Hiking the Langdon Trail to Mt. Resolution

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire, Trekking & Hiking, United States

One summer weekend, I set out on a backpacking trip to Mount Isolation; the highest point on the Montalban ridge of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. But the trip was not to be. Through a series of unexpected events, I ended up hiking the Langdon Trail to Mt. Resolution instead.

Change of Plans: Finding a Trailhead in Bartlett, NH

With the weather finally warming up after a prolonged, cold spring, I planned a 3-day, 2-night hike up and over Mt. Isolation. The trails would not be too strenuous, but the 4000 footer in the middle would make the trip seem just a little bit grand. I was pumped.

Yet from the very start, the world conspired against me.

First, traffic. Of course, traffic. I sat in traffic for nearly 5 hours as I slowly inched my way north through the Boston metro area towards New Hampshire. It wasn’t until 6:30p.m. that I reached the small town of Bartlett. I had only planned to hike two miles to the nearest shelter anyway, so although I was a bit flummoxed, I knew I was still safe.

As I drove up the hill towards the trailhead, anticipation built in my belly. This would be my first backpacking trip since I moved back to America last September. Soon I would be alone in the forest, surrounded by the rich smells and sounds of the wilderness.

And then.

I drove around a bend in the road and came face to face with a locked gate. No parking lot or trail marker to be found. On the gate was a small posted sign: caution, trails in the Dry River Wilderness were severely damaged in late season storms. Expert only. Hike at your peril. Be prepared to die.

Prideful and committed to my plan, I toyed with the idea of hiking up the trail anyway. I believed in my ability to make it through the wilderness. And it could add another level of adventure to an otherwise fairly routine hiking trip.

And yet, I finally came to my senses and aborted my plan to hike Mt. Isolation.

Instead, I scrambled to find a different trailhead. Even if my plans only reduced to a 1 night, 2-day hiking trip.

I settled on the nearby Parker Trailhead in Bartlett. From the trailhead it was only 3 miles to the Langdon Shelter. It wasn’t what I had planned, but it was a night or two in the backcountry. I hopped back in my car and drove the few miles over to the trailhead.

Langdon Trail at Sundown

The Parker Trailhead

Parking at the Parker Trailhead was fairly limited, with space for just a few cars in a small clearing in the woods. There were two other cars already parked, locked and empty when I arrived.

By the time I began my hike it was 6:45 p.m. The rich, gold sunlight of an early summer evening filtered sideways through the leaves.

Not having backpacked in almost two years, I had no idea what my pace would be or how much ground I’d be able to cover before I ran out of light. I figured I had about an hour before I needed to find a site. It was 3 miles from the trailhead to the shelter, but I trusted myself to set up a leave-no-trace backcountry stealth campsite if I couldn’t make it that far.

Langdon Hiking Trail Bartlett New Hampshire

Hiking the Langdon Trail to Langdon Shelter

The first mile or so of the Langdon Trail ascends at a gentle grade. The forest on either side has been cut away for some reason. Perhaps for power lines or some other kind of ugly human development. The lack of vegetation brings an unpleasant and exposed feeling to the trail.

After about a mile, the trail enters the Dry River Wilderness and the change is immediate. The scarred forest gives way to pristine wilderness. A small creek curves between two hills and rolls off into the distance. Pine needles carpet the ground and the occasional birch reaches up towards the sky. The trail begins to ascend more sharply as it finds its way up the mountain.

Entering the Dry River Wilderness, New Hampshire

The water available from the trail vanished as I ascended to higher elevations. The setting sun poured through the leaves around me. Depending on the terrain, the trail alternated between a wash of golden light, and a dim, dusky gloom.

When the sun moved behind a hill and the forest filled with shadows I would feel a sense of urgency, a dread that urged me to stop and set up camp. Then I would reach the next rise, the sunlight would return and I would think to myself, “no, a little further now. You have time.”

And then, at last, I reached a sign informing me that the Langdon shelter was just half a mile away. No sense looking for stealth camping at this point. In the dying light of the day, I hoofed it the final half mile down the path until I saw the shelter crouched amongst the trees.

Langdon Shelter, New Hampshire

A Night at the Langdon Shelter

As I emerged from the trees, I saw a woman standing in a clearing, snapping together tent poles. Turning towards me, she asked if I was with a group.

No, I answered. I’m by myself.

Oh! Her voice warmed. I’m Laura, and that’s my husband Brent, putting up our bear throw.

Laura and Brent had already hiked all of the 4000ft peaks in New Hampshire and were in the final stretch of “red-lining,” the challenge of hiking every mile of AMC managed trail in New Hampshire. That’s over a thousand miles.

They had only something over a hundred left to go.

I set up my tent in a small flat clearing close to the shelter and returned with my bear vault to sit with Laura. She began building a small fire. I pulled out my map. What would be possible over the course of the weekend?

I calculated the distance between myself and Mt Isolation. 16 miles. One way. There were no official tent sites between here and there but Laura and Brent clued me into a few spots where one could set up a tent and take in a nice view, if one were so inclined. Stealth sites, if you will.

And yet, that would mean a long hike on Saturday and a long hike out on Sunday. Sunday was Father’s Day and I had a date in Massachusetts with my Dad. If I hiked all the way to Isolation, I wouldn’t be out of the mountains till late afternoon on Sunday.

But my heart had been set on spending two nights in the backcountry. It was a painful expectation to let go of.

 

After chewing it over and changing my mind at least seven times, I settled on my choice. Tomorrow I would hike to Mount Resolution then turn around and head back out to my car. It wouldn’t be my three day journey, but it would be a 12-mile hike in the White Mountains.

I spent the rest of the night swapping stories with Laura and Brent over the fire. I told them about that time I bought a donkey in Peru, and what it feels like to trek across the Himalayas in Nepal. They spoke about a trip along the John Muir Trail and their favorite hiking spots in New England.

The next morning, I tortured myself with thoughts of bagging Mt Isolation. I knew the right thing to do was to limit myself to Mt Resolution and make it home in time for fathers day. But I wanted to do the longer hike. I wanted a second night in the woods.

Disappointment crept into my mind like a fog. As I packed up my tent, munched on my breakfast of cold pop tarts and headed out up the trail, it weighed me down, making me question my integrity as a hiker. Why even bother if I was only spending one night in the woods?

But despite the disappointment and my flair for the dramatic, the solitude of the woods embraced me, picked me up, and did its very best to remind me why I came into the mountains.

My mind settled into the introspective state that I only find when I’m pushing myself physically. My thoughts roamed, jumping from tree to tree alongside the chipmunks I startled from the underbrush.

