How to Train for Your First Bike Tour

Adventure Travel, Bike Touring, Travel

Bike touring is one of the most rewarding ways to travel. Yet it can be daunting for first time riders.

But it doesn’t have to be.

With the right training plan, you can be strong and confident on the first day of your bike tour.

Or you could be like me on the first day of my ride around Cambodia, collapsing from exhaustion after only 50 miles. Your choice, but I recommend training.

Bike Tour to Phnom Penh Cambodia

Your Super Simple Bike Tour Training Plan

1. Start with short, easy rides

4-6 months before your tour, start regularly riding your bike. Begin with an easy length, maybe only 5 or 10 miles, and build from there. Try to ride 3 to 5 times per week.

This may seem obvious, but the most important thing you can do to prepare for a bike tour is to start riding your bike. Try to keep your RMPs (that’s revolutions per minute, also known as your cadence) above 90. Your legs should be moving quickly but comfortably.

Remember to be nice to your body. You’re preparing for a big adventure. Start small but dream big. Don’t injure yourself now and mess up your future plans.

Most importantly: be patient.

cardamom mountain road cambodia

2. Start Cross Training with Weights

After a few weeks of easy riding, head to the gym to start lifting weights twice per week. This is an often overlooked step, but cross training is just as important as riding your bike.

Lifting weights will help you build strength for the long bike tour. It will also rev up your progress. Lifting weights only twice a week will make that 30 mile ride feel just a little bit easier.

Never lifted weights before? Find an intro to weight lifting class at a local gym. Learn proper weight lifting form to avoid injuries and muscle imbalances. Once you know what you’re doing, you can get creative with your weight lifting routine.

Need inspiration? Check out these exercises from REI.

biking kep cambodia

3. Embace Adventure on Longer Rides

2-3 months before the trip, start going on long bike rides.

Aim to take two 40+ mile rides each week. If this isn’t possible, at least one 50+ mile ride on the weekend should be enough.

Don’t be afraid of the long ride. This is a chance to have an adventure. Try out roads you’ve never ridden down before. Ride your bike to a nearby town or state park.

Pretty soon, you’ll be craving the peace of mind that comes from spending two or three hours alone on your bike.

cardamom mountains battambang to koh kong

4. Add Weight To Your Bike

2-3 weeks before your trip, start adding weight to your bike when you ride. Riding a fully loaded bike is challenging. You don’t want to shock your body on day 1 of the tour.

Begin with 15 to 20 pounds on a medium length ride and build from there. Ideally, you’ll want to do one or two long rides with a fully packed bike in the week leading up to your trip.

Additional Tips

On top of your training plan, here are a few more things to keep in mind as you get fit and ready for your first bike trip:

  • Monitor your progress. Download an app like Strava or MapMyRide, or just go the oldschool route of pen and paper. Whatever you choose, keep a record of your progress. This will help keep you honest and will motivate you when you see how much you improve in only a few months.
  • Stretch! I can’t emphasize this enough. Start stretching from day one. Just five minutes of stretching after a ride can help prevent injuries and promote recovery. Not sure where to start? Try these simple stretches from Bicycling Magazine.

bike tour cambodia

Training for Adventure

Training for a bike tour should be fun. You’ll be spending time outside, getting fit, riding your bike. What more could you want?

If you can’t fit in all the training, don’t worry. I did my first bike tour without any training at all (honestly, I hadn’t ridden a bike in over a year) and I survived. You will too.

If you follow this plan, you’ll be well prepared to get the most out of your first bike tour.

Happy trails!


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Training for Your First Bike Tour: A 6 Month Training Plan to Prepare for Your First Long Term Bicycle Tour

Bike Tour Cambodia: The Final Days

Adventure Travel, Bike Touring, Cambodia, Travel

After almost seven weeks of spending every day inside my own head, struggling over mountains, riding across rice fields, and facing down creepy men… would I even be able to readapt to society?

Preoccupied with thoughts of my uncertain future, I headed into the final days and the road back to Battambang. But before my glorious return, I still had one more exciting secret Cambodian tourist spot to visit, and just a few more rural towns to navigate.

Really, anything could happen.

Samroang: Capital of Oddar Meanchey

Leaving Preah Vihear, stoked after my visit to that incredible temple, I cycled out towards Samroang. It was a mere 80km from Sra’em to Samroang, the capital of Oddar Meanchey, one of the least visited and least populous provinces in Cambodia.

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Honestly, by this point in the ride I was getting downright arrogant. 80km was nothing, I’d bang it out in a few hours with plenty of time to spare for exploring Samroang.

But just when you think your bike tour has nothing left to teach you, the bike schools you once again. I found myself cycling into a steady headwind for 80km, a totally challenge to my mindset that forced me to reevaluate my presumed strength. Determined to enjoy the final days of my ride, I had to mindfully try not to feel negative. Yes, the headwind was frustrating but really, how lucky was I?

The road from Sra’em to Samroang is technically a highway, but it is little used. Aside from a few trucks, cars, and entire families on motos, I pretty much had the road to myself.

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Even with the headwind, I made it to Samroang around lunchtime and found an overpriced room in a underwhelming guesthouse. Samroang itself was a very strange town. The provincial capital, it has the grid of roads laid out for a town, with plenty of government buildings… but no town. The streets are there, but the people are not. They all live in villages nearby, but not in the town itself. Its as if the government wanted to build a town there, but the people didn’t feeling like settling.

If you build it… they’ll tell you to get lost.

It was pretty weird.

Cycling from Samroang to Banteay Chhmar

From Samroang, it was a simple 50km out to Banteay Chhmar. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t the most inspiring or beautiful section of the trip.

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The road was mostly flat, I think, not super memorable, except for one section that wound through some lotus flower fields. Those are always a treat.

Arrived at Banteay Chhmar, site of an ancient Angkor Era temple in a state of disarray. This temple is equal in size and beauty to many of the temples outside of Siem Reap, but far less visited by tourists.

