It took me over six hours to cycle to the jungle ravaged temple of Beng Mealea – a journey that would normally take an hour by public transport. Call me crazy, but there is something so wonderful about biking through the Cambodian countryside and avoiding the main, paved high-way routes.
My new-found love of cycling evolved once I had moved to Siem Reap, where I bought a bike as a means to ferry myself to and from work. But then I soon realised… in Cambodia a bike is your ticket to endless exploration.
This is when I started craving more of an adventure.
My 20 minute bouts of exercise to and from work presented me with the same scenery and my random bike rides were becoming limited. Grasshopper Adventures, which is located five minutes from my home in Wat Bo village, was the bike ride sweet shop I needed to get my fix.
From simple countryside outings and the Angkor Wat temple circuit to tours that last days and which get you out of the city, there is something to suit everyone, whether solo or as a family. They seem a little pricey but the cost includes the bike hire, water, some food and temple entry. Sometimes paying a small price is worth not losing your head when you are lost in the middle of nowhere with limited or no Khmer language skills!
Out of all the day trips, I booked the one which looked most challenging and which would take me to a temple I had not yet visited – the 75km ride to Beng Mealea. Crazy is fun, right?
I was informed that the tour would be last approximately nine hours (from 7am – 4am). I assumed this to be a few hours of bike riding, a break for lunch and the temple visit, and then a few hours to get back. Instead we set out on a ride that would take us directly to Beng Mealea around 2pm where we would later get a tuk tuk home. It was MUCH further than I thought, but with a brand new mountain bike in my possession for the day, I was ready for the challenge.
With a mixture of awe and agony, it was an awesome day. When using public transport to get to Beng Mealea you use a lot of main roads and pass through a village area on the approach to the temple. But when biking, you quickly turn off the first main road and begin a six hour off-the-beaten-track journey that takes you through some of the most stunning Cambodian countryside; where fisherman and ox cart farmers line the green, watery flatlands and where orange dirt tracks and luscious palm trees guide the way.
I’ve seen a whole heap of Cambodian countryside, and I spent a lot of time at work out in a local village, but this remains one of my best and most beautiful experiences yet of rural life. So much so I had to constantly stop just to take it all in and take some photos. My guide was patient and provided good insight, and for the entire journey (bar five minutes near the start) not one other tourist was in sight. Just me, my Khmer guide and the beautiful local people who waved and high-fived us throughout the journey.
I won’t lie, at times it was tough. I got tired and felt irritable. I had to pull over near the end just to down a bottle of water and a packet of crisps just to regain a little energy! I wondered why I put myself up for a Tour De Siem Reap after spending no more than an hour on my shitty Mary Poppins style bike!
But I did it. With a bike, you are the master of your own journey. You can choose when to slow down. You can choose when to stop and take hold of the scene in front of you. A tuk tuk or a car wouldn’t afford you with such an opportunity.
And the temple? Well, that was truly magnificent. It’s only been open to the public in the last few years so it’s not too ‘touristy’ and ruined. Yet.
Not content with his awesome biking skills, my guide took me through a route of the temple where no one else could be found, where we climbed over toppled stones, wandered through lost corridors and swung on the branches that have weaved their way through and taken over the temple structure. We found peace at the end of a long and arduous day.
Even if you are not a regular bike rider, try a long haul biking adventure. See a different side of Cambodia. Go see a temple you might have thought was too far out of reach. And my one piece of advice apart from drinking lots of water and taking things at your own pace? Don’t wear a white top for your mountain bike outing. It will only come back orange.
Many thanks to Grasshopper Adventures for the opportunity to try out one of their many day trip biking tours.