Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Cycle Touring Cambodia's Mekong Discovery Trail

Cycling the Mekong Discovery Trail - DO IT !!!  
Stung Treng to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

A great chance to get off the main roads! Quiet rural riding between Stung Treng and Koh Preah

This blog-post has been created because a number of cycle touring friends and ourselves have found it really difficult to find information on this great cycling experience.  This is a local tourism initiative set up some years ago but has since been left to its own devices. The "Mekong Discovery Trail" officially stretches from Stung Treng to Kratie.  It's a long, hot day if you do the main road (145km) but it is amazing to split into 3 or even 4 days for something different. The following is a route description from Strung Treng to Phnom Penh, which incorporates information from us and other cyclists also (See also Anna and Ollie's blog at: 


Bike and Tyre Suitability:  
For the majority of the journey, a normal cycle touring setup will be fine, with the exception of Koh Rogineav island.  For these tracks we would suggest you will need to give your bike setup some thought.  On the island if you are well laden and have skinny tires, it is possible that you will struggle when it's really wet and muddy.  As we describe below, there are portions of the island that you'll need to walk regardless due to the sand.  The fatter your tires, the lighter your bike, the easier it will be.  Mountain bikes for this portion would be awesome!!  

Weather Effects:
We cycled the route in August 2016, during a dry-ish period of the monsoon. Plenty of people have cycled it in the dry season. We generally had one brief afternoon downpour, although one night it rained for about 2 hours. It hadn’t rained in Phnom Penh for the 2 weeks leading up to our ride. This level of rain/mud was fine for the trail, however, if it is significantly wetter than that, we would suggest that you should do more of your route on the main road.  Friends of ours cycled it in the middle of summer in very hot / dry conditions.

Some official information and maps:
Good map:

Our Route:

Getting to Stung Treng:
While people will be riding there from the Laos or Vietnam borders or Phnom Pehn, if you have some time contstaints you can also catch the bus through from any of those locations.  We caught a Soraya Bus (bikes $5) from Phnom Penh, but you can also catch buses through from both borders.

Homestays here are definitely more expensive to stay in compared to budget cycle touring.  This is mostly due to the food costs, so expect that they will put a dent in your budget.  We had some great experiences and some awkward experiences with these, it may often depend on which Homestay you end up in.

6km south of Stung Treng, you leave the tar seal and hit the dirt road

Route Descriptions

 Stung Treng to Koh Khnear (87km: 21km sealed plus 66km off road) - we split this into two days but you don't need to ....
- From the Central Stung Treng market by the Mekong follow the road south beside the river, after 6km the sealed road turns to a dirt road.
- Follow this, crossing wooden bridges, through villages. After 8km is village Koh Sampeay. Continue following the river through Damrei Phong (dolphins!), on to Srae Krasang (8km after Koh Sampeay). 

At the time of writing you could not continue along the river roads to Koh Knhear, a turnoff is needed out to the main highway (or a $40 boat journey).  There are two options at Srae Krasang to get to Koh Knhear via the main highway. 1) Tar seal option (more direct and less adventurous route):  Follow the tar seal road back to the hightway at Srae Krasang  OR 2) Dirt Road, slightly more mountain biking and more fun/interesting option from Tboung Khla (see below)

From Srae Krasang continue straight (tar seal goes left) for 13km of dirt rail, gently undulating woodlands to Tboung Khla. 

***!! About half way between Srae Krasang and Tboung Khla (at about 37km from Stung Treng) you come to the ferry landing for the boat across to Koh Preah. There is a small sign on the mainroad which reads “Welcome to Koh Preah”. Take a small ferry across to the island and bike the final few km to the village and a well-organised Homestay system.  When we arrived and biked past the school, the village leader called out to us and organised a fellow teacher to have us stay at her house.  This was probably the coolest and best organised village of the lot.