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The village surrounding the temple runs a CBT, or “community based tourism” initiative. What this basically means is that the money from the temples, one restaurant, and the homestays in the village are all pooled and go directly back to the locals. The result is that the tourism around Banteay Chhmar actually benefits the people who live there. Weird, right?

I arrived in town with the idea of spending a night in one of the homestays in the village. However, I failed to call ahead and when I popped into the CBT office, it was empty. It was 11am though, so I went to visit the temples, have lunch, and then made up my mind to continue riding all the way to Sereysophorn, another 60km. No homestay for me.

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Can I tell you a secret?

I hate homestays. I’m not opposed to them from an ethical standpoint, I’m sure they can be great for responsible tourism. But just from a personal standpoint, I hate them. I feel so awkward and intrusive. Skipping the homestay in Banteay Chhmar was an easy call. I much prefer a simple guesthouse.

The ride from Banteay Chhmar to Sereysophorn absolutely flew by. I had just a hint of a tail wind, my legs felt strong, and I was in a euphoric state of mind. This was my last section of never-before-seen road on my bike ride around Cambodia. It was characterized by wide open rice fields. The storm clouds looming overhead only encouraged me to ride harder.

It was one of the best afternoons of riding in my trip. Just plain fun.

I arrived in Sereysophorn in the late afternoon, got some deep fried bananas, and took a room in a guesthouse. Tomorrow would be the final day of my trip. Just a quick 70km down Road 5. A route I’d ridden before, two months ago when I was training for this ride.

It was certainly a bittersweet feeling.

Cycling from Sereysophorn, Banteay Meanchey to Battambang

This was it. The final day. A day which, if I’m being totally honest, I’d been imagining since before I even began the ride. Is that strange? I don’t think so. Sometimes I imagined myself rolling into Battambang completely exhausted, worn out, and just falling off my bike in the street.

Other times, I imagined cheering crowds. Women fainting. People running up to congratulate me.

Okay, those are my Tour de France fantasies. Whatever.

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The final day of the ride was great. I mean, road 5 is a crowded highway, so that wasn’t exactly enjoyable. I was really struck by the extreme contrast between Oddar Meanchey, Banteay Meanchey, and now Battambang Province. Just yesterday I’d been riding through underdeveloped land and open rice fields, hardly a town to be seen. Now the road was crowded with trucks, buses, vans, and cars, and the sides of the road were lined with houses, shops, and larger businesses. Night and day.

But it was familiar, it really felt like “this is the end”. But in a good way. It was nice to return to Battambang and have it feel like home.

I even passed another bike tourist. We waved at each other, no words were exchanged.

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I rolled into town before 11am. The cheering crowds didn’t materialize. It was no different than the end of any other day. No one batted an eye, except for the one or two creepy guys who chose to leer at me.

Final Thoughts from a Bicycle Tour Around Cambodia

In the moment of my arrival in Battambang, I realized that the deeply personal life journey I had just been on would remain just that: deeply personal. In truth, even as I write this blog post, two weeks after the end of the ride, I’m still digesting everything that the ride meant to me. It was such an incredible and life changing experience. I feel something has shifted, down at the very core of my being.

It was a realigning. A readjustment. A reset.

Even as I arrived back in Battambang on that last day, I felt it. I was a happier, more lighthearted person now than when I had left.

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When my friend who runs the “Cafe Eden” in town came out onto the street and said “You’re Back!” and I laughingly replied “Yes, literally just right now.” I felt that I was a changed person. Even if no one else could see it, I knew at the core of my being that something had been deeply altered.

The Megan who had ridden out of Battambang on May 1 was weighed down by expectations, self loathing, and hateful criticism.

The Megan who returned was different. Happier, lighter, more forgiving of herself, content with herself, confident. Overjoyed.

I had just ridden 2,145km around Cambodia. And I felt fucking amazing.


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The final days of a bike tour around Cambodia, through Oddar Meanchey, Banteay Chhmar, and back to Battambang

Bike Tour Cambodia: Crossing the Northern Hinterland

Adventure Travel, Bike Touring, Cambodia, Travel

After my wild ride along the death road, my bike ride across Cambodia stretched across the far northern reaches of the country, from Banlung in Ratanakiri province in the east, through Stung Treng, Preah Vihear, Anglong Veng, Banteay Chhmar, and back down to Battambang, the town where it all began.

If you’ve never heard of any of those towns before, don’t worry. Neither had I. The north of Cambodia is hard to get to, under developed, and hardly ever visited by foreign tourists.

It was some of my favorite riding of the trip, and including one of the best, most amusing, and most disastrous days of my trip. But I’ll get to that in a bit…

Day 1: Banlung to Stung Treng: 140km (Or, that was the goal)

After spending a few days in Banlung, a gorgeous town up in the hills, I was as mentally prepared as I could be for my first 140km day. As with my other big days during the bike ride around Cambodia, I was nervous before heading out.

The rode passed through hills, more down than up, through forest, rubber plantations, and pepper farms. I was on the lookout for a dirt road to Stung Treng that somehow wouldn’t add any extra distance to my day. The turning point for the road came about 45km into my day. I stopped for a quick second breakfast then headed out.

Dirt road through the jungle near Stung Treng, Cambodia, Into Foreign Lands

Similar to other backroads I’d pursued on my trip, it was an altogether pleasant experience. Quiet, rural, the road passed through some dense jungle at one point then returned to farmland. It was shaping up to be another perfect day.

I rode hard along this dirt path, enjoying the undulating hills and hoping for a tailwind that never came. I did get a pretty strong headwind for about 45 minutes as some rainclouds rolled in, but the promised rain never materialized and after awhile the wind let up as well.

Rickety Bridge near Stung Treng, Cambodia, Into Foreign Lands

Near the end of this dirt road, I came to a long and rickety bridge across a river. While I was making my way across it, a pickup truck came up behind me and followed me across. Once I reached the safety of the far bank of the river, I moved over to let them pass. Instead of passing, they stopped and rolled down their window. After the weeks and weeks of harassment from men, my guard was immediately up. But a woman who spoke English poked her head out and asked if I wanted to throw my bike in the back of their truck.

