A budget cycle trip across Cambodia

Emily cycling in rural Cambodia

Emily cycling in rural Cambodia

Whilst travelling we have met a small number of cycle tourers. These are unique people who travel using specific touring bicycles designed to be more robust than your everyday bike. They use panniers to carry not only clothes but camping gear and a bicycle repair tools. When we spoke to them about their trips we were fascinated to hear how by simply changing your mode of transportation results in a completely different experience. We wanted a taste of the action.

We knew we would not be able to get, or afford, specialised cycle touring equipment halfway through our year of travelling and so we would have to use what we could find locally. Luckily all rural Asian towns are full of people riding around on single speed city bikes and they seem to survive. Surely we could do this too. We also had to decide where to do our mini cycle trip. After a bit of research Cambodia seemed obvious for one main reason. It’s a very flat country! This was even more important when we would not be buying bikes with gears. I did not want to die of exhaustion pedaling my bike over the Himalayas.

We arrived into Cambodia from Laos by bus and disembarked in Kratie. This is a fairly big town on the Mekong River famous for the rare Irrawaddy dolphins which can be seen just upriver. We didn’t know if we could definitely get bikes here but most towns in Asia have at least one bike shop so we were hopeful and knew we couldn’t be too picky. This is where we hope to start our budget cycle trip across Cambodia.

Fortunately there was not just one bike shop but multiple bike shops! We spoke to a few places and once they realised we were crazy ‘balangs’ (the Cambodian word for westerners) actually trying to buy bikes they all offered similar bikes for a similar prices. Being tall we had to find ones that could be adjusted to fit our long legs and so we settled for some large city bikes with extra long saddle poles. We even managed to purchase bike helmets (a thing I have seen no Cambodian ever use).

What we bought:

  • 2 x single speed city bike with front basket, back pannier rack and dynamo light (very good condition although still second hand)
  • 4 x bungee cords
  • 2 x bike helmet
  • 1 x box of puncture repair patches
  • 1 x bike pump
  • 2 x bike lock

Total price: $122.50 (£86.77)

One of the reasons we were able to do this trip so easily was that we both travel with carry on luggage. Our small Osprey 40 Litre rucksacks sat perfectly on the back pannier rack secured there by a couple of bungee cords. If we had had anything larger transporting our luggage would have been a major issue. We both love the flexibility of travelling so light.

Emily stood outside the bike shop in Kratie with the bikes loaded and ready to go

Emily stood outside the bike shop in Kratie with the bikes loaded and ready to go

With our bikes and equipment purchased we tested our bikes around Kratie and set off the next day. Our plan was to follow the Mekong River and cycle south to Phnom Penh. Here we would decide whether to get rid of our bikes and continue by bus or whether to cycle for a further three days down to the coast to Kampot. We had a rough route planned but wanted to be flexible with where we stayed and which route we took depending on the road conditions and our mental and physical wellbeing. It’s also good to remember you are never the first person to do anything and so we used other blog posts to aid us on our route.

The first part of our journey was from Kratie to Phnom Penh. We followed the tarmac road as close to the Mekong River as possible. When we planned the journey we thought we might have large periods out in the countryside between each village but in reality local people live along these main roads almost all the way to Phnom Penh. We spent most of our journey waving and shouting ‘hello’ at the young children. They were always so excited to see a foreigner cycling by that they would stop everything and scream ‘hello’ at the top of their lungs. We would shout back which often caused massive fits of giggles. Sometimes even adults were shocked and hysterical about seeing us. There were also plenty of temples and mosques along the way which provide great water stops and a place to take a breather.

One of the many mosques we saw during the first part of our cycle trip

One of the many mosques we saw during the first part of our cycle trip

Our biggest fear during this section of our journey was the condition of the road. For the most part it was great, almost better than we expected. This was all apart from one 16km stretch between Kampong Cham to Ksach Kandal. Suddenly what was a newly laid tarmac road disappeared into a bumpy dirt track. It fell on our longest day of cycling and made our speed reduce significantly. We made it through and were grateful that it was only this one road.

The dirt road between Kampong Cham and Ksach Kandal

The dirt road between Kampong Cham and Ksach Kandal

On day five we had to leave the countryside for a day and pass through Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. To save time the next day we had decided to stay in the south of the city. We crossed the Mekong on the car ferry and were suddenly thrown into the heart of this bustling Asian city. It was chaos. No one here seemed to drive by any kind of rules and cyclists are the lowest on the food chain. We were as cautious as possible however I must admit at some points I did feeling like shouting at everyone around me. Of course we made it, emerging in one piece just about.