Koh Preah Homestay (2016)

Ferry across river - $2.50 for 2 people and 2 bikes (5,000R each)
Homestay $17 for 2 people for dinner/stay/breakfast ($3 each for lunch, dinner and sleeping and $2.50 each for breakfast)

Koh Preah is a lovely village, with a really friendly leader, Saylom. He'll hook you up with a homestay quick as!

The first of many ferries - this one takes you across the Mekong to Koh Preah if you choose to stop here.
Summary of day one towns that have some food available:
Koh Sampeay: Drinks and snacks, restaurants
Damrei Phong: Drinks and snacks
Srae Krasang: Drinks and snacks, basic food.
Koh Preah: Drinks and snacks, homestay
Tboung Khla: Drinks and snacks, restaurants
Koh Khnear: Drinks and snacks, restaurants, homestay

Day One afternoon / Day Two (with Koh Preah option)
If you have stayed a night/visited Koh Preah head back across the river and  towards the main road, turning right at the intersection to Tboung Khla.

Tboung Khla to Highway (20km): At Tboung Khla turn left and head east to National Highway 7.  This is an undulating dirt road that crosses small rivers and farming settlements (the dirt road looks as though it carries on south but it does not meet up with the next village further downriver.)
- Highway 7 (18km): At National Highway 7 turn right (cafes here). Cycle about 18km to junction with a dirt road on your right. There are some big signs there about Ecotourism and village initiatives.
- Cycle SW on dirt road for 12.5km to riverside village Koh Khnaer. 

Koh Khnear Homestay (2016)

Sleeping - $8 for two people ($4 each). We were directed by some locals to one homestay with a family, but I understand there may be a few. Here is the least well organised of the homestay locations. Our homestay was located on the left a couple of houses down after turning right at the intersection at the end of the road.

Dinner and Breakfast were offered at $4 each per meal which we thought was a bit pricey so we declined and opted to find our own food in the village. Hopefully this was ok culturally – but we had an awesome noodle dinner for $1 each just before you got to the final intersection when heading into town on the left and an amazing breakfast for $1 plus packed lunch for $1 from the breakfast restaurant.  This was located on the right hand side a few shops down after turning right at the intersection when heading into town.

Ferry – again initially quoted as $7 at our homestay so we asked around the village and found a guy down the street turning left after the intersection when coming into town who would do it for $5 for both of us and 2 bikes. Our host changed her price to $5 in the morning but by then we had organised something else. You need to organise your ferry for the following morning so you can make an early start.  We left at 6:30am.

On the road from Tboung Klua out to the Highway - adventurous!

Koh Khnear village where you spend one night and organise a boat to take you across 
to the island. The village soundtrack included generators, grinders, 
dogs howling, midnight cow bells, kids and some rain on the roof!!

Koh Khnaer to Koh Phdau (38km):
- On the island you have 30km of remote trails and no water. If you are travelling south, you will find the sign below at the canoe drop-off point.  Ask the people at the huts in the start for directions.  Initially it is just a narrow path through the rice paddies, before turning left after 50m and over a fence into the jungle.  We were worried after finding really muddy conditions in this first  section, but it did get better!

Follow trail signage south along ox-cart tracks through the woodland.  The track splits numerous times, with usually no signage, so always choose the most major looking fork and try to keep heading south! Very sandy and slow. After 30km+ arrive at the first village on the west coast of the island, continue south passing through several small riverside villages before reaching Koh Phdau. There are a few ambiguous sign placements and a few places where it is hard to tell the most major. Blue spray-painted arrows mean nothing. Good luck!!  On our route map we've marked a few positions along the way if you get really lost and have your phone/GPS with you...

The first of many signs...!

The beginning of the trail - thankfully it got easier to ride than this

Look out for signs on the trees, and otherwise just pick the biggest fork

Maybe less mud in the dry season - it didn't cause too much of an issue 
for us although we did take our bikes for a bath in the river 
at the other end. 

Through the woodlands!

