Just a little crazy

95km Sihanoukville to Chamkar Luong

“Don’t you want to take the bus?”

The receptionist at the hotel couldn’t quite understand why we would want to go to Phnom Penh by bicycle. Neither could the customers at the small restaurant where we ate breakfast.

“Where you go?” asked one woman in broken English when we rolled up our bicycles and sat down for a morning meal of sliced pork over rice and iced coffee. When we replied that we were going to the capital, a little over 200km away, everyone sitting at the outdoor tables shook their heads in surprise and some tutted and whispered to the people next to them.

In most countries of the world it seems the locals think us at least a little crazy for wanting to travel long distances by bicycle. Some clearly think we’re certifiable, ready to be hauled off by the men in white coats. We’re used to it now and find it amusing that this very simple concept is so foreign to so many people.

After breakfast we tackled the hills leading out of Sihanoukville – the only real climbs we’ve seen so far in Cambodia – and soon we were heading north on Route 4, a road built by the Americans that’s in fantastic shape. We were a bit nervous about this stretch of the trip because we’d heard that traffic was terrible with plenty of careless driving but maybe the rainy season has kept the vehicles away. We had the road largely to ourselves and the few vehicles that did pass us slowed down and gave us plenty of room as they went by.

We were warmly welcomed in the gambling den of a small town, where we ate a repeat meal of breakfast and watched as the men and women at the packed tables around us bet money over cards.

With lunch finished and our worries about traffic soothed, the next question in our minds was where to sleep. Unlike most roads in Cambodia, this one was strangely lacking in towns and we weren’t sure of finding a guesthouse within a day’s ride. We didn’t even know if the empty landscape would contain a temple where we could ask the monks for a place for the night. We were tempted by a deserted rest stop with covered picnic areas and toilets but decided it left us a bit more exposed than we like. And then, just a few kilometers on, we were surprised to see signs for bungalows. For $10 U.S. we were soon installed in our own mini house with a large bed and a balcony overlooking the surrounding countryside.

When we examined the menu in the attached restaurant we were glad we’d bothered to carry our stove and a few basic foods like noodles and sauce packets around with us because the prices were outrageous and then, just as we were staring in disbelief at prices of $5 U.S. for a basic dish, the waiter came and replaced the menu we were holding with another one. The new menu had all the same foods as the old one but now main dishes were going for $6.50 U.S. each. When you think that we ate an a nice Sihanoukville restaurant for just $13 U.S. including three beers, two main courses and two banana splits for desert and we can usually eat a filling street meal for maybe $4 U.S. total for two including beer you’ll see why these prices were way out of line. No matter for us. We slipped across the street, bought some eggs and fresh herbs and managed to cover supper and breakfast for just a couple dollars.

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