For anyone interested in doing their own cycle tour in Cambodia, this blog post is for you!
When we searched the internet initially, we found that most of the information online was for guided tours with established companies in Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. We found one blog post about a loop from Phnom Penh to the coast and back again, but this was outdated and many of the comments suggested this route was now too busy to make enjoyable cycling (Having taken a bus on this route recently, we would agree that it is busier than the roads we went on).
So, after hunting around on various maps, we eventually worked out that the route, as marked out in the image above, would be doable in a week, and had guesthouses marked along the way at reasonable distances. The only big day would be our final one, from Anlong Veng back to Siem Reap, a whopping 135km!
Day 1 – Siem Reap to Svay Leu, 62km/74km
Start out on the main highway, Route 6. Busy, but not as bad as many highways as there is a large asphalt lane on each side of the road for slow traffic. In places we had to go onto the dirt tracks on either side, but this was not often. The most dangerous thing about this road was not the bigger vehicles, but the smaller slower ones that would drive toward you on the wrong side of the road! Fi almost crashed into one when she had her head down!
We continued all the way on this road to Damdek. In fact, it is possible to take a short cut from Prasat Bakong onto Route 64, making the day only 62km but we missed this turning! It was almost worth missing this turning though for all the roadside stalls selling bamboo sticky rice! There are plenty of places along the whole of the ride to stock up with cold water (look out for the bright red or orange cool boxes outside shops – these are filled with huge blocks of ice and cold drinks!) and snacks (our favourites included Sticky Corn on the Cob and Bamboo Sticky Rice).
We also drank and ate a lot of fresh coconuts on our way. Healthy, and a natural isotonic, it was the most refreshing drink we had while cycling! Its worth stocking up on small change before leaving the city as most of the snacks and drinks are only 1000 riel ($0.25) or less and they often don’t have change for bigger notes.
The first night’s accommodation was the worst. We stayed in the only guesthouse in Svay Leu, a few kilometres before the village on the right hand side (assuming you are going the same way round as us). It was not very clean and cost $8 for a room for the night, but given there was nowhere else and we didn’t have camping gear, we stayed anyway. On a plus note, the market in Svay Leu was excellent and we stocked up on tasty cakes made of rice (called “Num”) for our journey the following day. There are a couple of places to eat in the town, but don’t leave it too late in the evening as everything seems to wind down early! We paid $1.50 each for both lunch and dinner in the town.
Day 2 – Svay Leu to Kulin (also spelt Kulean), 62km
We couldn’t find anywhere open for breakfast, so ate corn on the cob from the market and some of the cakes. Would have preferred a savoury breakfast but something was better than nothing!
As with yesterday, there were plenty of places to refuel with food and water on the way today. There is a small town before Kulin called Sra Yang which has a choice of four guesthouses and plenty of places to eat. There is also a temple 10km or so out of the city that is meant to be beautiful, but you need a ticket to go.
We stayed in Kulin. Once more it has only one guesthouse, on the right hand side just before the roundabout. It was much nicer than the day before, but still very basic, and full of insects. This one cost only $5 for a room per night! We ate again for only $1.50 each for lunch opposite the guesthouse. She had pre-prepared various dishes and we chose two to share. They were both really tasty and of course they came with plenty of rice and tea.
In the evening, it started to pour down and we were a little concerned as we walked through the town that we would find nothing to eat, as everywhere that had been open in the day was now closed. We accidentally walked into a gambling bar but were ushered out and pointed further down the road. We kept asking people and miming eating and everybody kept pointing us further along the road. Eventually we found it and enjoyed a good meal of fried rice and water for $2 each.
Day 3 – Kulin to Sra Aem, 75km
We set off at 7.30am again, to avoid the heat of the day but this time with a full belly! We ate at the same place we had had lunch the day before, a small restaurant opposite the hotel. We were given pork and rice and pickled vegetables, also known as Bai Sach Chrouk, and the most common thing we ate for breakfast.
We finally left route 64 12km out of Kulin, when we hit Route 62 at a T-junction. We took a left on the 62 and headed north toward Sra Aem. Fully expecting the road to be the same as the previous two days, littered with roadside stalls selling snacks and water, we left the small village surrounding the T-junction with only a half litre each of water. 20km along the road, and with not a single roadside stall in sight, we were beginning to worry that we would not find anywhere to restock.
