Cambodia Journals

Cambodia Bike Tour

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A February 2003 trip to Cambodia by GaryWolff

Route Photo, Cambodia, Asia More Photos
Quote: In early 2003, I departed for a two-week bicycle trip from Bangkok, Thailand to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Riding alone, I discovered the warmth and friendliness of Cambodia. The following is a journal of my experiences and insights as apposed to "how to" and "what to see". Hopefully you will get the feel of the Cambodia I met.

Cambodia Bike Tour

Overview

Route Photo, Cambodia, Asia
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Openness, friendliness and perseverance of the people, Angkor Wat, markets, and Phnom Penh riverfront activities in the evening. Quick Tips: Try to get away from the tourist areas at least for an afternoon. You will get a whole other view of Cambodia and its people. Bottled water is cheap and available everywhere. You must try the sugar cane juice; it is very refreshing on a hot afternoon. Bring a hostel sheet if you plan to stay at any inexpressive lodging. Many items are paid with US dollars; bring plenty of small bills because change may not be available. I read in travel guides that many times old worn bills will not be accepted. I never saw this; in fact, I received and used some of the...Read More

Across The Globe

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Assembled Bike Photo, Cambodia, Asia
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"Why?" Why would I want to go to a third world country? Why would I want to go by bike? I must have been asked a hundred times. Maybe this journal will answer why. On February 25, I departed Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for a two-week bike trip from Bangkok, Thailand to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. My plan was to ride to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam but due to the roads, flight delay and an unexpected overnight stay at a school, I decided to end the ride at Phnom Penh. I rode one and a half days in Thailand and the remainder in Cambodia. I took my touring bike equipped with front and rear panniers (saddle bags), handlebar bag, three water bottles, GPS, and a MP3 CD player with se...Read More

Riding On The Left

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Roadway Photo, Cambodia, Asia
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I assembled my bike on the sidewalk outside the hotel. I quickly gathered an audience of six guys who worked at the hotel. They "oohed" and "ahhed" at the bike and my gadgets. They checked out my folding tools, counted my gears, tried on my helmet, and lifted the bike to feel the weight. They gave approving gestures. I hired a taxi to take me and my bike 20km outside the city to avoid the expressways. I never got closer to Bangkok except near the airport. The air was very smoggy. The taxi dropped me off at a roadside gas station. I clipped my panniers on the bike and headed towards Cambodia. The road was similar to almost any two-lane highway in the states with businesses on both side...Read More

Back in Time

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Poipet Photo, Cambodia, Asia
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First I stopped at the Thai checkpoint. I pulled my passport out of my money belt. This is the first time I used a money belt. It was a lot more comfortable than I had expected. I didn’t realize how wet my passport had got from the previous day’s thunderstorm. The pages were stuck together and the stamps hard to read. The Thai border guard was not impressed. He made sure I realized that my passport was wet and it could be a problem. He stamped my passport and I moved on to the Cambodian Visa office. Again I was informed that my passport was wet. I paid 1100 Baht ($26) for the visa and photo, and another 100 Baht ($2.30) tip they informed me was necessary. Next was the customs office. There were 20 or ...Read More

Back in Time (cont)

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With my two high mileage days I had made up the time I lost from the delayed flight. It was 108K to Siem Reap and I planned on taking it easy and get some photos. The day before I was in such a hurry to arrive before sunset I didn’t stop for any pictures. It wasn’t long into the ride when I realized that it would not be easy that day. The landscape alternated between open fields with landmine warning signs and dense vegetation dotted with houses and farms. The road was dirt and dusty for 85km. The temperature seemed to be higher than the previous days. I started each morning by coating myself with a layer of insect repellant and a layer of sunscreen. Not only did this give me a greasy feeling, i...Read More
Temple Photo, Cambodia, Asia
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It is a strange feeling seeing all the westerners. I haven’t talked to one since I rode the shuttle bus to the Bangkok hotel. It felt like yelling hello to each one as I ride down the street. To them I was only another one of the many western tourists. I stopped in front of a restaurant to consult my copy of Lonely Planet travel guide to find a hotel. A man approached and introduced himself as Derrick, he was from Oakland, California. He had just finished a supported bicycle ride in Thailand and had flown to Siem Reap with his bike to tour Angkor Wat. (A supported bicycle tour is when a support vehicle, van, bus or whatever, follows with all the gear. Usually a number of riders are on the tour w...Read More

Angkor and the Touts (cont.)

