Cycling Cambodia. The ride, the road, the facts.
to Mr Pumpy's
to Sisophon: 45 km
The Ride: Highway 6 is Cambodia's second major east-west highway. You can ride it in a week, but by the time you stop in Angkor Wat and a few other places, ten days to two weeks would be a comfortable time to take. Take note that between Siem Reap and Kampong Thom it's a tough ride.
The Road: The road varies from very good to very bad and there's road works in progress along the whole length, so improvements are in progress.
there's three sections of road:
Latest road report: Latest reports (Dec 02 - Pete Jones) are that the monsoon has washed away the highway in Kampong Thom Province. This stretch of road is in bad condition anyway, but it may still be passable on the bike, so maybe check around before you head off.
To ride highway 5 or highway 6? Highway 5 south of the Tonle Sap is an easier ride than Highway 6.
My advice? If you're fit and experienced, Highway 6 is a good but rugged choice, but if you have some doubts about your staying ability, or want an easier time of it, then take Highway 5.
Check the road conditions on Highway 6 before venturing forth.
Bangkok to Aranyaprathet 200 km
The roads are first class but the traffic out of Bangkok is extremely busy. If you ride this leg there'll be no problems, other than the traffic. Plenty of hotels and great food along the way. It'll take two days.
The Border Crossing
The border is open between 7.30 am and 5 pm, and checking out of Thailand is straightforward.
Getting in to Cambodia is also very easy. If you don't have a Cambodian visa already, you can buy one at the Cambodian Immigration building on the spot. A straight forward procedure. You need a photo and 1,000 Thai Baht. If you don't have a photo the visa guys will take one of you for an extra 100 Baht. There are no forms, tax or regulations on the bike.
Once you have got your visa stamp, you can wheel yourself through the Welcome Gate and into Cambodia.
There's a few Guest Houses just past the roundabout as you enter the town. The Neak Meas Hotel is about 100 metres down the main road on your left and will set you back about 4 dollars. It's clean and secure and run by a tight little group of Cambodian women.
Just past the Neak Meas is a couple more Guest Houses of varying cleanliness and dubious function. One block behind the Neak Meas (to the north) is the Central Market, and a few more Guest Houses under construction dotted about the place.
You can change money at the Canadia Bank (on your right about 500 metres down the main street past the roundabout) or in the Central Market at the Chinese gold shop.
Poipet to Sisophon 45 km
Once you clear the town, you are suddenly confronted with a sparse, flat, thinly populated rural landscape. In one sense there's not much to see, but in another, it's simply astonishing. The road, the silence, the dust, the people. What a complete experience! Welcome to Cambodia!
The first 15 kilometres of road to Sisophon is unsealed but in OK condition and the last 30 is sealed, but potholed.
The traffic is thin, but the trucks and cars that do go past kick up a lot of dust. This is pretty much how it is all the way through Cambodia, and it gets worse than this on some stretches, so you might as well stop complaining and learn to live with it.
There are drink stops selling bottled water and Coke every 5 to 10 kilometres, and noodle stops in the villages which appear quite regularly every 10 to 15 kilometres. Mr Pumpy was never caught out without water or food.
Even though it's only a 45 km ride, you will be hot and dusty and looking for a shower by the time you reach Sisophon. Hey! That's enough for the first day!
In Sisophon, there's a few good hotels to stay in. The Hotel Neak Meas (not to be confused with the Neak Meas in Poipet) is quite grand and funky. It's opposite the park. The Prom Meanchay Hotel is pretty much in the centre of town. It's a 4 storey, white concrete modern hotel, easy to spot. Both hotels will set you back about 10 dollars for an a/c room with shower.
There is a very good night food market beside the park which stays open late into the night selling food and drinks. There is also a large Central Market in the centre of town. The gold shop on the corner will change money for you no problem, and there are some good cafes opposite which open early in the morning. There's an email cafe a few doors up from the Neak Meas Hotel opposite the park.
Sisophon to Kralanh 52 km
Kralanh is a small crossroad town, with a market and a bevy of enthusiastic drink girls who will surround you as soon as you stop the bike. But there's no need to worry, 'cos like most Cambodians, they are very sweet and sensitive.
There is only one Guest House in Kra Lanh, right beside the petrol station, at the cross road on your left (north). The Chaktomuk Guest House is run by Mrs Rattha (pr. Raa-taa) who speaks excellent English and is very helpful. USD 4 will get you a clean double room with outside shower and toilet.