Another route decision - notice the signpost though - they were usually well-placed 
although there were one or two which, left us scratching our head and wondering 
what direction we should actually go. 

Water – we carried 7 litres of water plus 2 cans of sprite and had one litre left at the end. Others we talked to carried 10L. Depends on the time of year – we hit a good day!  It can get very hot!!!

Koh Phdau Homestays (August 2016)
As you cycle into the village there are homestays scattered along the road for many kilometers
Cost:  $22 for two people – ($3 each sleeping, $4 for dinner, $3 for breakfast) No other options in the village for eating but we got our best homestay food here!
NB:  They also added in an extra $2 extra "community development fee" that they hadn’t told us about until it came to payment time.  This seemed to be a fairly recent addition, which you may wish to query them about, if they forget to explain it to you.

On the road to somewhere...

As you turn left from Samphin headed for the ferry back to the mainland

 Koh Phdau to Kratie: (two options, east bank or west bank) 45 or 55km
- From Koh Phdau cycle south for about 4 km to Samphin. Just past a small village pagoda and school turn left to follow dirt road 2.5km as it bends right and leads to ferry port. Take the ferry to Sambour - be willing to wait! Ferry cost – less than $1 each (3000R)

- Sambour to Sandan (12km). Turn left off the ferry into Sambour village centre, where there's a great market. Otherwise turn left after exiting from the ferry towards the market and take the first right, then take the next right and follow road south towards Kratie. After 12km you reach Sandan village.

- A few kilometres after Sandan, (in a place maybe called Thum or Kakhot village), you reach a short dirt trail down to the river on your right, this is the ferry crossing to Vodthonak on the west bank of the Mekong. If you want to take the east bank route to Kratie (more built up, seal road), ignore this and continue to head south through villages to Kratie. 

Monks in Samphin, once you cross back to the east side from the island. We stayed east and biked straight to Kratie - lots of fun local food and small villages along the way. Tarseal.

If you want to take the west bank route to Kratie (quieter gravel), cross here on the ferry. 
- Vodthonak to Praek Prolung (28km): At Vodthanak turn left, cycle about 5km crossing several wooden bridges then 18km very close to the river bank. Shortly before Saob is a junction, turn left just after crossing a bridge. Another 3.5km after Saob turn left to the ferry at Praek Prolung. 
- Praek Prolung to Kratie (3km): Take the ferry across the Mekong to Peam Te. Follow your noses north up river to Kratie. 

Accommodation in Kratie: Plenty, we stayed in Mouha Outdom Hotel, a 5min walk north of the market on the main riverside road. A basic private double room with fan but no WiFi in the room for $5 (2016) - most of the other options were around $7.  There was great food options at the market, like advocado shakes (4000R), multi choice options with rice (usually about 4000R each), buy bananas, etc...

Kratie to Kampong Cham – 120km
From Kratie you can choose east or west bank. As at August 2016, advice was the East side was a good road for 60km south of Kratie before becoming very muddy and bumpy. We took the Westside, so from Kratie, cycle south for 5km to a bridge across an inlet. Turn right and make your way down to the river and the ferry to Praek Prolung. There are restaurants at the ferry landing on the West side. 120km to Kampong Cham, mostly following through old style villages. Good dirt road for 50km and then good tar seal. 

Plenty of food options and drink places along the way. At 75km the road goes steeply up a hill into a rubber plantation. It is about a 3km square detour but probably easy. We looked at google and saw a more direct route straight down the side of the river, however, the road deteriorated, became too loose and steep to ride, but rejoined the tar seal quickly. The last 33km is a bit of a drag as you are back on a main road, but generally fine.

Accommodation in Kampong Cham: Plenty, we stayed in Mekong Crossing Hotel, one of our fanciest rooms, fan only, for $8.  We grabbed some food down by the market and took it to the Mekong riverside with some frozen watermelon.

A larger ferry this time round across to the west-side.

