Welcome back to Thailand
The Kingdom of Cambodia and the Angkorian Empire
Post date from - 02/05/18 - 24/05/18
I must admit, I wasn’t as excited about entering into Cambodia as I had thought I would be, sadly. At the very start of the trip, I was, but after 3 months in Vietnam, the though of going into a less developed country, filled me with a little bit of dread. Whilst Vietnam is said to be more developed than most, there’s something about it that just seems worlds apart from the other countries, and I think the people are the cause of that.
The ride out of Ho Chi Minh City amongst the morning commute was hectic. At times, I’d be sat at traffic lights wedged between a few hundred mopeds trying to find a pocket of oxygen to breath in. 70 km’s later and I’d reached the border. I crossed the border into Cambodia, and the people and the surroundings were instantly different. I’m not sure how many people cross by land border these days, as I’d seen very few at the crossing I’d made already, but one thing is for sure, the border towns are often rowdy places.
Soon enough, the land flattened out and the Kindgom became visable, and excitement brewed within me. “I am actually cycling through Cambodia”, I thought to my self.
I arrived in Svay Rieng, 110km from Ho Chi Minh city, and headed straight for a guest house. “ No room, sorry sir”.
Next guest house “no room, sorry sir”.
This continued for the next 5 guest houses with my options running out very very fast in this small town.
“Hmmm, lets start looking for temples to sleep in” I thought. At that moment, I crossed a roundabout and a guest house appeared in front of me and fortunately, they had 1 room left. The manager spoke very little English, but he was able to explain, or I was able to decipher, that the King was coming to visit Svay Rieng the following day, hence why every guest house was fully booked. The room was £7.00 and basic, with the power intermittently going on and off all night, which made for a sweaty night sleep.
The next day, the streets were buzzing from 5am and completely lined full of people when I left, with police everywhere. I got a pretty special welcome, that’s for sure. As I headed out of Svay Rieng, every 5km there were 4-6 policeman lining the road and soon enough, I see a convoy of about 30 motorbikes and 50 cars drive passed me, with the king in clear view as he was driven passed. Seeing the King on my second day in Cambodia, “not a bad start”, I said to myself.
That afternoon, 70km from Svay Rieng, every single vehicle and person came to a stand still on the side of the road, with families all out of their houses, waving and shouting hello as I went past as they waited for the king. It was a fun experience.
I stopped, took off my helmet and waited, like everyone else, for the king to pass. This time, the convoy was 3 times what it was before, and as the king drove past, I got a nod and a smile, which was cool. Seeing the king twice in 1 day, awesome.
After 125km, I arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city. All I’d heard was “it’s dirty”, “it’s a party place” “it’s full of back packers”, but I’d left any expectations at the full stops, yet, I was still pleasantly surprised and pleased to see that this wasn’t really the case, and in fact, it seemed liked a great city.
I spent four days in Phnom Penh, and most of that was spent cycling around and taking in as much of the city as possible, looking into the faces, meeting the local people, reading real accounts from people who experienced the Khmer Rouge first hand, and imagining what the city looked like some 44 years ago, as the thousands of families were innocently told to leave their homes and belongings behind and walk out of the cities, as the Khmer Rouge “cleaned” the city, only for the untold atrocities to begin, and their lives, changed forever.
When you search “the best things to do” in Phnom Penh, all of them will suggest the killing fields, or the genocide museum, which has become commercial ‘tourist attractions’, visited by thousands of tourist. These memorials for the nearly 2 million people killed under the Khmer Rouge, where originally meant to be used as evidence for the Khmer Rouge Tribunals, still going on today, and as a reminder of the mass killings on that very ground between 1975-1979, and that should be preserved for the Khmer children and people with respect to the memory of the Khmer people. These had originally meant to be removed once the Tribunals had finished, but as I understand it, believe it had been decided that these would stay. I personally had no desire to want to visit these ‘tourist attractions’. The figures and the recollections of the Khmer people tell enough of a story for me, and I don’t need to be see evidence to be reminded of the barbarity that happened here.