Perhaps, I thought to myself, this sense of disappointment comes less from the hike and more from my expectations. I was hiking in New Hampshire, one of my favorite places. I was surrounded by the smell of pine, the soft feeling of my feet against the trail. Why would I possibly feel anything other than contentment?

Perhaps that import I placed on other people’s imagined expectations was what I most needed to let go of.

These thoughts filled my mind all the way up to the summit of my first peak of the day, Mt. Parker.

 

View of Mt. Washington from Mt. Parker

Mt. Parker Summit Views

Mt. Parker to Mt. Resolution

Mt Parker stands just above 3,000ft. It is pointed, bald, and commands a beautiful view of the surrounding Presidential range.

I set down my pack and stood still. The peaks and valleys of the Whites rolled away from me into eternity, looking like sleeping elephants. Massive beasts about to rise up out of the earth at the slightest provocation. Washington loomed in the distance, still wearing patches of snow in mid-June.

After a moment, I pushed on further down the trail. In the near distance, I could see a flat-topped mountain rising up between me and Mount Washington. That, I believed, was Mt. Resolution, and the extent of my hike for that day.

The trail from Mount Parker to Mt. Resolution was delightful. From the summit of Parker, the trail is a narrow strip of dirt between granite boulders and alpine brush, winding down into the spruce trees. In amongst the pines, the meandering trail bops back and forth along the ridgeline.

The undulating movement continued until I reached the base of Resolution. The pitch shifted skyward and I climbed up the final ascent to the large flat granite surface: the summit of Resolution.

Setting down my pack, I wandered across the mountaintop. It is less of a summit and more of a plateau. I’m not certain I ever found the highest point. But the views of Mt. Washington were superb, and I enjoyed a moment basking in the mountain’s nearness, dreaming of the Presi traverse I hoped to complete later in the season.

White Mountains New Hampshire Views

As I stared up the Montalban ridgeline, contemplating a trek from here up to the summit of Mount Washington, the uncertainty returned.

What if I did keep walking? Am I being a quitter because I’m only hiking to Resolution and going back to my car? I had intended to spend two nights in the backcountry on this trip. Did spending only one night make me a failure?

I paced back and forth on the mountaintop as I debated my answer. I could see Stair Mountain further down the ridge. What if I simply hiked to there, found a nearby campsite, and walked back in the morning? I could still make it for dinner on Father’s Day.

But no, I’d be exhausted on Monday. And besides, I’d like to spend the whole day with my family. If I camp tonight, I wont be able to do that. There are plenty more weekends in the summer. I’ll have many more opportunities to spend two nights in the wilderness, but fathers day only comes once a year.

Turning back was the right choice. It was what I wanted. So why was it so hard to do?

Summit of Mt. Resolution New Hampshire

Mt. Resolution Summit

Reluctantly, I picked up my pack and headed back the way I had come.

But indecision had not yet released it’s grip on my mind. The fact that I had told my boyfriend I’d be in the woods for two nights, told the couple I met last night, told a few friends… I felt that I would be letting them down if I hiked out of the woods today.

My indecision was so intense I hiked about a tenth of a mile back towards my car, stopped, turned around, hiked back up the hill, stopped, turned back and forth a few times, then set off resolutely in the direction of my car.

The indecision and self-flagellation hung about me like a dull mist for the next mile or so, almost all the way back to Mt. Parker. I had to work to shake the feeling that I was letting other people down. It took far too long for me to fall back into that beautiful meditative state.

View of White Mountains from Mt Parker

After the summit of Mt. Parker my mind began to relax and I was able to relish the hike back out of the woods. Though I expected the trail to be tired, old, and boring the second time around, it was anything but. Coming at it from this new direction it was like a fresh trail populated with old friends. Here was the rock I had to scramble over on the way up, and here is the felled tree that forces me down into a crawl. The spruce and deciduous forests felt warm and inviting. Last year’s leaves crunched underneath my feet.

For 6 miles I walked along in bliss. Pain was growing in my knees and my legs heavier and heavier, yet I was finally soaked in that woodland euphoria. At the edge of the wilderness area, by the sign I had enjoyed so much the night before, I stopped briefly to refill my water and dunk my head into the stream.

Even if I could only make it out for one night, I still got to spend a night in the woods.

By the time I made it back to my car I was tired, sore, and rejuvenated. Popped into Moat Brewing for a well earned IPA and a sub-par sandwich and was on the road back to Boston, ready to plan my next hiking adventure.


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Hiking the Langdon Trail to Mount Resolution: An overnight backpacking trip in New Hampshire's White Mountains

Franconia Ridge Trail: One of the Best Hikes in New Hampshire

Adventure Travel, New Hampshire, Trekking & Hiking, United States

Visit New England and you’ll face one unavoidable truth: the Appalachian Mountains just aren’t that big. This might lead you to assume that hiking in New Hampshire is easy. Yet if you assumed this, you would be wrong. Trails in New Hampshire are some of the toughest I’ve ever encountered. Most especially, one of the best hikes in New Hampshire: the Franconia Ridge Trail.

There is something special about hiking in New Hampshire. I love the way the forest changes as you ascend up the mountains, going from leafy green deciduous trees; to pine forests; to sparse, high alpine environments with little cover and excellent views. Once you enter the mountains in New Hampshire, you are transported to another world.

Few places are as good for that as the Franconia Ridge Trail in the White Mountains.

Falling Waters Trailhead Parking

Trailhead and Parking

All About the Franconia Ridge Trail

Before I get ahead of myself and start gushing all about how much I love this trail. Let’s just go over some of the fine print.

The Franconia Ridge Trail traverses the Franconia Ridge (surprising, I know) from Mt. Flume at the southern end, all the way up to Mt. Lafayette to the north. In between the two peaks, it summits Mt. Liberty, Little Haystack Mountain, and Mt. Lincoln. The section from Mt. Liberty to Mt. Lafayette is also included in the storied Appalachian Trail.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of this trail, apart from the views, is the biodiversity. From Mt. Flume to Little Haystack, the trail passes through pine forests typical of New Hampshire. In here, it smells like Christmas and the air is blanketed with silence. From the peak of Mt. Haystack, the trail emerges into a high alpine environment where low shrubs and lichen reign supreme. This is an exceedingly delicate environment. Though small, many of these plants take years if not decades to grow. But it’s not all doom and gloom up here. Not only are the plants quiet fragile; they are also quite short. This means more views for us hikers.