Awesome gravel road for 50kms after Kampong Cham on the westside

Don't believe Google that this is the main road - small but fun detour

About to rejoin the tarseal at the end of our wee detour. If you want a 
bit of fun, go this way, otherwise the tarseal would be quite fine!!
To Phnom Penh – 94 kms
Many options. The main highway (6/7) on the west side is apparently very average due to it's busyness. A local described the east side as shorter but in worse condition and the westside small roads as longer but generally slightly better condition. We followed Google’s “walking route” on the east side, which was the shortest option.  The road conditions are VERY variable depending on the time of year etc, what were amazing conditions for us, might be super washed out or under construction for you.

From the riverside in Kampong Cham, we cycled south past the main road leading to the bridge. We were on road 223, which followed the west side for 20kms. At 20kms there was a bridge and we turned left just before it down to the river to a ferry crossing to the east side (1000R each incl bikes Aug2016).

Upon reaching the west bank there is a great noodle soup place just as you come up to the main road on the left. There were plenty of other food options along the way, so you don’t need to carry much. We were on an OK gravel road for about 10km and then the road turned really, really awful for about 20km. Rough, loose, corrugated gravel. They were doing this road up slowly, so it may improve... Thankfully, at 53km from KC the road turned to lovely tar seal again and it is amazing! 

We followed this road all the way down to the main intersection with the road from Vietnam heading across the bridge to Phnom Penh. We carried on straight ahead following the Mekong for another 20km until our final ferry crossing.  To reach the ferry, turn left opposite the Svaychroum Pagoda onto a dirt road that crosses a causeway. Ferry cost 1500R for 2 people & bikes (Aug 2016).  After heading up from this you follow the trafffic round to the left before you cross a bridge into the edge of central Phnom Penh.  It's amazing going from quiet country roads to a humming large city in an instant!

Cranking (hot) market about 40km from Kampong Cham on the east side. 
Death Road, which in Aug 2016 was most definitely under construction. If you can 
hack it for 20km, the rest of the day is a nice ride!
The final ferry across to Phnom Penh from the east side

Please add your comments / any amendments to this, so we can keep it current!!  

Safe journeys!!!!

Andy and Miriam (with a lot of input from Anna and Ollie, Lisi Aimer and Jonathan Barford)

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Hope of Changing Times - Cambodia and "Flame" in Phnom Penh

Reader warning:  The start of this blog might be hard to read for some - It starts with some hard sights and questions marks and ends with some awesome stories of HOPE from up & coming Khmer leaders & communities in Phnom Penh.

As I wander through the remains of ''The Killings Fields", I can hardly imagine the horrors that went on here. The deceit. The wasted lives of thousands. The cries of people being muffled by cherry music and the smell of decaying bodies being masked by DDT. I can hardly imagine what it would have been like to be loaded into a truck from Tuol Sleng (number one torture prison), hoping against hope that the next destination was going to be better than the previous months, only to find yourself at the end of the road. Surrounded by strangers. Strangers, but your own people. As we walked past mass graves, and the infamous Killing Tree, my eyes were drawn to the hundreds of colourful bracelets that cover the bark and the fences - a reminder of what childhood should consist of. Not brutal torture and murder.

Colourful beads in memory of children who dies here.

Looking out over mass graves at Choeng Ek, The Killing Fields
Inside the memorial - thousands of skulls are preserved and
organised by age and cause of death .

Despite the history, the Killing Fields today is a peaceful memorial  - you can see the hollows in the ground that were mass graves and you can stand where buildings once stood. Despite being right there, and despite how awful it was, I still somehow felt removed. From the Killing Fields, we biked into visit Tuol Sleng - one of the main torture prisons of the Khmer Rogue. Here, the peeling paint, the steel beds, the hand-shackles and gallows that strung men up still stand in place. The windows are still covered in barbed wire so you can't jump out. The cells are still there. And the photo's. Photos of those who passed through the prison, who suffered various means of torture, who were forced to sign false confessions and who were eventually sent off to be executed. It is a harsh reminder of what really happened.

