In this article we describe the highs, lows and logistics of cycle touring in Cambodia- the perfect guide for anyone interested in doing the same.
We’ve created Gearing Up to raise awareness of the work of social initiatives in Asia. So we start with social enterprises and initiatives you can support whilst you are there, whether or not you are cycling.
There are thousands of non-government organisations working in Cambodia, largely as a result of the country’s devastating history and continued incompetence of the current Government: Hun Sen, the Prime Minister, has been in power for 32 years. For moving, but incredibly informative, memorials and sites of the history of the Khmer Rouge, visits to Choeung Ek and the S21 prison are certainly worthwhile. A number of NGOs in Cambodia are turning to more economically sustainable business models and using social enterprises to fund their projects, whilst also providing training and the prospect of a meaningful career for marginalised or vulnerable members of the population. Cafes and restaurants which employ these people to give them a better chance in life are rightfully very popular. It has never been easier for visitors to the country to support these organisations. In the towns and cities you have no excuse to get your caffeine fix or fill of better than street food food anywhere else!
Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of our favourite social enterprises:
Epic Arts Café – a fantastic cafe with delicious food which employs people with hearing impediments. You can also further support Epic Arts by attending one of their dance performances.
In Phnom Penh
Daughters Sugar and Spice Café – A reasonably priced cafe that provides training for female victims of trafficking.
Justice Café and Library – A community space run by some proactive young lawyers fighting and advocating for justice. Go have a coffee there and learn about the battle to end injustice in Cambodia.
Connecting Hands – Provides vulnerable young Cambodian women with professional training as young cooks & baristas.
Romdeng and Friends – A training restaurant for marginalised youth run by Friends International, part of a very high quality chain of restaurants across SE Asia.
In Siem Reap
Sister Srey – A really lovely cafe that supports young Khmer students and trains them to work in the cafe.
Common Grounds – A cafe that helps fund and sustain humanitarian relief projects and provide training opportunities for the poor.
Plastic Free Cambodia, based in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, is fighting the uphill battle against single use plastic in Cambodia. You can help them by saying no to disposable plastic (cups, bags, straws, bottles). See Plastic Free’s website for advice on how to go plastic free and spread the word. The over-consumption of plastic in south-east Asia is a huge issue, largely because people do not understand the consequences on the natural environment. Plastic Free Cambodia has stepped in to fill the void created by the appalling education system in the country.
If you’re keen to find more social enterprises in Cambodia, check out Social Enterprise Cambodia’s helpful map.
Total distance: 1000 km
Total cycling days: 12 days (average 83 km/day)
IN – From Vietnam to Cambodia, 25/01/17: Ha Tien (Vietnam) – Prak Chek (Cambodia)
Border crossing posed no issues.
OUT – From Cambodia to Thailand, 21/02/17: Poipet (Cambodia) – Aranyaprathet (Thailand)
Another well-trodden border crossing: no problems, but watch out for traffic switching sides!
In Cambodia it is perfectly acceptable to ask permission to pitch your tent in a Buddhist temple; this was confirmed by some Cambodian cyclists we met. Although Cambodian guesthouses are inexpensive (from 24,000 riel: double bed, AC, en-suite), camping in temples beats countless anonymous guesthouses (and having come from Vietnam, we relished the opportunity to avoid these) and is the height of luxury: running water, showers (bucket over the head), often a clean surface to place the tent and even a roof overhead.
Leaving the unexciting, often dusty and busy main roads to instead take roads through the countryside gives you the chance to admire spectacular landscapes and wonderful palm trees in peace. If you accept that you will be going at a different pace to the tarmacked roads of Thailand and Vietnam, you will much prefer the ride.
It only takes a bit of maps.me and google map satellite view investigative work, and you will find yourself sharing compact dirt roads with few others, cycling through small communities, stumbling upon beautiful temples glistening above the trees and leaving the rumble and beeping horns of massive trucks and lorries far, far behind. Google satellite view was updated for the whole country in 2016 and we found it highly reliable, you just have to do your homework! Some of the dirt roads we took are shown here.
Some of our favourite few days involved very little cycling. For anybody armed with a tent who wants to explore some of Cambodia’s most pristine and untouched coastline (except, of course, for the washed-up plastic) in total solitude, make use of the tracks built for construction traffic through Ream National Park (~2,000 riel to enter the park) before the hotels are actually built. We made a detailed jpeg map for a friend, it’s the same link as in the paragraph above: here.
In Ream National Park, at least for the time being, you will find little else aside from the sea, the beach, monkeys, lizards, thousands of crabs and an unidentified pesky little rodent that managed to chew its way through our beloved tent mesh while we went swimming at night to see the PHOSPHORESCENCE! There are two hotels: Ream Boutique to the east and Monkey Maya to the west where filling up with water should be possible if necessary, but otherwise bring all food and water with you: there is nothing there, it is paradise.
The term ‘National Park’ unfortunately seems to hold no importance when it comes to Chinese concrete monstrosities. We had seen the ghostly outline of the new ‘South-East Asian style resort’ from one of our blissfully beautiful camp spots, so we went for a cycle in a hope that the project had been abandoned. Sadly not, and up close the construction site is worse than we could have imagined. So go now, before it is too late.
There is a route along the coast to the beaches near Sihanoukville, but from there hold your breath and get out of Sihanoukville as quickly as your legs can pedal you before countless casinos, hideous hotels and creepy old male tourists ruin the memories.
Seeing as Cambodia has few mountains aside from the Cardamom range, if your legs are calling out for a climb, treat yourself by cycling up pannier-less to Bokor Hill Station, sitting 1km above sea level near Kampot. Find out about its bizarre and sordid history and leave enough time to explore the vast area where you will find the history etched on the walls of the countless abandoned buildings. On a good day, the view from the top is spectacular, and the road up is pristine tarmac on a smooth 5% gradient.
We made a video that ties together some of our experiences in Cambodia:
We did venture onto National Highway 4 from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh as we neared Phnom Penh, but we quickly learnt our lesson. The road is narrow and filled with heavy, fast traffic, forcing you to ride the dirt hard shoulder. Follow our advice in best bits and your mental wellbeing will thank you!
Even some of the main roads are appalling in quality. Between Kampot and Sihanoukville, there are a couple of kilometres where a thick red dust cloud lingers on top of the road as truck after truck roll down it. We were particularly outraged when we saw schools and temples, right by the side of the road, with dust pouring in through the open windows.
If you have any questions please send us a message. Thailand up next!