The views from the top of Franconia Ridge are breathtaking. To the east, you can look down into the remote Pemigawasset Wilderness and across to the rolling peaks of the Bondcliff Trail. To the north, you’ll see the rest of Franconia ridge rising above you. And to the west sit the Kinsman and Canon ranges, as well as the steep cliffs of Franconia Notch, former home of the Old Man in the Mountain. (RIP)

The tricky thing about the Franconia Ridge Trail is that it never intersects with a road or parking area. Given that it sits on the top of one of the highest ridges in New Hampshire, that kind of makes sense. So for us intrepid hikers hoping to best this trail in a single day, we face a small problem: in order to enjoy this hike, we must first ascend to it.

A word of caution before we keep going: because the Franconia Ridge Trail is high and exposed, it can be particularly dangerous during harsh weather conditions. Up there, hikers are prone to lightning strikes and at the mercy of strong winds. The weather in the White Mountains is highly changeable so be sure to check reports before hiking. If you see clouds coming into the ridge, better to delay your hike until another day.

Waterfall in the White Mountains

Waterfall #3 on the Falling Waters Trail

Hiking Franconia Ridge Trail as a Day Hike: Planning the Trip

When my mom recently had the idea to spend a weekend on the trails, I knew I wanted to tackle the best hike in New Hampshire: my beloved Franconia Ridge Trail. The only problem was, I’d never done it as a day hike before.

Usually, I include the Franconia Ridge Trail as part of the Pemigawasset Loop, a 2 to 4-day backpacking journey that combines the Franconia Ridge with the Bond Ridge for a truly epic experience. But mom wasn’t game for a camping trip, so it’d have to be a day hike.

Luckily, there was an obvious loop that began and ended at a parking lot off of the Franconia Notch Parkway called Lafayette Place.

We’d hike up the Falling Waters Trail (because I suppose Waterfall Trail was just too obvious) for three miles to the peak of Little Haystack Mountain. From there, follow Franconia Ridge trail for 1.7 miles to the peak of Lafayette. Then hike down Greenleaf Trail to the Greenleaf Hut (open May to October), and finally, down the Old Bridle Path for 2.8 miles and back to our car.

Great. I had the whole day planned.

Before we get into the meat of this post, I need to talk about my boots.

Prior to this trip, the soles of my hiking boots had started to fall off. They were old boots and I knew I ought to get them resoled but I was unorganized and didn’t. In lieu of a cobbler, I bought something called “Shoe Goo” at REI and tried to glue the soles of my boots back onto my boots.

And up until the morning of our Franconia Ridge hike, it seemed to have worked.

Just to be safe, I used some duct tape to secure the heels. I considered bringing the duct tape with me, but the glue seemed secure and I didn’t want to add the weight to my day pack. I left the tape at home and we headed for the mountains.

IMG_20170924_103600

Waterfall #2 on the Falling Waters Trail

Hiking the Best Hike in New Hampshire: Our Epic Day on the Franconia Ridge Trail

Given that this would be a long day, hiking 9 miles through tough New Hampshire terrain, we wanted to get started bright and early.

So, of course, we arrived at the trailhead at 10am. Oh well.

Mom had convinced herself and, reluctantly, me that we ought to hike up the Old Bridle Path and back down the Falling Waters trail. I thought it was a bad idea but the guidebook suggested it so that was what mom wanted to do. Thankfully, there were some Park Rangers at the trailhead there to convince my mom that indeed we ought to hike UP the Falling Waters trail and come down the Bridle Path. NOT the other way around. Good.

For those following along at home, the Falling Waters Trail is by far the steeper of the two. If you’re going to tackle this loop as a day hike, I highly recommend ascending via the Falling Waters Trail. Old Bridle Path makes for a lovely descent.

Part 1: Falling Waters Trail

So it began. We headed up the three-mile Falling Waters Trail. The trail starts off as a meandering path through deciduous forests. Maple, beech, and oak trees grow thickly on the lower slopes of the mountain and the trail ascends slowly, following the path of a small brook.

After perhaps a mile of hiking, maybe a bit more, we reached the first waterfall. It featured large granite slabs with water gushing over the crest and a massive group of college kids clambering all over it. I don’t have a photo of that one.

Somewhere in between falls number one and two, we hit our first obstacle of the day. Remember how I had used “shoe goo” to glue my boots together? Remember how I said they seemed fine?

I was wrong.

As I climbed up a large granite boulder, I felt something catch underneath my foot. Looking down, I was dismayed to find that I was standing on the toe of my sole. In fact, the toe had detached itself and curled backward underneath my foot. The heel and mid-section were still in place.

Good thing I brought that duct tape… Oh, no, I left that duct tape at home. The only adhesive I had with me was the box of overlarge bandaids I’d brought to tape up the growing blister on the back of my right heel.

Sorry blister. I used the band-aids to secure the sole to the toe of my boot. And it worked. For a time.

From here, the trail began to get a bit steeper but nothing too crazy. A little bit of boulder scrambling, but that’s to be expected in New Hampshire. The second and third waterfalls followed in quick succession. Both were excellent specimens. Taller than the first, the water cascaded down ladders of granite with pine and maple trees growing out of the sides.

Somewhere in this section, the toe of my other boot decided that it didn’t want to live anymore. Taking out two more band-aids, I secured the offending article. But the boots were wet and the band-aids didn’t want to play. I needed another solution. Something that would force the sole of my boot to stay attached to my foot. I removed my hair elastic from my hair and used it to secure the toe.

It worked. But it also meant I would spend the rest of the day hiking with my long hair down, drenched in sweat, and clinging to my neck, cheeks, forehead, and eyes. What’s a girl to do?

Not too long after the third waterfall, the trail begins to ascend quickly through a series of switchbacks. If you’re imagining the type of smooth, graded switchbacks that characterize most hiking everywhere else on the planet, you’d be wrong. This is New Hampshire. Our switchbacks feature scrambling up boulders and jumping from one massive granite slab to the next.

Finally, just below the summit, as the pines were starting to thin and we hesitantly said out loud to each other, “I think we might be almost there” the trail took a sharp turn in the direction of outer space and climbed directly up the mountain all the way to the summit.

Out of breath, sweating, and shielding our eyes from the harsh sunlight above the treeline, we reached the top of Little Haystack Mountain. I turned around to take in the view and immediately my heart stopped in my chest.

The valley swept away far, far below me. The granite wall of Franconia Notch opened up to the north. Turning my eyes to follow the trail, I saw a dusty brown line cutting across the top of a dramatic ridge, leading up to the peak of Mt. Lincoln.

We had reached the Franconia Ridge Trail.

Best Hikes in New Hampshire Franconia Ridge Trail

Mom hiking towards Mt. Lafayette

Part 2: Hiking 1.7 miles of the Franconia Ridge Trail

The top of Little Haystack is comprised mainly of large flat slabs of granite scattered everywhere like so many marbles. We chose a likely looking spot to have a rest and a snack before tackling the ridge.

