Cycling in Cambodia
Cycling in Cambodia is on the rise and it is a great way to learn about Cambodia and the Khmer people. If you cycle around Phnom Penh in the early morning, you will see many groups of cyclists hitting the road and enjoying the early day with friends. Cycling has advanced from a simple and cheap form of transport into a popular sport and there are plenty of cycling destinations you can try.
If you want to get the feel of cycling in Cambodia, you can have an online experience with our live stream tours.
Road Trip to Kampong Cham
One such ride is along the Mekong to Kampong Cham. When cycling in Cambodia, it is best to head out early. You want to finish the ride before midday as the weather will start to get unpleasant for cycling. I hit the road about 5am and plan to finish where I want to go between 11am and midday.
The way to Kampong Cham
The ride to Kampong Cham is straight forward. You head up Monivong to the Chroy Changvar bridge, also known as the Japanese bridge, but the Chinese have built a bridge next to it which causes confusion at times. Once you cross over and cut across the Prohm Bayan Circle head to the Mekong. You need to cross the Mekong at some stage. There are a couple of ways to do this. There are two convenient ways to cross the river. At the circle, turn right down Keo Chenda St. This will take you to a ferry terminal. Another way is to cycle up highway 6 until you get to the Prek Tamak Bridge, cross over and on the other side, turn left and head north.
One thing you will notice about cycling in Cambodia is you draw attention. The road to Kampong Cham is dotted with villages. The road is a mixture of asphalt, concrete, crushed rock and sand, and lots of curious onlookers. And take plenty of water, as you start to perspire a lot and can get dehydrated, especially as the sun comes up.
The road is flat and easy to cycle. For drinking water, just drop into a local shop. One place I stopped at was a family affair. When I pulled up there were a lot of stares. I asked for some water and drank about two litres and stuffed my bag with bottles of water. A young man in the shop, a son I believe, looked at me and asked, “Phnom Penh.” I nodded then he asked, “Kampong Cham.” I nodded again, and he broke into laughter, as did some of his relatives. They thought I was mad to want to ride a bicycle in the heat all that way. Cycling in Cambodia can be hot
The road continues until a T-intersection. Turn left and here there is a ferry crossing in the neighbourhood. It takes a bit of searching to find. I tried to ask a bewildered farmer who was with his son. Waving and gesticulating what I thought would clearly mean ferry: he just smiled at me and made some comment to his son. Then I saw the ferry on the river. The ferry pulled into is a simple concrete ramp leading into the water. Again, locals stared.
Mixing it with the locals
The ferry does not leave until it is full. While I waited, a group of Cambodians started a cock fight. Some Cambodian men tried to find out how much my bike cost, which made me slightly apprehensive, and a young Cambodian girl leaned on my leg and stared at me with a stern look on her face. Some children were swimming in the Mekong when the ferry captain sound the departure horn. Everyone piled on board.
The ferry goes to Kang Meas on the other side of the river, and it is some twenty kilometres from Kampong Cham. However, the afternoon had crept in while I waited for the ferry, so it was a hot ride into town.
Back to Phnom Penh
Getting back to Phnom Penh, you can go back the way you came. There is also the inland route, which is like riding across a hot iron plate. The first stage is the 50kms or so to Skun. Cycling that section is in the early morning. Further up the road, you hit highway 6. Down this road is a Y-intersection: one road, highway 6, leads back to the Mekong and eventually past the Prek Tamak Bridge and onto Phnom Penh. The other road is highway 61 and takes you to the bridge near Oudong, the ancient capital, and over the Ton Le Sap. However, you can also throw you bike on a bus and return that way.
I tried the Oudong direction and was exhausted by the time I had crossed the bridge. There was still more than 30kms to go. I rode into a service station, much to the surprise of the family who owned it. I needed water and sat down on a Cambodian deckchair. A man, the owner, brought over a fan and let it cool me down. His daughter, who spoken quite good English, started the questions: “What’s your name?”, “Where are you from?”, Where are you going?”, and of course, “It’s too hot to ride.”
Exhausted I fell asleep.
I woke up and the afternoon had moved on. I jumped on the bike and humped it to Phnom Penh, arriving just before dark.
What a ride and a lot of fun and interesting encounters with the locals. Try it and you will not regret it.
When you cycle in Cambodia, two bike shops for all your bike needs are
Giant Bicycle shop
169 Czech Republic Blvd
(Across the road from Bak Touk High School)
+855 67 770 446
Huge range of Giant bicycles. You will find friendly English-speaking staff. They have a extensive range of parts and accessories.
Flying Bikes 2
No.131 BEO Street 51
Sangkat Psar Thmey 3
+855 12 727 717
Lots of Cannondale bikes. Extensive range of parts and accessories. English-speaking staff. Great location.
There is a huge selection of new and second-hand bicycles and repair shops near the Oreussey market.
Phnom Penh to Kampong Som
Where is that you say? Well, Kampong Som is better known as Sihanoukville, or the new Macao. Any way you look at it, the town is worth a look. Although the Chinese are busily turning it into the casino capital of Southeast Asia, it still has places to escape to. And as a cycling destination, it is a great and challenging trip.