“We can drive you to Stung Treng.”

No thanks, I told them, I’m happy to ride.

And off they drove.

The rest of the dirt road was scenic and gorgeous but my legs were starting to feel all the hills. I’d ridden 60km without stopping at this point and I was looking forward to eating lunch.

Joining back up with the main road, I knew I had only 40 more kilometers to go before Stung Treng. I pulled into a restaurant.

A group of people were sitting at the table and invited me to sit with them. They were all smiles and then I realized… these are the people from the pick up truck! The same ones who offered me a ride on the bridge.

We got to talking again and they explained that they were from the Ministry of Health in Phnom Penh. They were up in the north to visit rural health centers. They invited me to come with them to visit some rural villages up on the border with Laos.

A Lotus Filled Lake in Preah Vihear Cambodia

I was torn. I wanted to finish my 140km day but I also wanted to have this adventure. After a bit of internal debate, I swallowed my pride and accepted their invitation.

Sitting in a car and being driven down the road, I felt a bit odd. It was so easy, so effortless. The scenery flew by the window so fast I could barely take it in.

I didn’t like it.

But I was excited to see where we would go.

We stopped not far outside of Stung Treng to visit one local health center, then headed up the road towards the border with Laos. Optimistically, I thought we were off to visit Siem Pang, a rural village I had originally intended to include in my bike trip but had to forego because of heavy rains.

But no. Instead we did something so uniquely Khmer, so ludicrous, I would’ve been disappointed if I wasn’t so amused.

We drove up to the border crossing. Told the guard to open the gate, drove right up to the gate where you pass from Cambodia to Laos, and then parked the car, and took pictures.

Yeah, we just went and literally looked at a border crossing. Didn’t cross the border. Didn’t stop to visit any villages. Just looked at the border crossing.

Then drove back to Stung Treng.

It was totally weird and totally Khmer. Plus the people were super nice. They got me a hotel room for $5 a night in Stung Treng and took me out for an incredible 4 course dinner that night. I got to learn about their lives, their children, and was even invited to stay with them in Phnom Penh (I did not, however, get any contact information from them, so it will never happen).

With my Khmer Friends in Stung Treng, Into Foreign Lands

I’m not at all disappointed that I didn’t ride those 40km. The experience of hanging out with my Ministry of Health friends was totally worth it.

Days 2 – 6: Cycling to Preah Vihear and Sra’aem with a Massive Disaster in Between

After my adventure with the Ministry of Health, it was time to tackle another 140km day. This time, I knew, there would be no rescue from well meaning Khmers.

Leaving Stung Treng, I followed the road for Preah Vihear. Expecting it to be a highway, I was surprised to find myself on a nearly deserted paved road through remote countryside and sparse jungle. Rocky outcroppings and cliffs jutted up out of the landscape to the north and south of the road.

The road itself passed up and over rolling hills. This surprised me. I had expected to find myself riding through the flat floodplains of Cambodia.

Before riding a bike around Cambodia, I was under the impression that most of the country is pancake flat. And it is. In the middle. But my route followed the edges of Cambodia. And the edges of Cambodia are made up of hills.

140km of hills later, I had reached Preah Vihear town. Tired, exhausted, but very proud of myself, I rolled into a guesthouse and passed out.

My mountain bike outside Preah Vihear on the Ride Across Cambodia

The next day I spent exploring Preah Vihear town by bike. The town sits at the base of a large ridge of mountains. No roads that I could find climb the hill, but I cycled around the base of it, found a nice lotus filled lake, and spent the rest of the day admiring the countryside.

Really though, I was resting up for the next day, a 80km ride up to Sra’em, the town at the base of Preah Vihear Temple. Confusing, I know. Preah Vihear Town is actually about 110km away from Preah Vihear Temple. Don’t ask me why.

For the ride to Sra’em, there is a paved road that runs direct from Preah Vihear Town. It couldn’t be easier to follow.

So of course, I had to look for an alternate route.

And on google maps, I found one.

Pro Tip: if you’re trying to plan a bike tour around Cambodia, don’t trust google maps. For the love of god, don’t trust them.

Always double check with the satellite imagery. If it is a wide, flat line of a road, you’re good to go. If it looks like a whisper of a trail through the jungle, don’t. Save yourself the energy. Take the main road.

But I didn’t check the satellite imagery. I just found this alternate route on google maps and decided to see what would happen.

And of course what happened was an adventure and disaster all rolled up into one.

My Disastrously Fun Bike Ride from Preah Vihear to ?????

I set off from Preah Vihear quite early in the day, my bike loaded up with all 15kg of my stuff, and quickly found myself riding up a wide dirt road. I imagined it would continue like this for the next 80km of the day.

Sometimes, I’m naive.

That wide dirt road lasted for about 20km, then ran into a collection of houses, something less than a village. After that, things began to get… interesting.

It became clear that this road was under construction. Large vehicles and random cliffs disturbed the otherwise smooth surface of the road. Sudden drop offs had smaller detour trails running along the sides. Eventually, I came to one such dip in the road and found myself facing a large puddle. Or a small river, depending on your perspective.

I looked for a detour trail but couldn’t find one. There was a large slab of wood sitting on top of the water. A few cautious footsteps proved that the wood was floating free, not attached to anything. The mud underneath was disturbingly slippery. The water came up to my mid thigh.

Not wanting to get my computer and camera equipment wet, I removed all my bags from my bike then carried them across the puddle, using the plank of wood for support and inching across it sideways at a speed slightly faster than a snail. The water was the temperature of used bath water festering in the sun.

At the last moment, the final step from the plank of wood to the safety of the dry bank, my foot hid some mud, I slipped, and went down, splashing into the surely malarial waters, desperately trying to hold my bag up over my head as I did so.

I had to laugh, because of course I fell in at the last possible moment.