Inside Tuol Sleng Prison - torture rooms

An old school, it is hard to imagine what went on here. Note the playground bars under the tree.
The big metal frame was used to string people up as part of the torture procedures.

Old and creepy!

Among the photo's, my eye caught on a young Kerry Hamill, a 27 yr old kiwi guy, sailing round the world. He and two friends sailed into Cambodian waters and were taken captive. They spent two months at Tuol Sleng, getting the same treatment as locals, before being executed also. As i stared at his picture, my audio head set had the voice of Rob Hamill, addressing the Tuol Sleng commander at his trial, in 2013. Incredible hearing a kiwi accent caught up in this all. It seemed so unfair - and yet I was so challenged by the fact that I felt more emotional over this one kiwi guy than I had over the thousands of Cambodians. It really hit home for me - so so so many wasted lives.

The only light relief of the day...

As we debriefed this experience over the coming days we talked about the seeming reluctance of "the West", or other countries to get involved, both during the Pol Pot regime but also afterwards. It was too hard, not politically correct, not visible enough, just not on the priority list. For 10 years after Pol Pot was overthrown, the UN still recognised the Khmer Rogue as the legitimate government in Cambodia and so kept their seat at UN meetings. It took years and years before a Court was set up to bring justice. Kerry Hamill's dad petitioned the NZ government time and time again to try and bring justice but was denied repeatedly. I wondered what things we are turning a blind eye too today. Imagine if today, hundreds of lives were being wasted, unfairly treated, tortured and killed. What would we do?

And then I thought of Human Trafficking. And Syrian Refugees. And numerous other examples of horrendous conflict in which hundred and thousands of people are being affected and how it is so easy just to carry on with our own life. For me, it's got to be pretty visible before I actively do something about it. I felt Convicted. Called. Challenged to think through practical ways I can be more involved in the solution to some of these modern day tragedies.

Perhaps this thought process is no surprise considering we have spent the last month volunteering with an organisation who are actively working to prevent trafficking, exploitation and injustices within the poorest communities in Phnom Penh. It has been such a privilege to spend time getting to know these people and this place.   Flame Cambodia's tag line is "the full circle"  in that, the young people who run their activity programs have come from tough backgrounds themselves, but are now helping to sow new seeds of hope into slum communities that they might once have been a part of. As they have found hope, they now seek to share it with others. So inspirational!

For more info on the who and what, check their website out here by clicking on this link.

If what Flame does connects with you, we would be 100% behind you if you were keen to support them. They have some very experienced Kiwi's at the helm!  For anyone interested, or any doctors out there, the Medical Tuk Tuk and drugs it provides is currently not funded - so donations for that or regular donations would be really gratefully accepted by these guys.  They have big dreams!  We're big fans!

For those interested in hearing some of the stories from a couple of the these amazing Khmer leaders we were with, check out these links:


Photo Journey

Below is a bit of a photo journey through some of the things we have been involved with over the last few weeks. Feel the love!!

Some of the young adults we ran English classes for (good hang out times!) here at Flame.
These guys all have inspirational stories and are doing incredible things in their communities. Respect!
(L to R: Paroath, Channa,Yeang, Hean, Esther, Tuol, Miri, Choryee, Andy,
Deth, Thea, Thai (taking photo) Kakara and Top).

A new project which Andy helped out on a "Book Tuk Tuk"- taking the reading to the people!!
It's first outing at Sensok. Photo Cred: Sam Kemp

Teacher Houn Thy who runs the Sensok Activity Centre has just welcomed his new baby boy into the world!
  Photo Cred: Sam Kemp

Kids loving life! Yuus!!! Photo Cred: Sam Kemp

Rithy (in black) handing out Soy milk to kids in one of the slum communities.
 Apparently there are 401 slums in Phnom Penh and these guys work in 8 of them. A good start!!

