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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Bike Tour Cambodia: Kampot to Phnom Penh

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

How strong can your body get over just 3 weeks? Could it really be possible that riding 100km could go from impossible to easy? And do my legs have the strength to race the rain?

It’s been awhile since I sat down and wrote one of these trip reports. But here you go, this is what happens when you try to ride a bike from Kampot to Phnom Penh, via Kep and Angk Ta Saom.

Kampot To Kep: The Short Day of Pleasant Surprises

After two days in Kampot, riding motos up mountains and kicking it in cafes, it was time to make the incredibly short 26km ride out to Kep. It could easily have been a day trip, but I had other plans.

The ride from Kampot to Kep follows Highway 33, a well paved road in good condition. It cuts through several different Community Based Tourism initiatives, marked by their big green signs with arrows on the highway. I turned off the road to go explore one but after the recent rains the road was in terrible condition. I was forced to abort.

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Welcome to Kep

Back on road 33 I road until the turn for Kep, featuring a statue of a white horse rearing into the air. Why a horse in particular? Not sure. Take the right hand turn and follow that road until you reach Kep. You’ll know it by the signs for guesthouses, and the big green sign that reads BEACH.

A Surprisingly Nonsensical Arrival in Kep

Kep, or Kep Sur Mer as the French once called it, is a small town situated on a peninsula that juts out into the bay of Thailand. The peninsula is dominated by a fairly small “mountain” rising to an imposing 300m (984ft). Bungalows and boutique accommodation dot the lower hillsides and a massive, four lane road sweeps around the perimeter, providing access to all the major attractions, and a neat loop back up to road 33.

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Road through Kep

As I cycled into town I couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity of this massive road. It was one of the cleanest and most modern roads I’ve ever seen in Cambodia. Once you pass the construction just off road 33, it turns into smooth blacktop that is four lanes wide.

Who are they expecting?

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Welcome to Kep Cambodia

Kep is in many ways a beach resort turned ghost town. Picture Cape Cod in the winters except it isn’t winter. The infrastructure is set up to receive a massive tourist influx but the tourists never arrived.

Oh well. I love quiet, deserted towns, especially on this bike ride, so I was pumped. Kampot had been too crowded for me after the solitude of my ride and I was charmed by Kep’s empty streets and deserted accommodations.

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View from the guesthouse

I checked into Tree Top Bungalows, a cute but slightly overpriced guesthouse nestled into the foothills of the mountain. I say overpriced because I saw online that there were bungalows for $5 but I had to pay $7. Oh well. It isn’t the best hotel in Kep, but it is the cheapest.

After that it was time to explore all that Kep had to offer.

What To Do in Kep, Cambodia

There are basically three main things to do in Kep: go to the beach, eat at the crab market, and explore the Kep National Park. Obviously I went for the national park first.

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Kep National Park Views

The park sits on the mountain in the center of the peninsula. A frenchman who owns a cafe up there has spend the last 10 years creating and maintaining a network of trails and roads that wind around and over the mountain.

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Kep National Park Critters

The most popular trail is a small road that circles the mountain. It’s a 7km trail that is more or less level, in alright condition, and doable on a moto, bicycle, or by walking. I road my mountain bike around it. It’s not overly technical but it’s more fun than riding on pavement.

The park costs $1 per day for use. There is a sign off the main road pointing to the entrance. Just follow the road up to the gate, then follow that dirt road all the way around. At one point maybe 4km in, the road turns into pavement again. Stick to the right and you’ll find the dirt road again about 1km further down.

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Mountain Bike and Moto trail in Kep National Park

After the national park, I went to check out the famous fresh Kep Crab market. I was pleasantly surprised by how accessible and fun the market is. There are a series of restaurants right on the water where I assume you can have someone cook up your crab and serve it to you on a nice place for a premium.

If you want to do it the rustic way, head down all the way to the end (or the beginning) to the rougher looking market stalls. Walk all the way back to the water and you’ll find people hauling up crates of crabs straight from the reef. You can buy fresh crab from the women there. A half kilo is enough for one person, 1 kilo is enough to share. 1 kilo is $6, or five if you are particularly good at negotiating.

Once you get your crabs, you have two options: you can have them steamed on site or have them chopped up and fried with fresh green Kampot pepper and a mild spicy sauce. I HIGHLY recommend the peppercorn fry. Having your crabs cooked is an extra 5000 riel or $1.25

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Kep Crab cooked in Kampot Pepper

Women in the market will sell you rice for 1000 riel or $0.25. Have a seat at one of the tables, order a sugarcane juice (2000 riel, $0.50) and enjoy your gourmet seafood meal right there.

After my late lunch in the market, I headed back to Kep National Park to try out some of the trails that cut up into the hill.

To access these, head up the dirt road from the gate until you see a trail heading off to your right. This is the transverse trail. It was pretty steep at the beginning, so I opted to chain my bike to a nearby tree and head out on foot. That afternoon I followed the signs to Sunset Rock to get a nice view of Kep beach and Vietnam’s Phu Quoc island in the distance.

