If a bike tourist (or indeed a pair of them) were considering a route off the beaten trail out of the capital city of Cambodia, but were unsure of the quality of said route, who would be the most reliable source of information, were anyone available?
How about the national cycling champion of Cambodia, who also happens to be a tuk tuk driver in the capital, and a part time cycling guide?
We had high hopes for Lucky’s route – this famous Cambodian cyclist assured us crossing the Mekong shortly after Phnom Penh would afford us a journey away from the traffic, with riverside views to boot, on a reasonable road.
As it turned out, the ‘road’ was a muddy nightmare, almost unrideable on a tandem, for almost 60km. We lost count of the number of times we lost panniers traversing huge ruts, puddles and rocks of concrete-hard clay. Emma fears her ischial tuberosities have under gone irreversible damage, and the bike finished the day in a very sorry state, both mechanically and aesthetically.
There were positives – sitting out the first big rain of the year in a fortuitously placed café; sharing a boat across the Mekong with a group of amused farmers and their families; providing endless entertainment for children as we slid out of control and tipped over into a puddle for the umpteenth time. But basically the day sucked, and we were delighted when mud was replaced by tarmac 10km from Kompong Cham. We reflected on how tough it must be for the inhabitants of the hundreds of homes we passed who have to rely on the road we’d struggled through every day, and vowed to stay on the black stuff in the future.
Kompong Cham? If you harbour a secret desire to visit the archetypal Cambodian provincial city, you’d do worse than to swing by this riverside town. It has all the features we’ve come to know and love in Cambodian settlements – aerobics at dusk, a hectic market sprawling out of a peeling art deco building, and scores of motorbike repair shops selling tyres in unfeasibly bright wrapping. And a unsustainably large number of mobile phone shops – how do they all stay afloat, one wonders…