Kids getting Soy milk. Photo Cred: So Esther

Ohhhhh yeah!! Photo Cred: So Esther

We had a few good monsoon downpours, but still the people come! Photo Cred: So Esther

Unloading for another Soy milk delivery session and kids club at Sensok - from left Thea, Deth and Tuol.
Photo Cred: So Esther

Kids Club! Top right corner is Mak, our Cambodian mum who cooked amazingly delicious food for us each night.
 Photo Cred: So Esther

Chanthy rocking the kids club at Sensok. Sothy in the background. Photo Cred: So Esther

Hanging out at Sensok. Photo Cred: So Esther

Rithy in his element out on the Mobile Medical Tuktuk - taking the doctor to the slums!
Flame has Rithy, a qualified Doctor and Sothy, a Yr 5 med student who head out several
 times each week to help slum communities access health care.

Craftanoon! Makara, Choryee and Hean starting to make 400 beaded Christmas banners for a church in NZ,
as a way to support themselves while they study. One of Miri's projects while here.

What a month it has been here in Phnom Penh!! We really had no idea what we might get up to while we stopped here and we have really enjoyed the change from the bike, to being in one place getting to know people. While we haven't really been on the cold face ourselves, it's been a real privilege seeking to support those who are.  They are the heroes! We feel like we have learnt a lot!  We will be taking home many good memories and will have some good thinking around practical ways of serving when back in NZ to do!!

For us, now, it's through to Bangkok where we put our bikes in boxes and store them for the flight home. Then onto Kolkata, India for the next little adventure!

Thanks for walking the journey with us!

Miri (& Andy)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Riding the banks of the Mekong - Mekong Discovery Trail Cambodia

- Our final week cycling!
- After leaving a lot of our gear in Phnom Penh, we bussed to Stung Treng and followed the Mekong River as closely as we could all the way back to PP
- Spent nights in Koh Preah, Koh Khnhear, Koh Phdau, Kratie and Kampong Cham - cycling route description & detailed map to follow!
- We enjoyed following the 'Mekong Discovery Trail', practicing our khmer and eating local food!
- Currently spending 4 weeks volunteering with Flame in Phnom Pehn (  These guys are worth checking out we reckon!

It was 10am and we'd reached a fork in the road. Straight ahead to stay on the east side of the river, or turn right to a ferry landing, a small boat and an unknown adventure on an island in the middle of the Mekong.

We turned right.

It was Day One of our final week of cycling - a week that would take us on variety of small gravel paths, dirt roads, remote villages and even some single track mountain biking whilst staying as close to the Mekong River as possible. In preparation for this, we had significantly reduced what we were carrying on the bikes, had scoured the internet and cycle blogs for information and had quizzed every local we could find. It sounded like it had the potential to be a great week.....or a terrible one!

Stung Treng Market and the start of our Cambodian Mekong Adventure

And so, with a fair amount of adventurous intrigue and enthusiasm for the unknown we turned right, off the main road for our first village homestay on a tiny island in the middle of the mighty Mekong River. We felt ready - the previous day we had stocked up on bananas, a pineapple and a packet of Oreo cookies (our cycling necessities!).

A bit of context!

Setting out down alongside Mekong (just to left of the huts)

Leaving the tar seal - woop woop!
New bridge construction - happening all over the show!

With us on the 10min ferry ride across the river to Koh Preah was an egg vendor (carrying an impressive amount of eggs in giant baskets on his motorbike) an icecream man and several other guys on motorbikes. Our vessel was a barge - a wooden platform spread across two canoe hulls and an impressive crank-start motor.  On arrival we biked along the few kms of road to the village and were promptly welcomed by the school teacher who poked his head out the window as we pedaled up.

Turned out he was the village leader, Saylom and he organised us a homestay within minutes. And so, by 11am we were settled in, chilling out on a hammock on the first day of our (last) cycle adventure. Quite a change from the usual cycling hours we had been doing. Being active relaxers - it was a good challenge stopping this early in the morning when we felt like we were just getting into it!