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View from Sunset Rock in Kep National Park

Hiking to Sunset Rock in Kep National Park took me probably 30 minutes. It’s steep at first, then a fairly level walk around the mountain to the rock.

Headed back to Tree Top for some dinner and a decision. Should I ride to Phnom Penh the next day, or did Kep deserve one more day of exploring?

In the end, I spend two more days in Kep. Hiked to the top of the mountain, road my mountain bike around the trail again, had another lunch at the crab market. I also spent some time exploring the deserted mansions from Kep’s heyday in the 1960s. A really fascinating and ghostly view of Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge changed everything.

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View over to Kampot from Kep National Park

But all good things must come to an end, and after three days I had to head out. I needed to get to Phnom Penh to extend my visa for 6 months, and anyway, I was missing the open road.

Cycling from Kep to Phnom Penh

From Kep, I took Highway 33 towards the Vietnam border, then followed Highway 31 up until it meets Road 3 just south of a small town called Angk Ta Saom, which, I hoped, would have a guesthouse. The whole day would be 93km, a distance that had almost killed me just a week before on my way from Koh Kong to Kampot.

Would it kill me today? I admit, I was nervous.

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Road to Phnom Penh

From the beginning, the roads were quiet. I flew along their flat surfaces through wide open rice fields and quaint villages. It was the kind of picturesque day I had imagined when I dreamed up this trip in my apartment in Battambang.

I had to deal with the occasional truck flying by but for the most part it was just me and my daydreams cycling down the road, pedaling to the rhythm of my breath.

Along the way I passed by Kampong Trach, a small town that featured an unexpectedly stunning view. Rock formations like those that characterize east Asian landscape paintings rose up from a flooded wetland. It looked like a pretty great place for some rock climbing.

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Kampong Trach

The rest of the day was smooth sailing through rice fields. Minus the two flat tires (YES TWO) in one day. I also met a peace corp volunteer along the side of the road just after lunch. Like most peace corp volunteers I’ve met in my years abroad, she seemed friendly, happy, and a bit starved for English language conversation.

Let’s talk about flat tires and the trouble they cause.

My last flat tire of the day came 10km outside of my destination, Angk Ta Saom. It also happened to be on a pretty deserted slice of road. I didn’t have any extra inner tubes with me, so I had to wander off down a nearby dirt road until I walked into a village.

In my best Khmer, I asked around for a mechanic and was eventually pointed to someone’s house. Indeed the guy there could fix my tire, and of course the whole village had to come out and watch.

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Fixing a flat in Kep

As with many things in rural Cambodia, fixing my bike tire was a leisurely affair. They took their sweet time, because whats the rush? Nothing else was going to happen that afternoon.

Except for me, the rush was building in the sky to the north, threatening me with impending doom.

Deep purple clouds were gathering in the sky, an ominous rumbling beginning to sound from far off. The wind started to sweep across the rice fields, bringing dust and garbage.

The tempest was about to begin.

The villager fixing my bike continued on at his leisurely pace. Stopping to just kind of sit there, or talk to someone else, or just look at me.

I tried not to get frustrated. It was only 10 more kilometers. I’d be fine.

At long last, the bike was repaired. Ahead of me, the sky was a warning sign. Dark clouds pregnant with rain gathered on either side, with just a narrow strip of light blue sky between them, seemingly positioned just over the road. I knew that when those two rain clouds met, I was fucked.

Those 10km were the fastest I’ve ridden yet on this trip. My heart rate had to be up above 180. It was a full on sprint. My muscles were screaming, my lungs dying, and my mind was frantically praying to the Cambodian spirits to please just hold off the rain for 10 more minutes.

The sprinkles started as I reached Road 3. Only 4 more kilometers to go. I ignored my protesting muscles and continued to race. Would I make it? I had to make it.

As I passed the road marker that said “Angk Ta Saom 2km” the heavens opened. The rain came down, first in fat splattering droplets, then in a heavy pour. I screamed, shouted, but kept riding. 2km! You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

I wasn’t going to stop 2km short of town.

Thankfully, just as the water began pouring down in sheets, I saw a sign for a guesthouse. I pulled in gratefully and even though it wasn’t yet 3pm, asked for a room. The bewildered looking Khmer family that owned the place showed me to a simple yet clean room and left me alone.

As I sat in the room, I took stock of my day. I’d just ridden about 95km, with the last 10km being a full on sprint. I felt good. I felt like I could ride another 50km if I needed to. I felt like 90km was basically nothing, a walk in the park.

I was getting stronger.

That was one of the best gifts I’ve received from this ride.

Bussing to Phnom Penh

I’m not happy about it but I had promised my mom I would take a bus into Phnom Penh, avoiding the heavily trafficked road 3. And that is exactly what I did. I found a bus stop in Angk Ta Saom and hopped on a bus coming up from Kampot the next morning. Made it to Phnom Penh by noon.

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Gateway on the road to Phnom Penh

Since then, I’ve been in Phnom Penh waiting for my 6 month visa to Cambodia to come through. I’ve ridden into and out of the city numerous times on day trips. Yes, riding in the city is stressful but it’s totally manageable.