A word of caution: it was very windy up there. As long as we were hiking, I was perfectly comfortable in my t-shirt and leggings. But as soon as we sat down, I needed my jacket.

I guess the good thing about the wind was that it dried out my sweaty, disgusting hair.

From Little Haystack, the trail dropped down into the saddle before heading up to Mt. Lincoln. There is a small rise in the middle of the saddle, really quite tiny, and then the trail ascends steeply up to the summit of Lincoln at 5,089 feet. From here, the trail is visible all the way to Lafayette.

From Mt. Lincoln the trail drops somewhat steeply down to the saddle where there is another hump and then a small grove of low-lying pine trees. If you are ever unlucky enough to be caught up on the ridge in a storm, this is the best spot to take cover.

The final ascent, though not as steep as the ascent to Lincoln, is slightly longer, and by this point, my legs were pretty tired. The trail also gets a little difficult to follow. You’re not going to accidentally walk off the mountain or anything, but try to keep your eyes open for the white blaze of the Appalachian Trail marker. This is a sensitive environment and erosion is a big issue. Stepping off of the path has wider implications than meet the eye.

The top of Lafayette is glorious. Franconia Notch is below you to the west. Garfield Mountain rises to the north and seemingly all of the Appalachian Mountains stretch away in many different directions. At 5,260m, this is one of the tallest peaks in New Hampshire and the absolute tallest in the Franconia Notch area. For this reason alone, this is one of the best hikes in New Hampshire.

This was also the highest point of the hike. It was all downhill from here.

Franconia Ridge Trail from Mt Lafayette

View from Lafayette looking back towards Lincoln and Liberty in the distance.

Part 3: Greenleaf Trail to Greenleaf Hut or the Death of Megan’s Boots

It was beautiful on top of Lafayette but still very windy and I didn’t much fancy trying to make sure my sandwich didn’t fly away while I ate it. Mom and I decided to postpone our lunch until we reached the relative shelter of the Greenleaf Hut.

Going into the descent we both felt pretty optimistic. The hard part was over, the hut was only a mile away, and the trail didn’t look particularly challenging.

But it’s right when you start to feel comfortable that it all goes to shite, amirite?

Not even a quarter of a mile into the descent, I tripped, catching something under my right foot. I look down, and the sole of my shoe, freed from the confines of its band-aid restraints, had completely detached itself from my foot. Indeed, the sole of my boot was on its own. Follow its own manifest destiny. It was flying solo. It was rogue one.

And I’m out of band-aids. Well, shit.

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View from the Old Bridle Path

I grab my troublesome sole and shove it into my backpack.

For those of you who are curious, hiking down a steep mountain covered in slippery granite boulders in a shoe that has absolutely no traction is about as fun as you’d think it would be. It’s terrible.

Still, I’m a trooper and I’ve been through worse. I pushed on, hoping that if I got to the hut I could find something that would hold my boots together at least for the rest of the hike.

Boot issue aside, the hike down from Lafayette to the Greenleaf Hut was enjoyably scenic. It’s fairly exposed for the first half mile or so, then it begins to wind in and out of some low pine forests. Just before the hut, the trail dips down into a small valley by a pond.

It was about here that the sole politely removed itself from my second boot. I assume it didn’t want to be left out of this bid for freedom by sole number one.

I gazed up at the Hut above it. It was my only hope.

As soon as I reached the hut, I started chatting with an Irish couple we’d run into on the ridge. I showed them my boots. Full of concern, they reached into their bag and pulled out a roll of scotch tape. I wasn’t sure it would hold up but thought it was better than nothing. She very kindly told me to keep it, just in case. I thanked her profoundly and ducked inside.

The hut was packed. All the groups of college kids and campers were milling about, getting some snacks and replenishing their drinking water. For those who don’t know, these huts are kind of like rudimentary mountain hotels. They are run by an organization called AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) and offer beds, hot meals, snacks, some supplies, and running water. Reservations are most definitely needed if you want a bed but if you just need somewhere to take a break, you’re very welcome. The huts are open usually from May to October.

I sat down at an open table and started taping up my boots.

“Having boot problems?” I heard from across the table. I looked up and a guy sitting further down had noticed my desperate attempts to reconnect my boot with its sole.

“I think I have some electrical tape if you’d rather use that?”

I accepted. If not duct tape, electrical tape was the next best thing. He handed me a brand new roll of tape and told me to keep it, just in case.

boots destroyed on franconia ridge trail

That, my friends, is trail magic.

Part 4: The Old Bridle Path Home

With my boots now fixed up, mom and I downed our wet, soggy, and unbelievably delicious sandwiches and headed out to finish the hike. A sign inside the hut warned that it would take another 2 hours and 40 minutes to reach the bottom. That seemed a bit rich to me, the trail was only 2.8 miles from here! But who was I to second guess the sign?

The Bridle Path

The Old Bridle Path

Going down from the hut, the trail follows a ridge, with some exposed sections of trail offering gorgeous lookouts back up at Franconia Ridge. Steep in places, it was nowhere near as steep as the Falling Waters Trail from this morning.

After just a little under two hours, mom and I had made it back down to the parking lot. We had sore feet but full hearts. We gratefully hopped back into the car and drove back to our condo where warm showers and clean clothes awaited us.

Best Hike in New Hampshire: Franconia Ridge Trail with Falling Waters and Bridle Path At-A-Glance

  • Total Distance: 8.9 miles
    • Falling Waters Trail: 3.2 miles
    • Franconia Ridge Trail: 1.7 miles
    • Greenleaf Trail: 1.1 miles
    • Old Bridle Path: 2.9 miles
  • Total Time: 6 – 8 Hours
  • Highest Point: Mt. Lafayette, 5,260ft (1,600m)
  • Lowest Point: Lafayette Place Trailhead: 1,900ft (580m)

How to get there: From Lincoln, New Hampshire, drive north on Interstate 93 for about 7 miles until the Lafayette Place Trailhead and Campground exit. Parking is on the right. If the lot is full, parking is available on the street or on the other side of the road. U-turns are not possible on the highway, next exit is 3 miles further north on I-93/Rt. 3.


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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: 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

How to Climb Bokor Mountain in the Rain

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

As part of my trip around Cambodia, I spent a few days resting and exploring the charming riverside town of Kampot. Driving into Kampot, the first thing you notice is the massive mountain rising up beside you. And sitting on top of that mountain is the fabled Bokor Hill Station, a must see if you’re wondering what to do in Kampot.

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French Resort in ruins

But since I was there in the beginning of the rainy season, I was a bit nervous to rent a moto and ride up Bokor Mountain in the rain.

