Cycing Cambodia. The ride, the road, the facts.
Penh to K. Cham: 119 km (Alt route: 105 km)
All up from Phnom Penh to the Lao border is about 6 days in the saddle, so expect to take 10 days to 2 weeks.
If it all gets too much, you can take the soft option and catch the boat along the Mekong from Kratie to the Lao border. See below for details.
You will need a Visa for Laos. You can get it in Phnom Penh on a 24 hour turnaround.. Expect to pay around 35 dollars for a one month stay.
Note that Highway 7 in Cambodia is listed on some maps as Highway 13 (which joins Highway 13 into Lao).
Food & Accommodation: Food and bottled water available along the whole route until Kratie.
From Kratie to the Lao border the accommodation runs out, and from Stung Treng to the Lao border the food and water runs out. See below for details.
Penh to Kampong Cham: 119 km or 105 km
From Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham there are two routes.
The primary route: Highways 6 and 7 through Skoun: 119 km
The highway to Kampong Cham is paved all the way and in pretty good shape. Head north out of Phnom Penh over the Chruoy Changvar Bridge (The Japanese Bridge), go through Skoun (HWY 6), and then turn east to Kampong Cham (HWY 7). It's a fast run.
The traffic is moderate and food and water is available everywhere.
The first few kilometres along highway 6 are a bit rough and dusty, as there's road works in progress (Feb. 02), but things settle down after about 10 kilometres.
At 74 km from Phnom Penh, Skoun will be your lunch or overnight stop, depending on how speedy you are.
Skoun is famous for it's roast spiders, and they are available in the Central Market, just across from the roundabout as you enter town. There's a few hotels to choose from.
From Skoun, Highway 7 heads east for 45 kilometres through Prey Totung and Traeung, and on to Kampong Cham.
The alternate route: Route 61 - Along the Mekong: 105 km
This is the more interesting way to Kampong Cham, but also the more difficult. Route 61 runs beside the Mekong all the way and you'll be passing through some out of the way villages.
Food and water available along the way. The traffic is light but the dust is diabolical.
Exit Phnom Penh over the Chruoy Changvar Bridge (The Japanese Bridge) and head north towards Skoun. This is the same as the Primary Route, above.
At the 35 km point you will pass a big white mosque on your left (west). 5 km past the mosque, at the 40 km point, you will come to a fork in the road.
There is no sign, but the fork is marked by a Petronas Petrol Station (under construction Feb. 02) and a small two story traditional wooden hut, both on your right (east).
Take the dirt road (Route 61) that heads off to your right and stay on this road all the way to Kampong Cham.
2 km from the fork, at a small village, the dirt road does a couple of twists and turns and then runs straight beside the Mekong for the rest of the journey.
At the 75 km mark (from P. Penh, 35 km from the Petronas turn off), the road meets a bigger dirt road (Route 71) sweeping in from the north and conditions improve tremendously.
The last 35 km in to K.Cham is along a very good dirt surface and you can settle down and pick up the pace.
the bridge at
Kampong Cham is a pleasant city, and worth a day's siteseeing. Before the Khmer Rouge came in and messed everything up, it was a major centre of cultural and academic activity in Cambodia.
At this point the Mekong is huge, and dominating the vista is an enormous Japanese built bridge straddling the river. Man, those guys sure have a lot of money to splash around! Check out the view from the top! Speccy.
See also Karaokeland! at left.
There's a few Guest Houses and hotels to choose from, and lots of decent restaurants. The Mekong Hotel, right on the river, just north of the big bridge is another James Bond extravaganza, and good value. Five dollars will get you a clean room with toilet, TV and fan. There's also 3 or 4 Guest Houses close to the river.
Opposite the Mekong Hotel is a row of food stalls and tokolok stands. It's pleasant at night.
Kampong Cham to Chhlong: 82 km
This is a fun day's ride beside the Mekong, and pretty much out there in the back blocks. The road is dirt the whole way and in variable condition with food, water and friendly locals available all along the route. You need to get a ferry across the Mekong at one point.
