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Dusty cambodian road.

Dusty cambodian road.

A few impressions and stories from my bicycle trip from Angkor Wat to Saigon.

Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat was build by Suryavarman II, who became king after he ambushed his uncle as a teenager and then went to rule over the Khmer empire, where the capitol Angkor was the biggest city in the world at the time. These days Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat is located, sometimes seem to be the place in the world with the most tourists, but you can still have the temples a little to yourself if you enter as early as possible in the morning and cycling is the best way to get around the huge temple area at Angkor, where you have more than 100 khmer temples located.

 

I bought my bicycle in Siem Reap.

The friendly bike shop owner in Siem Reap.

The friendly bike shop owner in Siem Reap.

 

I had just finished a tour guiding stint in Asia when I started this trip and was without a bike. So I decided to buy one in Siem Reap and I managed to get a fine Giant mountain bike, with a rack for 350$ at a local bicycle shop with a very friendly and helpful owner, who made a few little adjustments to the bike, in order to make it more suitable for a long distance trip from Angkor Wat to Saigon. I have bought bicycles several times in Southeast Asia over the years and have always managed to get some decent deals, so do not shy away from that if buying a bike, once you are there, is more practical for you.

Cambodian guys checking out my bike.

Cambodian guys checking out my bike.

 

Cycling from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh.

On the road in Cambodia.

On the road from Angkor Wat to Saigon

Getting out of Siem Reap is quite easy as the city is not that big and the road is of a pretty good quality. Forget about those old stories from 10 years ago, where Cambodia had the worst roads in the world. Today the road is nicely paved and very smooth for a cyclist on most stretches. There are parts where you do not have much shoulder and that can really suck as some of the drivers can be a little on the fast side. Especially the people in the big Lexus cars who are mostly corrupted government workers, who can do whatever they like without being punished. Cambodians are some of the nicest people on the planet, but unfortunately their government is the most corrupted and dysfunctional in all Southeast Asia and that is reflected on the roads by the behavior of those who are in power. Good news is that most of the way you have a nice shoulder on the road, for animals, scooters, bicycles and pedestrians.

 

Meeting other tour cyclists along the way.

Friendly chinese tour cyclist, who fixed my puncture.

Friendly chinese tour cyclist, who fixed my puncture.

A greek girl and a spanish guy, cycling through Cambodia.

A greek girl and a spanish guy, cycling through Cambodia.

On the stretch between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, I really met a lot of tour cyclists from all over the world. I met cyclists from Mexico, Greece, Spain, China, France, Malaysia, USA and several other countries. Cambodia is becoming a popular place to go tour cycling and i can understand why. The country has bicycle friendly roads and plenty of cheap accommodation along the roads, making it a joy to go tour cycling there.

 

Visiting a local school along the way.

Happy cambodian school children and their simple toys.

Happy cambodian school children and their simple toys.

One day a young clean cut american guy cycles up next to me and says hello. At first I think he is a missionary, because he is so clean cut, but it shows out that he is a peace corp worker, who teaches english and computer skills at various cambodian village schools. He takes me to the local village school that is set up as a project for children who are too poor to pay for the public school. The public schools are suppose to be free, but since the teachers hardly ever get paid by the government, the teachers often charges around 50 cents per week for each student and some kids can not afford that. But this school is run by a young couple who do it all for free, while the man has a full time job beside that. Very sympathetic people and nice to see how those with very little are able to get by and take life with a smile, even if the kids only have some old bricks from a nearby construction site, as their only toys.

 

Drinking beer with a killer in Phnom Penh.

This cambodian girl was serving me beer while I was talking to a murderer.

This cambodian girl was serving me beer while I was talking to a murderer.

In Phnom Penh I take a break for a few days to relax and because I quite like Phnom Penh. Many people are not keen on the city and I can see why many people are scared away. Down on the main avenue by Sisowath Quay, it’s easy to get tired of all the tourists and sloppy old foreign guys, sitting with prostitutes, but once you get past that scene, you actually have a fairly vibrant city. Because the cambodian government is completely useless at helping it’s own citizens, many NGO’s have set up operations in Cambodia and I like staying in the part of the city where they hang out after work, cause that is the place where you can meet some very interesting people, both foreign and locals. One night I meet a guy who is interesting in a way I am not so used to. He tells me that he migrated to America as a kid with his parents, but got in to drugs as a teen and ended up dealing drugs and then one day when a guy cheated him in a drug deal, he shot him through the head and killed him. So now he is has been deported to Cambodia after serving a 12 year jail sentence at San Quentin and he scrapes a living by helping out foreigners because he speaks both english and khmer. His jobs usually only lasts until they find out about his background and he has no work and no money when I meet him, so I buy him a couple of beers as a thank you for telling me his story.

 

Cycling on to the border of Vietnam.

Cambodian road scene.

Cambodian road scene.

