Anlong Veng, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh: A Bike Touring Route
Enter Cambodia through the back door, on a road that until recently would have been entirely off bounds in the rainy season but now is quite a nice ride.
It’s certainly more tranquil and in better shape than coming from Poipet! Soon you’ll be in Siem Reap where you can take a few days to explore the temples of Angkor Wat and the fascinating fishing villages around the Tonle Sap lake before heading on to the capital, Phnom Penh. Between the major sites, some might call the cycling boring. The terrain is flat and the scenery mostly a string of villages but the people are incredibly friendly and there’s always a bit of entertainment to be had in the local market. We enjoyed this laid-back tourism.
Duration: 7-10 days
Terrain: Flat, flat, flat.
Accommodation: Dozens of hotels in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. A few choices in Anlong Veng and guesthouses in many other towns.
Highlights: The ride from Anlong Veng to Siem Reap. Angkor Wat.
Lowlights: Hot, humid and not so many places to seek shade.
Tips: Buy plenty of cool drinks from the sugar cane juice vendors or the insulated ice-filled coolers in front of every shop. Bring a long shirt and a hat to save your skin from the sun.
Section 1 – Thai border to Anlong Veng (15km)
The crossing itself is straightforward and formalities on both sides shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to complete in total. The Thai side is very quick and the officer may even fill out your departure card for you! On the Cambodian side, new buildings are going up but for the moment it’s a series of huts, one of which is labelled ‘visa service’. There you can buy tourist visas. At other borders stories of scams and asking people for more than the official $20 U.S. fee are common but here we had no problem paying what we should and no more. None of the other officers asked for money for ‘overtime’ or anything else.
Once through the border, the inital track through the village at the border is dirt but after just a few hundred meters you meet the paved road which is in good shape all the way into Anlong Veng, about 15km. Somewhere up here is Pol Pot’s cremation site and Ta Mok’s house but we didn’t see any signs as we flew down the hill. In Anlong Veng we stayed at the Monorom Guesthouse, which asks $8 U.S. for a fan room and $15 U.S. for air conditioning. The room was clean but the TV was a bit flaky. Not a big deal. Staff in the restaurant were very friendly and spoke some English. The food is basic. You can get things like fried noodles here. It’s a bit more pricey than eating on the street but you can have a pleasant fan blowing down on you and eat at a real table!
There are several other guesthouses in town to choose from and you can change money in the market with any of the jewellers. We had no hassles in Anlong Veng. You may meet young men offering rides on motorbikes to Preah Vihear.
Section 2 – Anlong Veng to Siem Reap (130km)
Leaving Anlong Veng, there is a short stretch out of the town that is dirt and quite rutted but still passable without much trouble on a bicycle. Just dodge the potholes. After that the paving returns again for another 15km or so. For the following 60km, it’s dirt roads of varying quality but all quite ridable. Some of the mud is a bit tacky. We could feel the bikes slowing down but no mud stuck to the tires. The dirt road was well graded, usually hard packed and free of potholes. Even so, we managed to be covered in a fine layer of red dust by the end of the day.
There are some communal water pumps en route, provided by various international organisations, and these are key stops if you’re on a bicycle for a chance to wash off and splash some cool water over your body. You rarely go more than 5km, often much less, without seeing at least a basic shop so picking up a drink or snack shouldn’t be a problem. The only real restaurants are in Srey Noi, almost exactly halfway between Anlong Veng and Siem Reap. We didn’t see a guesthouse in Srey Noi but we didn’t look too hard either. There could well be one around.
Throughout the length of the road, three or four paving crews were at work. It seems it won’t be long before the whole road is finished. All of the bridges aside from the short unpaved stretch leaving Anlong Veng were concrete.
About 30km before Siem Reap the asphalt returns again and it’s an easy run into the city. If there was a lot of rain (while there was a rainstorm the evening before we started out, overall it had been rather dry in the previous days) perhaps the middle section could be a bit messy. Doing the whole stretch in one day on a bicycle is a long haul but possible if you’re willing to spend 7-8 hours in the saddle. Plan a few days to relax and see Angkor Wat!
Section 3 – Siem Reap to Stoung (97km)
At the start of the millennium this was a tough ride but just a few years on and the Cambodian road paving crew have been hard at work. It’s a smooth passage out of Siem Reap. There’s a fine wide shoulder the whole way so you shouldn’t be bothered by cars and trucks flying by, although do push over a bit when a bus honks its horn behind you. Kampong Kdei makes a good lunch break or, if you got a late start from Siem Reap, you can overnight here in a guesthouse. Look for the sign on your left as you go through the town. The next accomodation option is in a guesthouse in Stoung where very basic double rooms with a fan go for $4 U.S. There are plenty of shops along this stretch so no need to carry extra supplies.
Section 4 – Stoung to Skun (145km)
The smooth road continues to Skun, although it does narrow in parts so keep an eye on traffic. The usual string of villages provides plenty of opportunities to pick up food and water.
If you didn’t see enough temples in Angkor, you may want to stop in the town of Kampong Thom, about 50km on, where you can hire a motorbike driver to take you out to some pre-Angkorian temples around the town. There are proper hotels here and internet cafes so if you’re tired of grotty guesthouses you may want to spend the night.
Watch the price if you decide to eat in Kampong Thom. We found asking prices double the normal rate because of the steady flow of backpackers who get off the bus here. Just cycling a few kilometers down the road brings things back down to a more realistic level.
Your next accommodation option is in Kampong Thnor, where there are three guesthouses just a few hundred meters down the Route 71 fork. Rooms with a fan start at $6 U.S. a night. A few kilometers out of Kampong Thnor, a sign advertises a Khmer Homestay and if you pass that up you’ll have to take your pick from the three slightly grotty guesthouses on offer in Skun. You can get icey fruit drinks in the market as well as roast spider if you’re brave enough. It’s the specialty in Skun, lucky you! There are also plenty of restaurants offering buffet options for the less adventurous.
Section 5 – Skun to Phnom Penh (75km)
The last stretch into Phnom Pehn is nothing to write home about; just a steady string of villages until you arrive in the city itself. There’s a string of restaurants about 4km outside of Skun, which look more appealing than the in-town options. The road narrows as you get closer to the city but with a few exceptions we found most drivers patient and willing to slow down until they passed us. As long as you have some experience driving in traffic you shouldn’t find it too stressful. Try not to arrive in Phnom Penh exhausted as the city is quite spreadout and you may have a few kilometers to get to a guesthouse. Stop for sugar cane juice or another cool drink to keep you refreshed.