Route 61 continues north out of K. Cham running right up the west side of the Mekong. There are villages and houses all along the way.
Note: Don't cross the Mekong and head up Route 71, running north on the east side of the river. Mr Pumpy tried it for about 10 km, and it was almost impassable. He had to double back over the bridge to K Cham and head up the west side.
21 km up the road you will come to the village of Han Chey. There is a new bridge across a deep river gorge, and the road leads straight up the mountain on the other side to Wat Phnum sitting on top of the hill. The view is superb and there's also some crazy Buddhist sculptures dotted around the grounds, which may express you're innermost feelings about life at this point in the ride. Always useful.
Cut straight through the Wat and down the other side of the mountain. The track twists and turns for a couple of kilometres, and then levels out at river level on to an OK dirt road. There's hardly any traffic.
At the 35 km mark (14 km from Han Chey) you will come to Stung Trang. (Not to be confused with Seung Treng, up past Kratie.)
Stung Trang is small and dusty, very Wild West and will probably be your well earned lunch stop. Mr Pumpy asked the waitress if she knew Lee van Cleef, but, no, she didn't.
At Stung Trang catch the ferry across the Mekong to Phum Trea. The ferry point is at the south end of town and there's a small track that leads down to the river behind a bunch of wooden houses.
There's no pier, only a small landing ramp, but you can see the ferry chugging across and work out where it'll land. It'll set you back 1000 Riel, for you and the bike, and it's all very easy and Cambodian.
Phum Trea is a small Muslim village at the ferry point across the river. It has a mosque with a bright blue dome and Mr Pumpy was invited in for tea. An hour later, he was back on the road, to an ear shattering chorus of good-byes from the local kids. It's nice to be loved.
From Phum Trea you stay on Route 72 on the east side of the Mekong all the way to Kratie. The dirt road is in variable condition; some sections are firm and others are silty and difficult, but the traffic is light.
5 km up the road from the Phum Trea is a large Buddhist Wat at a small town called Kroch Chhmar, and Mr Pumpy stopped to use the loo and take a quick bath. Wats are community spaces and you can go in, rest, use the toilet and bathe at any time. The monks are always happy to see you.
30 km from the ferry crossing at Phum Trea (65 km from K. Cham) the road does a dog leg, crosses a small bridge and joins a well made, solid dirt road. It's a welcome change and a straight forward last 12 km in to Chhlong.
Chhlong (47 km from the ferry, 82 km from K. Cham) is a small town on the Mekong, with two Guest Houses near the hospital on the south side of town. Both Guest Houses are cheap and friendly and there's some good restaurants nearby.
If you continue along the track beside the Mekong north of the Guest Houses you will pass a rather grand but dilapidated French villa. My guess is the governor used to live there. A kilometre further on and you will come into town. There's a market and a post office.
Chhlong to Kratie (Kracheh): 36 km
There's a small ferry across a creek in a steep gorge just to the north of Chhlong. It costs 500 Riel (you and the bike) and takes 5 minutes to get across. A steep, quick climb up the other side and you're on your way.
Route 71 runs straight north to Kratie and the condition is variable. The first 20 kilometres is pretty good, but the last 16 kilometres has a lot of silty sections and is slow going.
The ferry is the usual 500 Riel and no hassle. There's a small drink stop up the bank on the other side, and a little further on a fork in the road. Take either, as they'll both get you into Kratie town another 2 km up the road.
Kratie (Kracheh): Kratie is surprisingly big and bustling. There's a good selection of hotels and restaurants, and quite a few backpackers either on their way up to Lao or coming down to Phnom Penh.
There's a large Central Market and a long line of tokolok and food stalls up along the river. It's the place to hang out at night.
The Mekong ferry boats stop here and you can either ride to Stung Treng, take a pickup truck, or catch the boat. (See at left.)
Kratie (Kracheh) to Sre Sbov/Chang: 50 km
Highway 7 runs all the way up to Stung Treng and in to Laos. Take note: this stretch is not for newbies! The traffic is very light but the road conditions are very difficult.