Luckily we found a small military camp with some soldiers milling around and we asked them for water. They kindly gave us another litre each, and we continued on our way. However, I would recommend being better prepared than we were, as the military camp seems to extend for almost the entire road to Sra Aem, all 45km or more, and there are virtually no roadside stalls the entire way.
Unlike every other town we had stayed in, Sra Aem seemed to have a lot more to it, and it seemed to be developing rapidly. There is the famous Preah Vihear temple 30km north of the town (which might make another good day of cycling there and back if you wanted – if not there are plenty of willing tuktuk drivers in the town only too happy to take you there for a fee), and the town seems to be anticipating a boom in tourism in the coming years. There were already more than 5 guesthouses and hotels to suit every budget ($5-$75 per room per night) and a few different eateries. We ate for about $2 each here for each meal and stayed at the Priseth Pich Guesthouse for $10 for the room for the night (which included WiFi – the first time we had it since leaving Siem Reap). It was really clean and a welcome relief from the previous two nights. I would definitely recommend it.
Day 4 – Sra Aem to Anlong Veng, 79km
This was an easy day of cycling along Route 2648. As with all the previous days, it was relatively flat and this time, despite evidence there was still some military involvement in the area, there were, once more, plenty of roadside shops to restock with water and snacks.
Anlong Veng was the most developed place we stayed. It too had a variety of guesthouses and here we splashed out in Soaphea Guesthouse on the most expensive room of the trip, a whopping $15, this time including WiFi and air con!!! It was a welcome luxury, especially given the early start that awaited us the following day.
We ate at another small restaurant that had a good variety of pre-cooked but fresh and delicious stir-fried dishes that we could choose from. It was one of the best meals we had. In the afternoon we went for our first coffee of the trip in the local supermarket and met a local teacher there. We ended up eating with him and his students that evening, so I’m not sure where is best to eat in the evening in Anlong Veng, but given the size of the town, there are probably several places. Unlike everywhere else, the market in Anlong Veng is a little tucked away. It is next to the roundabout, behind the buildings in the northeast corner. Definitely worth stocking up on fruit and cakes for the long journey the next day!
Day 5 – Anlong Veng to Siem reap, 135km
This is a long day and we set off at 5.30am to try to avoid the worst of the day. We ate a breakfast of fruit and corn on the cob in our room before we left and then stopped for a second breakfast of noodle soup on the way, in a tiny village about 35km away from Anlong Veng on Route 67.
We continued with just a few stops for snacks on the way to Bantaey Srai for lunch. There is a lot of food choices here, but some are a little more expensive than before due to the nearby temple, a popular tourist attraction. After some negotiation, we paid $8 for two meals and a large bottle of water.
We had thought that there was nowhere on route to stay if we had wanted to make the route shorter. In fact, we spotted a couple of homestays and guesthouses around Bantaey Srai if desired.
We made it back to Siem Reap in the early evening on the final day, 12 hours or so after we had set off. Despite being a long day, it was easy cycling, as there are very few hills anywhere along this route!
We hired Giant mountain bikes for $6 per day from Angkor Cycling in Siem Reap. We cannot recommend these guys highly enough. The bikes are double the price of any other mountain bike for hire but for a reason, they are more than double the quality! In addition, they gave us a helmet each, a bicycle lock each, and two spare inner tubes each. We already had our own bicycle pump, tyre levers and multitool, but they did offer us all of this too. The bicycles did not break down once, and they both came with water bottle holders – incredibly useful for long distances!
We used a mixture of maps.me and Navigator mobile phone apps to plan our route and check our ongoing navigation. I would recommend both of these mapping devices for anyone planning to do the same or similar.
Whilst our route may not have been the most exciting in terms of landscape (it was pretty much flat the entire time), the friendly shouts of the locals and the variety of villages and towns on the way made it incredibly enjoyable cycling. We saw (from a distance) only one other foreigner in our 5 days – a rarity in South East Asia these days! It was an incredible journey, and I recommend it to anyone wanting to do a short cycle tour!