So if any other bike tourist are reading this, just don’t tell your mom about it and cycle into Phnom Penh. You’ll be fine.

Next up is a 154km day out to Kampong Cham and then it’s up into the remote mountain wilderness of Mondolkiri!

Let’s see what happens.

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Bike Tour Cambodia Kampot to Phnom Penh

Bike Tour Cambodia: Koh Kong to Kampot

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

Where we left off last, I had made it to O Soam, a remote village high up in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains. I’m hesitant to even describe O Soam, only because I love it so much and obnoxious as I am, I’d love for it to remain “undiscovered.”

Imagine a tranquil lake situated below the tallest mountain peak in Cambodia. The surrounding landscape is covered in a thick jungle. You lay in a hammock most of the day, listening to the birds and the insects. You eat communal meals with a local family and the one other foreigner who stumbled in that day. When you’re feeling adventurous, you head out on your mountain bike to find some trails going off into the jungle. You discover rivers, massive trees, stunning views.

Yeah. That’s why I was there for 6 days.

But all good things come to an end. After those 6 days, it was time to make the long ride from O Soam to Koh Kong.

Cycling O Soam to Koh Kong

The road from O Soam to Koh Kong is 120km of relentless mountain hills. There are a few houses scattered up at the top followed by 90km of pure jungle. Given that I wasn’t convinced I would even make it in one day, I needed to carry all the water and food I would need for one, possibly two days of riding.

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Road to Koh Kong

I’d tried to make this ride once before, in November 2016, only to be thwarted by a flat tire. Back then, I flagged down a passing SUV and got a free ride all the way to the city.

This time I was determined to make it to Koh Kong only under the power of my own legs. I had all the tools and inner tubes I needed to make it all the way. I had my hammock and tarp in case I couldn’t quite get there.

Can I be honest? I was scared.

I was scared the road would be too hard. My legs would be too weak. I would be unequal to the task. I was more or less convinced I wouldn’t be able to make it to Koh Kong.

The night before the ride, the skies dumped gallons of water onto the mountains below, turning the road out of O Soam into a muddy obstacle course. I skidded and slipped down the first 15km or so, hoping that eventually the road would dry out.

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Boats in Koh Kong

It did, but I soon realized I faced another problem. Weighed down as I was with all my water and food, my back tire was having trouble holding air. It wasn’t completely flat, but it would get deflated easily. I had to stop once an hour to laboriously pump air into it with my tiny hand pump. Counting to myself to make sure I sent enough air into the tire, thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty.

As I came down a hill, I saw a house on my left. I knew from my last trip down this road that this was the last house before Koh Kong. I pulled over to ask if they had a proper tire pump.

I was greeted by a smiling and surprisingly outspoken Khmer woman who seemed to know a bit of English. When you first meet them, most Khmer women are soft spoken and a bit shy. To meet a woman who greets you loudly is out of the ordinary, to say the least.

She eagerly grabbed my bike and rolled it up her driveway, pulling out a tire pump and filling up both tires. Then, perhaps because she saw my already exhausted face, she sat me down and put a plate full of rice, an omelette, and a bowl of papaya soup in front of me. “Eat, eat!” She urged.

After the meal, I got up to continue and offered to pay for the meal. But she was having none of it. No money, no money, she insisted, over and over.

I grabbed my bike to head out and just then a bee stung my thumb. It wasn’t super painful, just surprising, but I guess it unleashed all the nerves and tension I’d been bottling up for days. I burst into tears.

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Koh Kong Resort

“No cry! No cry!” The surrounding Khmer people burst into action. They offered to drive me down to Koh Kong, offered to let me stay there, kept telling me not to cry.

I did eventually pull myself together, declined the free ride, and kept riding down the road. This was all before 9am. I wouldn’t arrive to Koh Kong until 5pm that evening.

But I made it. The road was long, the day was intense, but I made it to Koh Kong.

I spent two days in Koh Kong, one for recovery, and one making a quick visa run to Thailand. I’ll talk about that in a separate blog post.

Cycling Koh Kong to Kampot

From Koh Kong, my next section of the trip was riding down Highway 48, a paved road that would take me out to National HIghway 4, one of the busiest roads in Cambodia, and from there over to Kampot, a tranquil river town that had been on my Cambodian bucket list for months.

That first day out of Koh Kong was another intense day. At one point I had a 10km uphill climb of 350m. And another. And another. Just like the day from O Saom, this day seemed to stretch on forever.

These long days have taught me something. The challenging of physically pushing myself past my limits is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Sure, walking across Peru was also physically challenging, and maybe the memory of that has faded over the years, but there is something about riding a bicycle up a mountain that is just relentlessly hard.

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The First Big Climb

I knew before I started this ride that it would be challenging, but I could never have imagined the extent to which I would be exhausted. Riding up these hills, my thighs burning, my lungs burning, my fingers going numb from some kind of pinched nerve in my palm, and yet still pushing through, knowing that I can’t stop yet.

As I climb the massive hills, I set tiny goals for myself. Get to that next corner and you can stop. Reach the corner, okay just kidding, get to that next sign and you can stop. Reach the sign and, oh theres the top, get to the top and THEN you can stop.

