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Back on the road

Beng Mealea: something for the temple lovers

Beng Mealea: something for the temple lovers


Nature intervenes

Nature intervenes

It was a rude "awakening"; a series of head jangling ruts and speed bumps on the approach to Siem Reap. Semi-conscious (a bloody miracle given the standard of Cambodian road surfacing) we were evicted from our seats into a dusty scrapyard: Siem Reap Tourist Bus Park. It was 6am, and we were the first business of the day. Bleary-eyed from the overnight bus, we were sitting ducks for the tuk tuk drivers:"You wan tuk tuk, you go temples?", "Lady, tuk tuk?, "No job today, you take tuk tuk". In a pre-breakfast haze, we spent the entire journey to our hotel trying not to fall prey to the sales pitch.

A typical Cambodian tuk tuk driver

A typical Cambodian tuk tuk driver

The easiest way to avoid being tuk-tuk'ed of course is to be in possesion of two wheels already. And so it was that at 8am, a mere two hours into our Siem Reap sojourn, we found ourselves wobbling down the street on "Cambodia bicycle". For the uninitiated, this is a shopping trolley on two wheels: a basket on the front, no breaks, and an alarming tendancy to veer off to the right. Unaccustomed as we were to such standards of cycle machinery (Redspokes have made us soft), it wasn't long before we were soon wobbling back up the road to exchange our Cambodia bicycles for real bikes.

"Cambodia bicycle"

"Cambodia bicycle"


Real bike!

Real bike!

Our first experience of cycle hire in Cambodia was something akin to purching a Ryan Air flight: you book your ticket, but the seat is extra. And so it was at the Tourist Information Office in Siem Reap. To the untrained eye, the bikes looked good, like mountain bikes in fact; and for just $2 one of these "real bikes" would be ours, for the whole day. But appearances can be deceptive, and we had become fussy customers. About six bikes later, we had finally rooted out two with functioning brake sets, fully functioning gears, pumped up tyres, a seat that stayed up, and a frame big enough so that Chris could cycle without his knees wrapped around his ears...The chap at the information desk delivered the bad news: "these are good bikes, if you wan good bike, you pay 4 dollar, whole day!". Michael O'Leary would be proud.

Chris and I back on the road

Chris and I back on the road

Tuk tuk avoidance aside, it was a pleasure to be back in the saddle, able to enjoy the temples of Angkor Wat at our own pace, under our own steam, and escape Siem Reap to venture beyond the tourist zone. It also felt right, in a country that depends so heavily on two-wheeled transport, to be experiencing it on a bike. It is a common sight in Cambodia to see two, even three children on an oversized peddle cycle (one on the pedals, one on the seat, and one on the carrier). The Cambodian bicycle is quite literally the weekly shopping trolley, as well as being the primary vehicle for getting to and from school. I've witnessed locals hitching a lift on one, or, with the stand employed it converts into a jolly comfortable seat. The speed of travel isn't exceptionally fast (though I have been given a run for my money by the odd six year old); but this is probably wise given the standards of Cambodian brake maintenance and the loopy riding style of the locals...

Mother, baby and shopping on two wheels in Banteay Srei

Mother, baby and shopping on two wheels in Banteay Srei

A dirt road to nowhere

A dirt road to nowhere


Beyond the tourist zone

Beyond the tourist zone

In urban centres such as Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, mopeds are the two wheels of choice. These are everything from the family estate car (two adults, the weekly shop, and several babies squeezed in between) to the local corner shop, and of course the local taxi service or tuk tuk. I've seen children standing asleep on mopeds while their parents weave in and out of the traffic, and I nearly inhaled my breakfast when I saw a three year old steering one past our hotel while his father held the baby.

The family estate car, Cambodian-style

The family estate car, Cambodian-style

But above all, the advantage of being on the bike is that it enables you to connect with the local people. While tourists whizz past in their air-conditioned buses to the next must-see temple, we are free to cycle through the villages, where the children wave and shout; stop for the odd photo or at a local house for a drink, and experience something of the real Cambodia.

Cambodian snack stop

Cambodian snack stop


While their enterprising elder sister had skipped off to buy us a coke and some water, we made some new friends!

While their enterprising elder sister had skipped off to buy us a coke and some water, we made some new friends!


We draw a crowd at a much needed drink stop

We draw a crowd at a much needed drink stop

Posted by jparsons 07:18 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia cycling

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