We really enjoyed spending a few days in Phnom Penh. Initially we were going to avoid it all together, as in Thailand we found we liked the small towns the most. It was a bit different in Cambodia though, and the cities were a good place to feel like we fitted in again. Our guesthouse was brilliant – the room was ok but the staff were super friendly and interesting. We spent one night in the bar with one of the managers who told us all about his experiences riding at high level equestrian events throughout Malaysia. His brother is in Cambridge, NZ at the moment training to be a jockey.
We’d read a fair few reports that highway 6 to Phnom Penh is awful, and that a better option is to ride beneath the lake. But in the spirit of not believing everything we read (and of not backtracking, because neither of us like backtracking) we decided to do it anyway. There are less options for straightforward travel off the highway, but it would be possible if it was awful.
I was going to title this “off the bike exploring Siem Reap”, but that wouldn’t really be accurate given that we spent our first “rest” day riding 60km around the Angkor heritage park. It was a chaos of motorbikes, tuktuks and tourists on hired granny bikes getting to the ticket booth. A lady fell off her bicycle in front of Bryony when faced with a motorbike coming at her on the wrong side of the road, but in the meatime James rode past the turn off to get the tickets. She seemed ok and there were plenty of people around to help. The ticketing procedure was pretty official – we had to take a 3km detour to a huge building and get a pass with our photo on it. They checked it all day too, so it seems they are pretty strict. People caught in the park without one pay a $100 fine. We just got a one day pass, opting to spend a full on day visiting temples, rather than slowly over 3 days.
When we arrived in Pailin on our first night in Cambodia we were a bit overwhelmed by the differences between here and Thailand. The dust, the chaotic driving and the right hand side of the road thing. I also think we’d spent too much time reading about the potential scams, and hearing all the ways that Cambodians will rip you off, that we approached the country with too much suspicion. This wasn’t actually helped by the fact that we got ripped off for dinner on our first night. US dollars and Cambodian riel are used interchangeably here, with 1 dollar equivalent to 4000 riel. We had read this, but when the guy who served us our soup demanded $3 for our 6000 riel soup, we were too tired and confused to argue. We kicked ourselves later, especially as we saw him waving the dollars at his friends. It’s funny, we were overcharged about NZ $2 but it felt like a kick in the guts, and as if it confirmed everything we’d heard about Cambodia was true.
When we headed East out of Bangkok we started the part of our trip that is entirely unnecessary to get us to Europe – a loop through Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos then back into northern Thailand. We go this way for two reasons, firstly we are enjoying south east asia and want to see as much as we can while we are here and secondly because we won’t be able to make any of the high passes on the Pamir highway before winter anyway, so have some time to kill waiting for spring (provided our money and enthusiasm lasts that long!).