The car ferry to Phnom Penh across the Mekong River

The car ferry to Phnom Penh across the Mekong River

Still keen to continue cycling we decided to carry on to Kampot. We were desperate to leave the city and so got up very early the next day to continue south. This second part of our cycle was not as scenic as the first part along the Mekong. The area was very industrial and so we were often sharing the roads with large trucks. We were however still able to see a side to Cambodia not everyone sees. We would often arrive at a guesthouse in a small town to find the owner confused to why we were there and even more confused to hear we wanted a room to stay the night! We also had two nights where we were able to easily find a guest house however it was very difficult to find any dinner. None of the local restaurants stayed open after dark so we were left eating at very basic street food stands selling snacks. Not great when your starving after cycling all day. Luckily we were able to find lots a bakeries on this busy road. Each day we bought a bag of sweet breads and cakes which would power us on to lunch and our final destination.

During our afternoon in Tani we managed to find ourselves in one of those unexpected travel experiences. We went to explore the small local temple and saw a procession of people moving through the temple grounds. They all notice us and start pointing and waving (we are pretty used to this reaction by now). One old woman ushered us over and in broken English invites us inside the temple. We then sit through an immersive Buddhist ceremony which we later find out is to celebrate Meak Bochea Day, a national holiday. During the session we have a picture at the front with the lead Monk and afterwards he spent some time chatting with us. Later he added us both on Facebook and we noticed he had made our photo his cover photo.

Our new 'Monk' facebook friend's cover photo with us at Meak Bochea Day

Our new ‘Monk’ facebook friend’s cover photo with us at Meak Bochea Day

On day eight we arrived at the coast in the beautiful town of Kep. We then did a very short cycle to the next town of Kampot our final destination. Here we celebrated completing our journey by having an amazing full body blind massage for about $5 each and by getting a full roast dinner and some banoffee pie! I think we deserved it after 435.6km of cycling (270.7 miles) over nine hot Cambodian days.

Rich and Emily on Kep pier celebrating final reaching the coast!

Rich and Emily on Kep pier celebrating final reaching the coast!

Our final challenge was getting rid of the bikes. They had got us such a long way we really weren’t worried about selling them for the same price we bought them for. They didn’t owe us much. After failing to sell them to our hostel we crossed the road to the guest house opposite and tried there. One of the staff said she was interested in both, one for her son and one for her sister. We assured her the saddles would go down and negotiated on the price. With everything included we sold them both for $40. A bargain for her but we were both happy to see them go to a good home.

We have now finally finished our mini cycle touring adventure. We haven’t seen many of Cambodia’s major sights yet but we have seen the local lives of everyday people. Cycling was sweaty, tiring and hard work at points but it’s very rewarding and I am sure we will do it again. Maybe next time with better bikes!

 

The cycling statistics…

Day 1

  • Kratie to Chhlong
  • Distance cycled: 33.1km
  • Time taken (including stops): 3 hours
  • Time taken (moving time): 2 hours 20
  • Average speed: 14.2 kmph

Day 2

  • Chhlong to Stung Trang
  • Distance cycled: 55km
  • Time taken (including stops): 6 hours 45 minutes
  • Time taken (moving time): 4 hours 15 minutes
  • Average speed: 13 kmph

Day 3

  • Stung Trang to Kampong Cham
  • Distance cycled: 32.4km
  • Time taken (including stops): 3 hours 30 minutes
  • Time taken (moving time): 2 hours 5 minutes
  • Average speed: 15.5 kmph

Day 4

  • Kampong Cham to Ksach Kandal
  • Distance cycled: 83.2km
  • Time taken (including stops): 8 hours 50 minutes
  • Time taken (moving time): 6 hours
  • Average speed: 14.1 kmph

Day 5

  • Ksach Kandal to Ta Khmau (Southern Phnom Penh)
  • Distance cycled: 38.5km
  • Time taken (including stops): 5 hours
  • Time taken (moving time): 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Average speed: 15.5 kmph

Day 6

  • Ta Khmau (Southern Phnom Penh) to Srok Samraong
  • Distance cycled: 48.3km
  • Time taken (including stops): 4 hours 50 minutes
  • Time taken (moving time): 3 hours 5 minutes
  • Average speed: 15.6 kmph

Day 7

  • Srok Sam rang to Tani
  • Distance cycled: 57.4km
  • Time taken (including stops): 5 hours
  • Time taken (moving time): 3 hours 30 minutes
  • Average speed: 16.5 kmph

Day 8

  • Tani to Kep
  • Distance cycled: 59.4km
  • Time taken (including stops): 4 hours
  • Time taken (moving time): 3 hours 5 minutes
  • Average speed: 15.1 kmph

Day 9

  • Kep to Kampot
  • Distance cycled: 28.3km
  • Time taken (including stops): 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Time taken (moving time): 2 hours 5 minutes
  • Average speed: 13.7 kmph

 

Total

  • Kratie to Kampot
  • 9 days
  • Total Distance cycled: 435.6km (270.7miles)
  • Average speed: 14.8 kmph (9.19 mph)

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