But I get to the top and I don’t stop. I roll down the hill, gratefully resting my legs for a few seconds before cranking into high gear and pumping down the hill. The sudden speed sending a burst of adrenaline into my mind and my muscles. All energy, I fly down the road towards the next uphill, ready to tackle this one just like I tackled the last.

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Kids Fishing in Andong Tuek

This process of riding through unforgiving territory for hours on end triggers some pretty intense realizations, both mental and physical. In a single day I might think “I can’t do this anymore” at least five times. But what I’ve learned is that I can do it. I can reach my goal. I can ride until I can barely stand, but if I need to, I can keep riding.

I’ve learned that I am stronger than I ever imagined.

Two days out of Koh Kong, I had one of those days where your muscles just wont warm up. Where even after two hours of riding, you still feel like your legs are made of lead. The bike is the heaviest thing in the world. I wanted to lay down. I wanted to cry. I wanted to give up.

But I had 70km more to go.

It was a 93km day and I probably felt strong for 20 of those kilometers. It was the day I hit National Highway 4, the road that runs from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh. It is one of the busiest roads in the country.

The ride down Highway 4 was a constant barrage of trucks, cars, buses, more trucks, big trucks little trucks all rushing by me at top speed. Truck drivers found it amusing to shout things at me as they drove by. Busses didn’t find it necessary to move over even 6 inches to leave me any space. I felt their gravitational pull as they passed by.

Through it all, I’m operating on my lowest energy reserves. As my legs grow more and more tired, my mind becomes more and more negative. I get taken out of the moment and thrust into the horrible cycle of “when will this end?”

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Statues on Highway 4

I did my best to stay positive, but by the end of that day I was mostly just thinking about laying down in whatever bed I could find and not getting up until the next morning.

At 3:30pm I rolled into my intended destination for the day, a placed called Veal Rihn, which is really just a market situated at the turning point for Kampot. I found a small guesthouse and for $5 a night got myself a room with an ensuite squatty potty.

Not 10 minutes after I checked in, the heavens opened and it proceeded to downpour for the rest of the evening. After a shower and some time just laying in bed feeling thankful for cotton and synthetic foams, I got up and peeked outside to find some dinner.

A woman was holding court at a small khmer style restaurant, cooking up stir fried beef and spinach with steamed rice. I ordered a plate and sat down, half conversing with the locals, telling them where I was going, deflecting their offers of beer, and mostly just feeling like a zombie after 2 days and 200km of riding through mountains.

I fell asleep early that night, knowing I only had 55km between me and Kampot.

The Road to Kampot

After my dinner of beef and rice, I woke up the next morning feeling strong and confident. It was ready to bang out these 55km and enjoy my two days of well earned rest in Kampot.

The ride to Kampot was incredibly scenic. It was flat and tree lined. I enjoyed my smooth ride through small villages, market towns, and cresting little hills with views of the ocean and Vietnam’s Phy Quoc island.

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Kuy Tiev on the way to Kampot

I took my time, stopping to take plenty of photos and enjoy the scenery. I had no idea what awaited me in Kampot but I was expecting a typical out of the way Cambodian town. Some markets, women selling pork and rice, maybe a guesthouse or two.

Boy was I wrong.

Kampot: First Impressions

Kampot is a tourist Disneyland. Or at least, after days of interacting only with Khmers and staying in Khmer style accommodations, that is how it felt to me. I rolled into town and was immediately confronted with signs offering vegan and vegetarian meals, twice daily yoga classes, and backpacker hostels. Now I understood why everyone stopped here.

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Feeling Strong

The town itself is gorgeous. French colonial architecture lines the river, with a view of the Bokor Mountains beyond. With all the little shops selling Kampot Pepper, cafes with charming chalkboard signs, and whimsical backpacker shops, it’s the kind of town that you can find anywhere in southeast asia, adapted to please the backpacker crowd.

It’s like Battambang, but with more tourists.

Kampot is charming, delightful, and I’m seriously considering living here for a few months after the ride. But in the middle of this ride, the transition from regular Cambodia to Tourist Cambodia was a bit jarring for me.

Oh well.

Tomorrow I ride to the beachside town of Kep, a mere 26km away, where I’m excited to do a few hours of hiking on the hills there, then spend an evening on the beach. After that, one day ride up towards Phnom Penh then, as a present to my mom from mothers day, I will swallow my pride and get a bus for the last 60km into Phnom Penh. You’re welcome, mom.

I don’t love the idea of putting my bike on a bus but when your mom asks you, as a mothers day gift, well… you say yes.

Bike Tour Cambodia: Battambang to Koh Kong Through The Cardamoms (Part 1)

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

It’s 4pm, absolutely pissing down rain, and I am hiding in a Khmer family’s house watching lightening crash across the sky. I have 2 hours until sunset and 30 more kilometers to ride through potentially extremely steep mountain roads. My mind is full of despair. Why did I think I could do ride from Battambang to Koh Kong? Is my body even capable of this?

My bike trip around Cambodia has begun.


