Cambodia is well-loved for its exotic temples and spicy cuisine. Rachel Hugens shares some of the reasons why this southeast Asian country is a current hot-spot for bicycle tourists.
Reason #1 Location, Location, Location
Cambodia is a wonderful destination for a short cycling trip or travelling through as part of an extended adventure. Nestled between Thailand to the west, South Vietnam to the East, Laos to the North, and a coastal region to the South, there is so much to see in Cambodia and many border crossings.
Our trip started in Bali, Indonesia 3 months earlier and we cycled into Cambodia from Bangkok to Siem Reap on the dustiest road ever! As you pass through the border from Thailand, there is a switch from riding on the left side of the road to riding on the right and you begin to see the land of extremes.
Reason #2. Land of Extremes
You see ox carts that you later recognize as the same as the stone carvings on the walls of the ancient temples; overloaded vehicles (trucks, wagons, motorbikes, bicycles) carrying people and anything from live pigs to ice. Locals are wearing rounded straw hats or checkered scarves wrapped around their head and face or face masks to protect from the dust. Big black vases at the side of buildings collect water. Batteries are left at the side of the road to be recharged. There are no coins for money. Prices are quoted in US Dollars. Contrast this to the Lexus and Landcruisers carrying tourists or NGO personnel.
Because of the history of Cambodia, landmines are still being found, so it’s not recommended to free camp or get off the trusted footpaths. The good news is why would you want to camp in a tropical climate when there are wonderful guesthouses with reasonable (cheap) rates, hot showers, western style toilets, and TV with BBC news?
Reason # 3 Friendly People
As you cycle by you hear the children shout, “Sah- bye- dee, Sah- bye- dee, and bye-bye”, all in one sentence. School kids on bikes riding to? from? school any time of the day, and we never figured out the school hours.
Reason #4 Culture and History
Siem Reap with the ancient temples (wats) is Cambodia at its best. Plan to spend time in the city to see all the temples of Angkor. You can cycle or hire a tuk-tuk to take you around to see the sites. Besides the temples, it’s fun to see the monks in Cambodia known to carry umbrellas.
Phnom Penh with the history of the Vietnam war, Khmer rouge and the killing fields is at its worst. Though grim, the killing fields is a must see to understand the country you are traveling through.
Reason #5 Food
The French left a legacy of good coffee and baguettes. As you look at the food stalls along the side of the road or in the city markets, you see anything that crawls has been deep fried: snakes, frogs, crickets, scorpions– things people learned to eat to survive during dark times. To pose a question: Did the French teach the Cambodians to eat escargot or did the Cambodians teach the French to eat snails?
Our route through Cambodia was crossing the border from Thailand to Siem Reap. We took a boat to Battambang and cycled to Phnom Penh before continuing on into South Vietnam and eventually to Llhasa Tibet. We want to go back and explore more. Cambodia is a great country to see by bicycle!
Have you cycled Cambodia? Please share some of your experiences and impressions in the comments section. Thanks!