There's a good Central Market across the crossroad on your left. They sell great watermelons for about 1 to 2,000 Riel each. There's also a couple of good cafes at the entrance to the market, opposite the petrol station.
For an entertaining afternoon's ride, after a shower and some watermelon, take a left or right at the crossroad and head down beside the river. You will encounter a quiet and sedate Cambodia that is a surprising contrast to the open highway. Stop for a chat with some of the folk you meet, and you may be invited in for tea.
Kralanh to Siem Reap 56 km
A mix of dirt and sealed stretches. Easier than the Sisophon - Kralanh leg. The last 35 km is paved and in good condition all the way through Puok and onto Siem Reap.
The dirt stretches will take it out of you as usual, but if you can make it into Puok (40 km) for lunch, the last few kilometres into Siem Reap are a breeze.
Puok is a relatively prosperous looking town, and has some good cafes nestled in beside the Central Market.
Beyond Puok, you will notice the traffic pick up and things looking more prosperous all round. There'll even be some Western tourists buzzing around on motor bikes and in Tourist Vans. In fact, rolling into Siem reap after a few days out in the wilds is a bit of a shock.
"Looks like we're back in civilisation, Felix!" said Mr Pumpy, a little sadly. And so we were!
Siem Reap/Angkor Wat
Siem Reap is one touristy town! Five star hotels, Internet Cafes and loads of backpackers. You can find a good Guest House here very easily, and the restaurants are many and varied.
It's actually quite a pleasant place as these things go, so settle back, order some pizza and beer, and enjoy yourself for a day or two.
Angkor Wat is 8 km down the road from downtown Siem Reap, and absolute must see. The entrance booth is on your right about 1 km before the actual complex.
Take your bike. Riding around the complex is the best way to see it. There is no extra charge.
Reap to Kampong Kdei 62
Another day of mixed road conditions on Highway 6. Roughly, the first third is bad substrate (rattle! rattle!), the middle third is an OK dirt road and the last third is a mix.
Kampong Kdei is another 30 km on, just over the Naga Bridge (Speam Prap Tos). The Naga Bridge is quite something. Look for the big stone Cobras. You can't miss it!
About 30 metres past the Naga Bridge on your left is a small Guest House run by Mrs Duong Laing Eng. A bed will cost you $2. Mrs Duong is very old, very sweet and only speaks French, but have no fear, she'll make you feel comfortable and at home. (Tell her your a friend of Mr Pumpy's and you'd like the deluxe biker's suite!) The town of Kampong Kdei is a further 200 metres up the road, with a good sized market on your right and two other Guest Houses on your left, down one of the small roads.
Kampong Kdei to Kampong Thom 86 km
The first 35 kilometres to Stung are along a pretty bad road. It's rocky and bumpy the whole way. You'll notice that things look a little wilder out here. Everything is unwashed, including the kids, but friendly all the same.
Pumpy goes to a
Stung is about 35 km from K. Kdei and a good place for an early lunch. There's a couple of good restaurants on your right in the centre of town, opposite the hospital. There's also three Guest Houses, two on your right (south), and one further up the road on your left (north) at the end of town. Easy to spot. From here it's about 53 km to K. Thom.
The last 25 km into Kampong Thom is along a beautiful sealed road with not much traffic. Kampong Thom is a big town and has a very big market on your right (south) as you cross the bridge into town. There's a few hotels to choose from.
Kampong Thom to Skoun 86 km
OK, nothing to worry about from here on in, folks! The road is flat, sealed and smooth all the way to Skoun and the traffic is thin. This is a fast leg.
Skoun is a medium sized town with a big market on your left (north) just past the roundabout. There's a selection of hotels and Guest Houses.
Skoun is famous for it's roast spider and if you sit in the market the spider ladies will find you. Mr Pumpy naturally had to try one. "Kinda tastes like chicken!" he said, "Or maybe rat!" OK, thank you Mr Pumpy for that report.
Skoun to Phnom Penh 74 km
From Skoun it's a quick run into the capital. The road is sealed and in good condition the whole way. The traffic picks up the closer you get to Phnom Penh.
You'll come into Phnom Penh over the Chruoy Changvar Bridge (The Japanese Bridge). If you turn left straight after the bridge and ride south for a couple of kilometres, you'll be right in the heart of Phnom Penh.