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The temples reminded me of a cross between the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. It is definitely one of the world’s greatest treasures. I had an enjoyable visit to the temples with one exception. Ta Prohm is famous for how the temple is succumbing to the jungle. Inside Ta Prohm a guide started following me. "Where are you from?" it always starts that way. He started describing the temple. I told him I wanted to look around by myself. He backed away but came back a few minutes later. He started again which I let him. At first I was enjoying the information. Later on in the "tour" he was getting on my nerves. He would continue pointing out the obvious and was being repetitive. He also pointed ou...Read More

Political Rally

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Road Photo, Cambodia, Asia
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Breakfast the next morning wasn’t as good as the day before. My phone is an integrated palm handheld computer. It contained a copy of a web site describing the bike route I’m following. My phone completely died. I had hoped to use it to call home but at the least I thought I would be able to read the data. I went to an Internet café and copied the needed information from "MrPumpy’s" web site about my route. I spent the next half hour lubing and cleaning my bike. Every morning started pretty much the same. I would pack my panniers with all my supplies then apply bug repellant and sunscreen. I would check out or at least hand the clerk the key for the room if there was one. I then would attach the...Read More
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The road condition did indeed turn muddy. I missed the rains but not the by-product. My tires would slip and slide as I navigated the ruts and potholes. I was happy to know that it would only last for a few kilometers. Sure enough, after 5 kilometers the road again turned dry and dusty. I’m not sure if I can describe the extent of the dust. When a truck, bus or car passes, the cloud of dust is blinding. A major safety concern is on-coming cars blinded by the dust not seeing me. I was always alert for this situation but it became worse when there were a number of vehicles coming from both directions. I spotted a quiet shaded area and decided this would be a good place to take a break. This is a ...Read More
Family Photo, Cambodia, Asia
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It takes some getting use to being stared at. Not in a LP recommended restaurant; they probably see westerners all the time, or a tourist town like Siem Reap, but on the road and small villages. People laugh and giggle when I stop. Everywhere people stop and stare. Mothers will stand near the road holding babies and stare. Older people are more reserved but children and teenagers are not. When I stop for water I expect the staring. When I stop for a rest I look for some shade by myself but more times than not I draw a small crowd of two to ten people. They will stand near me and watch me drink my water. Usually nothing is said, other times they talk amongst themselves. Often something on my bike catch...Read More

Back to School

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Shopping Photo, Cambodia, Asia
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At 10 AM I stopped for a sugar cane juice break. A young man named Justice quickly joined me. His English was broken and I had to ask him to repeat himself often. Of course since my Khmer knowledge consisted of a couple of words and only when spoken very slowly and usually accompanied with hand gestures, we made do with his English. He asked me where I was from and where I was going. He continued to explain that his school was just down the road and asked me to visit it. I was confused and not 100% sure this is what he was trying to ask. I did not see any schools near by. There were only traditional houses in both directions. Anyone who knows me would never think I would accept. Accept I did. I...Read More
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We stopped at a restaurant where I could have lunch. Treasure ordered for me. I had coconut milk and a couple of different dishes. Treasure and Khan visited with the owner while I ate. We left the bikes in the restaurant while we walked across the street to the market. We bought all kinds of food, water, ice, orange soda, and coffee. Enough to feed 62 people not including rice, which they already had. I paid 25 cents to have a moto take Treasure and the food back to the school. Kahn and I rode together chatting on the way back. Treasure still wanted to buy some chicken, Duck and eggs, which was not available at the market. One of the students went to a neighbor’s house to buy them. I n...Read More

Back to School (cont. 2)

