Tips for a successful bike tour in Cambodia
Cambodia is not as popular for bike touring within the SE Asia region as other places like Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia. A large part of the reason for this is that Cambodia is less developed in comparison to their neighbours due to the genocide that took place in the 1970s.
My advice is to not skip Cambodia while on your bike tour. Even if you don’t spend too much time, the people in this country are absolutely amazing and deserve the chance to show you the best parts of their country.
Every country has differences in the culture which can pose various challenges to bike tourists, but that usually aren’t evident until after some time. Hopefully these tips can help other cyclists so that they are prepared when they roll across the border.Enjoy!
Tip #1 - Avoid the main roads in and out of Phnom Penh as they are generally in terrible condition
One such road is Hwy 4 & 41 to Kampot which the last time I was there were in the process of a complete make-over. Apparently this has been in the works for many years, so I’m still not sure if it has been finished. A better alternative is to take Hwy 2 out of Phnom Penh and then Hwy 31 towards Kampot. it is a much nicer route and way less busy. See my blog post Cycling the Coast to Kampot.
Hwy 6 which follows the north side of the Mekong River is a very busy road as it is the main route for people heading to Siem Reap. Although it does typically have wide shoulders there are many busses on this road to deal with. A better alternative is to cross the Mekong from the Kampong Chamlong Phnom Penh Areiy Ksatr with a short and cheap ferry, and then ride through the small villages along Rd 380 and 381, following the south side of the Mekong River. See my blog post Along the Mekong: To Kampong Cham
Tip #2 - Mind the turning cars
Don’t ride too close to the shoulder when in the city, because people will always be pulling out in front of you. In my experience living in Phnom Penh, drivers pull their cars half-way out into the intersection when they pull up to a stop sign and start to turn automatically. If you ride too close to the shoulder you are likely to get hit. People make a noticeable effort to not look, otherwise they would be obligated to stop.
Tip #3 - Careful with accidents
While living in Cambodia, I was told that you should be very careful in situations where there is an accident. If you stop to help someone that is injured, you may be held responsible for any injuries they have sustained. It’s not like in Western countries where being a good samaritan keep you free from liability.
In the event that you do witness an accident, call the police (117) or the ambulance (119).
Tip #4 - Street coffee is where it's at
While Cambodian coffee chains are not over expensive in comparison to Western countries, they are by no means cheap. On top of that, Cambodians have amazing street corner coffee stalls
Black coffee: $1
Iced coffee: $1
Passon Soda: $1
Coffee Chains (Amazon/Browns)
Americano: $1.25 ~ $3.65
Iced coffee: $1.75 ~ $3.75
Cappuccino: $1.60 ~ $3.85
Espresso: $1.25 ~ 1.85
Frappe: $2.00 ~ $4.25
Iced Lemon Tea: $1.75 ~ $3.75
Tip #5 - Don't skip the markets
Every Cambodian city and village has a fresh market where you can stock up on fruits, vegetables and meat at really good prices. It’s much more economical for you to go to the markets than to the big grocery stores. If in Phnom Penh, the Russian Market is a trendy area for expats full of bars, cafes and restaurants. Obviously there is also a good sized market with fresh foods on the outside and clothes, bags and more on the inside.
When touring around small towns you may notice food stalls on the side of the street cooking up crickets and frogs. Give em a shot. You’ll be surprised at how delicious they are.
Dragonfruit: $1 (large one)
Bananas: $1 (big bunch)
Baby pineapple: $0.25 each
Watermelon: $1 and up
Steamed buns: 2500 rial
Eggs: 400-500 rial per piece
Fresh coconut: 2500 rial
Tip #6 - Skip Sihanoukville
Tip #7 - Wild camping
Tip #8 - Paying for water
Tip #9 - Beware the border guards
Unfortunately, there are a lot of scams run by the border services on tourists entering Cambodia and Loas. The usual trick is to tell people they need to pay a stamping fee when crossing a land border, usually trying to charge between $2-$5. Although it is not much money for the average tourist, the problem is endemic to increases in corruption in other areas of life as well. Just think of how much money they get in 1 day if just 200 people go through. ($400-$1000 in black money)
Most people pay without a second thought. Ask to see an official document which states you need to pay a stamping fee. Always be polite and kindly refuse to pay. They will let you through eventually. I’ve known people to start setting up their tent inside the building and saying they weren’t going to leave until their passport is stamped and they are let through.