Wet with water the temperature of recently released urine, I set my bags down on the dry road and looked back, contemplating how I was going to get my bike across. I could carry it, yes, but my balance on that plank of wood had been precarious at best.

This was a puzzle for sure.

As I was pondering this conundrum, I heard the rumble of a tractor not far off. Looking up, I saw that in fact there WAS a detour around this puddle, and I hadn’t needed to take all my stuff of my bike after all. At least I knew how I would get my bike across. I headed off at a jog down the detour, intending to ride my bike back to my stuff, skipping the puddle.

Two Cambodians ride on a tractor outside of Preah Vihear from Into Foreign Lands

Instead, the tractor emerged from the jungle with a Khmer couple sitting on top. They took in my situation in an instant and started giggling. Stopping their tractor, the young man got up, walked through the puddle like it was nothing, picked up my bike, and carried it back across.

I sheepishly followed him back across, laughing along with them at my clumsy attempts to walk through the Cambodian mud.

Putting my bags back on my bike, now safely across what I foolishly assumed would be the biggest roadblock of the day, I headed off up the road, quickly passing the slow moving tractor and friendly Khmer couple. We waved at each other as I passed.

A few more detours, easier to spot than the last, and I was feeling positive. I understood the situation now. All I needed to do was find the sneaky detours and I’d finish these 80km in no time.

Not so fast Megan.

I came up a hill and found myself in the middle of a construction zone, where some large equipment was building the road I was riding on. I had come to the literal end of the road. It ended in some rough dirt, gravel, and a cliff.

Thanks a lot, google maps.

After a little scouting, I found a smaller tractor road heading in the right direction. Skirting the construction equipment, I pedaled up a small hill and down the trail, congratulating myself on successfully navigating the wilds of Cambodia. I was so smart. I was practically a native Cambodian myself at this point.

House I found on my Bike Ride Across Cambodia Into Foreign Lands

And then I hit a lake. Not just a puddle this time, but a massive body of water. The road, the fields, the whole world was flooded. I couldn’t see the other side.

Well, thanks a bundle Cambodia. This really was the end of the road. No more sneaky shortcuts or tractor trails. I had to go back.

Turning around to head back to town, I was stopped by my two friends on the tractor. They smiled at me and told me to wait a moment. Then they started hollering across the lake. Shouting and generally causing a racket.

Five minutes later, I heard the soft put-put-put of a small boat engine, and a little wooden canoe emerged from the bamboo, captained by a Khmer man and stuffed to the brim with various packages.

When he reached us, my tractor friends set in motion unloading the small boat and transferring the packages to their tractor. They also spoke with the man about me. I told them I was trying to get to “Choam Ksant” the name of a village about 50km north of us.

The boat man looked at me, considered my bike for a moment, then told me that yes, there is a road, but no, you can’t take it. Too much water, too many bumps, basically.. it’s not possible.

But, he added, you can come to my village for a few hours to explore, then I will bring you back here.

That sounded pretty fun to me.

So we piled my bike onto the canoe and set off across the water and through the bamboo. A few short minutes later and we were pulling up to the cutest little Cambodian village. Traditional wooden houses sat atop stilts, surrounded by rice fields and grazing cattle. The village was empty of the store fronts and colorful signs that I had grown used to on the main roads of Cambodia. This was truly rural Cambodia, miles and miles from any paved road, tucked away behind forests of bamboo and lost amid winding cow paths.

The people were admittedly surprised to see me, but otherwise quite welcoming. Most people stopped me to take selfies or just to ask me where I was going. I spent about an hour mucking around on my bike on the cow paths that made a web north of the village. I tried to find the road to Choam Ksant but there were too many tractor paths going in every direction. I would’ve needed a guide.

After an hour or so of riding around, I headed back to get the canoe back to the road. I was joined there by a woman, her daughter, and the village drunk, who appeared to be inviting me back to his house. I pretended not to understand.

My mountain bike sits near a rice field outside of Preah Vihear Cambodia on into Foreign Lands

The canoe captain returned and drove us all, minus the drunk, back across the water to the road. The woman and her daughter quickly walked away, leaving me to sort out my bike while the canoe man watched over me.

He started trying to ask me for my phone number, even going so far as to wrap his arm around my waist and kiss all over my face. I pushed him off and got away from there pretty much as fast as I could. I talk more about that on my most recent vlog, so I won’t waste words on him here.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0N7HtG-iHI&w=560&h=315]

The ride back to Preah Vihear town was uneventful and I made it back around lunchtime. Took my room at the old guesthouse again and resigned myself to taking the paved road up to Sra’em the next day.

And indeed, the paved road to Sra’em was one of the smoothest 80km rides of the entire trip. It cut through sparse jungle and some military land, a bit spooky but nonetheless an easy ride. I made it to Sra’em with plenty of time to spare. Spent a day in the village, took an incredible trip up to the nearby Preah Vihear Temple on top of a mountain, and prepared for the final few days of my ride across Cambodia.


I thought I would cover the remaining days of the ride around Cambodia during this post, but I think this is enough excitement for one blog post. Stay tuned to hear of my exploits in Northern Cambodia, my breathtaking visit to Banteay Chhmar, and my victorious return to my Cambodian hometown: Battambang.

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Cycling Cambodia: A Bike Ride through Northern Cambodia with a few hilarious travel stories thrown into the mix from Into Foreign Lands

Bike Tour Cambodia’s Death Road from Mondulkiri to Ratanakiri

Adventure Travel, Bike Touring, Cambodia, Travel

The only known route between two of Cambodia’s most remote eastern provinces, Mondolkiri and Ratanakiri, has long been known and feared as the “Death Road.” But the most recent accounts I could find were from 2011. Photos showed a red and dusty path through the jungle, accounts described a road almost impassable in the rainy season.

But in June of 2017, deep in the rainy season and many years after these photos were taken, what would I find?

Cycling from Mondolkiri to Ratanakiri: My Plan of Attack

Now more than a month into my cycling journey around Cambodia, I was not intimidated by the length of the road, nor the uninhabited jungle I would pass through. Instead, I felt curious. What would I find in this vast unknown?

