21 May – Koh Kong
I stayed in Koh Kong for the day as I had
some catching up to do. It was a relaxing day and I did very
little except for the laundry and updating my photos and diary
22 May – Koh Kong – Botum Sakor – 103km
Shortly after leaving, I started climbing out
of the river valley and over the Cardamom Mountains. I knew
that I was in for a hilly ride, so I huffed and puffed my way up
the mountain. The sun was baking down, and sweat ran down my
face, arms, and legs and into my sandals, which made my feet
slip out of them. I hate it when that happens. However, I kept a
slow and steady pace and eventually reached the first highpoint.
I could not believe my eyes when I saw dark
clouds gathering. Soon after, the rain came bucketing down. The
pouring rain made for very hazardous downhill cycling as I could
hardly see where I was going. Nonetheless, I donned the
raincoat, and with the plastic coat flapping in the wind, I sped
downhill at breakneck speed while praying that I would not hit a
pothole or an oil patch. Road repairs must have had taken place
recently, and by then, the loose gravel had worked its way to
the side of the road. It was an accident waiting to happen, I
thought. It was, therefore, not long before I saw a taxi laying
in the ditch, making me even more determined to avoid it.
The day was marred by crawling uphill,
speeding downhill, crossing a river, and then doing the same
again on the other side. There was not much in the way of
facilities along the road but, fortunately, enough roadside
stalls where I could fill up with water.
Toward the end of the day, there was one more
hill to climb; the road wound its way up the mountain, and every
time I looked up, there was one more corner to round (by this
time, I was in no mood for playing games with myself). I put my
head down, thinking maybe the next one would be the last one!
I was more than happy to see the tell-tale
tower at the top of the hill, typically marking the highpoint,
and soon I could see the valley down below. In Botum Sakor, I
found a $6 room and a plate of food and was more than happy to
park until the morning.
23 May Botum Sakor – Otres Beach – 135 km
It was a much easier day on the road,
although the terrain was not completely flat. It drizzled
throughout the day, a blessing in disguise, actually, as it kept
me nice and cool. I felt strangely at home as I cycled past the
familiar humble wooden houses on stilts, grazing buffalo,
scrawny cows, and pyjama-clad women on cycles peddling their
Once I reached Route 4, the main road between
Phnom Penh and Sihanouk, my ride became a complete nightmare.
The road is terribly narrow and ever so busy with no space for
trucks, oncoming traffic, and me. It was best for me to cycle on
the dirt section next to the road, but this was one muddy mess
with all the rain. It made for slow going and difficult cycling.
By the time I reached Otres, the bike, the panniers, and I were
covered in mud.
I went in search of Shelly, whom I had met in
Bangkok, and who had invited me to stay with her once I reach
Otres. I was surprised to find a huge plate of curry and rice
waiting for me. I had a quick shower and then took a walk down
the road to the shop where I met more of her amazing friends.
There are just the most interesting of people staying in Otres.
The following day, we chilled out, and I met
up with Rad, whom I met in Hanoi the previous year. It is indeed
a small world. Shelly has been living in Otres for the past five
years and knows just about everyone in the village. Her house is
a bohemian and social place where there is a constant coming and
going of friends. Needless to say, we consumed a few beers, and
I did none of the things I planned.
Otres village is one-of-a-kind and has become
the go-to place for Westerners who have given up conforming to
the pressures of Western society. This is truly the home of the
stray cats, and this is where they come to live and play. It
makes for a fascinating mix of people from all over the world
with the most out-of-the-box ideas and thoughts. I love each and
every one of them for who they are and what they stand for.
Otres is like the Wild West of Southeast Asia. There is no
building code and no health inspectors. Drugs are semi-legal,
and there appears to be no rules of any sort. The electricity is
iffy, and the water pressure non-existent. It is a hippie haven
where people party throughout the night, cook what they please,
and build whatever they dream up—all making for a community
where many a traveller has come for a day or two but stayed for
a year or three.