Phnom Penhs food scene was a pleasant surprise. Khmer, Indian, French, Mexican, Lebanese and even a very good roast dinner.
My Phnom Penh Top 10 Restaurants and Café’s
5. Mexicano - a big ass burrito which was great - 29 St 288 BKK1, Phnom Penh 12000, Cambodia
6. Coriander -Indian Restaurant 21Eo, Street 71, Phnom Penh 12302, Cambodia
7. Friends The Restaurant – Social Enterprise restaurant. Same as Kaiphaine in Luang Prabang 215 Street 13, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
8. Buffalo Sisters - Excellent Roast dinner 15 St 454, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
9. The Deli Bistro Gourmet - French Restaurant. Romantic treat for 1. No 13, Str. 178 (Preah Sokun Meanbon), Daun Penh, 10210, Samdach Preah Sokun Meanbon St. (178), Phnom Penh, Cambodia
10. Karakara Japanese - Best Japanese food I think I’ve ever had. So delicious. 261AB Preah Trasak Paem St. (63), Phnom Penh, Cambodia
1. Flavors of India - Excellent Indian food 158 Preah Trasak Paem St. (63), Phnom Penh, Cambodia
2. Mok Mony – my first real introduction to Khmer Food and it was delicious. 63c, Street 294, BKK 1, Phnom Penh 12302, Cambodia
3. The Shop 240 - A more upmarket, relaxed cafe, bakery and restaurant that served delicious eggs Benedict with avocado, which was a treat 39 street 240, Phnom Penh 12207, Cambodia
4. Anise Hotel Restaurant - Delicious food 2C, Street278 off Stree57, Phnom Penh 12302, Cambodia
After 4 days in Phnom Penh, it was a 150km ride south to Kampot and the Cambodian coast. The ride was as flat as it gets and at one point, the heavens opened up and the big storm blew in, which was very welcomed and refreshing, as it was very hot.
Since arriving in Cambodia I’d felt incredibly welcomed by the Khmer people, and riding down to Kampot even more so, as I probably had over 100 people calling out "Hello, hello” and waving. Things are so much easier when done with a smile on your face.
As I neared Kampot, the flats soon tilted, and the hills appeared in the background, which stirred excitement in me, despite being 145km in to the ride.
I arrived into Kampot to an incredible view and stopped at a cool restaurant called Rikitavi, where the Khmer owner took a shining to me.
Kampot is famous for its Kampot Pepper and pepper farms, with lots of recipes utilizing this ingredient, which you see being sold in lots of shops all around Cambodia.
Kampot is a very quiet, laid back, colonial period town and is the gateway to the Bokor National Park. The next day I took Surly Temple for a ride around town and to grab some food. As I’m approach a roundabout, I stood out of the saddle as I do when I get to roundabouts to be able to accelerate when need be. Now in the middle of the roundabout, I took one heavy pedal stroke and then “bam” my foot hit the ground and my body lunged forward onto the handle bars. “That’s not suppose to happen” I thought, looking down, then behind me and noticing my entire crank arm and pedal in the middle of the road. Grrrrr, “Houston, it’s me again…”
Fortunately it didn’t happen on a big and busy roundabout, as it could have been a bit naughty.
The plan was to ride to Sihanoukville the following day, and having observed the damage to Surly Temple and tightened the pedal back on, I hit the road the next morning, aiming for Sihanoukville, 110km away. 10km out of Kampot, and I’m on the side of the road fixing a puncture from a piece of glass. It was very hot at this point, and having fixed my puncture, I was a bit frustrated to get another 5 km down the road for my pedal to fall off again. “Hmmmm, this is going to be a fun day” laughing to myself.
For the next 60km, my pedal fell off another 10 times. I got 30km from Sihanoukville, and tired and a little frustrated, I stopped on the side of the road to look on Agoda to see if there was any accommodation in the area; doubtful considering I was in rural Cambodia. To my surprise, 5km away was a guesthouse called Hidden Valley Ream Yacht Club.
