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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
By Simon Hare
Last updated on 12th October, 2014.