails and…not too good and not too bad. In Cambodia I have eaten: -Frog in garlic and butter: tasty -Snake on a stick: very tough…hard to eat, but not bad -Tarantulas: Crunchy and greasy…good -Crickets and Larva: Crispy and greasy…good -Big Beetle: Nasty! no matter how much you chew it didn’t go away!

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An amazingly friendly man who we spoke with and hung out for a while on one of our breaks…he even fanned me with a hand fan for a while. It was funny and a bit uncomfortable, yet beautiful how friendly the people are.
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I was able to sneak this picture of my friend fanning me from this different angle

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One of the saddest views of the trip. When I passed this motorbike cage and stopped and went back to see what was going on I found this. It looks like these two dogs, including the one at the front was in a very peculiar sitting position with saliva coming out of his mouth and was he was terrified and trembling, are in that cage to end up on someones grill or plate. I wanted to rescue him any way I could, but it seemed that whatever I would do would only be a temporarily help to this dog and a sinister future that looked to be waiting for him.

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Some villages have roads that start from the highway and have these structures marking them. They are beautiful and we even went down random ones just to see what we’d find. Usually amazing smiles and greetings from surprised villagers.

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My cycling partner and friend, Leila…she plays hard and works hard. She had warned me that she doesn’t do sports and has barely been on a bicycle so I was honestly worried she wouldn’t be able to do the trip, but she has impressed me and been able to cycle up to 10 hours and 134km in a day.

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Cycling for around 8-10 hours a day takes energy and calories so sometimes I go crazy with snacks. I found these great ones. This these time I had 5 of these strange snacks. They were delicious.

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It was a pleasure and privilege to be able to see life in the Cambodian countryside.

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An image that goes with one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve found. The sound of genuinely happy and curious people saying “Hello! Hello!” that we get almost every 100 meters on the bicycle. It is amazing how these smiles and positive energy gives me strength to keep going and make me happy.

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A beautiful floating village we visited on Tonle Sap Lake
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I always use sunblock and take care. But the amount of sun I’ve been getting on the bicycle even has my arm hairs blonde!

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This amazing guy in blue saw me taking pictures and invited me to come and talk and treated me to a banana rice treat and we stayed and talked with him and his family for a while.
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The delicious treat our friend gave me…it was sweet banana on the inside and rice on the outside…wrapped in banana leaf 🙂

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I was surprised to find a few mosques in Cambodia. Mostly around Phnom Penh where apparently less than 2% of the population is Muslim.

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As we were entering the chaos and dust around Phnom Penh

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On the day we were arriving in Phnom Penh I stopped to take some pictures at a mosque and Leila continued and waited for me ahead, but I guess I never saw her and went like half an hour without catching up to her and it was stressful and confusing but eventually we found each other again and had this roadside ice cream before heading into the big city.

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Recap of the cycling days so far:
Day 1. Siem Reap to Ronal:                        80km

Day 2. Ronal-Sisophon- Battambang: 92km
Day 3. Battambang- Pursat:                    110km
Day 4.  Pursat – Kampong Chhnang:         97km
Day 5. Kampong Chhnang-Phnom Penh:  94km
Break… Koh Kong and Chi Paht without bike
Day 6. Phnom Penh – Kampong Cham:  122km
Day 7. Kampong Cham-Snuol:                    134km

Day 8. Snuol- Sen Monoroum*:                    100km

*This was 124km, but I only did 100km of them

Total Kilometres cycled: 829 kilometres or  518 miles.

Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia. Almost every single backpacker I had met before going to Phnom Penh told me they didn’t like it. They described it as shady/grimy, etc… Many people even suggested skipping it altogether. However, as much as I appreciate advice, I prefer to come to my own conclusions.

I liked it. It wasn’t particularly beautiful, but I didn’t think it was ugly. Most people who come to Cambodia ONLY go to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, which is a shame.

Many of us have heard of the Khmer Rouge and/or Pol Pot, but most probably we don’t really know about the heinous genocide that happened in Cambodia during this time and killed up to 3 million people. I was fortunate enough to learn more about this by reading and visiting the main Killing Field (Choeung Ek) and the Tuol Sleng-S21 Prison around Pnom Penh.

Here is the wikipedia description of what happened during this time. It is tragic and incredibly sad to learn about the cruelty that took place, but please give it a read. It is depressing but important to learn about.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khmer_Rouge#Crimes_against_humanity

While in Phnom Penh we also went to the National Museum, some art galleries, went to a drink and draw session, and walked around a lot.

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Tragically this tree was used by the Khmer Rouge to beat babies to death against…
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Bones and teeth found around the killing fields

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The looks of terror of innocent people imprisoned, tortured and killed is chilling
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This image shows how the Khmer Rouge took advantage of kids to turn them into soldiers and cold blooded killing machines

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Inside the Tuol Sleng prison
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Ex guard then and now

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With our friend who has a kebab stand on prostitution street and is insanely friendly. We have gone a few times to visit her and talk with her and support her business.
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The first chicken wings of the trip, and they were amazing. Had the pleasure of having them with some beer and watching Arsenal destroy Man United 3-0 🙂

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The ice vendor who goes around with huge slabs of ice and proceeds to cut them into blocks for interested customers.
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A picture that captures Phnom Penh. A mix of strong colors, smells, garbage…yet beauty and a display of resilience and friendly people

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Amazing spinach and chicken pizza

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With our friend Titya who invited us to stay in his home when we were stuck in the countryside. This time in Phnom Penh, where he lives and goes to university. We had the pleasure of seeing him there and invite him to dinner. Such a good guy.
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At the National Museum being protected by a Naga, or 7 headed snake. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N%C4%81ga

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After a week exploring Phnom Penh a friend I had met in Siem Reap, Laetitia, invited me to join her to go to the Cardamom Mountains I had wanted to go to anyway. I went with her and two friends to go to Koh Kong and Chi Phat. I left the bicycles behind and went spent a few nice days in the mountains and beaches of these beautiful regions.  Chi Phat is particularly interesting. “Once notorious for its loggers and poachers, the river village of Chi Phat (population 630 families) is now home to Wildlife Alliance’s pioneering community-based ecotourism project (CBET), offering travellers a unique opportunity to explore the Cardamoms ecosystems while contributing to their protection.”

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Funny enough these cute kids display what most people in the Western world would call pijamas. Things you would only wear in the house and not in public. However I have seen in Laos and Cambodia that it is hugely accepted and seen that women wear these as normal outfits. Usually floral prints.

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With my french friends, Florian, Mehdy and Laetitia.

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An awesome mountain bike trip we did one day up some amazing yet difficult off-road terrain to a few waterfalls and amazing views of the Cardamom mountains.

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We had to bike through this…and many difficult parts where we had to go under things…through huge puddles, river crossings, etc..
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We took a bus and then a 2 hour boat up these beautiful river views to Chi Phat.
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In the middle it was about waist high…it was fun to ride through these parts!
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Treating ourselves to a nice meal after a beautiful yet demanding day

 

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