A cyclist can either go the shorter route along highway 4, or the longer route along highway 3. The former is about 230 kilometres, and the latter is about 250 kilometres; not a great difference. However, the longer route takes you by Kampot, and a stopover there is a fantastic break in one of Cambodia’s most delightful places.
Mad, the Bad and Crazy Drivers
Cycling along both these routes can be perilous at the best of times. Both routes are heavily used by all types of vehicles, especially crazy drivers of private taxis and mini buses. Surprisingly, truck drivers tend to be quite courteous and generally honk horns when bearing down on a cyclist. However, keep an eye out for all drivers on a death mission.
As with all long-distance cycling in Cambodia, it is best to head off early. If for no other reason, you avoid a lot of traffic in Phnom Penh – if that is you’re starting point – and the trucks full of workers delivering their human cargo to factories on the outskirts of the capital.
To start your journey, head out from Central Market and find Charles de Gaulle Boulevard. If you head to Monivong Road, you will see it. The road takes you by the Olympic Stadium. Actually, the road changes names before you leave town. It is Street 217 until the turn off for Veng Sreng Boulevard. Its other name is Monireth Boulevard. Eventually you get to Chaom Chau Circle, which is near the airport. Here, highways 3 and 4 split off. From here, turn left and go south to Kampot along highway 3. If you make good time, you will be way out of town before the traffic kicks in.
Cycling Perils in Cambodia
One of the perils of cycling on roads in Cambodia is overtaking … on the other side of the road. It is common to see a slow-moving rice tractor being overtaken by a faster mini-bus which is being overtaken by a speeding private taxi. This leaves little room on your side of road. The best decision for the cyclist is to hit the dirt on the side of the road and let this tangle of vehicles pass you by.
Early in the morning, there is a fleet of trucks hauling workers to factories. They usually come in the opposite direction to you. One rule about the traffic pecking order in Cambodia is that cyclists are way down the list, in fact, they are one above pedestrians. Expect to be cut off, run off the road and invisible to most other vehicles. These worker trucks will happily turn in front of you if the factory gate is in front of you. So long as you understand the rules, you will be fine. And the golden rule, start early to avoid the traffic snarl.
Kampot and Detours
The road is quite flat, and you can make good time. Some cyclists like to detour to Takeo, if for no other reason but to enjoy the freshwater shrimp available there. Along the road to Kampot there are lots of roadside restaurants and café joints. About halfway to Kampot there is a large service station that is a pitstop for mini buses coming up from Kampot and Sihanoukville. It is a great place for a break and watch the tourists taking the less enjoyable mode of travel.
Destination Kampot and Beyond
If you make good bike time, you can get into Kampot before midday. Cycle down to the river where there are plenty of places to stay. Near the Big Durian roundabout, there are a couple of good guesthouses to stay.
A lot a people like to stay in the town for a couple of days or more, and I do not blame them; it is a relaxing place. It is nice to get off the bike for a while. But for this journey, it is an over-nighter and forging ahead to Sihanoukville.
To cross the river, you have to take the new bridge. The old French colonial-era bridge needs much repair and has been closed off. However, pedestrians still use it and use it if you dare.
The Road to Kampong Som
The road from Kampot to Sihanoukville is a delight. It runs parallel to the sea, and in the morning, it is a fantastic to cycle along. As you head out of Kampot you pass Bokor Mountain, which you can visit on your next trip to Kampot. There is little traffic on the road, and its proximity to the sea makes it cooler than riding inland. However, this comes to an abrupt end at the Prey Nob intersection. The heavily trafficked highway 4 joins the tour.
Nonetheless, this road is good to ride on as it is generally well-made, and the traffic tend to leave you alone. About 20 kilometres outside of Sihanoukville is the airport. After the airport are the hills leading into town.
The Road to Sihanoukville
Renamed after the late King Sihanouk, the town is a bustling seaport and becoming exceedingly popular with Chinese tourists.
The road into town is a hill. The road is a gut-busting three-stage haul after the pleasant flat-terrain cycling of the last two days. Once you get to the top it is all downhill. Actually, there are two ways into Sihanoukville. If you go straight, you arrive into the busy downtown area. However, just after the top of the hill, you can turn left and take the back way into town.
The back road takes you to Otres beach. A great place to stop and jump into the sea to cool off. You can also visit the retired colonel who owns a restaurant on the corner of the road to the beach and the main beach road. Spends hours listening to him, his tales of army life and enjoy a few beers.
From here and the colonel, it is a short ride into Kampong Som: more on that town later.
Phnom Penh to Battambang
Cyclebodia takes you on a journey from Phnom Penh to Battambang via Kampong Chhnang.
When you start early Phnom Penh is quiet: not much traffic, the city is waking up, and an army of street sweepers come into play. Lots of Phnom Penhers like to exercise in the cool of early morning: joggers, walkers, and other cyclists.