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LCDI Photo, Cambodia, Asia
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I bought dinner and breakfast for 61 people (excluding rice), orange soda, water, coffee, music (which included three men setting it up and playing the CDs), and paid off the police and my total cost was about $35. That was the cheapest and maybe one of the most rewarding evenings I have ever spent. At around 1am, I asked where was I going to sleep. I was taken to the teacher’s room and given that to sleep in by myself. I felt guilty to have the room to myself but didn’t protest. I laid out my hostel sheet on top of a bamboo mat and used some clothes as a pillow. I fell asleep with the music still blaring. At 2am I woke up when the music switched to karaoke. I’m not sure when it finally stopped....Read More
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The road varied from good to bad after leaving the school. It was already 2:00 in the afternoon and I had to hurry to make it to the town of Skoun. Skoun is only a few blocks long and is famous for their roasted spiders that the Canadians told me about. It felt as if it had been a month since I had dinner with them. I was thinking about trying the spiders. I was riding about as fast as I could for the road conditions, maybe faster. I hit some soft sand and my bike came to an abrupt stop, I didn’t. Luckily it was a soft landing but I hit it pretty hard. My handlebars bent to the side and I felt some pain on the side of my leg. A group of kids that were standing near by started laughing uncontroll...Read More

Civilization

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Dinner Photo, Cambodia, Asia
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Traffic continued to worsen closer I got to the city. Phnom Penh has an estimated population of about 500,000 to 1 million people. It is about the same size as Seattle but without the suburbs. It was very easy navigating to the center of town. The streets were full of motos, trucks and cars but the speeds were low. I was able to ride with the traffic. They even have signals at some of the intersections. At other intersections the traffic weaves together like a slow motion figure eight race. I enjoy the chaos of the traffic and I can weave in and out of the traffic with the best of them. There were many Internet cafes and I stopped at one of them. My entire trip I never found one that had air-con...Read More
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I saw few westerners in Phnom Penh; mostly they appear that they were with a tour-group. A few appeared to be backpackers. The backpackers seemed to interact with the locals more than the tour groups but I never saw any of them outside of Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Even the Canadian cyclists were in a group of four that insulated them from the locals. I’ve become a solo cyclists snob, but I think I have earned it. I’m sure a lot of touring cyclists would laugh at my characterization of my short two-week trip and question how I could really see a country in only two weeks. I wouldn’t disagree with them but that is all I can do for now with work and family commitments. Now that I’m in a big city I feel mo...Read More

Toul Sleng Genocide Museum

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Victim Photo, Cambodia, Asia
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I rode my bike through residential streets in south Phnom Penh to visit the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. The museum is located in a former high school that was used as an interrogation center between 1975 and 1978. An estimated 10,500 adults and 2000 children was tortured and killed at the former high school during the Khmer Rouge regime. Today the buildings stand as they did during their bloody past. There are still a few remnants of the torture equipment. A number of the rooms are filled with photographs taken by the Khmer Rouge both prior and after torturing the prisoners. Like the Nazis in Germany, the Khmer Rouge kept detailed reports and photos of their atrocities. There were other interrogation...Read More

Sightseeing and Shopping

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Security Photo, Cambodia, Asia
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I woke up to a sunrise across the river. It would be another beautiful day. I was fully recovered from my previous stomach problems. I had an omelet and baguettes at the hotel’s restaurant. I noticed the most expensive item on the menu was ox blood costing 5000R ($1.75). My laundry wasn’t quite ready when I stopped to pick it up. A man invited to join him and another at the small food stall connected to the laundry. They were having breakfast. They bought me a cup of coffee. The coffee was brought to me in a clear cup with milk in the bottom. The milk was the consistency of yogurt. I sipped the coffee off the top and left the milk on the bottom. The coffee was very good. Afte...Read More
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The mall was full of local families, grandparents, parents, and children all dressed up to visit the mall. There was a bottleneck of people at each escalator. The older people were afraid to get on it and waited as step after step went by. Then they would literally jump onto a step. When they reached the top of the escalator they would jump off. The children would ride it up and down until security would shoo them away. By this time it was completely dark. I decided to do some sight seeing around town on my bike. I think my bike might be the only one in the city to have headlights and two flashing taillights. The riverside area is lit well with many Christmas style lights on trees and buildings....Read More

Epilogue

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Before my trip I wasn’t sure how I would like riding day after day by myself. I wasn’t sure if I would get bored. I did get bored but not when riding. There were times when I was hot and tired and wish the days’ ride would be over. I wrote about it earlier but it is strange riding into a tourist area after not seeing or talking to another westerner. I wanted to say hi to each of them as I rode past them. They didn’t give two hoots about me. I was very glad I stopped at Siem Reip and saw The Temples of Angkor Wat but I was even happier to leave. I have read a number of cycling tour books and the writers go on and on about hating the tourist areas. I can’t say I hate them because I enjoy pizza and...Read More