Still, I’d been wanting to visit the famous Bokor Hill Station on top of Bokor Mountain for months. Back in the early 20th century, when Cambodia was still a French Protectorate, the French built an elaborate resort and casino on top of the hill. Today, all that remains is a shell of that decadent past. It makes for a great day trip.

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The resort, up close

Although I had ridden my mountain bike 600 kilometers to get from Battambang to Kampot, there was nothing that could make me ride my bicycle up to Bokor Mountain. The road is 35km uphill. Just no. I was relishing the idea of renting a moto and effortlessly driving myself up to the top. It was something I’d been dreaming about for a few days while I pushed my bike up the ruthlessly steep hills outside of Koh Kong.

Renting a Moto in Kampot

Renting a moto in Kampot is incredibly easy. It’s the main way that tourists get around town, so there are heaps of people willing to rent you a “new moto” for $4 a day. I saw one guy offering motos for $5 a day. I think he doesn’t get a lot of business.

I’m a brat and wanted a manual moto, so I wandered around town for 15 minutes looking for one. Most places only rent automatics, but eventually a found a shop, Hong Kimeng, and for $4 I had a Honda Wave for the day.

If you, also, want to rent a manual moto, you can find this place kitty corner from La Java Bleue.

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Moto entering the mists

When you rent a moto in Kampot, you have to leave your passport behind as collateral. As long as the moto comes back with no damage, you’ll get your passport back.

If the moto comes back damaged, they’ll hold on to your passport until you pay for the damages. And assume that you’ll be overcharged.

The Ride from Kampot to Bokor Mountain

Getting from Kampot to Bokor Mountain is pretty easy. Just head back out of town on the road to Sihanoukville for about 10km, maybe a little less, and eventually you’ll see a massive gate on your right hand side. The gate says Thansur Bokor Highland Resort but this is also the entrance for the national park. They’ve just built a massive, and massively ugly, modern resort casino up there.

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Gateway to Bokor National Park

Entrance for a moto is 2000 riel, or 0.50USD. You pay a guard at the gate and he gives you a parking pass. Hang onto that, you’ll need to show it again at the top.

As I drove past the gate, I looked up to see the mountain wreathed in fog and clouds. It had been raining earlier in the morning in Kampot but by now the rain had let up. Still, as I drove towards the mountain the rain began again. I hoped it would clear.

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Buildings in the fog

The road up the mountain is winding but easy. It’s uphill but not to steep, and the corners aren’t particularly tight. It’s a pleasant drive, but make sure you fill up your gas tank at the bottom of the hill.

Driving up, I quickly entered the clouds and with them came the rain. I couldn’t see to my left or my right, and even my visibility in front of me was limited. Still, I’m a stubborn girl and I was determined to get up to this ruined old resort.

After 30 minutes or so of driving, I came to another gate, and a sign indicating that the road would split into a T-junction. Showed my parking pass to a guard and passed through. Because the fog and rain was so thick, I had no idea where I was or what was around me. A sign showed the “old casino” was off to the left, so I took the left turn after the roundabout.

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Limited Visibility

The rest of the drive was incredibly spooky, in a really great way. Limited visibility. Every once in awhile people or buildings would emerge out of the fog. I drove slowly, headlights on, savoring the effect. The rain had let up a few minutes before but I was still soaked and shivering, even under my thin plastic poncho.

Eventually, confused and lost, I came to the end of the paved road. I couldn’t see anything. There were no signs telling me where to go, and nothing to indicate where this old casino was located. I was a bit frustrated but still game for an adventure. I parked my bike and wandered off into the fog.

Exploring Bokor Hill Station in the Fog

A large building emerged and I could see a path going behind it. As I followed that path up the hill, the fog began to clear, and I was suddenly confronted with a jaw dropping view out over the mountains to the ocean.

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The view begins to appear

I gazed out at the sea for a few moments, soaking in that uniquely euphoric feeling you get when standing on top of a mountain. After a few moments of stillness, I looked around and realized the fog had lifted. And with it, my location was revealed to me. I was standing on the edge of a cliff, with the old casino 100 meters to my right, and some other ruined buildings down below me on my left.

In the fog and the rain I had driven by everything, completely oblivious. Now that the fog lifted, I found myself in a stunning environment. The mountains rolled away behind me, the sea stretched out before me, and a ruined old resort sat perched a top the cliff to the my right.

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Bokor Hill Station

The casino itself was fun to explore. You can’t go inside the building but you’re free to wander around outside of it. There are some stands across the street that sell coconuts and snacks but I didn’t go check them out.

After some time taking photos and enjoying the atmosphere, I was ready to ride back down the hill. It was 4pm by this point and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I hopped back on my moto and cruised down the hill.

Home to Kampot

The way back down was wildly different than the way up. The fog, clouds, and rain had entirely disappeared and instead I was gifted with incredible views of the surrounding mountains and countryside. I passed an old church, the ugly modern casino, and a large statue of a meditating woman, which I believe was called Lok Yeay Mao.

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Lok Yeay

I flew back down the hill, mostly just coasting in neutral and enjoying leaning into the turns. If the ride up took about 45 minutes, the ride down might have taken only 25.

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Ugly modern casino up ther

If you’re planning to ride up to Bokor Hill Station in the rainy season, pay attention to the weather patterns. The few days I was in Kampot, it rained around midday then cleared up in the afternoon. My luck held and I was granted stunning views of Kampot and the countryside. Being up there in the fog, though pleasantly creepy, is nothing compared to the views you get when the sky is clear.

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Bokor Hill Station

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.

Koh Rong Samloem: The Subtle Pleasure of Island Life

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

Koh Rong Samloem is a little slice of heaven in Cambodia. White sand beaches, turquoise blue waters, and fairly cheap accommodation if you know where to look, this is the kind of place that lures you in and lulls you into an enchanted slumber.

I want to pretend that I intentionally set time aside and treated myself to a little island getaway, but that isn’t how it happened at all. Instead, I went to Koh Rong Samloem on a whim, with no reservations and almost no research.

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Pathway to the beach on Koh Rong Samloem

I’d spent the five days prior relaxing on Otres Beach during the Khmer New Year. I was supposed to go to Phnom Penh. I was meant to get back to my “real life.”

But with only $150 in my pocket and a sense that I couldn’t leave Cambodia without seeing at least one island, I booked the ferry instead of the bus.

Getting the Ferry to Koh Rong Samloem

I booked a ticket through my hostel in Otres and didn’t really ask any questions about where it went on the island or if it was the best choice.

That was a mistake.

All ferry tickets to Koh Rong Samloem cost $20. This covers your ferry ride to the island and your ferry ride back to the mainland, no matter how long you stay. But here is the catch: there are several different beaches and bays on the island.

