104.6km, av. 15.6km/hr, max 30.9 km/hr, time on bikes: 6hr 40 mins
Today’s the big one! If all goes to plan this will be our first 100km day, and it’s also the day we ride into Phnom Penh.
We start early, getting up in time to see the sun rise over the Mekong before enjoying a tasty omelette breakfast at our appropriately named guesthouse… Mekong Sunrise. Then we’re off. It’s 7.30am, possibly a new record for us non-morning people!
Our choice of route is to stay faithful to ol’ Meeky and follow her all the way into Phnom Penh, rather than going via Skun/Skone (boring National Highway all the way!), taking route 223 until it joins National Highway 6A. We then plan to cross the river via the bridge at the junction with National Highway 8, and tackle the approach into PP via the (hopefully) quiet National Road 380 along the eastern bank of the Mekong, before getting a ferry back across and into the city centre. Simples.
The big unknown is the state of these roads. We’ve read conflicting reports, including some quite old stuff on Mr Pumpy and Travelling Two, so it seems the only way of finding out for sure is to cycle them for ourselves.
We’re pleased to report that by and large, the roads are OK. Out of Kompong Cham, the first 6km are very good, the next 8km are a bit bad (bumpy!), then from about 12km, very good. In Peam Chi Kang we spot an unmarked guesthouse at about 23km, just before the junction with Route 70 north, should you wish to tackle the ride into PP from a little closer striking range (although if we can do 100km in a day, so can you!)
The road stays good until about 32km from Kompong Cham, at which point it goes from excellent to sandy track in just a few hundred yards. We’re not sure if we took a slight wrong turning here (there’s a small village with a couple of local roads) but we end up pedaling on a sandy track past an area that looks like it’s suffered some pretty bad river erosion; it may even be the case that part of the road has recently fallen into the river. At least one house definitely has, and others look like they’ve been abandoned.
Once past this tricky stretch, the road improves to a decent dirt track, and something magical happens. We’re cycling along, joking about the sand, when up ahead I spot an elephant ‘pon de road. Yes, an Asian Elephant right there in front of us! It’s being ridden by a man playing a flute, although it’s not clear why. The local kids (and grown ups) are pretty surprised by the appearance of this huge beast too, so it doesn’t seem like its appearance is a regular occurrence. Whatever the reason for it being there, we’re pretty chuffed to see it – and super glad we didn’t take the highway!
At about 35km the road becomes an orange/red gravel track which is fine to cycle on but makes everything, including us, brown/orange in colour. We stop for sugar cane juice and the kids look even more baffled than usual as they stare at these two strange dirty orange foreigners. The orange gravel lasts until the 50km mark, at which point it becomes a grey gravel track with loose chippings; slightly less fun to cycle on but do-able. Finally, at about 60km we stop for lunch just after a new bridge (the old one is still there too), where there are a few food places to choose from.
The place we go for has a hammock, as well as plenty of iced tea, so we enjoy some quality ‘hammock time’ before making tracks again. From here to the junction with the 6A, about 5km away, the road is fine. We join the 6A at the big petrol station (as described by other bloggers) and find that this stretch of the highway is fine. It’s still being worked on (we spot a few workers on the central reservation, although it’s hard to say what they were doing), but the road surface itself is good; it’s the anarchic traffic you have to watch out for. This is the first dual carriageway road where I’ve seen bikes, cars and even lorries not just going the wrong way down the highway, but doing this in the fast lane. It just makes no sense!
Although it’s not too busy or fast, it’s windswept and far less fun than the local roads, so we stick to our plan and leave the highway at the first opportunity we have. A newly built junction takes us off the dual carriageway and onto a big road bridge over Meeky, then we take the first right turn onto National Road 380, which is quiet and with a good surface. It takes us all the way to the ferry crossing for Phnom Penh, passing some spectacular local wats along the way.
With 99.54km on the clock, we’re on the ferry, crossing the Mekong (again!) A few minutes later, and we’ve made it into the heart of Phnom Penh, without too much in the way of stress, traffic or near misses. It’s been a long, hot ride but definitely one of the most satisfying days in the saddle so far.