Cycle Touring in Cambodia

 Bruce Robertson

Cambodia has an ideal terrain for cycling, being very flat with some highland areas including the Cardomom Mountains in the southwest. However as one of the poorest countries in Asia the infrastructure is poor, albeit improving. Until relatively recently many roads were unpaved (although that can be good for cycling too!) but thanks to external assistance this is rapidly changing. Fortunately traffic is still relatively light compared to most Asian countries - away from the cities anyway.
The height of Cambodian power and influence was under the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th centuries, after which it came under the influence of one or other of the neighbouring powers of Vietnam and Siam (now Thailand). In 1867 Cambodia became part of French Indochina, which continued for almost a century.
A gruesome reminder of Cambodia's more recent history can be found at the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh and also the nearby infamous Killing Fields.

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

Justifiably the most famous site for tourists is the magnificent temple complex of Angkor Wat. It was at the heart of Angkor Thom, one of the world's greatest cities from the 9th to 14th centuries and capital of the mighty Khmer Empire. Only part of the original site remains, and much of that lies in ruins, but what is left still covers a large area and offers amazing insights into Cambodia's glorious past.
The Angkor Archaeological Park is easily accessible by bike from the nearby modern city of Siem Reap. A bike tour can also allow you to avoid the hordes of tourists, most of who arrive on packaged bus tours. The whole site is totally flat and a bicycle can also easily reach the equally impressive but quieter temples away from the centre.
Siem Reap itself is probably worth spending some time in on your bike - amongst the many Buddhist temples and the French colonial architecture. The beautiful Tonle Sap Lake is just 12km south of town and there is a dirt road alternative to the rather busy highway.

Phnom Penh

As the capital and largest city there is plenty to see and do here, from the magnificent Royal Palace to the Silver Pagoda and Emerald Buddha to the myriad of beautiful Buddhist temples around town. The city is at the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers so is an inland port and well connected to surrounding cities and countries. Phnom Penh is also the main gateway to the south (Siem Reap receives more tourists) and is at the heart of the Cambodian Plain.
Cycling in the city isn't a particularly attractive option but there are some nice rides nearby including the Silk Islands of the Mekong and also the former capital at Oudong Mountain. Many longer tours to other regions also start from the capital.

The Gulf Coast and South

The city and beaches of Sihanoukville are one of Cambodia's tourist hotspots. Development of the country's only deep water port in the 1950's means this is also an important industrial area. However it is surrounding by the beautiful beaches and islands of the Gulf of Thailand.
The smaller former French resort towns of Kampot and Kep are probably of more interest to cyclists due to the gorgeous riverside and coastal settings, stunning tropical scenery and relaxed pace of life.
Just inland from here is the Bokor National Park where a picturesque ride up to the Hill Station offers commanding views of the Gulf of Thailand. The Park is also home to southeast Asia's largest herd of wild elephants. To the north is the smaller Kirriom National Park, which has some of the best mountain biking in the country - the annual Kirriom Mountain Bike Challenge has become one of Cambodia's top cycling events.

Map of Cambodia

Waterways - Mekong and Tonle Sap

The mighty Mekong River rises on the Tibetan Plateau and flows through China, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia before entering the sea in Vietnam. Most of it is navigable but particularly in the lower reaches. Cycling in the east of Cambodia generally follows the river between the Laotian border and Phnom Penh, with the main centre being the mellow riverside town of Kratiė. One of the chief attractions is to see the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.
There are many tours alongside or on the Mekong, south to the fascinating and expansive Mekong delta and the Vietnamese metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). You can even combine both on a Bike & Boat Tour.
Joining the Mekong at Phnom Penh is the Tonle Sap River that leads up to Tonle Sap Lake, the heart of the enormous Cambodian Plain. A must-see here is the floating or stilt villages. Cycling around the lake is more common on the west side to include Cambodia's second city Battambang, with it's French architecture and rural character. It is possible, and even fun, to go by boat (and bike) all the way from Saigon in Vietnam to Siem Reap.
Cambodia is a great country to visit, not just for it's cycling but for the ancient culture and unique way of life you'll experience. It has it's own Khmer cuisine that is big on seafood and fresh produce with French and Indian as well as other south-east Asian influences. It is much less known overseas than Thai or Vietnamese food, which perhaps makes it more of reason to travel.
Cambodian people are famously friendly and hospitable - perhaps due to a more relaxed and simpler way of life than other southeast Asian countries. This just makes your bike tour even more memorable.
It is very popular to combine all or part of a tour in Cambodia with one or more neighbouring countries, perhaps starting or finishing in Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi or Vientiane.
How much time do you have and how will you decide where to go?

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