By the time the sun rises you are out of town and on the open road, ready to take on whatever is thrown your way. The ride to Battambang will take you along the south-western side of the Ton Le Sap.
The Road to Kampong Chhnang
Getting out of Phnom Penh to Kampong Chhnang is best achieved with a 5am start. Eventually, you hit National Highway 5, and this is the road you use to get to Battambang. The road is reasonably good for the most part (by Cambodian standards). However, on the outskirts of the capital there are some rough patches prone to flooding. If you are on a mountain bike, then you glide through these obstacles. We suggest you do not cycle or drive through flooded potholes for obvious reasons – they might be deeper than you think.
To begin with, riding up Monivong road takes you past the Chrouy Changva Bridge and along the Ton Le Sap River. This part of town has a Muslim flavour. You cycle past Mosques and Masjids with bearded men wearing kufis and thobes while many of the women wear hijabs and abayas. Another fascinating side of Cambodia.
After a while you pass the second Ton Le Sap bridge.
About 40kms out of town you see Oudong on your left. It is easy to spot as the remnants of the former centre of power are perched on one of the few mountains in the area. Oudong was the royal residence and Cambodia’s capital for more than 250 years until 1866. It is also known as the “City of Past Kings”. You could stop here and look around, but it is better to visit Oudong on a day trip from Phnom Penh.
After Oudong the ride takes you through some twists and turns before you arrive in Kampong Chhnang. The journey from Phnom Penh to Kampong Chhnang is light on traffic and the hazards it presents. There are plenty of places to take a break and top up on water. As usual the inquisitive locals will want to know what you are up to and smile with disbelief.
By now you are in one of the central provinces of Cambodia, and its capital is, what else, Kampong Chhnang. It is amazing how tidy the town is. Most Cambodian towns are dusty and littered but not this one. As you ride in there are several guesthouses to choose from but continue to the centre of town which is nearer the Ton Le Sap.
Kampong Chhnang is about 100 kilometres from Phnom Penh. It is next to the Ton Le Sap. The town’s name literally means Clay Pot Port.
Take a ride to the bustling dock on the Tonlé Sap River. This is the jumping-off point for boat rides to floating villages. Ferries leave here and ply the lake to the other side or further afield. Near the port are many Chinese shops. There is also a large Vietnamese community.
Outside of town you can visit the areas where the area’s distinctive pottery is crafted underneath stilted homes.
Kampong Chhnang Province
Kampong Chhnang Province centuries ago was a main trading route between China and India. The Kampong Chhnang museum has the archaeological record of its history.
There is a Khmer Rouge-era airbase in the area. This base was built, but not completed, to handle Chinese aircraft. During its construction there were many Chinese advisors overseeing the works.
The military airport was the product of forced labour under the Khmer Rouge. Construction on this military airbase began in 1977, but it was abandoned in 1979 when Vietnamese forces invaded and occupied Cambodia.
Though never used for any actual aviation, the land holds several abandoned roadways leading to old buildings, water tanks, and the huge airstrips themselves.
There is also a guard posted at the runway. Typically, visitors have to pay a “fee” to look around.
Kampong Chhnang to Pursat
The next stage is another 100 or so kilometres from Kampong Chhnang to Pursat. This town is also the gateway to the Cardoman Mountains and beyond.
Pursat is located between the Tonle Sap and the northern end of the Cardamom Mountains. The Pursat River bisects the province, running from the Cardamoms in the west to the Tonle Sap in the east.
First impressions of Pursat is another dusty Khmer town. However, it is home to Wat Bakan, considered to be among the oldest active pagodas in Cambodia and revered as one of the most holy sites of Cambodian Buddhism. The province also hosts the annual River Run Race, an event for men and women, including those in wheelchairs, has five- and ten-kilometre races that follow the path of the Pursat River. Since its inaugural race in 2007, the event has grown to the second largest of its kind in Cambodia.
Cycling Pursat to Battambang
The Pursat to Battambang road is unusually quiet in the early morning. There is an odd line of streetlights lining the road as you leave town. They seem to go on forever. Once past them, there are rice fields on either side of you for the next 100 kilometres or so.
The ride to Battambang, or city of the lost stick, is quite uneventful. However, when you enter city you first encounter the Battambang statue. A short ride from this and you are in the city centre.
Battambang is the leading rice-producing province of the country. It was also part of Thailand for some time before the French ceded it in 1907, and French Colonial architecture is a notable aspect of the city and an excellent opportunity for picture taking.
The city is situated on the Sangkae River. This is a small river that winds its way through Battambang Province to the Ton Le Sap. Battambang has several Angkorian temples in the area, and it is definitely worth staying in the town for several days.
Cycling in Cambodia Destinations
If you have enjoyed this Cambodian cycling adventure, there are plenty of other Cambodian destinations to keep you busy and fit. Try Anlong Veng or Kampong Cham or Ratanakiri and never missing out on Angkor Wat in Krong Siem Reap.
If you have experience of cycling in Cambodia, we would love to share your story. Give other bike enthusiasts a taste of adventure.
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