If you're really good you can make it all the way through to Stung Treng in one hop (140 km), but breaking the ride around Sre Sbov or Chang might be a good option.
Out of Kratie the road is sealed but pot holed all the the way for 25 km to Sandan. All along this stretch are shops and people, and it's quite a pleasant ride in parts as the road weaves and twists through trees and funky houses.
Sandan is a busy little river town, and there's lots of fruit on sale. It might be an idea to get some for the run into Chang.
After Sandan, the road turns north east and falls apart completely. It's bumpy and silty and you'll be zigzagging all over the road trying to find some solid turf. It's 25 km of hell into Sre Sbov/Chang.
Chang or Sre Sbov (I'm not 100% sure which town is which) is a small road town and pretty much the last out post before Stung Treng, with a couple of shops and a few houses. There are no Guest Houses so you will need to ask around for a bed. It won't be a problem. Either the restaurant guy will put you up or one of the local householders.
Chang to Stung Treng: 90 km
This is a tough stretch of road. It's abominable in parts with deep ruts and powdery silt and sometimes you'll be struggling to stay upright.
The countryside is pretty much wide open space and very thinly populated. There are no hills, and very little scenery besides scrubby plants and bush covered barren land.
There are a couple of bamboo drink stops on the way selling food and water, and a couple of houses and a small shop at Prek Preah, 35 km out of Sre Sbov. However, take maybe an extra 3 or 4 litres of water from Sre Sbov/Chang, and when you come across a drink shop on the road, keep your stocks well up. You wouldn't wanna be caught dry on this stretch. (You might die!)
Also! There are a couple of 10 to 15 km sections of road where there is nothing: no shops, no houses, no people and pretty much no scenery (if this is possible.)
70 km from Chang is the turn off to Highway 19 which runs due east across to the Vietnamese border, about 220 km away.
North of the Highway 19 turnoff the road improves and it's pretty much solid dirt for the last 20 km to Stung Treng. It weaves through scrubby forest, rising and falling in parts, and there's a couple of food and drink stops.
The last 4 km kilometres in to Stung Treng is up and down and you will feel like you have returned to civilisation. All of a sudden houses appear, shops, food, canned goods and last but not least, TV!
It's amazing how comforting satellite dishes can be when you've been pedaling out in the wilds all day.
Stung Treng is a large regional town with plenty of Guest Houses and shops and an excellent Central Market selling good food.
Possibly the best accommodation in town is the Sandon Hotel, right on the Mekong opposite the boat pier. It's clean, well appointed and efficient. 5 dollars will get you a room with a TV and toilet.
Cambodian Exit Stamp for the Lao border: At the moment (Feb. 02) you need an exit stamp to leave Cambodia through Laos. This is compulsory. Without it, you don't get out of Cambodia. Either go to the Immigration building yourself, or ask the manager of the Sandon Hotel to get it for you. Either way, it will cost you 15 dollars.
Treng to the
Stung Treng to the Lao Border: 51 km
This stretch is even more out there than the Kratie - Stung Treng leg. The road is in extremely bad shape, and once you get about 15 km out of Stung Treng, there are no drink stops. Take about 6 litres of water and some snack food and lollies.
The traffic is very light, there are no hills, but the road is a mess. It's a tough 51 km, so get a good night's sleep and leave early.
The Cambodian/Lao border
Officially there's no charge to exit Cambodia, as long as your Cambodian Exit Stamp is in place. Be as patient and smiling as possible so they don't get stroppy and decide to extract a few more bucks out of you.
If they ask for money, be firm and polite, but say: "Sorry I can't do that. I'm a friend of Mr Pumpy's!" The immigration guy will then apologise profusely, offer you gunga, girls and beer and guide you on your way. Shouldn't be a problem.
When the immigration guy eventually gets out of his hammock, it'll cost you 5 dollars to enter Lao. This is the standard fee and you must pay. Note that you also need a Lao Visa.
the other direction: Lao to Cambodia
The Cambodian/Lao border to Khong Island: 31 km
Highway 13 in Laos is wide, sealed and in great condition. It's a very fast road with very light traffic. Pakse is 158 km from the Lao border post.
