Cambodia is a relatively small country with surprising variety - from the unpopulated, rural northeast to the more touristy beaches of the south coast. Our bicycle touring journey took us from Stung Treng at the northern border with Laos, south-east to Ho-Chi Minh in Vietnam and then west to Cambodia again (Ha Tien border) before cycling the coast all the way to Thailand through the border at Koh Kong. Click here for interactive maps of our Cambodia and Vietnam routes.
Here is a summary of our three most memorable experiences in Cambodia:
1. Rural Adventure
If you enjoy getting off the beaten track, then I highly recommend trying the Mekong Discovery Trail. We took this route on a whim as an alternative to the busy highway and can honestly say that in the 7000km we have cycled so far, this trail has been our biggest adventure. It's also a great chance to visit some rural villages which don't see as many tourists and to interact with friendly Cambodian people. The trail starts in Stung Treng on a wide, unsealed but easy to ride path through small villages with cute children shouting hello. Next, you'll need to use your negotiation skills to arrange boat crossings to first, a smaller and more populated island (Koh Preah) and then to a much bigger and wilder island in the Mekong (Koh Rougniv). On this island, you will push through deep sand, do battle with overgrown forests and have the occasional encounter with water buffalo, Click here for a detailed description of this trail along with helpful tips and photos. We did this trail by bike but it could possibly be done by an intrepid hiker who is prepared to be self-sufficient and carry all camping gear and food. Now that I think about it, with the amount of walking we ended up doing when we couldn't ride the bikes through the sand, it's probably just as fast done on foot. Well, not really... but that's how it felt.
2. Paradise Beaches
When people heard that we were heading towards the coast of Cambodia, they kept telling us we to "get yourselves to Otres. It's a great place to chill out." Well, we did get ourselves to Otres. When we made the turn off from the main road and cycled down towards the beach, we were feeling a bit dubious about it - lots of new construction sites, heavy trucks on the road and a lot of rubbish. To be honest, we were really unimpressed. We were even less impressed when we got to the village and saw the Costa-Del-Sol-style premier league bars and pizza places. But once we crossed the road and pushed our bikes onto the beach, we got what everyone was raving about. A long, quiet stretch of white sandy beach with crystal clear shallow water. We didn't waste a minute, quickly finding a nearby tree to rest our bikes against. I clumsily got into my bikini while Matthew just ran straight in with his bike shorts. Brilliant reward after 6 months of cycling towards the sea. We stayed in Vacation Bungalows at the end of a cul-de-sac in the village, a short walk to the beach where there are loads of cool bars and restaurants to chill out in. Our favourite was Mom's Kitchen on the Beach for pure relaxation of Papa Pippo for a great pizza (even though I just complained about all the pizza places a few sentences before).
Now, this beach was stunning, but it pales in comparison to what we were about to see when we went for a mini holiday on Koh Rong. We decided not to take our bikes to the island because it is hilly with only one bad road and most of the beaches and resorts are accessed by boat. We left a pile of laundry to be done at our hotel, ready to pick up on our return and the owners kindly allowed us to lock our bikes and extra baggage there too. Our ferry and pick-up to get to the ferry was arranged from the bungalow too. It always feels strange to have somebody else organising your transport when you are so used to just getting on the bike and going when you are ready. Ferry was fine but it turned out that they've stopped using the pier at Sok San so we had to get a pick up truck to drive us all the way across the island to our resort. It was a bit bumpy and dusty but fine in the end. When we walked down through the resort and onto the beach, I knew I had made it to paradise. Almost nobody else in sight on the long beach and the bluest, warmest, clearest water I have ever seen. I alternated between giddy excitement and blissful relaxation for 48 hours, rarely leaving the beach. We stayed in Coconut Blvd which has rooms for about 40 dollars including breakfast. It was clean, with a fan and a decent bathroom. Good food in the restaurant and nice smoothies and drinks at the beach bar. Free use of kayaks and snorkels. It was hard to leave here but after 4 rest days we were actually starting to miss the bikes and were looking forward to a new adventure on the road to Thailand.
3. Eco-tourism Community
The Chi Phat eco-tourism village is a 17km detour from the main Sihanoukville (or Phnom Penh) to Koh Kong road. This is one of the few eco-communities we've seen that honestly seem to be making an effort to protect the ecosystems and environment around them. We only spent one night there but in that short time we swam in a waterfall, lounged in its lower pools, watched chipmunks in the trees while having a shower (we were showering, not the chipmunks) and ate delicious food. We cycled the 17km from the main road on a sandy but fun road suitable for bikes and cars. You can also access the village by hiring a motorbike taxi or boat from Andoung Teuk village. There are homestays everywhere in this village and the names are fantastic: Laced Woodpecker Homestay, Marbled Cat Guesthouse, Crab-eating Macaque Guesthouse, Purple Sunbird Homestay to name but a few. We stayed in Sunbear Bungalows with mosquito net, fan and a bathroom for about 15 dollars. We had to check in at the tourist centre to be registered first. Electricity is limited in this village. It comes on in the morning for a few hours and again in the evening for a few hours. But by chance, we arrived on Saturday and found out that they had electricity all day. There is wifi at the tourist centre and at Cardamom Cottages. The restaurant at Cardamom Cottages does an excellent breakfast of fried eggs, pancakes with chocolate sauce (Hersheys!), fruit and coffee for $2,50 per person.
The beaches definitely stood out the most for me after having lived in a double landlocked country for 3 years and then cycling another 6 months without seeing the sea. I had built up huge expectations in my head over the years and these beaches absolutely lived up to every one. Also, if you are slightly antisocial like me and you like a beach with hardly anyone else on it - Koh Rong's Long Beach is perfect.
I'd also recommend the route we took in Cambodia for bike touring beginners or anyone who doesn't enjoy going up mountains (like myself). It was almost completely flat in the east coming down from Laos and just a hilly 100km or so before Koh Kong. It was very manageable and perfect for getting our bike fitness back after a month off for Christmas.
I don't think we appreciated it enough while we were there but, looking back now, I really enjoyed my short time in Cambodia (2 weeks) and would definitely go back again.
Hope this gives you some ideas for planning your own Cambodian adventure. Click here for interactive maps of our Cambodia and Vietnam routes.
Comment below and tell us which experience intrigues you the most. Rural Adventure, Paradise Beaches or Eco-tourism Community?