Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Cambodia: A Week Meandering Down the Mekong

Bullet/route points:
-       We spent seven days cycling from the southern Laos border at Khong to the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
-       We stuck as close as possible to the Mekong River, following the Mekong Discovery Trail route from Stung Treng to Kratie, the west bank to Kampong Cham and then the east side to Phnom Penh.


 We can only describe it as a magic time. A week spent by the slow-moving but life-giving giant of a river, the Mekong.

 After the long tarseal straights of southern Laos, we felt keen for some higher interest and slower pace riding, so we put aside six days to do a journey that most would do in three, from Stung Treng in the far northwest of Cambodia, down to Phnom Penh. We left the main road and wove a route on dirt trails, gravel roads, small sections of seal and even occasionally single track. 

Linking it all together we took ferries of varying sizes and styles, eight in total, as we crossed from east bank to west, and to some of the sizeable islands in between.

Waiting for the boat

Some were very small

On some we joined regular commuters

 The northern section of our route followed the “Mekong Discovery Trail”, maybe something like New Zealand's new Alps to Ocean Trail but with less signage, more sand holes and plenty of Cambodian flair! It is an eco-tourism/rural development initiative to encourage tourism in this poorer and less-visited part of the country. With some good online maps and descriptions copied into our notebook, we set out to enjoy! 

Riding out of Stung Treng

Approaching Koh Pdau

 We were able to stay the first three nights at homestays. These were associated with the Discovery Trail, and seemed a good way to support the local community, as well as have a very special experience ourselves.

We were given dinner, breakfast and if we wanted a packed lunch. We ate great feasts of rice, eggs and vegetables and even fish, all very tasty, and importantly for us, very sizeable!!
As we arrived at the village of Koh Preah to look for our first homestay, we found a welcoming and wonderfully organised system, with neat painted signs at the edge of the village informing us how the homestays worked and teaching us useful Khmer language phrases. We learnt that seven families take it in turns to be the homestay, and soon we were shepherded to the Community Chief, who then led us to our homestay for the night and helped us get settled in.

Our homestay in Koh Pdau village, easily located by the "My Turn" sign out the front!
With Saylom, the Community Chief of Koh Preah village, the two boys from our homestay and their cousin.
Probably the crux of the Trail was a 40km section that ran the length of Koh Rogniev Island, where the largest "roads" were ox-cart tracks, and numerous smaller trails headed off into the bush from unmarked intersections. We'd read some horror tales of lost cyclists before us, but had been told that the best strategy was to simply always choose the most substantial trail, and if that failed, to pull out the compass and head south! 

On Koh Rogniev

We had a wonderful time, weaving through the dry forests, sometimes drifting and foundering in deep sand drifts, and sometimes cruising sublimley on hard dirt single track! We felt quite remote for a while, seeing no-one, until the ice-cream man on his motorbike turned up! Sadness at losing remote vibes was well offset by a dreamy ice cream though!


Ollie and the ice cream man! Ooo yeah!

Through this section the heat has really kicked in. 41 degrees the daily high, cooling finally to about 24 degrees about 4am. It has seemed particularly intense on the bright dirt roads, and definitely leaves me more tired! It became a routine to cool off in the afternoon by getting in the river. Trying to keep our heads out of the water for safety reasons, we felt more like wallowing buffalo than legitimate swimmers, but either way it was divine! 

Hot riding
A lovely shady spot under our homestay. Wonderfully well-designed houses for the climate.

The river at dusk
The Mekong Trail ended at Kratie, so from there to Phnom Penh we picked our own trail of small roads by the riverside. More wonderful riding, rural villages, friendly people - all pretty idyllic! Occassionally getting a little lost, it all eventually came together very well!

On the west bank of the Mekong

Slighty lost on a lovely concrete lane, south of Kampong Cham

Some of the super friendly children! Strangly though, they do seem at libery to run out of the classroom and school grounds at any time to see us, so maybe not really ideal!
Some of you have commented on our impressive browness - but let you in on a secret, it's not all tan!!
Very dusty, sweaty but happy we turned up at the ferry crossing to Phnom Penh. Incredibly, by staying on the east side of the Mekong for the final day, we could ride dirt back roads right until the ferry that took us across the river and into downtown Phnom Penh! A real treat compared with the usual tens of kilometres of industry and busyness to battle through on entering a major city. 

Chilled village riding 4km from downtown Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh ferry

1 comment:

  1. The dusty tan picture is my FAVOURITE! That is a laugh out loud funny picture!