The death road runs 184km from Sen Monorom, in Mondulkiri province, to Banlung, in Ratanakiri. There are a few small towns along the way, including Koah Neak, 95km in, and Lumphat, 150km in. It is the only route between these two towns.

Since I lacked the appropriate camping gear to stand up against the torrential rains of Cambodia’s monsoon season, I hoped that at least one of these towns would feature a guesthouse, or at the very least, a kind and welcoming family.

If things got really desperate, I figured I could physically ride the 184km in one day, though it would be difficult. Midway towns notwithstanding, I planned an early start. If I could get to Kaoh Neak by midday, I should be alright to either take a guesthouse there, ride on to Lumphat, or, worst case scenario, push all the way to Banlung.

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I really hoped I didn’t have to ride all the way to Banlung. My longest day up to that point had been 120km and it had almost killed me. 184km could quite possibly put me in the intensive care unit.

Though I had no idea what kind of road conditions I was facing, I at least had the power of technology to give me an idea. I plotted the route into google earth and pulled up the elevation. It looked like a massive drop of coming out of Sen Monorom, a long valley, and then a steep climb back up to Banlung. Totally doable.

After two days of touristing it up in Sen Monorom, I was ready to take on the death road.

Cycling the Death Road Day 1: Sen Monorom to Kaoh Neak

I suppose, once upon a time, the death road was a truly dangerous and rarely used path. Unfortunately for us adventurous souls, those days are long gone. I’m both happy and sad to report that the death road is now a well paved, though still relatively less used, pathway through mostly deforested jungle.

I’m happy about it because it means safer roads for the local population. On the flip side, I love a good adventure but paved roads don’t really lend themselves to being lost in foreign lands. Also, the paved road means easier access to this once remote area. Easy access means migration, population increase, and an increase in deforestation and wildlife damage.

A perfect example of this is the wildlife refuge I rode through on my second day. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Day one on the death road began bright and early. Up by 5:30am, I was out the door by 6 and finished with my traditional rice and pork breakfast by 6:30am. Unsure what I faced and whether or not there would be villages, I stocked up on 3 liters of water and a bag of banana chips.

To get onto the “death road” from Sen Monorom, follow the main road out of town until you reach the roundabout. Make a right. Continue to follow this strip of pavement past the Bousra Falls turn and onwards to Banlung. Yep, it’s that easy.

As the road left Sen Monorom it continued across the hills that had so tormented and delighted me only a few days before. I devoured the uphills and coasted down the short downhills.

After about 20km of this, I crested to the top of a particularly steep climb only to be greeted by one of the most satisfying views that can greet a cyclist: the road dropped away steeply and a massive valley opened up in front of me.

It was a loooooong downhill.

As I do on long downhills, I started belting out whatever song was stuck in my head. I think it was a Taylor Swift song on this particular morning. Again, don’t ask me why. I get the weirdest mixture of songs stuck in my head while riding.

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The downhills went on forever. It was a drop of nearly 2000ft, spread out across about 15km. The first slope took several minutes. From the bottom there were a few more inclines, but again down, and down, and down.

It was awesome.

Even in the Cardamoms I didn’t get downhills as satisfying as these. It was like the past weeks of cycling had all built up to this one euphoric moment.

The adrenaline and joy built inside of me during these speedy declines and stayed with me as the road leveled out. To be perfectly honest, the rest of the morning is a bit of a blur. My legs felt incredibly strong and I powered along the road, making it to Kaoh Neak by 11:30am. There, I was pleased to find not one but three different guesthouses! Choice! That’s not something I get every day.

Picked a likely looking spot, had a shower, had some lunch, and spent the rest of the day working. That digital nomad life does require sacrificing afternoons of exploration at times, I’m afraid.

Cost of a room in Koah Near: $6.25/night. Dinner: $1.75

Cycling the Death Road Day 2: Kaoh Neak to Banlung

From Kaoh Neak to Banlung was 90km along the rest of the now paved death road. I was unafraid and excited. I’d been dreaming of visiting Ratanakiri since I first came to Cambodia in 2014. Back then, I didn’t make it to this outpost. Now, I finally would.

The first half of the day was pretty flat and uneventful. The road takes a hard left in the middle of Kaoh Neak then becomes pretty deserted, just sparse jungle and a few shacks here and there.

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Men rode by me fairly frequently on their motorbikes, leaning over dangerously to stare over their shoulders and watch me ride, ignoring the road in front of them.

After 50km or so, I passed a sign saying “Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary”. Up until this sign, I’d been riding through jungle. Yet pretty much from the moment I passed this sign, the jungle vanished. It was cut back acres and acres from the road. I could barely see the trees in the distance. It wasn’t being used for agriculture but it was inexplicably empty.

At first in my gullible optimism I thought it was a natural occurrence. How cool! In the middle of all this jungle to find such a large clearing. I wonder what caused this? Perhaps a chance in the chemistry of the soil…

A few minutes later and I was relieved of this ridiculous optimism. This wasn’t a natural occurrence, oh no.

The jungle had been cut away by that plague that covers almost all of this earth: humans. And what replaced this gorgeous, thriving jungle? Palm oil trees.

They had stripped the jungle to plant palm oil trees.

I was livid but since there didn’t seem to be a representative of the palm oil company waiting by the side of the road to take my complaints, I continued cycling.

The small town of Lumphat sits in the middle of the valley, just before the hills begin to rise up again on the way to Banlung. I stopped here for a quick coffee and checked the map on my phone. As I was perusing the road up to Banlung, I saw a little marker for a waterfall. A quick calculation showed I could easily detour, adding only 2km to my day.

Obviously, it was time to head to the waterfall.