First up, cycling from Battambang to Koh Kong through the Cardamom Mountains, stopping in Samlout, Pramaoy, and my picturesque paradise: O Saom Village.

The night before I started the trip, I was operating at a low level of panic. In my mind, I was too out of shape, too unprepared. I feared I would set out the next day and not even make it to my first stop.

My friends did their best to cheer me up, but by that point the only thing I could do was start the ride.

My 5am alarm rang sooner than I would’ve liked.

Day 1: Cycling Battambang to Samlout

Waking up, my first thought was, “You don’t need to start the ride today. Go back to sleep.”

Thankfully I have at least a teaspoon of willpower. I headed out the door and left my Battambang life behind.

The first hour or two of the ride was really peaceful. I was up and riding by 5:20am, and had made it out to the picturesque hilltop Wat Sampov temple before the sun had fully risen. All the fear of the night before washed away as the scenery rolled past. By the time I stopped for breakfast I was in the zone.

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Samlout Scenery

My route followed the paved highway to Pailin for about 45km then turned off onto a dirt road heading out towards Samlout. Little did I know this was the last paved road I would see for over a week.

Riding out to Samlout my thoughts were conflicted. All I saw around me was peaceful farmland and Khmer daily life. But I also found myself contemplating the history I knew sat beneath the surface of this region.

Battambang region, and specifically the mountains on the outskirts, were some of the hardest hit areas of the Khmer Rouge period and subsequent civil war. By 1998, the town of Samlout and the surrounding mountains were cut off from the rest of the world. Old Phnom Penh Post articles talk about how impossible it was for wartime journalists to make it to the town, where the last vestiges of the Khmer Rouge fighters were still revolting against the now firmly in power Vietnamese backed Cambodian government. The articles describe how the street to Pailin was lined with refugees. The very same street I was riding down during my first day.

Today, the legacy of that war is hidden somewhat. The valley is peaceful and still, filled with countryside scenes and Cambodian people herding cattle. But the scars remain beneath the surface. Signs dot the roadsides cautioning about mines or detailing mine clearing efforts.

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Demining Sign in Samlout

This violent history doesn’t define the people of Cambodia, however, and I was happy to meet many helpful and engaging locals during the days ride.

The road to Samlout is hilly without being too steep. I finished the 77km before 1pm, exhausted but happy.

As I thankfully rolled into Samlout, I saw a sign that said “Guesthouse” so I pulled in.

No one was home.

I waited.

Eventually a little kid saw me, then ran off shouting. He came back with some little friends and they all stood off to the side and giggled quietly to themselves. After some time, a family showed up. I asked them, in Khmer, if this was a guesthouse. They nodded, then proceeded to more or less ignore me. It was pretty strange but I figured they were just taking their time.

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A motorcyclist checks me out on the road to Samlout

As I waited, I lay down across a bench and in my exhaustion, began to fall asleep. The father of the family ushered me inside and offered me a space to sleep on a wooden bed. No hotel room, just a wooden surface inside their house. I thought this too was odd but I was too exhausted to care. I fell asleep for an hour.

Woke up around 2pm absolutely starving. The family was almost entirely gone. A young woman probably about my age sat outside. Leaving my things inside the house, I left to find some food.

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Coming into Samlout

Rode around a bend and discovered that there was a whole second half of the town I hadn’t even seen yet. My doubts about the validity of my “guesthouse” began to solidify. But first, food.

As I’m enjoying my market stall noodle soup, the cook comes over and starts talking to me in English. Asks where I am from, if I’m traveling alone… typical questions. Then she asks if I’ve found the guest house yet, and points in the opposite direction.

Okay, so I wasn’t at the guesthouse.

Back at the first “guesthouse” the young woman was still sitting in front in the same position as when I had left. I picked up my bags, put them on my bike, said goodbye to her, and rode away. She didn’t seem phased at all. Just smiled and went back to staring into space.

From their point of view, I’m pretty sure a Cambodian family found a random foreigner sitting on their front step, let her sleep in their house for a few hours, and then the foreigner rode away.

Who knows.

Anyway, I found the proper guesthouse and got a room for the night. Had a really festive dinner with the owner and his friends, and was up at 5am the next day ready to ride.

Day 2: Cycling Samlout to Pramaoy and Everywhere In Between

How to even begin to describe this day? It was the first of many truly challenging days I would have cycling in Cambodia’s mountains from Battambang to Koh Kong.

The ride to Pramaoy taught me who I am as a person. It changed my understanding of myself on a fundamental level. It broke me down and built me back up over and over again.

I set out from my Samlout guesthouse all confidence. Yesterday had been so effortless, so fun. I was sure today would be even better. Only 71 kms. Throw a couple mountain climbs in there. No problem. Piece of cake.

It only took a few minutes for that hope to be shattered. My route veered onto jungle paths that barely live up to the word “road.” Eventually I made my way down to the river. No bridge. I was stuck.

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On the New Route to Pramaoy

I quickly found a new route that would add about 20km to my day. The new route cut a fairly straight line through some foothills towards the mountains. I rolled through several villages, coasting up and down small hills with the mountains rising majestically to my right.