Quiet rural riding

Inspiration for when our bikes feel too heavy!

The first of 7 ferries - our ride to Koh Preah

Check out the egg man!!

Some cyclists cover the 145km from Stung Treng to Kratie in one long day on the main road - we took four days and were so glad to finish on a bit of an adventure - these villages experience a lot less frequent tourism so we enjoyed being the only outsiders for a few days.

We wrestled with a few things over these first few homestay nights. Firstly, price. One homestay had offered us food at an outlandishly expensive price so we politely declined and went to forage out our own feed in the village - while we wanted to support local tourism initiatives, we didn't want to set, or continue a precedent that westerners will pay whatever price for food, especially when we could easily eat down the road for about an eighth of the initial price suggested. As it was, accommodation in these homestays was more than we would usually pay, but in the spirit of community development and being looked after while off the beaten track, we were happy to pay a fair price.

Secondly, communication!! Our Khmer stretched as far as asking how much something cost, counting to ten and greeting/introducing ourselves. Despite thinking we COULD ask for food, we still found ourselves in an awkward situation one night where we thought we had agreed on a price for some rice, but it became increasing obvious that the family we were hanging out with were unsure why we were still sitting with them as they sat down to share their evening meal! It ended up with them offering us some but it being very clear there wasn't actually enough for us. We declined, retreated (with both parties being quite confused) and desperately wandered through the village looking for another option. Thankfully we found one! (Turned out they were the breakfast restaurant & previous conversation & prices only related to that).

Another challenge - the village soundtrack! Generators, metal grinders, kids, horns, midnight herds of cows with neck bells, dawn roosters, dog howling at 1am and motorbikes were our constant friends!! Ahhh, the serenity!

Our first homestay night in Koh Preah with Chanyee

Leaving Koh Preah

The family we were having fun learning Khmer with until we realised we had overstayed our welcome!

Homestay family in Koh Khnhear, the night before heading over to the island

Village life, Koh Khnhear

We were stoked it hadn't rained more leading up to our visit
Two young homestay boys who were quite fascinated by Andy

The pyjama wearing Cambodian women!! It is awesome seeing matching outfits as completely legitimate fashion!

The real challenge came on day three as we crossed to Koh Rougniv- the infamous island. This island has no roads, only ox and motorbike tracks which run throughout the interior of the island for about 40kms - this was probably the part of the journey we were most nervous about! Our canoe deposited us on the bank, the driver pointed at a sign which explained there were signs every now and then, and that it was 45km south to the next ferry crossing. As he motored back to the mainland side, the couple in the first house looked at our bikes, pointed at the muddy ground and grimaced. Hmmm. Not a good start. We had heard stories of this trail being muddy, sandy, with a high likelihood of getting lost.

The main advice offered was to always choose the most major looking fork, and when in doubt, get out your compass and head south! Everyone we had talked to had biked this in the dry season and we were unsure how the monsoon might affect the 'sandy' sections (mudholes??). Sure enough, the first 500m was a slippery, slide-y, skinny track that was impossible to bike as we crossed the first rice field. Thankfully it improved!!! The 40km took a good long time, with the track changing from hard-packed dirt, to bumpy stones, to rooty, rutted gravel and sandy trails which were impossible to bike. Despite choosing the wrong fork once or twice (difficulty on deciding which track was most major) we really enjoyed the challenge of getting to the other end!! We arrived in the final village homestay about 3pm, happy, muddy and pretty stoked on life!  We were so thankful for good weather during this stretch!!!

The smallest of the 7 ferries!

Hoping the track will improve!

Life on Koh Rougeniv

Cruising on some single track


All I need - my bell, bike computer, compass and GPS! And a track heading south!