Saracen Bay is the main beach featuring resorts and bungalows. M’Pai Bay is the more casual backpacker hangout with hostels and cheaper prices.

My ferry took me to Saracen Bay, the land of luxury. Since I hadn’t done any research at all, I had no idea that I wasn’t on the right beach. As I first stepped off the ferry onto the pier, I was ecstatic to be on the island. The beach was stunning: crystal blue waters reflecting the tropical sun. The kind of beach where one can imagine James Bond meeting a gorgeous woman and then beating the Sultan of Brunei in a game of poker. I set off to walk down the beach and find a place to stay.

It only took a few moments for something to feel off. The only accommodations I could see were resorts. No one else was walking down the beach. No one had an overly stuffed backpack. No one else looked confused. Something was wrong.

I even walked up to one place that had the appearance of a backpacker hangout. Yes, they had bungalows. For the low, low price of $90 a night. Welp. I’m clearly in the wrong place.

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Kid’s rafts at M’Pai Bay

I walked for almost an hour down the whole beach. With a twisted ankle, I should probably add. I tried to ask a local guy running a shop how to get to M’Pai Bay, and he gave me some story about needing to rent a private boat for $50. Like, where am I? What happened to my Cambodian paradise?

DSC00948.JPGI was completely confused and thrown by how difficult this all was. Years of showing up in cities with no reservations had made me arrogant. I was thrown by my own hubris. Of course, you need to plan and do research! But I hadn’t, and I was paying for it.

Eventually, I walked down almost the entire beach and saw a place with a crowd of backpackers standing in front, looking confused. My tribe! I had found them. I wandered up and asked the first person if they knew how to get to M’Pai Bay.

“We’re waiting, apparently a water taxi is coming soon.”

Excellent. I was right on time. Not 5 minutes later 2 different water taxis pulled up. For $5, I got a lift to M’Pai bay, land of the backpacker hostels. This is the kind of beach James Bond would hide out at after he killed the ambassador to some African nation.

I later learned that different ferry companies stop at different bays. I paid a total of $30 to get on and off the island, including the water taxis from Saracen to M’Pai. I could have paid only $20 for a direct ride from Sihanoukville to M’Pai. Megan didn’t research. Megan paid extra. Don’t be like Megan. Do your research.

Staying on M’Pai Bay, Koh Rong Samloem


Let’s get to the wondrous parts. After all the chaos and frustration of my arrival, I finally made it to Paradise. I met some people on the water taxi who were all headed to a hostel called Yellow Moon. Cool, I had no reservations so it sounded just as good as any other hostel.


Travel Tip:
If you make friends on the way to a destination, stay with those friends. If you don’t, take your time and explore the options. It doesn’t always make sense to take the first thing you’re offered.

Yellow Moon ended up being the last hostel in the bay, right on the water with lots of hangout spaces and a nightly bonfire. Their dorm was full, but they directed me to the nearby Coast 23 hostel, where I took a bed in the 10 room dorm. The dorm was extremely basic, just 10 metal framed bunk beds with mattresses and mosquito nets. Coast 23 is basically an extra dorm room for Yellow Moon and they share a common area.

Yellow Moon ended up being the “party hostel” of the island. I put it in quotes because there isn’t much of a party scene on Koh Rong Samloem. The music stops at 1 am. Parties are for Koh Rong. Life on Koh Rong Samloem is about the more subtle pleasures of island life.

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The view from M’Pai Bay

Checked into the dorm, put down my stuff, then headed out to explore. I found some rocks by the water and had a moment of silence, staring out across the bay. As I stared out across the bay I was thrown back to my backpacking trip in 2014. The memories of other tropical islands and peaceful beaches came flooding back to me, and I recalled the sense of peace and tranquility that comes with life on an island. This is why we fly halfway around the world to be here.

One Full Day of Peace on Koh Rong Samloem

My one full day on the island was dreamlike in its perfect. I awoke late, finding myself to be one of the last people still sleeping in the dorm. Oh well. Rising from my bed, I wandered off down the beach in search of a coffee.

Sat in some chairs in front of a place called Mango Lounge and sipped my coffee, reading my book, and enjoying the sound of the waves slowly rocking up to shore. Backpackers ambled by, locals drove motorbikes through the sand, and I existed, quietly.

After enough time had passed, I rose from my chair and wandered off to the beach.

The beach at M’Pai Bay is a bit far away from the hostels, which makes it all the more isolated and gorgeous. A 5-minute walk down a sandy path opens onto a white sand beach devoid of houses, roads, or hostels. Way down the far end there is a small pier and maybe some bungalows, but tucked away into the foliage, you hardly notice them.

I ambled down the beach until I found my perfect spot, shaded by the trees. Deposited by things and headed into the ocean.

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The beach on M’Pai Bay

I let the salt water envelop me, I let my consciousness go and became the sea. The water was warm and gentle, like an embrace from someone you love with all your heart but never get to see. The waves were soft, the sun was bright, the air was fresh. If perfection were a place, this would be it. I swam, I rested, I floated, I stood. I laid in the sand. Read my book. Slept.

Got up and walked back into the ocean.

I think it was one of the best days of my life. Stillness has a way of making everything brighter.

Saying Goodbye

One more night on Koh Rong Samloem, spent chatting with backpackers around a bonfire and drinking a bit more beer than I should’ve. I woke early on my last morning, very reluctantly ready to leave my island paradise.

Leaving was just as confusing as arriving, unfortunately.

I got on the first boat to show up at the pier, around 8:30 or 9 am. It took me back to Saracen bay for $5. But then the problems began. I was dropped off at the FAR end of the beach from the pier I needed. It would be an hours walk in the hot sun (on my currently twisted ankle) or I could try to figure out a water taxi.

I flagged down a small dingy and (in Khmer) tried to ask the guy how much to go to the far pier. I was ready to pay up to $2. His starting price? $10. I countered with $3. He said yes, then laughed, and drove away.

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M’Pai Bay Pier

The one thing I did not like about this island: relationships between locals and tourists seem very strained. The locals do not seem to like or respect us at all. It isn’t so surprising, our party culture is the exact antithesis of Cambodian norms. But it was still disheartening.

Some time later, another boat showed up and the captain drove me to the further pier for free, so alls well that ends well. My ferry showed up 10 minutes later and I was off. Waving goodbye sadly to my little island paradise.

I could have happily spent a week laying on that white sand beach outside of M’Pai Bay.

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Biking The Cardamoms Day 4: O Saom

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel, Uncategorized

And on the fourth day, I awoke to the sounds of roosters crowing practically inside my inner ear. I tried, in vain, to stay asleep until my 5:30am alarm, but by 5 in the morning I had to give it up as a lost cause.