After breakfast, I crossed the “bridge” which was really just a couple of logs strung together and got some questionable directions from the local villagers.

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The Only Bridge for Miles

I took the first right hand turn, checked my GPS and pedaled off down the road. Energetic from my breakfast and confident as I faced off with the mountain ridge in the distance, I pedaled hard and fast, allowing my thoughts to flow with the scenery around me.

I daydreamed like this for a good hour before stopping to check my GPS. To my horror and dismay I had missed a turn. Not missed it. Overshot it by about 20km. There was NO way I was backpedaling 20km. Not after the bridge incident from the morning.

I asked to my GPS to recalibrate. Took a new road forward, confident I had tricked google maps and found a better route after all.

But Cambodia had other plans for me.

The road soon disintegrated into a mucky, muddy mess. If you’ve never experienced the unique substance that is Cambodian mud, let’s take a minute to pay homage to this unique form of torture.

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Just a Cambodian Mountain Road

Cambodia’s soil is a rich clay that, when wet, becomes a slippery pit of despair that eats everything in its path. The harder you try to stay upright, the more the mud pulls you inexorably downwards.

It was a struggle, to say the least. There were some single tracks that intrepid motorcyclists had carved around the muck, saving me a bit of time and effort. Nonetheless, I took my first massive fall of the ride right into a giant puddle. With great effort I pulled myself upright and came face to face with a laughing old man.

Stifling his laughter, he asked where I was going. He leaned down and drew a map to Pramaoy in the mud. The rest of the morning entailed riding down a dirt road, hoping to eventually reach a T-junction.

I must admit, there came a moment where I shouted “I can’t do this anymore!”

5 minutes later I reached the T-junction. Because of course I broke down right before the end. Put myself back together and carried on, now safely back on track.

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Happy to see the T-Junction and be back on the main road

Popped into a market, had a plate of rice and pork, and fell asleep in a hammock for an hour and a half. Got up at 1pm to head up into the mountains, excited but nervous.

And of course, almost immediately, google maps sent me off on some crazy “short cut” road that was barely a road, mostly mud, and literally ate my bike up to the front wheel shocks. Luckily I still had one foot on solid ground and could pull myself back up.

Exhausted, frustrated, and a little excited, I fought my way through the bush road and made it back to the official road up into the mountains.

And man, was it up. It was relentless. A steep climb that just kept going. I had to stop several times to catch my breath and sit with the truck drivers who were also taking breaks. Because I guess driving trucks up mountains is also hard work.

But eventually, even though there is always more up, I came to the top. Actually, I made it to the top a lot more quickly that I expected to, which is pretty unusual in the mountains. Still, I couldn’t let myself get arrogant. Some truck drivers I had spoken to made me a bit nervous. Pramaoy was still very far away, with another big climb between here and there.

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At the top of the climb, about to take the downhill.

After that massive steep climb I was rewarded with every mountain biker’s dream: a long, almost endless downhill. It went on forever. It never went up, just down, down, down. Down through this wide open valley surrounded on all sides by mountains. There is a small village up there that stretches along the road. The locals would call out and cheer as I flew by. I would smile and laugh in return.

I was exuberant. I was flying. I was ecstatic.

Then everything changed.

Dark clouds pregnant with rain gathered in the sky over my head. As the first fat drops splattered down, a woman waved me over to cower under cover of her shop. I sat and ate a quick meal, and checked my phone and GPS.

4pm with 30km more to go through the mountains.

Sunset was at 6:20, and during my previous climb and rugged road conditions, it had taken me 1 hour to go 10km. At that rate, and with it pouring rain, impossible to ride in and guaranteed to make the dirt roads more difficult…. I doubted my ability to make it to Pramaoy.

Still, I was determined to try. by 4:20pm, the rain had cleared up and I was back on my bike, flying down the road.

Adrenaline and determination were flowing through my veins. I pushed and pushed. The downhill continued for a bit but then the road again began to climb. Thankfully nowhere near as steep as the early afternoon mountain ascent. I continued to push with an intensity I didn’t realize I had.

Honestly, that whole end of the day is a bit of an adrenaline soaked blur. I know the road passed through thick jungle, through a town, and I saw lots of roads turning off to the left. I knew the road would fork, and I needed to take the right fork, so I studiously stayed to the right.

Nonetheless, as the last light left the sky for the day, I found myself speeding out onto the main road, a Khmer man laughing nearby, most definitely NOT in Pramaoy.

How the fuck had I taken the left fork? I don’t even remember there BEING a fork, and I definitely stayed to the right the whole time.

Never solved that particular mystery.

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Cambodian Village Life

Checked google. 7.2km to Pramaoy. Okay, I told my fatigued legs, my exhausted lungs, and my disappointed mind, you can do this. 7km is nothing.

In the dim light of dusk, I rode. The road was now a large, well maintained dirt road. The hills were small, but my exhausted legs still complained on every uphill. With about 5km to go, I hit the wall. I started cursing the day I was born, cursing my decision to make this bike trip, and definitely cursed at a dog that started barking at me.

But curses aside, at 7:20pm I rolled into Pramaoy and collapsed into the first guesthouse I saw.