Monsoon season in Otres is one muddy mess as
there are very few paved roads in the village. Life seems to go
past in a psychedelic haze for most people as they move from the
jungle parties to Neverland. This super relaxed hostel is where
people hang out, but it is not a place to stay unless you do
drugs or want to party through the night.
I handed in my laundry, but nothing happens
very fast in Otres, and although I was told it would be ready in
the morning, there was no laundry in sight. I am getting used to
the lazy life in Otres and just hanging around and going with
the flow. That said, I'd better start moving along before I,
too, get stuck.
28 May Otres – Kampot – 100km
Time came for me to say goodbye to the lovely
people of Otres and continue my journey. I waited for the rain
to subside and then headed in the direction of Kampot, said to
be the home of the best pepper in the world. It was an easy
cycle, except for some road works in places. Monsoon season and
roadworks do not go well with cycle touring. There was no real
reason to stop along the way except for a few pictures as I
crossed the rivers with its houses on stilts. It’s very much
life on the river in Cambodia both for transport and for
Of course, I also had to stop along the way
for one of Cambodia’s legendary snacks, the Nompang (baguette)
filled with all kinds of strange things. It was a large portion,
so I found myself a nice spot along the way where I could sit
and watch the people working in the rice fields, while eating
half my Nompang, keeping the other half for when I’m done
cycling. In Kampot, I found a $5 room at Uptown Guesthouse,
which I though a bargain as it was a ground floor room with a
bathroom and mosquito net.
29 May - Kampot
I took a walk around town and visited the
local market. What a lovely little place Kampot is. With its
decaying old French colonial buildings and its riverside
setting, it makes for a great place to wander. There is a
strange and contrasting mix of the ever present “Happy Pizza”
joints and French-style coffee shops on the one hand, and the
local food stalls and markets, on the other.
The French baguette is known as a Nompang,
and if not eaten with spicy sliced pork, pate, pickled carrots,
papaya, coriander, and cucumber, it is eaten with condensed
milk. I much prefer the spicy version, but if one can eat a
doughnut with a chocolate filling, why not bread with condensed
So often I see words misspelled, but one
can’t blame anyone in Cambodia for getting the spelling wrong as
the Latin alphabet means as little to them as the Abugida script
means to me.
Eventually, I ended up back at Uptown where I
was staying and hopped on the bicycle and cycled out to inspect
the local caves. The ride there was more interesting than the
caves themselves. Ladies on bicycles with woven baskets were
returning home from selling their wares at the morning market.
They were jovial and friendly, laughing and talking and I
thought: What a difference from the Western world where people
with stoic faces sit in the morning traffic. It’s a completely
different world here, and a completely different set of rules
apply. Equally jovial men on motorbikes were on their way to the
market with a squealing pig tied on the back. School kids on
bicycles ambled along, and small kids shouted, “Hello farang!”
from their stilted homes. All this never cease to amaze me.
30 May - Kampot to Roadside Guesthouse – 110
It was a lovely day on the bicycle as I
slowly made my way north in the direction of Phnom Penh. The sky
was a lovely blue, the rice paddies full of water after the
monsoon rains, water buffalo were waddling and cows were
crazing. All in all, a perfect day. I’m sure this is what people
refer to when they say, “I was in my happy place”. It was rural
Cambodia at its very best. Roadside markets sold interesting
things, small dirt roads led off the main road to mysterious
villages, just the various forms of transport provided enough
entertainment for the day.
I passed jovial monks on their food rounds,
friendly ladies selling watermelons, colourful temples and small
kids returning home from school, clinging nervously to each
other when they see this strange-looking woman on a bicycle.
Ladies at the meat stalls, laughingly pointing at a buffalo’s
penis. Gosh, they really do eat the entire animal.