There is a small bamboo drink and food stall about 6 km from the Lao border post opposite the Police Post. They will change money for you if you like (1 US dollar - 9,000 kip, Feb.02), but don't worry too much. You can get by with US dollars until you get into Don Det or Khong Island.
From the Lao border post, it's 8 km to the turn off for Don Det, 27 km to a good looking Guest House on Highway 13 on your left (I didn't get the name), and 29 km to the turn off to Khong Island at the small village of Hat Xay Khoun.
To get to Khong Island, turn left (west) at the turn off and ride down the dirt road for 2 km. There is a ferry that will take you across the river for 10,000 kip (or a dollar). It's a very relaxed place to put your feet up after the horrors of the last couple of days.
Mr Pumpy slept in, read books, drank coffee, ate ice-cream and impressed the Swedish backpackers with tales of mine fields and dangerous Khmer Rouge activity on highway 7. I left him to it and got on with my usual intellectual pursuits.
Khong Island to Champasak & Pakse: 131 km
From Khong Island it's a 97 km hop up to Champasak where you can stay and see the ruins, and another 34 km to Pakse.
The road heads due north and runs beside the mountains on your right (east). There's no big hills but the closer you get to Pakse, the more the road twists and turns with a few sweeping rises and dips. The scenery is terrific and you will pass numerous villages and roadside drink stops staffed by friendly Lao people..
You'll need to ride a few kilometres through the suburbs of Pakse to get to downtown. It's a dusty town with a heap of Guest Houses, restaurants, and internet cafes, but not much else.
There's also a lot of backpackers of all types and after the wilds of Cambodia, Laos is all of a sudden not looking like paradise. Mr Pumpy doesn't hang around backpackers much, so he left the next day.
Pakse to Savannakhet: 239 km
The road up to Savan is pretty much straight and flat. There's villages, food and drink stops the whole way and the traffic is very thin.
From Pakse head due north along Highway 13 for 64 km to Muang Khongsedone where there's a decent Guest House, and another 105 km to Paksong, where there's also a few Guest Houses to choose from.
From Paksong continue along Highway 13 for about 40 km and turn left (west) onto Highway 9B, from where it's a further 30 km into Savanakhet.
Savanakhet is a pleasant spot, with plenty of good Guest Houses and restaurants.
(Thanks to Bill Weir for this report!).
Pakse to the Thai border: 44 km
Follow the signs out of Pakse, and head west across the big, modern bridge over the Mekong. It's 44 km to Ban Mai Sing Amphon, the town on the Lao side of the border.
The Lao/Thai border
Exiting Lao is easy. It takes only a couple of minutes to check out. Ride across to the Thai Immigration building, and again, things are smiley and straightforward.
Chong Mek is the town on the Thai side and it has a very large Market and busy but helpful Thais. Maybe stop for lunch and have a poke around in the shops before you take off for Ubon.
Lao/Thai Border to Ubon Ratchathani: 80 km
Note: If you've had enough riding you can catch a sawng-thaew (pr. song-tow!) from the border to Ubon for about a dollar. It takes about an hour.
If you're gonna ride, it's an easy run. In fact riding Thailand these days is a piece of cake no matter where you go. The roads are first class, there's adequate signage and great food and drinks available everywhere.
The road out of Chong Mek is good, wide and sealed and the traffic is moderate. It heads due west and rises and dips for the first 20 km.
Note however, that there's no drink stops for the first 20 km, so make sure you take some water from the border.
The last 60 km in to Ubon is dead flat, and you'll be passing towns, big and small, the whole way. The traffic will pick up, and after Lao and Cambodia it seems to be speeding by very fast indeed.
From Ubon you can ride to Bangkok, 630 km away or catch the train.
The train will set you back about 400 Baht (12 dollars) including the bike. There is a day train and a night train, seven days a week. Trains are Mr Pumpy's favourite form of motorised transport in Thailand.