20km later and I reached the turn for the falls. This falls, called O’Katieng Falls, are one of the tourist attractions of Banlung. As such, tourists usually approach them from the other direction. Coming from Sen Monorom, as I was, the road was unmarked. I took the turn onto the dirt road and soon found myself riding through a small village. As with other rural villages in the past, the locals seemed uncertain about my presence there. I’m sure they were wondering why on earth a foreigner was riding a mud covered bike through their village.

After a few missed turns, a bit of getting lost, and a little navigation of some mud and water filled roadways, I found the road that heads up to the waterfalls.

Up is the operative word. From riding along the flat valley floor, I was suddenly faced with a road so steep it seemed to jump perpendicularly up into the air.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, I built up some momentum, dropped into a low gear, and charged up the hill.

Now is probably a good time to mention that this road was not paved. Not paved, not even really ridable, it was mostly an eroded, rocky scramble up a mountainside. I reached the top, gratefully gained a small plateau, and was immediately faced with another slippery wall of dirt heading up the hillside.

This continued for about two kilometers. At times it was so steep I was forced to dismount and push my bike up the hill.

It was the most fun I’d had in ages.

After awhile I reached the falls. Finding myself alone, I took some time to walk down into the hollow and enjoy the peaceful sense of wonder that comes with waterfalls.

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Snacked on a few mangos, and headed on towards Banlung.

The rest of the way was really quite scenic. No more steep walls of dirt to scale, the road leveled out and became slightly more reasonable. Pretty soon I was riding along rolling hills through rubber plantations, with the temples and rooftops of Banlung visible in the distance.

By 3pm I was settled into my hostel and ready to explore.

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As you can see, the Death Road is really no longer a death road at all. If anything, the only danger to cyclists is the vans, busses, and cars that go flying along the road at breakneck speeds. If you hear a car coming behind you, hug that shoulder for dear life because they are probably driving at 160kmph. But other than that it’s an incredibly safe, ridable, and easy road to finish in one or two days.

Also, sorry about the garbage photos with this post. My camera died and I was forced to use my totally crap phone. The good pictures will come back, I promise.

What do you think? Would you cycling the death road?

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Bike Tour Cambodia: Phnom Penh to Mondolkiri

Adventure Travel, Bike Touring, Cambodia, Travel

This leg of the trip has been incredibly scenic, empowering, physically challenging, and overall rewarding. But despite this, it all started off with more of a fizz than a bang.

After waiting 9 long days in Phnom Penh, my 6 month visa extension finally came through. Gratefully clutching my passport to my chest, I rushed back to my room to pack up my bags and get ready to finally, finally head out of Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham, Take One

I left Phnom Penh around 7am, excited for the 112km day ahead of me.

My bike, however, had other plans.

While in Phnom Penh, I had taken my bike into a fairly high end bike shop for a check up. I told the guys at the shop that I was having trouble switching gears and that I kept getting flat tires. They told me they would look into it.

$85 later and I had new, fancy inner tubes, a new cassette, new bottom bracket, and a few other touch ups. It hurt my wallet but I figured it was worth it. No more flat tires.

Yeah, about that.

On the road out of Phnom Penh as I was coming around a bend in the road, I felt it. The horrible thumping feeling you get when the back tire goes flat.

Are you f****** kidding me?

My back tire was flat! 30km outside of Phnom Penh! How was this possible? I pulled to the side of the road and set about changing the inner tube. As I did, I felt the inside of the tire. It was shredded in places. My tire was almost worn through.

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I decided to swallow my pride and head back to Phnom Penh to buy a new tire.

New inner tube in, I headed back the way I had come, off onto some side roads that meandered through rice fields towards a ferry across the Mekong and into Phnom Penh.

Just kidding! You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?

20 minutes later, once I was well and truly too far away from the highway to walk back, my tire was flat again. The same tire! The new inner tube! I was overpowered by anger, frustration with myself, frustration with my bike, and fury that the guys in Phnom Penh hadn’t noticed this.

Also, I was in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t want to fix up this inner tube or worse, put in a new one just to have it ruined. I needed a ride back to Phnom Penh. But how was I going to get one this far from a main highway?

I walked my bike along the road until I came up to the back of a garment factory. There were a group of Khmer people there. What transpired will go down as one of the most overwhelmingly frustrating moments of my life:

I approached the group of people and one man came up to me speaking broken English. He immediately noticed my flat tire and tried to direct me to someone who could fix it.

The last thing I wanted to do right then was pay for yet another inner tube, only to have it burst in a matter of minutes.

“No” I insisted, “I don’t want to fix it, I’d like to go to Phnom Penh.”

But despite my repeatedly saying “I want to drive to Phnom Penh. Please take me to Phnom Penh.” the English speaking man continually tried to lead me to someone who could fix the flat.

This went on for about 15 minutes. Him saying “we can fix it” and me replying “No, thank you, I don’t want to fix it, I just want to go to Phnom Penh.”

After about 10 minutes of it, I started crying.

Finally, in a fit of frustration, I told him rather firmly that “no, I don’t want to fix it. I fix it again and again and again and again but it always breaks.”

That got through to him.

It only took a few more minutes for them to arrange a cart to take me back to the ferry into Phnom Penh. That part was actually pretty fun. Sitting in the back of a farmer’s cart that normally trucks sugarcane around. Got some pretty funny looks from the other locals we passed by.

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And for a 20km ride, it only cost me $5. Seems fair.

Back to Phnom Penh, replaced the tire, and woke up early the next day to really leave Phnom Penh.

This is a nice moment to remark on something I’ve learned over the course of this ride: you are never alone and never without help in Cambodia. Even in remote areas, on backroads, deep in the mountains, a Khmer person is always going to come by and 9 out of 10 times, they will help you, fix your bike, find you a ride, give you food, or do whatever they can to make sure you are ok. Knowing this is what allows me to do this ride every day without an ounce of fear.

Cycling Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham, Take Two

With the tire problem sorted, I hit the road feeling positive and energetic. I was ready to put those 10 days in Phnom Penh behind me and get back into the groove of cycling.