I laid in bed, feeling my legs and gaging my energy levels. They were still pretty depleted, if I was being honest with myself. And I was looking at a 125km day, through the mountains, down to Koh Kong. On top of that, I had really loved my afternoon in O Saom the day before and I fervently wished I had more time to enjoy the lake, this mountain village, and the people living here.20161114_102754

The Decision

The battle raged inside my head. On the one hand, my intense inner voice lambasted me for my laziness. Telling me to stick to my plan, not be a quitter, get on that bike and ride, damn it, never mind the burning pain in my thighs.

My more reasonably inner voice, the one that loves me and believes in a more laissez faire approach to life, told me to chill out. The reason I had set out on this journey in the first place was to spend some time in the mountains. Why was I in such a hurry to get to Koh Kong? The mountains were here, and I had 2 more days until I needed to catch a bus to Battambang. Just stay. Spend the day in the hammock reading a book and swimming in the lake.

Thankfully, the reasonable voice won.20161114_151315

I went to find the proprietor and let him know about my plans, then at 6am, laid back down in bed to go back to sleep. But of course, I couldn’t sleep and by 7am, my stomach was begging me for some breakfast.

A Cambodian Schedule

But Cambodians follow a very different meal schedule than most westerners, especially in rural areas. They wake up at 3:30 or 4, I assume they eat at this time, though I’ve never been awake to witness it, and head to work in the fields before the sun rises and the heat of the day begins. By mid morning they return home, and lunch is at 11 or 11:30. The middle of the day is reserved for napping in hammocks and spending time with the family. The late afternoon sees a bit more work being finished, then dinner is at 5, maybe 6 at the latest, and when they sun goes down, they go to bed.20161114_102802

All that is to say that I ended up cycling into town to get some breakfast and once again, had one of the best meals I’ve had since arriving in Cambodia. A simple red curry over Khmer noodles, called “nom wren chok”.

As I rode my bike the 2 or 3 kilometers from the village back out to my homestay on the lake, I started thinking.

On Self Reliance and Obstinacy

Something I’ve noticed over the years is the effect that the mountains have on my thought process. Somewhere in the struggle and overwhelming challenge of moving my body across mountains, I reach a point of clarity.20161114_162134

The mountains let me step back from myself and observe objectively. Especially when I am alone. Over the past two days as I cycled up, I found myself appreciating my own independence and faith in myself in ways I hadn’t before. I realized as I struggled up the unrelenting mud drenched hills, that I was listening to myself, without fear or anger or shame.

I don’t always have a lot of faith in myself, to be honest. When I am with another person, my desire to please them can get in the way, and I find myself unable to make decisions. Instead of listening to my own inner voice, I try to base all my decisions on what I think will make the other person happy. It doesn’t work out. Ever.

But here in the Cardamoms, alone and struggling through one of the hardest bike rides of my life, I was the happiest I had been in ages. I wasn’t worried about anyone else feelings, about their opinions of me, or comparing myself to someone else. When I want to take a break, I gently push myself a bit further, and then I take a break. I got back on the bike when I Was ready, and not before. And I loved every second of it. Even when my bike broke or I was too tired and had to hop in a car, I wasn’t angry or ashamed, it was just part of the adventure.20161114_162302

If I had been with a partner, who knows if I’d have been able to take this day off to appreciate the mountain village. I may have pushed myself on, dangerously and in spite of the painful fatigue in my legs, simply out of a desire not to appear weak or incapable.

The next step is to take this solitary version of myself, the one who honors her own opinion and respects her own desires, and marry that with the self that I display when I am with a partner. I hope I’m up to the challenge, but I haven’t yet met the person with the adventurous spirit that matches and balances my own.

I love my competitive nature. It makes me fierce and it pushes me to be a better version of myself. But when it gets to the point where I hurt myself, and I hurt the people I love, then it has gone too far. Then it is time to put my competition aside. In the end, the only person you are really competing against, is yourself.20161114_164206

Meanwhile in O Saom

The rest of my day in O Saom turned into one of those travel experiences that you read about in blogs and magazines. I spent the morning riding around in the back of a pick up truck with a Cambodian family, visiting their friends in the surrounded villages, picking up odds and ends, and having broken conversations with friendly strangers. In the afternoon, I rode bicycles and practiced funny yoga poses with some of the local children, then we all went out swimming. At sunset, I walked around taking photos of the lake, photos of the village, and spent a few moments sitting with the local women, while they brushed each others hair.

Really, it was like something out of a travel documentary.20161114_170056

I was not, however, the one and only foreigner to ever pass through this town. In the middle of the day I saw two foreigners go by on dirt bikes, without stopping. And as the sun was setting at the end of my wonderful Cambodian day of realization, two Australian guys rode up on dirt bikes to spend the night at the hotel. We shared a few beers, I admitted I was envious of their bikes, they admitted the thought I was completely insane for trying to ride a mountain bike through this terrain alone.

They were probably right.

I went to bed early, rested and restored, ready to attempt the epic 125km last day out of the mountains.

This blog post is a continuation of a series on my 4 day cycling trip across the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia from Pursat to Koh Kong. Read about days 1 and 2, from Pursat to Pramoay, or Day 3 from Pramaoy to O Saom.

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Biking the Cardamoms Day 3: Pramaoy to O Saom

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel, Uncategorized

Waking up on day 3 of my bike ride from Pursat to Koh Kong, I found, to my delight, that my legs contained no trace of the exhaustion I had felt the night before. By some miracle of protein and fried noodles, my muscles had healed themselves, and I jumped out of bed at 5:30 a.m. full of energy.

The Morning Ride

I set off immediately, thinking to eat breakfast in the outskirts of the town. First mistake. Town had no outskirts. The road was immediately through farmland, with no little villages in sight.

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Aside from the lack of breakfast, the morning ride was absolute perfection. If yesterday’s road had been the Cambodian version of a freeway: wide, flat, and crowded with trucks; today’s was a Californian fire road: winding across rolling hills, with small climbs and sudden descents. The first hour of riding was some of my favorite of the whole trip.

Through the growing dawn light, I passed through farm fields draped over rolling hills. Rows of corn, potatoes, and other crops that I didn’t recognized stretched off into the mist. In the distance, growing closer with every climb, were the steep mountain slopes. I pushed towards them in growing anticipation; excited for the brutal climb I knew I was facing, nervous that I’d have to do it on an empty stomach.

Breakfast with Strangers

Thankfully, on a little plateau close to the mountains, I passed through a small village. As I coasted through town, a spotted a small restaurant with a few people eating. I eagerly pulled over for some breakfast, ready to have a limited chat with the locals.