I continue towards the border of Vietnam and stops in the pleasant little town Takeo, where I stop for the night before heading to the border. Next day at the border I meet one of those custom officials who take pride in being an annoying dickhead. He sits with my passport for over an hour and goes through every page with a magnifying glass to see if he can find anything in correct. When that fails he starts all over again and after two hours he let me in to Vietnam very reluctantly. I have to say that I have crossed in to Vietnam 26 times over the past 14 years and this is the only time I have had this experience, but I really managed to come across the biggest jerk in uniform that day.

 

Cycling up to Saigon.

Cycling around southern Vietnam is never dull.

Cycling around southern Vietnam is never dull.

I have crossed the border near the town of Chau Doc in Vietnam, which is a busy Mekong Delta town with a nice vibe. It’s the center of the vietnamese fish farm industry, so there are hundreds of floating houses with fish in the basement as I cycle along the Mekong River. Vietnam has very busy traffic, but it’s slow and it’s surprisingly safe to be a cyclist in Vietnam these days. This is a big change from 2002 when I first came there and the country was a nightmare to cycle in. But these days things are quite good there after strong speed limits have been enforced in Vietnam. And food wise it’s one of the best countries in the world for a tour cyclist, with street kitchens everywhere that cooks tasty and nutritious food. The Mekong Delta is the big money maker in Vietnam, because of the sunny weather and abundance of water in the Mekong Delta, allowing the people to harvest rice three times a year, while they can still go fishing in the river at the same time. The place is extremely busy in a very fascinating way.

 

Cycling students in the Mekong Delta.

Cycling students in the Mekong Delta.

Crazy and wonderful Saigon.

Saigon traffic.

Saigon traffic.

Coming from the Mekong Delta up to Saigon, you kinda feel the city 80 kilometers before you get there, because of the increased traffic. Saigon has around 10 million inhabitants and almost everyone drives a scooter, making it the city in the world with the most scooters. Cars are not that many and despite all the scooters, it’s actually an ok city to cycle in. Two wheels are certainly better than four wheels or two legs in that crazy busy city. While Hanoi is where the vietnamese government sits, Saigon is the number one business city in Vietnam and many foreign companies are there, giving the city an increasingly international feel. I stay for a few days before flying to Denmark with Qatar Airways, via Doha. Qatar Airways tells me that I can take the bike for free on the plane as long as I pack it and my overall weight does not exceed 32 kilos. Now that is the kinda airline I like and instead of getting the usual cardboard box for my bicycle, I get a local carpenter by the airport to make me a wooden box that protects the bike really well and having 32 kilos to play with, I am not in danger of having to pay for overweight.

My vietnamese bicycle box.

My vietnamese bicycle box.

In the end, I cycled 1180 kilometers. The actual trip could have been done cycling only around 600 kilometers, had I taken the direct route, but I took several detours on the trip and spend 3 weeks on the trip. This is the way i like to travel. I cycle around the world because I like to explore the countries and because cycling long distance is great therapy for me. I do not cycle around the world to break any records. I will leave that to some other good folks in the cycling world.

This was my 5 cents about my cycling trip from Angkor Wat to Saigon. You are most welcome to write me if you have any questions about that route.

Claus.

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9 Comments

  1. Really enjoyed your cycling story…as a biker in the USA…I can appreciate your enthusiasm and adventurous nature…your always invited to Pennsylvania to experience our cycling experiences…of course we are in the winter season, so now it’s x-c skiing/downhill skiing on the numerous mountain trails and resorts. We did a short bike run on December 30, 2015 up to the local reservoir and picked wild watercress with temperatures in the 50’s! Just email if you find yourself in our hemisphere…would love to show you our beautiful wilderness and local culture…with of course some of the the greatest food and nicest people! As always, I enjoy your world wide exploits and adventures! Joan

  2. I like what you wrote and i love your criteria.

  3. Good to hear your journey continues. We met up in Oaxaca maybe six years ago. Still traveling lightly without VT but still with my bike though I’ve never gone more than a days ride in Mexico, South America and Asia – the places I’ve lived since meeting up with you for the requisite beer. Heading to Siem Reap the end of the month. Living in Da Lat, VN now, waking up singing the song from a 60s movie, Oklahoma. “Oh, what a beautiful morning, Oh, what a beautiful day…”

    Happy trails, Claus

    • Thanks for your comment mate. Good to hear that you are still rocking and rolling around the world. I have been to Dalat many times myself over the past 5 years as I have taken some tour groups there. Right now I am mainly working in Portugal though.

  4. Do come to Penang , Malaysia one day and be my guest. I am a warmshower host, welcoming cyclist like you to explore this part of the city through cyling touring.
    Cheers,

    God bless.
    Winson Gan

  5. Hey Claus, great post! Thanks for sharing! Could you share your itinerary, for example through google maps or by just writing down some places? Or was it just along the river? Could not exactly figure it out from your post. We are planning to do the same the other way.
    Thanks in advance, Chrissa

    • Hi’ Chrissa.
      I cycled from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh along the main road. It’s pretty straight forward and takes 3-4 days. From Phnom Penh I cycled to Takeo and then from there towards the border crossing at Chau Doc. You do not have a proper road the last bit along the river, so it’s better to cycle via Takeo, where you also have some smaller hotels where it’s possible to stay overnight.

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