From 5:20am to 7:20pm, including an hour and a half in a hammock, I had been traveling for 14 hours. But I had made it to Pramaoy.

I’d love to say I gratefully took a rest day there in Pramaoy, but Pramaoy isn’t the kind of town that begs you to stay.

No, instead I woke up the next day and did it all over again.

Day 3: Cycling Pramaoy to O Saom

This was my second time making the cycling trip from Pramaoy to O Saom. I’d made it once before. Last November on my first trip through the Cardamoms.

This time was easier. I knew what to expect. Instead of stressing about the climbs or my mileage, I savored every hill. Pushed through the climbs, enjoyed the struggle, and made it to O Saom by 11am, with a little help from the ferry across the lake.

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Almost to O Saom, looking back.

It was a great ride. The road was in poor condition, but considerably better than it had been in November.

I rolled into O Saom exhausted but happy.


That’s a wrap on the first half of my ride from Battambang to Koh Kong. Once I’ve finished cycling through the Cardamoms, I’ll cover the unbelievably intense ride from O Saom to Koh Kong and Koh Kong to Andong Tuek. Until then,

Never stop exploring.

Bike Tour Cambodia: The Plan

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

If you’re subscribed to my youtube channel or follow me on just about any form of social media, then you already know I’m going to ride a bike around Cambodia for the next month and some change. If you want to learn how to travel the world by bicycle, here is what I’ve learned.

Bicycle tourism has always been something I’ve wanted to try. Even when I was organizing my first backpacking trip back in 2013, I considered biking around Vietnam and Laos. It didn’t play out back then because I thought it would be too difficult to organize it once I arrived in Vietnam.

And back then, it probably would have been. But now it’s 2017. I’ve been traveling for years. I’ve lived in Cambodia for over a year at this point. And most of all, I know how to organize an adventure in a foreign country. So that’s what I did. And it’s almost time to go.

As I write this, today is Wednesday, April 26, 2017. I start my ride on May 1st. That is this coming Monday. I still have things to buy, Khmer I’ve never studied, and my foot is still just a little bit sore from an injury that set me back a month ago.

Oh yeah, did I mention I haven’t been able to ride for the last month because of an injury in my ankle/foot? Yeah.

Let’s get down to it. In this article I want to break down what I’m packing, where I’m going, and the things I’m most excited about seeing on my bicycle trip around Cambodia.

The Packing List: What to Bring on a Bike Trip Round the World

Okay, it isn’t a bike trip around the world, just Cambodia. But still! Here is the list of what I am packing, split up into categories. I’m trying to pack light, while still having everything I need in case of disasters or nights spent out in the middle of nowhere with no guesthouse or even regular house for shelter.

Category 1: Bike Gear

  • 1 Merida Mountain Bike
  • 1 Multitool
  • 4 Inner Tubes
  • 1 Patch Kit
  • 1 Hand Pump
  • 1 Can Chain Grease
  • 1 Rag
  • 1 Bike Helmet

Category 2: Clothing

  • 3 pairs biking shorts/pants
  • 2 long sleeve shirts
  • 2 T-shirts for relaxing/pijamas
  • 1 sarong (doubles as a skirt and towel)
  • 1 dress (for when I’m not on a bike)
  • 5 pairs of underwear
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 1 poncho
  • 1 hat
  • 1 pair sunglasses
  • 1 pair bike gloves
  • 1 krama scarf

Category 3: Toiletries

  • 1 small bottle 2-in-1 shampoo
  • 1 deodorant
  • 1 toothpaste
  • 1 toothbrush
  • 1 floss
  • 1 comb
  • 5 extra hair ties
  • 1 menstrual cup
  • 1 bottle sunscreen
  • 1 bottle 98% deet bugspray (SORRY NOT SORRY)
  • 1 First Aid Kit (disinfecting spray, bandaids, wraps)
  • Many packets of ibuprofen

Category 4: Electronics*

  • Macbook Pro & Charger
  • Phone & Charger
  • Canon DSLR & Kit Lens & Charger
  • Kindle
  • External Hard drive

Category 5: Miscellaneous

  • 1 Hammock
  • 1 Rope (about 4 meters)
  • 1 Tarp (to cover panniers, and me if I get caught sleeping in the rain)
  • 1 Mosquito net
  • 1 Notebook
  • 1 Flashlight
  • 1 Knife
  • 1 Spoon
  • 1 Camelpak
  • 1 Passport
  • 1 Wallet with money

And that is IT! That is everything that I will have with me as I ride in a big giant circle around Cambodia. Any questions or concerns about my packing list? Have I forgotten something? Tell me about it in the comments down below!

*I wouldn’t normally want to bring a laptop on a journey like this. However, I’m planning on working during the ride and I need to have my computer with me in order to do that. Do I now wish I had purchased a more lightweight laptop? Yes. Yes, I do.

The Route: Getting Off the Beaten Path in Cambodia

I’ve spent the last year living in Battambang, Cambodia. Battambang is a gorgeous city with incredible countryside, but it does have some drawbacks. Most notably, that you cannot get anywhere else in Cambodia without first having to go through Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. And since Siem Reap is a 3 hour drive away, and Phnom Penh a 6 to 8 hour drive, that sort of rules out weekend getaways.

