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!
Round the World Romance on Bikes: the story of Rachel and Patrick
Patrick, an intrepid Dutchman, and Rachel, an adventurous American, began their romance in a most unusual way.
In 1993, Rachel was cycle touring on her own for the very first time at the ripe old age of 42.
Patrick was in the midst of a round the world bicycle tour when their paths crossed in New Zealand
After a stint cycling together, Rachel forged on to Australia, and Patrick set off for America.
Six months later they reunited in South Africa, cycled to Nairobi then on to Western Europe and back to Patrick’s home in Holland.
In 1995 the couple married in Missoula. A fitting location considering that it’s the home of the Adventure Cycling Association.
Naturally, their honeymoon was a two-wheeled one. The newlyweds spent five weeks pedaling through Glacier & Yellowstone National Parks before settling in Boise, Idaho.
Bicycle Touring and adventure travel have remained an integral part of the couple’s lifestyle.
In 1999, they cycled 9 months in South America: Santiago, Chile to Ushuaia, then Buenos Aires to Cusco Peru.
In 2006, the couple biked from Bali to Bangkok, through Cambodia, South Vietnam, Laos and into Yunna China and across Eastern Tibet (illegally!) to Lhasa, and continued on the Friendship Highway to Katmandu.
Next, Rachel and Patrick flew to Alaska and officially started cycling home from the Arctic Circle.
The couple continues to make their home in Boise.
Inspiring photos from their various bicycle tours can be found here: Rachel’s web albums.
Have you cycled Cambodia? Please share some of your experiences and impressions in the comments section. Thanks!