Travelling overseas often presents some great opportunities to get out on the bike. Recently the club VP and Secretary headed off on a membership drive and found themselves amongst the fallen Temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
With a schedule that was filled with shopping and fine dining, combined with cocktails by the pool, only one day in the itinerary was allocated for a bike ride, so we needed to find a tour operator, and quick.
In a side alley of ‘Pub Street’ we came across Camouflage Tours, a small bike shop offering bike tours. My issue with so many holiday bike tours, is that you spend three quarters of your day at stops and after a “full day cycling”, you have travelled 20 kilometres. So while this bike shop had bikes and helmets, until we were on the trail I was going to reserve judgement.
We opted for the all day tour – Beng Mealea, which was $55US each and it promised 35kms of trails (excluding 35km on sealed roads) along with bikes, lunch, drinks and driver. Now $55US seemed like a lot of money when 35% of the population survive on less than $100 a year, but we signed up on the VP’s promise that if she did this one day of riding, she wouldn’t just sit on Cycling News and Twitter for the rest of the trip. This ended up being some of the best money spent all trip – it was great value.
Team car for the day
At 7am the next morning we were picked up by a large tuk tuk, which contained our guide ‘Samnang’ for the day, our bikes and also the driver. The team vehicle would drive us out to the start of the one day tour and then just travel along a few hundred metres behind us for the rest of the day, bringing up drinks as required – like any good team car.
After about 30 minutes of bouncing around on dirt roads, we were dropped off at a small village that had a market place. Our guide showed us through and we looked on admiringly at the availability of barbequed mountain rat and fish still flapping in buckets of shallow water. After a brief outline on life in Cambodia and time to adjust seat heights (mine to the maximum height available), it was soon time to roll out.
For the day it would just be the three of us and our driver. We were on mountain bikes, due to the majority of the roads being dirt tracks, however, if I was to return it would be on a cyclo cross bike – they would dominate over there. I also had to reacquaint myself with pedals that don’t have cleats on them. I was reduced to just pushing down with my sneakers – not the most efficient way to pedal.
We rolled along for a short about 6-7 kilometres before we stopped at our first temple. Tamara was worried that this is how the day was going to continue. With only minimal riding and having been on numerous temple tours, this temple just didn’t seem that grand. I think our guide realised that we didn’t appear that engaged with the temple and so we were soon back on the bikes and after a short period we stopped in a small village to get some supplies for our breakfast. This village doesn’t get many tourists and it was a welcome relief because they weren’t speaking any English and they weren’t interested in selling us another massage or trinket.
Woolworths – Cambodian style
We rode along before stopping at our breakfast restaurant. This being our third successive stop, I felt like we were getting every set of lights along Pittwater Road and so didn’t think we would be getting that much riding in. However this stop did give us a chance to learn more about our guide Samnang.
A former refugee who spent years in a refugee camp after his family had fled the Khmer Rouge, like so many in Cambodia he had lost family members. In addition to information about the ride and temples, he gave us some really interesting insights into life in modern day Cambodia and it certainly provided us with a new perspective on many issues.
They weren’t going to the pound…
We were soon off on our bikes again and the main legs of the day had begun. The sun was also going to do its best to make the stage as hard as possible. For the next few hours, we travelled past rice fields, small villages and had every small child run out and yell ‘hello’ as we passed through. It was a great ride and while the temperature would have been high-30’s and humid, which was making the riding a little tough going, with the guide’s stories and some time on the bike, this was turning into a great day.
After about 3 hours, the VP was starting to wilt in the heat – a few croissants for breakfast and a mid-morning mango hadn’t been enough. She pressed on as the heat stifled our riding style, however like any rider hitting the wall, soon the legs were turning a little slower than usual. I would often take opportunities to announce that I needed to stop to take a photo – a cunning ploy to give her a short break rather than admit that we may need to call upon the team car to become a sag wagon.
She pushed on but the call was soon made that a Coke was in order, we stopped at a road side stall. They had Coke, but no Snickers or Killer Pythons – would the Coke be enough to push her along the last section before lunch? At this stage – she would have considered a bbq mountain rat to increase the energy levels.
On we rode. The houses don’t have electricity, the odd one is lucky enough to have a donate water pump, and most people we passed are subsistence farmers, but if anyone was doing it tough that day, it was the VP. Finally we picked up a small breeze and we were counting down the last few kilometres to lunch. We rolled into lunch and were glad to have some shade and food. We decided on the vegetarian options on the menu after seeing our little four legged friends in the cage early in the day.
No carbon on this one
The original Fixed Wheel – check this quality bike store
After lunch it was only a short ride to a recently discovered ruin, which was hidden in the jungle, completely empty of tourists and just awesome. We were then taken to two other temples, including a large temple that was essentially a model for the much larger Angkor Wat. If there was one thing to learn it was that was back in the day, Cambodia had plenty of stonemasons and when they wanted something to do they simply built another temple – pretty impressive when you consider we can’t even get a train line built in Sydney these days.
Not often you go on a ride with signs warning you of uncleared landmines
We had come to the end of our ride and there may have been at least one rider in the group who was happy to see the bikes loaded back with about 70kms ridden and onto the tuk tuk for the drive back into town. On the trip home even the tour guide had a bit of shut eye.
Overall, an absolutely cracking day on the bike and a great chance to get out of the town and into the countryside. We would highly recommend this tour to anyone heading over to Cambodia, and if you do make sure you do it with Camouflage Tours.
Samnang from Camouflage Tours