All that is to say I’ve spent the last year gazing longingly at maps of Cambodia, wondering what is out there. To date, I’ve visited two cities on the coast, Sihanoukville and Koh Kong, ridden a bicycle for four days through the Cardamom Mountains, and spent some time in Pailin, Siem Reap, and Phnom Penh.

Okay that actually sounds like a lot.

But there is so much more of Cambodia to explore! When it came time to plan my route, I knew I wanted to reattempt the Cardamom Mountains and I wanted to explore Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri, and Preah Vihear. The rest of the route just planned itself.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, here is a map of my route:

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This a mostly accurate map.

Let’s talk about a few of the places I am the most excited for.

First up, I’ll begin the ride in the Cardamom Mountains. This is similar to the route I took back in November, just with a different starting point. My original plan was to be in really good shape so that I wouldn’t struggle as much as I did the first time around. Oh well! A twisted ankle threw that plan out the window. Instead of being in peak physical form, I’ve just rested for an entire month. Cardamom mountains, here I come.

With the Cardamoms, I’m really looking forward to taking in beautiful views, struggling up the mountainsides, and the sense of relief I will feel when I finally get a view of the lake and O Saom village. The highlight of any ride through the Cardamom’s is tranquil O Saom village, and I cannot wait to get back there. After that it’s just a quick 100kms through the mountains to Koh Kong.

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On the lake in O Saom Village

Spend a day working and recovering in Koh Kong, a city on the coast, and then I’m off to Chi Phat. Chi Phat is this little town up in the Cardamoms where hopefully I can squeeze in a two day trek. I’ve heard they are a bit expensive and it can be challenging if you are traveling solo, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway.

From there, it’s a one or two day ride over to Kampot, where I will spend two days exploring and working. I’ve heard from many people that Kampot is wonderful and not to be missed. I’m looking forward to visiting the ruined old French resort at Bokor Hill Station, and riding my bike casually through the countryside.

Pop over to Kep on the ocean real quick because I heard they have good food then it’s a few days ride up to Phnom Penh. In Phnom Penh I will have to buy a new visa (yipee!) but luckily this is Cambodia so you can literally stay for as long as you have money. A 6-month multiple entry business visa is $150.

After Phnom Penh comes the part I am the most uncertain about. I’ve chosen to follow a road called “National Highway 8” that goes towards the Vietnamese border, skirts it to head north, and eventually meets up with Highway 11 and the route to Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri.

I’m nervous for this section because there are no major cities, there are no tourist hubs, this region is in effect a “wildcard” for me. I have no idea if there will be guesthouses, I don’t know how the people will be, I have no idea what to expect. And that is why I picked it. I could’ve chosen an easier route, riding from Phnom Penh up to Kampong Cham and over to Sen Monorom. But really, what is the fun in that?

Then, Sen Monorom is the main city in Mondulkiri Province. There is an elephant sanctuary there, the Elephant Valley Project, and I’m planning to spend half a day with those elephants. Might spend another day in town exploring, might not.

Up next: THE DEATH ROAD. Okay, in all seriousness, there is a long road that runs between Sen Monorom and Banlung. In the past, it was unpaved and referred to as “the death road.” It’s paved now. But I’m still excited to ride it. Should take me two days.

Banlung. I want to do some trekking up there but the only prices I can find online are $130 for 2 days! I’m sorry but that is just not right. I’ll wait and see what happens when I get there. If I can trek, I will trek. If they insist on this ridiculous mark-up then whatever, I ain’t mad.

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My bike from my previous ride through the Cardamoms

After Banlung comes the newest addition to my route: the road to Siem Pang. This road is irresistible. The road to Siem Pang is not paved. In places it is barely even a road. I’ve read trip reports from guys on motorized dirt bikes who say it took them 9 hours to finish the 95km, so I’m imagining it will take me two days. This is why I’m bringing the hammock, guys.

From Siem Pang, I ferry across the river then head back down to Stung Treng and hug the Laos/Thai border over to Preah Vihear. Preah Vihear has been a Cambodian travel goal for me since I arrived in April 2016. It’s a large, Angkorian era temple situated on top of a cliff right on the border with Cambodia and Thailand. It commands stunning views of the surrounding countryside and is apparently really well preserved. Can’t wait.

After that, I’ll stick close to the Thai border, enjoying some Cambodian countryside, staying in homestays, and loop back down to Battambang!

Time to Bike Around Cambodia

There you have it, that’s my plan. Am I nervous? Yes. Is it the hot season? Yes. I’ll be waking up at 4:30 or 5 am each day to ride, hopefully finishing shorter days by 11am. For the longer days, I plan to ride all morning, sit under some shade during the hot period, then start riding again at 3pm. I’m also planning on working the entire time. I create content for blogs and businesses around the world, so I’ll still try to spend 2 to 4 hours each day on that. Longer during my rest days. So, there you have it. That’s the plan.

Let’s see what happens.

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