Jan 17 2013

Cycling around Siem Reap

Published by at 12:22 pm under Transport


For cyclists, Siem Reap is genuinely twice blessed. Firstly, all the major sights are within easy striking distance of the town using pedal power alone. And secondly — and more importantly given the tropical climate — the terrain is pretty much flat as a pancake, making cycling a year-round possibility.

Shady. quiet and flat - perfect cycling country

Shady. quiet and flat: perfect cycling country.

Many hotels and guesthouses include free use of bicycles in their room rate, and charitable rental outfit The White Bicycles has bikes for hire at just $2 a day at various partner hotels — including Rosy Guesthouse and Soria Moria Hotel — throughout town.

In the unlikely event that your hotel doesn’t have bikes at your disposal, panic not, as most establishments are never far from a rental shop. On a morning ride along Wat Bo Road I counted at least three rental shops within five minutes with daily rates from just $1 for a good old-fashioned “town bike” and was offered a pretty nice looking mountain bike for just $3.

The White Bicycles - cheap for you, good for charity

The White Bicycles: cheap for you, good for charity.

If you are serious about your cycling you could do a lot worse than drop in at Vicious Cycle on Street 26 (T: (012) 462 165), just west of Wat Bo Road, and hire a good quality mountain bike for $8 a day. Rental includes a decent safety helmet and a bicycle lock. The staff speak English and also run organised group tours including some off-the-beaten track attractions that you’d struggle to find safely on your own.

While pottering around town in the saddle is a pleasant enough way to spend your time in Siem Reap, to really get the most from your bike, you should venture a little further afield. The good news is that the top three temple ruins of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm are within easy cycling distance of town.

Apart from being able to stop whenever you see something that warrants a closer look, the main advantage of ‘templing’ by bike is that you can just keep going as long as your legs allow. There are lots of smaller and less crowded ruins within a short cycle ride of the main temples, and doing it by bike means you can see as many as you like without adding precious dollars to the tuk tuk meter, and really squeezing the most out of that $20 temple day pass.

Stop and park up wherever you like, with a bike

Stop and park up wherever you like, with a bike.

For the slightly more energetic, the ride south out of town to the Tonle Sap Lake is about 12 kilometres each way. You can choose the recently resurfaced Road 63, or a more interesting — if slightly less smooth — dirt road that runs parallel to the main road on the opposite side of the Siem Reap River. Helpfully there are many bridges, allowing you to switch sides at any point.

Either way, the trip takes you through typical Cambodian villages, past markets and pretty lotus fields, and very close to one of the few free-entry Angkorian temple ruins at Wat Atwea.  You will also pass Phnom Krom — one of the only hills for miles around — but you do need a temple pass for full access here. Once at the rather drab lakeside village of Chong Khneas you can take a boat trip to the famous floating villages, or turn around and head back to Siem Reap.

The often deserted and free to enter temple at Wat Atwea, just 5km from town

Often deserted and free-to-enter, Wat Atwea, is just a five kilometre bike ride from town

The West Baray — a vast 1,000 year-old reservoir where you can swim, rent a boat or simply swing in a hammock while someone feeds you lunch — is a similar distance from town in a northwesterly direction, although the most direct route involves dicing with death on National Route 6. For temple addicts, please note that the West Mebon, the ruins on the island in the middle of the baray, is currently closed to the public. However, it’s still a good spot for some chill-out time and is very popular with local families.

Wherever you cycle it will pay to remember that Cambodian roads can be very dangerous and attitudes to road safety have simply not kept up with the explosion in car ownership. Roads that were meant for pedestrians, bicycles and oxcarts are now a veritable battle ground for late-running tour buses and speeding four-wheel drives. Accepted driving norms are at best idiosyncratic so be prepared for anything to happen.

Rules of the road are not quite the same as back home

Rules of the road. There are rules?

Always cycle with caution, if the rental shop offers you a helmet wear it, and always check your bike thoroughly before you take to the roads. Don’t forget your sunscreen and carry drinking water in case you can’t find a handy — or hygienic — drinks stall in the middle of nowhere. Whatever you carry, front baskets can be an easy target for opportunistic thieves so wrap straps around your handle bars and try to keep valuables hidden. And should you need to answer the call of nature, never stray too far from the road as you could just stumble upon a landmine.

Finally, if you do happen to find yourself stranded far from home as the sun sinks below the last line of palm trees, it’s good to know that a Cambodian tuk tuk can carry two push bikes and two passengers with ease.

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2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Cycling around Siem Reap”

  1. Danielon 25 Sep 2013 at 10:08 am

    Do not “take a boat trip to the famous floating villages”. Check TripAdvisor, the only thing they are famous for is gouging money out of sympathetic tourists. Despite their fervent attempts to convince you they are incredibly poor, This is not the case. On top for a 15$ boat ride, my guide claimed people donated between 10-20$ for “rice for the orphans” and lost his temper when I donated less. The entire trip was a guilt trip.

    They have incredible volume of tourists. I saw over a hundred in the hour I was there.

  2. Riteshon 01 Feb 2014 at 4:19 pm

    Don’t take the boat trip indeed. First of all, the floating village is not even worth seeing. As of 2014, you pay 20dollars pp and what you get in return is an angry guide because you don’t want to pay 30dollars for a bag of rice ‘that goes to the orphanage’. Instead if you walk a little further down the pier and go behind the houses, there are some interesting and shocking images of a village

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