The usual surprise and “where are you going?” conversation ensued. I ordered another bowl of bor bor (rice porridge) and sat down to enjoy my breakfast. At some point during my meal, a man came and sat at my table, not an unusual occurrence in Cambodia. He asked the usual slew of questions, where I was from, how long was I in Cambodia, and where was I going. When I said “O Saom” he grabbed his knees in mock pain saying “Riding a bicycle? No way. Don’t do that. No way.”

That was my first indication of just how intense the rest of my day would be.

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The Climb

As I pedaled towards the mountains after breakfast I felt strong. Not confident, but at least eager. Not long after the meal, I began the climb.

Cycling across my last flat section of the morning, I came to the top of a large drop off. I looked across a valley and could see a mud road zig zagging its way up through the dense jungle-clad wall of mountain in front of me. I set off. Dropped into my low gear and chugged along up the mountain.

The road was in terrible condition, and I was climbing at the very end of the rainy season. In places the road was reduced to slippery wet clay clinging to a grade so steep I would have thought it impossible to climb.

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But of course, even as I struggled to push my bike through knee deep mud up a mountain, Cambodian families rode by on 100cc motos.

Every Cambodian who drove by cheered me on a little, or said “oh! Tired huh?” It was motivating, but no amount of motivation was going to get my ass up that mountain. Several times, more than several, I had to get off and walk the bike up a hill, slipping in the wet clay. I want to say it was demoralizing, but I loved every second of it.

For some reason, climbing and struggling up endless mountains alone inspires me. It brings out some long lost deeper version of myself who lives for a challenge. The fact that I’m alone makes me feel powerful and strong. The talk in my head was all positivity. Lots of “fuck yeah megan” and “you are such a fucking beast.”

No matter how much I rode, how far I pushed, the road kept going. I made it to the top of one climb, enjoyed a brief but very steep descent, and began the whole process again, climbing up another ridge. If there is one rule that I’ve learned from my years spent in mountains, it is this: there is always more up.

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Long, steep zig zags through dense jungle, along a muddy, rutted out road. The effort to finish was intense. But finally, at long last, I made it. I stood at the top of the last climb and looked out over a stunning view.

The jungle had been cut away (for electrical wires, of course) to reveal a massive lake far below me and a huge valley encircled by mountains, one of which I was standing on. Far in the distance, across the lake I could see a small village, most likely O Saom, my destination for the day.

The descent began. My legs were relieved and my soul was joyous. Descents on a mountain bike are one of the most exhilarating experiences, even when they aren’t technical. I flew down the mountain towards the lake, passing through a small village full of surprised looking people (surprised, no doubt, to see a barang woman go rocketing by on a mountain bike, unaccompanied).

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The road hit the lake and turned sharply to the right, cardinal direction I’m not sure. From there the road was mostly flat, but I knew I had to wind all the way around the massive lake before I would make it to O Saom. I probably had twenty kilometers left in the day, and it was only 11am.

My legs were pretty tired after that brutal climb, so I pulled over in some shade on the side of the road and laid down. Lunch was some dried mango and pineapple. There were no towns between that small lakeside village and O Saom, so I was without food, and very aware of the fact. After I had finished the mango, my stomach was still greedily asking for more.

As I laid on the side of the road and attempted to take a sneaky nap, two Europeans rode by on dirt bikes. They struggled through a tiny bit of mud nearby and stopped next to me, asking if I was okay. It was my first inclination that I was not, in fact, the only Barang in these mountains.

Even though they rode dirt bikes, and I was on a much more challenging mountain bike, I did feel a bit sorry for them. They were coming in the opposite direction, which according to them had no mud. The small bit they had just ridden through had really thrown them. I told them honestly, that the mud and shitty conditions were only just beginning. They were in for it.

Hopefully, they made it to Pramaoy in one piece. I may never know.

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One Last Hurdle

Rested, I hopped back on the bike to finish my last 20 kilometers of the day. I felt tired, but capable.  I knew I was going to finish. I had one more climb in front of me, nothing like what I had already completed, and then I would get to rest in beautiful O Saom.

At the top of the last climb, I stared out over the lake, ready to descend and bang out the final 14 kilometers to O Saom. I began the descent but I heard a troubling thumping noise. Stopping, I looked behind me to discover, much to my dismay, my rear tire was flat.

And I had no inner tubes with me. No tools. No hand pump.

In short, I was fucked.

But I was only 14 kilometers away from O Saom and it was still early. I could walk the rest of the way and hopefully get some help in the village.

I set off, pushing my bike down the descent and walking along the road. Cursing myself for my stupidity. I had even thought to myself, before setting out, I really ought to grab some inner tubes and tools, but had decided against it. Why? I don’t know.

I walked for something like 7 kilometers when a taxi drove by and stopped. The driver motioned to me, asking if I wanted a lift. I could have stubbornly refused, but it was hot, sunny, my legs were tired, and most of all, I was starving.

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I hopped into the taxi.

We drove 2 kilometers to the closest guest house. A wonderful place that doesn’t really have a name, other than the O Saom Eco Tourism Center.

Heaven is a Place on Earth

I was greeted by Mr. Lim, the owner, who speaks excellent English and is extremely friendly. Originally from Pursat, he has lived up in the mountains for 3 years with his young family. He runs the guesthouse, tour agency, and voluntourism spot. He accepts volunteers as English teachers or gardeners. He works to help the local community learn more about sustainable agriculture and best practices.

Not to mention the beauty. He showed me to my own private bungalow with a hammock hanging in front, surrounded by a flowering tropical garden. His wife made me a simply lunch of fried ginger and rice, and I ate my late lunch at the pavilion, looking out at a panoramic view of the lake and surrounding mountains. Fed and watered, I headed down to the lake to wash off.

I was in heaven.

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Standing in a lake, surrounded by moutains, pepper farms, and breathing in the kind of air that one only finds at high altitudes, I felt at home. My writing doesn’t have the ability to live up to the beauty of O Saom. It is unlike anywhere else I’ve been in Cambodia. The air is cooler, the agriculture is smaller scale, the atmosphere is quieter. I laid in my hammock and wished that I had given myself more time up here. I wanted to spend a month exploring the surrounding countryside.

But I didn’t have a month, I had 4 days. At 7 p.m. I fell into my bed utterly exhausted, dreading the 125km trek that stood between me and Koh Kong.

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This blog post is a continuation of a series on my 4 day cycling trip across the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia from Pursat to Koh Kong. Read about days 1 and 2, from Pursat to Pramoay, and Day 4 in O Saom.

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