I had two potential routes to get to Kampong Cham: one was quite boring following National Highway 8, to National Highway 11, to National Highway 7 into Kampong Cham. Highways are the actual worst and should only be used as a last resort.

The other option was much more appealing, if a bit riskier: I’d follow the National Highway 8 for about 25km, then take a turn onto a country road that cut through the rice fields, met up with a small river, and finally, followed that river until it reached the Mekong and Kampong Cham. It looked like it would work out, on Google, but if I’ve learned anything on this trip it is this:

Don’t trust google maps in Cambodia.

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Even as I left Phnom Penh, I didn’t know which route I would take. I wanted to take the country road, but I was nervous that it either didn’t exist, or would be impassable from all the rain.

Nonetheless, I was willing to try.

I rode out to this country road quite quickly, making it there before 10am. Stopped to have a second breakfast/early lunch at a restaurant. While I ate, I asked the locals about my potential route. Does this road go to Kampong Cham?

“Oh nooo, no.” They told me. “No it doesn’t.”

Despondent, I consulted google maps on my phone. I really, really wanted this route to work. I didn’t relish the idea of spending a whole day on highways.

After the chorus of “noo’s” was finished, one guy spoke up. He mentioned that in fact, it was possible to get to Kampong Cham that way, but it wouldn’t be easy.

That was all the encouragement I needed. I turned onto my country road and in so doing, began one of the best rides of the trip.

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This road begins at a village called Prey Pnov and heads north towards Sithor Kandal. At first it was paved and cut a straight line through the rice fields. I flew along, admiring the traditional Khmer houses and basking in the palm tree lined glory of the street. The rice fields were a vibrant green, the sun was shining, and I was delighted.

Eventually the road turned to dirt, but remained in good condition. I continued to fly along. After a time, I came upon a market town. In the middle of nowhere. What was this market doing here?

I had reached the T junction at the river. The market down does have a name, but I’ve forgotten it and it isn’t listed on google. Sorry.

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I’ve noticed something about rural Cambodia vs. Main Highway Cambodia. On the main roads, people are usually pretty open when I pull into a shop or restaurant. Sure, they might be nervous that I don’t speak Khmer, but they are still willing to try, open to talk with me, grabbing their youngest child who might maybe have learned some English in school.

But out on the backrounds, in markets or towns like this one, buried deep in the rice fields, miles from any main road or city, things are a bit different.

When I pull into remote places and stop my bike, I’m greeted with silence. In this particular market, everyone around me froze. There were plenty of people there but none were speaking. They all stood, still as statues, and watched me as I looked around. Trying to break the tension a little, I smiled at a few of the women. One smiled back but the rest looked down, shy. I walked down the road and took some photos of the river. By the time I came back, a small crowd had gathered around my bike. One of the braver men there struck up a conversation.

“Tos na?” He asked me, “where are you going?”

“Tos Kampong Cham.” I replied. “I’m going to Kampong Cham.”

It was as if I had spoken the magic words to break the spell. A wave washed across everyone’s face, the relief was palpable. She speaks Khmer! Suddenly, questions were coming at me from all sides. Everyone wanted to talk to the strange foreigner, find out where she was from, what she was doing there, and if she was hungry.

I’ve learned over the last weeks not to be afraid or uncomfortable if people are unfriendly at first. Sure, not everyone is happy to see a random foreigner in their home, but usually someone ends up being welcoming.

After that market, the road conditions deteriorated significantly. The road was dry, but narrow, rutted, and filled with puddles I had to dodge. If it had been raining, I’m not sure this road would have been passable.

It wound along next to the river, passing through villages, rice fields, bamboo forests, and Buddhist temples. Because of the poor conditions, I was forced to ride slowly. This road was only for the final 26km, but with the bad conditions, fatigue, and stopping to take pictures every five feet, it took me three hours.

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But what a glorious three hours it was. I’m not kidding when I say this was one of the most beautiful rides I’ve ever done in Cambodia. Truly a special route. I highly recommend it.

Reached Kampong Cham late in the afternoon and curled up in a nice riverside guesthouse for $5.

Kampong Cham to Memot

I spent one night in Kampong Cham, then rode out 7km along the Mekong to visit the Chiro Village Homestay. It is a local NGO where I once volunteered, back in 2014. I’m not a fan of voluntourism anymore and I must say that I didn’t find my return visit all that satisfying. It’s a great place to stay, though, if you want to get a glimpse of Cambodian village life.

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After my day in Chiro, I woke up bright and early, literally before the sun came up, and was on my bike by 5:30am to begin the 90km trek to Memot, a small town on Road 7, along the way to Mondolkiri.

This day was, much to my regret, entirely along the highway. Luckily, the further away from the Mekong I rode, the less crowded the highway became. Flat at first, it wasn’t long before I found myself riding up and down rolling hills. Pepper farms extended away from me in all directions. I had no idea what to expect from this part of the ride, but so far it was proving quite beautiful.

And then, about 50km into my day, I saw an interesting sign on my right hand side.

“Knoung Sdech Kan Temple 5km”

If you know me, you know I can’t resist the lure of an ancient temple. Plus it would only add 10km to my day. A drop in the bucket, surely. And who knows what kind of magical forgotten place I might find…

Turning off the main road, I followed the signs down a paved road through undeveloped countryside. This was about when I realized just how remote an area I was really in. There were a few rice fields, but not many. No houses to speak of, and very few people. The people I did cycle past didn’t wave, didn’t shout hello, didn’t do any of the things I’ve come to expect from Cambodians.

Instead, they stared. Eyes blank, shy, or cautious. I’m not sure what they were thinking and they certainly weren’t giving me any hints. All along the empty road I was met with blank faces hidden behind scarves and visors.

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After about 5km, I came across a moat, similar to the moat around Angkor Wat, and a village. Here the people were a bit more welcoming. The response was still mostly silence but at least a few of the children waved.

Then I came upon the wall of the temple. Cycling into the complex, at first all I saw was the large modern temple rising up in front of me. Then I noticed two ancient towers, similar in style to the towers of Prasat Kravan in Siem Reap, only less well preserved.

