23/3/15: 50km, av. 14.8 km/hr, max 22.6 km/hr, time on bikes: 3hr 22 mins
24/3/15: 52.2km, av 17.3km/hr, max 27.7 km/hr, time on bikes: 3hrs
In our heads and in our plans, we were set to do Phnom Penh to Kompong Chhnang in a single day, straight down Highway 5. We even set the alarm for 6am. Alas, Rach still isn’t feeling great and now I have a case of the hot sweats and a sore tummy too. It’s clear there’s no way we’re going to do 100km today, so… we go back to sleep.
Plans are revised, and we decide instead to tackle the shorter stretch to Udong. But, because we’re both feeling so lethargic, we don’t manage to set off until just after midday which, as any sensible cycle tourist will tell you, is not a good time to start riding in the Cambodian heat. Doh!
We navigate our way north out of the city easily enough, and eventually find ourselves on National Highway 5, which isn’t too bad in terms of traffic, and the surface is great. Just after the turn off for the Japanese Bridge and Highway 6, about 16km out of Phnom Penh, we stop for some rescue remedy (aka sugar cane juice and ice, this time served in a plastic bag) and some much-needed shade. This is also the junction for a smaller westbound road, the Basith Mountain Road (not sign-posted), which we decide to take, since it looks like this is the only time between PP and Battambang that there is a viable ‘back roads’ option, and also because we know we have the time to do it since we’re only going as far as Udong today.
This road heads west out into the countryside, with a big lake on the left. The road surface is variable, partly under construction, but basically OK, and traffic is light. After a few km of this we have to use GPS and maps.me to find our northbound turning onto the Udong Mountain Road as it’s also not sign-posted. (Note: don’t be worried about the ‘Mountain’ road names; the route is basically pancake flat, so although temples are built on top of these occasional hillocks, the roads tend to skirt round them).
Taking this road is a bit of a gamble, as we’ve not read about it on any other cycle blogs, but it turns out to be a fantastic little road with almost zero traffic on it, and almost non-stop friendly cries of hello and looks of genuine surprise as we cycle through. It’s just a shame that neither of us are feeling well enough to really enjoy it. Weirdly, it feels really off the beaten track here – perhaps it’s the contrast after 5 days in Phnom Penh?
The road surface starts off paved (doesn’t it always) then after about 1km gives way to a mix of red dirt track and occasional tarmac. There are potholes, but it’s by no means difficult to negotiate – at least in the dry season. You’ll also need your GPS to guide you through as there are a couple of small junctions to navigate. There are plenty of places to get food and drink along the way.
About 7km before Udong city, you pass Phnum Udong, a series of elaborate structures and statues, most at the top of a hill which neither of us have the energy to climb up. This is apparently the home of Buddhism in Cambodia, but unfortunately we just use the benches and shade as a pit stop before the final push into Udong proper. It’s a strange little place though, with hundreds of hammocks swaying idly in the breeze, a line of street sellers all selling the same-same meat on a stick, with so much left considering it’s nearly the end of the day.
We roll into Udong at about 5pm and, aware that there’s a chance all the food places might be shut by 7pm, get something to eat before finding accommodation. We take the first guest house we see, on the main highway, where $5 gets you a decent sized room, comfy bed, cold water shower and a weak wifi signal. Can’t complain.
Next day, we’re still not feeling great, but we know it’s a 50km run on highway 5 to Kompong Chhnang, so let’s just get it over and done with. We leave a bit earlier than yesterday (not hard!) and, after a noodle breakfast, make good progress in the morning, notching up just over 30km by midday. The road surface is good, although there really isn’t much to look at, and you have to stay pretty focussed on the road since there’s so much crazy stuff going on. I see two guys falling off their scooter but they’re both OK. The way they overload their vans here is really something you have to see to believe. We see one minivan go by that has about 5 men almost pilled on top of each other, hanging on for dear life on top of excess luggage hanging out the back of it. Just insane!
We have our customary sugar cane juice stop at a particularly friendly stall and end up taking pictures of everyone. Alas, Rach then cycles off without securing her bungee cord and it gets trapped in the spokes and gears hub. We spend the next 15 minutes removing panniers, locating the tool kit and eventually untangling it. What is it with bungee cords and wheel spokes – the exact same thing happened to me while cycling in Phnom Penh just a few days earlier but luckily no damage done on either occasion.
That this is about the most interesting thing that happens all day tells its own story! We check in at Li Hour guesthouse in Kompong Chhnang, where $5 buys a room with comfy bed, fan, cold water shower, balcony and decent wifi. The rest of the day is spent dozing and foraging for food.
We’re not sure if we’re up to a 100km ride tomorrow and are quite tempted by the bus option straight through to Battambang…