It looked like a storm was brewing. A strong
wind suddenly picked up, dark clouds gathered and big rain drops
started falling. I quickly ducked into the next best roadside
guesthouse. I think they saw me coming as I was charged $7
(which I thought was a bit steep) but they did cook me a lovely
Cambodian meal (rice with stir fried pork and ginger, topped
with a fried egg and some fiery chilies) for only $1.50. I
bought myself a beer from the corner stall for 1500 Riel ($1 –
4000R). All in all, an inexpensive day.
31 May - 14 June - Roadside Guesthouse –
Phnom Penh – 40 km
It was a short ride into Phnom Penh and busy
from the start. It’s never an easy task getting in and out of
Phnom Penh and the going was slow and the traffic hectic. Once
again, I was amazed at all one can hook up to a motorcycle.
Astonishing really, what a motorcycle can handle.
I slowly made my way to what used to be the
traditional backpacker’s area of “Boeng Kak”. The lake that made
the area popular was sold and then filled in, causing the demise
of the area. I still headed there as there are still one or two
super-budget places remaining. I like the back streets with its
street art and its weird and lovely “long-termers” hanging
about. I opted for Grand View Guesthouse, which has not got a
grand view and I doubt if it ever had. It was, however, super
cheap at $5 a night. I straightaway met some lovely people and
out of the 15 people sitting around that evening we were from 13
The next day I did a few necessary things and
also took my small Panasonic Lumix camera in for repair. It was
a waiting game to see when the camera will be ready and in the
meantime, I thought it handy to apply for my Chinese visa,
seeing that I was waiting for the camera in any case. Again, it
seemed that I was going to be in Phnom Penh much longer than
The Cambodian elections are coming up and I
was once again astounded at how much money gets spent on
elections. The Cambodian People’s Party (the ruling party)
appears to be well supported even in the face of widespread
corruption. While hundreds and thousands of people took to the
streets today, to show their support for their respective
parties, the ordinary man in the street still pushed his cart
along, hoping to sell enough to feed his or her family. It is an
interesting country indeed as so many people live in squalor
while the Cambodian Mafia drives around in Rolls Royce’s.
Eventually, I had everything done, from
fixing the camera to getting both the Chinese Visa and the
3-month Thai Visa. The Thai Visa is not as easy to get in Phnom
Penh as it used to be. Once one has more than three or so
Thailand stamps in the passport (unclear how many) you are
required to go to the Embassy in person, armed with an
application form, a flight ticket out of the country, as well as
15 June - Phnom Penh – Kampong Chhnang – 97
I said goodbye to the lovely people of Grand
View Guest House and all the people I met while there.
Most people, when returning home after a
holiday, will say, “There’s no place like home”. I feel the same
way when I get back on the bike after a long layoff. There’s no
place like the open road! I hardly stopped to take any pictures.
I just enjoyed the scenery and interesting roadside stalls. I
stopped for coconut juice and sugarcane juice, marvelled at all
of the interesting goods for sale along the way and watched
farmers bathe their cattle in the rivers. I smiled at the
familiar “Hellos” from kids along the way and waved at surprised
old ladies as I cycled passed. It was good to be back on the
bike. In Kampong Chhnang, I found a $5 room at Ly Hour Guest
House, making it an easy decision to overnight there.
16 June Kampong Chhnang – Pursat – 96 km
Yesterday’s euphoria disappeared somewhere
along the bumpy road, and it left me slightly irritated at the
end of the day. Nevertheless, it was not a bad day on the road.
It was blistering hot as I passed the Andoung Russey pottery
factory and I saw plenty of heavily laden carts taking the
produce to the market. The recent rains were good for the rice
farmers, and the rice paddies looked a lovely green. Most are
still in beds and will be replanted at a later stage.
