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CAMBODIA – Bicycle Touring Information

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CambodiaTime of VisitÂ
February-March 2006

Visa
I got a 30-day visa at the Laos-Cambodian border for 20USD. For some reason this border crossing is mentioned nowhere. For flying into Cambodia or arriving overland from Thailand (Poipet and Trat) or Vietnam (Bavet) you don’t need a visa in advance. For other border crossings it is probably necessary to arrange in advance at an embassy or through a travel agency.

Borders
I entered from Laos, crossing the Veun Kham border. I left to Thailand via the Koh Kong-Trat border near the sea (Gulf of Thailand). Both times cycling.

Malaria
Many of the rural parts of Cambodia are malaria area. Around sunrise and sunset, protect yourself very well against mosquito bites. Sleep with your tent closed. Consider anti malaria tablets.

Route
Veun Kham (Laotian border)-Stung Treng-Banlung, 202km, no pavement
Only a few kilometers (10?) from the remote border crossing you come to a very new highway. I don’t know where it comes from in the north, but to the south it will take you to Stung Treng, 55km from the border. In the beginning of 2006 there was a huge bridge under construction over the River San, I guess it is ready now. I can see it on Google Earth. In 2006 I still had to take a ferry. Stung Treng is the provincial capital.
The main tourist train goes south to watch the river dolphins near Kratie. I decided to cycle east instead, to Banlung, the provincial capital of Rattanakiri. It took me two days to cover the 150km. About halfway (60km) there is great camping and swimming in the Srepok River. Just before the bridge there is a restaurant in a village. The whole road is extremely dusty in the dry season; I suggest you to cycle with a breathing mask, sunglasses and a hat. I was absolutely completely covered with red dust that stuck to the sweat. Take a lot of water, it can be very hot. Be prepared for the terrible poverty, this is one of the poorest parts of Cambodia (and Asia). Close to Banlung I visited Lake Yaclom (or Boeng Yeak Laom). It is a fantastic place to go for a swim. Be careful for thieves, my camera got stolen.

Banlung-Sen Monorom, 207km, no pavement, sometimes very sandy
There is not really a road from Banlung to Sen Monorom (Mondulkiri province). I found a description of the path in a book for motorbike traveling. It turned out not to be as difficult as expected. Start by cycling back in the direction of Stung Treng for about 8km. Turn left to Lumphat (44km from Banlung). After crossing the river here you leave civilization for a while. Follow the main track through the forest, maybe with a compass. If you meet somebody, ask for the next village (Kaoh Nhek) or Sen Monorom, just to make sure you are on the right way. From Kaoh Nhek, a big village 106km from Banlung, you have a road again. This means that the section with just sandy tracks is about 60km long Make sure to carry enough food and water, and maybe a water filter. It is not impossible to get lost here. Some stretches you’ll have to walk, take this extra time into account. It is another 100km to Sen Monorom, the last part surprisingly hilly. Again take enough water and food. This part of Cambodia looks very different from the rest: almost 1000m high hills, pine forests and a bit cooler.

Sen Monorom-Chhlong, 217km, no pavement
The first part of the road runs through forest. I saw some monkeys, but there is a lot of damage, almost no big trees left. In the night I heard chainsaws. People told me that the Vietnamese come to log illegally. Well, Vietnam is close indeed, but I am sure that the Cambodian police are into the dirty business too.
Anyway, you will reach Snuol after about 130km from Sen Monorom, in between you will find only small villages, but big enough to find bottled water and food stalls. Continue straight to Chhlong, a pleasant village at the Mekong.

Chhlong-Siem Reap, 322km, last two-third paved
If you follow the Mekong west, you enter Kampong Cham Province. You will pass through some muslim communities. I crossed the river near Stung Trang and continued west until I reached the paved main road that runs from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap at Psah Rumlong, 113 km from Chhlong. You are in a lot more populated area now, no worries about water and food anymore. It is a bit over 200km from here to Siem Reap and the Ankor Wat complex. The pavement is great, but it also means more traffic and some really bad bus drivers. Siem Reap is very touristy and a good place to stay for a while. The temples are fantastic!

Siem Reap-Battambang, 183km, almost all paved
From Siem Reap it is 152km to the Thai border near Poipet. However, I decided to explore Cambodia a bit more and turned left at Sisophon, 103km from Siem Reap. Another 80km takes you to Battambang, the second city of Cambodia.

Battambang-Phnom Penh, by train
Just for the fun of the experience I decided to take the train from Battambang to Phnom Penh. It is extremely cheap, extremely slow (18 hours for 300km), extremely crowded and extremely uncomfortable. It was a fantastic experience! There are no windows and many holes in the floor. The dust comes in from everywhere. The train goes very slow and all the time people are climbing in and out of the windows or on the roof. In some agricultural areas hundreds of men started to throw sugar cane and firewood through the windows into the carriages, and the train never stopped for this. I guess the good were for the market in the campital. I arrived at 3a.m. in Phnom Penh and still managed to find a guesthouse.

Phnom Penh-Koh Kong (Thai border), 406km, first half paved
I continued south to Kampot, at the sea, which is about 150km away. This is still a fairly populated area and the road is paved. Easy traveling. I didn’t visit Sihanoukville, but turned of in the direction of Thailand. The last 200km stretch of road looked like new, but was still hard to cycle because of the heat, the loose gravel, the washboard and the many small hills. I saw some of the best forest of Cambodia here, with many monkeys and snakes. Also a terrible amount of mosquitoes attacked me every the evening. Prepare for hardship, especially when you are camping. This is again quite remote with only very small villages. Bring enough food and water (three days worth). Koh Kong is a big village, Trat in Thailand is still 100km away.

The BEST route
In South East Asia, where the traveling is easy, I always prefer the remoter stretches. In Cambodia this was the section from the Laotian border via Stung Treng, Banlung and Sen Monorom to Chhlong. And the last 200km to the Thai border at Koh Kong. In these remote areas you see more unspoiled nature and wildlife, people are more curious and traveling is more adventurous and surprising.

The WORST Route

Cycling in central Cambodia between barren rice fields and terrible heat was not always pleasant. Traffic was light, but bus drivers behaving really bad in some cases. I took the train from Battambang to Phnom Penh, a interesting experience.

Bicycle Shops
There are tiny shops with very limited choice. But the mechanics are good with iron wire.

Bicycle Touring Gear Shops
Haven’t seen any.

Camping Gear Shops
Haven’t seen any.

Best Season
December till February has the lowest temperatures and almost no rain, can be dusty.

Worst Season
April and May are very hot and May till half November is the rain season, when roads get really muddy.

Maps
Nelles Map Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia. Scale: 1:1,500,000

Maps
Lonely Planet South East Asia on a shoestring.

Languages
Some people still speak French. English only in very touristy places.

Average for Cheap Lodging
2 USD

Locals’ Average Salary
50 USD per month

Transport your Bike
I took my bike by train from Battambang to Phnom Penh. I just put it in a luggage carriage for free. It didn’t get damaged, although it was on top of a huge pile of wood at the end of the trip.

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Author
Peter Van Glabbeek (Netherlands)
7 years of bicycle touring experience including a 4-year long journey around the world
Cycled through 40 countries
Peter’s website

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About Stephane Marchiori

Owner of Cyclocamping.com
Bike touring since 2003, including:
a 5-Year Bicycle Journey Around The World!

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