Booked, I made my way.
Even more surprising than finding the guesthouse, was arriving to meet a large, shirtless, 60 something Englishman from Derby who owned it. Roy and his Thai wife Tick owned this little piece of paradisiacal simplicity.
Ream Yacht Club sits at the end of a very dusty, bumpy, red clay road on the waters edge of Ream National Park. Kayaks are available to explore the Amazonian like waters.
The accommodation is perfect and simple and Ticks food, very delicious. The morning I left, I had a proper full English breakfast which included bubble and squeak, much to my delight. Abeit, slightly different to how I know it. Ticks food was so good, I ended up asking her for her Green Curry recipe, which she kindly shared with me.
After a great stay at this hidden gem, I made my way 30km to Sihanoukville, with hope that the bike shop I’d located online had a part for Surly Temple.
Sihanoukville can only be described as a very hilly, rowdy, dusty, dirty, unkempt, Chinese enclave construction site, without any bicycle shops. That’s right, my hope quickly faded when I arrived to find the bike shop did not exist. “Get me out of here!” I said out loud.
Sihanoukville is the main coastal city to the well renowned islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem, off the Cambodian coast, and sadly, little of Cambodia remains in this city, with heavy Chinese investment and development in Casinos and property here.
Serendipity pier is the main route onto these famous islands, and having ridden a limping Surly Temple down there, and witnessed the hoards of tourists boarding and disembarking the ferries, I decided I’d give these ‘gems’ a miss, and instead chose to ride another 5km’s down the coast to Otres Beach, a secluded resort with bamboo restaurants lining the shore.
I booked my accommodation at Orchid Bungalows, then made way for lunch at Chez Paou, across the road, and got to work trying to figuring what I was going to do with Surly Temple.
Otres Beach is a very chilled area with a real Bohemian vibe to it. I ended up spending almost 2 weeks here, after organizing a bike part to be shipped in from Bangkok, which would take 10 days, during which I got a nasty gastrointestinal virus, and I’m pretty sure I know what gave it to me.
The beach is stunning and the sun sets even more so, but during the day, it was sad to see so much plastic washing up on the beach. I’d often find myself walking down to pick bits up to put in the bin. I went in the water once during my 2 week stay there. I’d done some research about the coastal area here, and knew, and could just about see on the horizon, that there were quite a few international oil rigs. This, imagining Sihnaoukville’s waste being deposited into the sea and the smell of the water, made me want to steer clear.
I met and hung out with some cool people in Otres, which was nice. I met a cool guy Marc, a New York Jew, who had swapped life in the big apple, for life as a digital nomad, and we are still in touch now. I met Joe from England, on my first night, an English teacher in Phnom Penh.
I also met Ken, or Mother Hen as I’d nicknamed him in my head. Ken, in his 50’s, from Niagra Falls, was really cool guy, who had been travelling for the past 8 years teaching English all over the world, and had just finished a year or so in China. We hung out quite a lot and had some great chats. It was fun. We also met Jenny, a MILF, by all accounts, but I’m not sure if she had kids. Jenny was English, but had lived in Key West, Florida, before embarking on a more nomadic lifestyle, and was a free spirit. Jenny and I are also still in touch now. Jenny, Ken and I hung out and had some cool chats, sat watching the sunsets and hearing the soft lapping of the waves in southern Cambodia, which for me, was a super cool and memorable experience. Great company and a pleasure to meet and spend time with them both.
It was at this stage that I booked my 10 day Vipassana Meditation retreat in Myanmar, so knew I had to be in Myanmar in August, just over 2 months away.
Having spent the past 2 weeks in a fairly sedate Otres Beach and met some great people, it was time to continue this adventure.
My bike part was due to arrive at Flying Bikes 2 in Phnom Penh in the next 2 days, so I took a bus to Phnom Penh with Surly Temple crammed in next to the river looking pretty sorry for herself.
Thanks for reading and I hope you are well and happy.