Hmmm....trying to pick the "most major fork"

We had a lovely night with a grandmother who had an english phrase book - her first phrase to point out was "I'm so glad you are staying with me". Ohhhh. A lovely way to start! We were fed very well, and it was a real pleasure observing grandmother, mother, daughter and grandchild all sitting round yarning, laughing and passing the time together (ages ranged 5, 25, 45, 65!). It made me want to be a part of a community where multiple generations do life together!!!

The awkward (but lovely) lineup of family watching us eat our meal

Stoked to have made it to the south end of the island

The following day we crossed back to the east side, discovered bamboo stalks filled with sticky rice, frozen soursop juice (a real hit in the heat!!) and more friendly Cambodian people along the way. We arrived in Kratie, enjoyed a good long shower and even got to choose what we ate for tea - a treat after three nights of relying on others to feed you!

Yet another ferry! (This one spent some time ominously pumping out their ballast tanks before we could start)

In Sambour, a small village on the east side - we had a good noodle soup here
Early morning rice fields

A relaxing dinner in Kratie, enjoying the sunset over the Mekong

So, four days to cover 145km. That meant we had two days to cover the final 220km to Phnom Penh - back into usual cycling hours! We crossed to the west side and covered the 120km to Kampong Cham by biking from sugarcane vendor to noodle lady to freezers for cold drinks! Thoroughly enjoyable!

At one stage the main road went up a hill . Steeply.  At the top I happened to check Google Maps and was surprised to find we had actually left the main road, which looked like a much more direct route than what our current position would be.  Quick team meeting and we decided to fly back down the hill and take the actual main road.


The "actual" main road involved pushing our bikes through the middle of a wedding reception tent setup over the road.  So, we squeezed our way with another scooter between white table cloth tables, as waiters distributed the cutlery.  We emerged from someone's back yard onto the road and followed a gravel road which rapidly turned into into a track, and then a rutted path, much to steep and loose to ride. Main road?? Google assured me it was!! And so, after some pushing up a very steep hill we re-emerged on the other side of the rubber plantation where we had been sometime before, and found our way back to the tar seal. While our "main road" was definitely shorter, I wish I had looked at the scale of the map as it would have been much quicker to just bike the long way from our original position!!!

Sharing the road...

Classic Cambodian village houses

Fishing net drying contraption
Google assured me this was the main road!!
Sugarcane juice is a pretty good time on a hot dusty road (neighborhood kids waiting for their dose)

Our final sunset - Kampong Cham

And all of a sudden we were sitting on the banks of the Mekong, enjoying our last night on the bike. We reminisced over people we had met along the way - our Moroccan host Mbark, Andy's awesome relatives in Holland, the random family in Germany who took us in, Moritz and his family in Brixen, the Croatian goat herdsman, our Syrian friends and other volunteers, Ege and the Kaya family in Turkey, Brother Aung in Myanmar, and so many other inspiring, generous and loving people. What a privilege it has been!

It wouldn't be right for the final day to not involve a good challenge and we certainly found it - after crossing back to the east side our road changed from concrete pads (glorious for biking on) to 20km of heavily rutted, bone rattling, soul destroying loose gravel - UGH!!! SO slow-going and by the end of 20km our arms were literally feeling as though they might fall off. We were planning on finding the first ferry we could to whisk us back to the westside and the main road. Thankfully though, things improved and we enjoyed the final kms on a quiet, sealed road which took us all the way to a ferry crossing opposite the centre of Phnom Penh. Pretty weird rolling in and suddenly seeing skyscrapers across the river and knowing you were about to be plunged into 2 million scooters and crazy traffic! What a way to arrive though and it was with great satisfaction we navigated our way home and collapsed into a much-needed shower.

Thankyou Mekong for such a good adventure!

Setting out on the final day towards Phnom Penh

Death Road - 20km was MORE than enough

Feeling pretty satisfied with ourselves!!! We clicked over 5200km as we rolled up to this ferry crossing.

Miri and Andy