I passed people selling fermented veggies and
artists making Buddha statues for the temples. The road was busy
and narrow, and I spent most of the day cycling on the dirt
section next to the road. I was happy to reach Pursat, and
although it was still early, I called it a day, and found a room
at the Phnom Pech Hotel for $6. Although a nice room, it was a
rather hot one and the wobbly ceiling fan did little to cool me
down. At least I could see the sun set over another day in
17 June Pursat – Battambang – 107 km
Each day I am astounded at what I see and
just what a different world it is out here. People do things in
totally different ways, and we all make do with what we have. We
eat what is available and plant what the soil and the weather
allows. Most of all, it is the different forms of transport that
remain fascinating no matter how long I am in Cambodia and I
have a new-found respect for motorbikes.
Cup noodles are maybe not the best supper
when cycling, and I started feeling hungry along the way. To the
amazement of the roadside stall owner, I stopped and pointed to
the soup! It was delicious but my every mouthful was watched
with great interest.
Again, I reached my destination early and
found a good room at the Royal Hotel in Battambang. The room was
$7, but there was a jacuzzi and bar/restaurant on the roof which
made it worth the $7!
Battambang is a lovely town with many old and
interesting buildings. It also has a lively market and relaxed
riverside location. I took a walk around town and bought a
baguette from a lady with a shoulder pole, and I did not
question the ingredients as I was hungry. There are times when
it’s better not to know!
It was such a lovely place that I stayed one
more day and did little else but relax by the jacuzzi.
19 June – Battambang – Poi Pet – 114 km
The stretch of road between Battambang and
the Thai/Cambodian border is not very exciting, and I was
thinking of taking an alternative route.
Before I could turn off, I ran into a wedding
procession, a fascinating piece of Cambodian culture. I found
the following on the internet: “A traditional Khmer wedding is
one of the most joyous occasions for a Khmer family and
typically lasts from three days to an entire week. It is a grand
affair, full of color and festivity, as well as steeped in
tradition. Family, friends, and other members of the community
come together to share in the celebration. Musicians play
throughout the day on traditional instruments, and the couple is
dressed like royalty. The bride may change her outfit several
times in one day. If the wedding were a weeklong affair, she
could declare the color of her dress each day and the guests
would dress only in that color.
Unlike most Western weddings, guests are
usually highly animated during the ceremonies, with elders
typically explaining the significance of the various customs to
the younger generation. Please feel free to turn to a neighbour
if you should have questions or comments about what is
occurring. You may also stand up and leave the room if you need
to stretch your legs. Guests freely move in and out during
ceremonies, which is not considered rude. At the beginning of
the day, the bride customarily waits at her parent’s house while
the groom gathers a procession of his family and friends. The
procession symbolizes the journey of the prince Preah Thong to
meet his bride, the princess Neang Neak. The groom’s procession
approaches the bride’s home, bearing wrapped platters of gifts,
usually fruits and Khmer desserts, and is led by a band of
musicians and singers.
Traditionally, the mai ba (a well-respected
member of the bride’s family who serves as its representative)
comes out to greet the procession. The different number of
fruits and desserts are counted – the more, the better. If found
to be satisfactory, the mai ba and ma ha (representative for the
groom’s party) run through a humorous verbal parlay which ends
with the groom and the rest of the procession being invited into
the bride’s home.”
The road was crowded with the usual weird and
wonderful modes of transport. I stopped for coconut juice and
met another cyclist along the way. Husan is from Turkey and
plans to cycle for a year. We chatted for a while and then set
off in our respective directions again.
Roadside stalls were selling the ever-popular
rice cooked in bamboo and sausages –
which I think were made from buffalo meat – drying in the sun. I
snapped a last few pics of Cambodian kids yelling with pleasure
before I reached the border town of Poi Pet. I decided to stay
there for the night and cross into Thailand in the morning. I
still had a few Cambodian Riel to spend, LOL.
I found a room at the Phnom Pich Guesthouse,
right on the main road, for $7. No matter how much I travel,
some things will always surprise me. I was, clearly, the only
one not using the communal comb and sandals.