And of course, I had the place almost completely to myself. As I stood beneath the ancient towers, I heard footsteps behind me. Turning, I saw two little boys watching me. One was dressed in typical schoolboy clothes, the other in the saffron robes of a monk. They couldn’t have been older than 10.

Walking behind the modern temple, I found a massive reclining Buddha, beautifully painted and surrounded by a small garden and other meditative statues.

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Places like this, Buddhist temples and their compounds never fail to instill a sense of peacea nd calm in my mind. There is something in the air that requires you to pause and appreciate the stillness. Although peace and quiet can sometimes be hard to come by in Cambodia, I can usually find it in a temple.

As long as they aren’t chanting over a loudspeaker.

After my solo adventure to the temple, I hopped back onto the bike and out to the main road. Oddly enough, this time around the people were much more friendly. Waving, saying hello, cheering. I’m not sure what the difference was.

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Back to the main road and onward to Memot. The rest of the ride was smooth and uneventful. Rolling hills that gradually got larger until I arrived in town. Took a room in a guesthouse just off the main road before 3pm. Spent some time exploring town, took a walk around the temple, visited the market, and had a lovely chat with some locals over my rice and pork dinner.

Riding from Memot to Snuol

The next two days threw a bit of a wrench in my plans. I originally intended to ride 50km to Snuol, then 120 to Mondolkiri. But life happens, and I got my period. I know there are some women out there who can just keep on ploughing through no matter what. I am not one of them. I am incapacitated by my menstrual cycle. Literally cannot get out of bed.

But there’s no crying in bicycle touring! So I split up my 120km day into two 60km days.

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From Memot to Snuol was a real treat. I found an alternate route by following the paved road up past Memot Temple. Up and down rolling hills through pepper farms and rice fields, the ride was easy and scenic.

Came to a four way intersection and took the righthand turn. The road became dirt but was still in great condition. Up and down many rolling hills, through rubber plantations, pepper farms, and untamed jungle. Every once in awhile I’d roll through a remote village and people would stare, yell “Hello!” and call out “Barang chi kong!” (A foreigner riding a bike!)

After awhile I decided to stop and take a break. I wasn’t feeling particularly tired but my own personal honor code is this: If I’m passing through a remote, rural area, I want to spend at least a little bit of money. To give back, in my own small way.

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I stopped at a shop for a sugar cane juice and the family offered me a seat. Not long after that, pretty much the entire village had gathered around to chat with me. My khmer is pretty limited but we managed to work out where I was going, where I was coming from, that they had all voted in the election that morning, and my age. Hilariously, they told me that I looked 15. Thanks but.. no.

The rest of the ride was euphoric and smooth. The road was deserted, rugged, and perfect. The day was short. I pulled into Snuol before lunchtime. Got a room, and rested my poor, cramping, menstrual ravaged body.

Snuol to Keo Seima: Swallowing My Pride and Cutting It Short

From Snuol, I had planned to ride the 120km to Sen Monorom in Mondolkiri provide. This would involve rolling hills, and an ascent of over 2000 feet during the last 50kms. But because of my period pains, cramps, nausea, and a fitful, sleepless night, I absolutely wasn’t up for it.

In true Megan style, I couldn’t just give myself a break. No, first I had to berate myself and give myself a hard time. But in the end, I listened to my body and did what was right. I rode only 60km to a place called Keo Seima, where I hoped to find a guesthouse.

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Ride itself was nice, but I was in a bad headspace. Tired and in pain. I made it to Keo Seima sometime before 11am, found quite a nice guesthouse and curled up in bed.

Keo Seima to Mondolkiri: The Most Beautiful No Good Very Great Terribly Awesome Day

The ride up to Sen Monorom was everything I had hoped and feared it would be, and more. It was relentless rolling hills, more up than down. It was remote, it was devoid of human life, it was incredibly hard, it was unbelievably beautiful.

The day began with dense rainforest. I’m talking about massive rolling hills coated in a thick jungle. I even saw a family of monkeys watching me ride. When I looked up at them, they began to jump away through the trees.

For the first few hours of the day, I was having the time of my life. I’d power up the hills and giggle as I gained ridiculous speed on the downhills. But after about 35km with no breaks, I began to feel some fatigue in my legs.

During one particularly steep uphill slope, I started grunting and yelling. Not really saying words, just making noises, giving voice to the pain in my legs. Some Khmer guys rode by on their motor and looked particularly alarmed.

With only 5 more kilometers to go before the next village, I gave myself a small pep talk. If I could push through these final five, I could have a break.

And, cursing my very existence, cursing the day I decided to do this ride, I pushed onwards and upwards. That climb was beyond physically exhausting. And yet even as I was cursing myself and burning from head to toe, I loved it. I knew I would look back on this day as one of the best of the ride. And it was. It really was.

Stopped at a shop in Ou Rieng and had a plate of rice and pork. Rested for about an hour. Read my book. Generally felt proud of myself for what I had accomplished and optimistic about the final 20 kilometers of the day.

After Ou Rieng, the landscape changed. Due to deforestation, the rainforest has been cut back from the tops of the hills, clearing the way for villages and their livestock. While in my heart I know this is a bad thing, it makes for a very beautiful ride. Huge sloping hills covered in vibrant green grass, dotted with trees, stretching away to the horizon. I mean, really?

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I know I’m supposed to complain about it but I just couldn’t.

The hills continued to be unforgiving, but since I was riding through verdant green elysian fields, I found myself cursing less and giggling more.

During one incredibly long downhill I even belted out “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morrisette. Don’t ask me why that particular song. I can’t control the weird songs that get stuck in my head while I’m riding. They’d make a pretty eccentric mix tape though.

Rolled into Sen Monorom tired but pleased around 3pm. This was a part of Cambodia I’d been aching to visit for years. And finally, here I was.


Stay tuned to hear more about my day with elephants in the jungle and my ride along the Death Road from Mondolkiri to Ratanakiri.

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