Posted on March 27, 2017
What can I do for a month in Cambodia? Get out and ride through all twenty-four Cambodian provinces on my motorcycle!
Thoughts about an extended trip through Cambodia by motorcycle have been on my mind for a long time. Once I started looking at some of the high points of a trip like this I soon realized that I was going through most of the provinces. How much more time and effort would it take to hit all twenty-four provinces? It turns out not a lot.
To give some perspective: Cambodia is about the size of Missouri. Even though it is a small country in comparison to the United States the diversity of it’s terrain is impressive. Here is a map that shows the places I stayed and the route I took over the four weeks of riding through Cambodia.
I have lived in Siem Reap for a year-and-a-half exploring much of the surrounding area. I have taken a few trips to Battambang and Phnom Penh but there seemed to be so much more for me to explore. All I have to do is gas up and head out. No excuses. Let’s go!
After I load up my Yamaha XTZ and point it northwest from Siem Reap my first stop – Banteay Chhmar – is just 182 kilometers away. In Banteay Chhmar I stay in the same homestay I stayed in with my friend Ratha, a performer at Phare, The Cambodian Circus, in 2014. Today I was able to give the owner of the homestay a picture of him and Ratha from my previous visit.
From Banteay Chhmar I head south today. A twenty kilometer trip down a dirt road takes me to a couple of temples I have not been to before. With advice from Dierk from KKO in Siem Reap I skirted the Thai border as I move closer towards Pailin. This route takes me through some very scenic areas with small mountains starting to show n the horizon. The mountains of Thailand are calling to me from just over the border on my right. If only it was an easy task to take my motorcycle across the border.
After passing through Pailin I turn back east towards Battambang. Here I will spend a few days to explore and meet up with a friend, Dirk Blume. Dirk is once again spending six months riding his bicycle through Southeast Asia. While at home in Stuttgart, Germany he runs mountain bike classes at Mountainbike Schule
One of my favorite things to do in Battambang is ride the Bamboo Train. This popular tourist attraction does not have a lot of local people riding the train. Today I was able to scurry up six young monks to give them their first ride on the train. In return they gave me a tour of Phnom Sampov. Even with the language barrier they were able to show many things I had not seen in the past. They know the temple area well and they kept me moving up and down the mountain for hours.
After I leave Battambang the Cardamom Mountains will be my next destination. The wild west mountains of Cambodia. I am excited that this will be my first trek into a mountainous area on my motorcycle. Because the area around Siem Reap is so flat it is a pleasure to ride in actual mountains.
My stay in the Cardamom Mountains is in a homestay in the remote village of Osoam. This is a great place to go if you want to hang out for a bit in peace and quiet. While there is a lot to do if you choose you can also just lounge on your hammock at the homestay. Listening to nothing more than the sounds of the jungle can be a soothing change of pace. One that is not that easy to get up and leave behind as I continue my journey.
There are a lot of jungle trails in this area that can take me and my motorcycle to various waterfalls. I spend one afternoon with Mr. Lim trekking through the jungle giving my motorcycle – and my muscles – a workout. This is more extreme then cruising through rice fields during the dry season around Siem Reap. I need to spend more motorcycle time like this!
I leave Osoam with good memories and with a bit of sadness. This is definitely an area I will return to and spend more time. My route out of Osoam takes me south to Koh Kong where I get my first glance at an oceanside area of Cambodia. Entering the town I am instantly filled with a sense of welcome. I like this town. I like the feel of it, I like the way it looks and I like the people. My plan is to stay one night but I extend an additional night after I settle in and grasp a bit more of the ambiance. I think I also need to come back here in the future and spend a little more time.
Once I leave Koh Kong I ride along the eastern edge of Boutum Sakor National Park. The winding mountain roads have nothing but trees on both sides and could be anywhere in America. There are no gas or food stops for about seventy-five kilometers. Just nice tree filled forests and pure nature on both sides of the undulating ribbon of asphalt.
My stop tonight is in Otres Beach, adjacent to Sihanoukville. White sand beaches and palm trees – who could be unhappy here? My dinner was at Sandan – a social enterprise restaurant that teaches young Cambodians front and back of the restaurant skills to help them find future jobs. The training here lasts about one year with the time being split between front of the house and the kitchen. Here you will find high quality delicious food without the high prices of America.
The road taking me from Sihanoukville to Kampot has the shortest travel time on this trip. The road from Pramouy to Osoam was less than half the distance – but that was a mountainous dirt road with plenty of photo stops. At just under one hundred kilometers I can take a relaxing ride. Stopping anywhere along the way is easy when the time crunch has been eliminated. As I get closer to Kampot Bokor Mountain looms above me on my left.
From my prior planning I was anticipating a good stop in Kampot. From the information I found on the internet I was sure I would enjoy my time here. I was not disappointed. This is an old town with a lot of French influence in the buildings. The town is busy enough to keep one occupied with plenty of restaurants. Both those who like local food and those who like western food can be satisfied here.
While in Kapmot I headed up Bokor Mountain during the predawn hours to get a look at the abandoned casino/hotel. The road winds through the cold mist making for a frigid ride on a motorcycle. I would really like to have a heater I can turn on right now! There is also a Catholic church that has been long abandoned along wth a few other places of interest. I was the only one riding up at that time of the day and even with long pants and a fleece jacket I was freezing by the time I arrived on the top.
While I was aware of the famous Kampot Pepper farms I was surprised to see salt harvesting on Fish Island. I guess there is always a need for salt to go with all of that pepper! The workers were more than generous allowing me to photograph them and get video for over an hour. All I know is I was sweating bullets so I have to wonder how they feel doing all of the actual work!
As a fan of old Cambodian temples I was excited to find my first temple inside of a cave just outside of Kampot. This small temple is still in pretty good shape as it was protected from the elements as well as the Khmer Rouge back in the day. There is a small fee for visiting and you will always get a request from a young local guy to give you a tour. I always find these offers are worthwhile because I always learn a thing or two and the added cost isn’t all that much.