Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cambodia : Pedaling Phnom Penh - Mekong Islands Pt.1

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                          AhPek Biker - Riding Adventures                       
Cambodia : Pedaling Phnom Penh - The Mekong Islands Pt.1
Phnom Penh, Cambodia : 24th August 2013
Small Group Ride - Riverside>Areyksat>Okgnar Tei Island>Dach Island>Sangkat Chrouy Changva>Wat Phnom>Riverside.
Cycling Distance Covered : approx. 30 km.
Time : 7:55 am - 2:00 pm
Time Taken : 6 hrs. 5 mins. (including stops at a silk farm, a Khmer temple, a Chinese Temple, lunch, photo shoots, 3 ferry rides; and enjoying the rustic country side & villages)

Route Recommendations :
1. For those who come from right-hand drive countries, bear in mind that in Cambodia vehicles are left-hand drive. So do take the extra care to ride on the correct side. When crossing roads, do bear this in mind, as vehicles will be coming in from the "wrong" direction.
2. Even then, many motorist, especially motor cyclists, take the easy way out & will go on the wrong side - do watch out for these especially when at junctions.
3. Check-in your bike as sports equipment and do packed it properly to protect it (... see Bagging The Brompton For Air Travel). Some airlines may require, bicycles to be checked in as over-sized baggage.
4. Do take care when cycling along the muddy paths, don't speed as they can be rather slippery.
5. Points of interests :
- Friendly children on the islands.
- The Silk Farm.
- The ferry rides, especially the one on the smaller ferry.

This is Part 1 of a 2 part blog, click on following to go to other pages :
Cambodia : Pedaling Phnom Penh - The Mekong Islands Pt.2


PRELUDE

At the Mekong Riverside, in front of the Ounalom Temple.
After my previous solo bike rides while I was in Phnom Penh the previous month, I am back in again and even itching for more rides to newer places. (... see Pedaling Phnom Penh - The Riverside & Pedaling Phnom Penh - Diamond Island). But I am fairly green to the biking routes of the city, so what should I do?

The previous time, while on my ride, I had discovered Grasshopper Adventures, a company that offers cyclo-tours for tourists (well in a way I am a tourist). So prior to arriving in Phnom Penh I contacted them and booked in one of their tours - The Mekong Islands Tour.


THE RIDE PART 1 - AREYKSAT

Pedaling Phnom Penh - The Mekong Islands Ride Map (click for Map Link)
The ride route : Riverside>Areyksat>Okgnar Tei Island>Dach Island>Sangkat Chrouy Changva>Wat Phnom>Riverside
Our ride will include three ferry rides and a crossing of a bridge. Taking a ferry we will cross over to Areyksat on the mainland, then another ferry over to Koh Okgnar Tei. We will then cross a bridge over to Ko Dach Island (Silk Island) and take another ferry back to the mainland.


L-R: me, Sandy, Eric & Amoum
In the morning , I went over to Grasshopper's shop at Street 144 which is near the Riverside and close to a market. There I met two other tourists; first was Eric, he is an American based in Singapore and was here on a short trip. The other was Sandy - an American from North Carolina, now in Phnom Penh attached to a NGO  helping to eradicate malaria and dengue fever.
Our ride leader from Grasshopper was Amoum, a lively and spritely girl.


We started off by riding down Sisowath Quay Street, which runs along the Riverside. Passing by the Ounalom Temple, we headed for the Nagaworld Hotel. The early morning air was cooling, making our ride pleasant.


Nearby Naga World at the Arey Khsat dock, we took our first ferry. It's a small ferry that can take on two cars and some motorcycles, and of course bicycles too. There's an upper deck where passengers can sit and admire the view.


We were surprised that there were a few local bikers on board too - seems like riding to the islands is a favorite route for them. The ferry is taking us across the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers.


The ferry landed on Arey Khsat located on the other side of the mainland. There is no pier for the ferries, they just come in and land on the shores very much like the landing crafts of World War 2 landing on the beachhead of Normandy. And we were like the soldiers, eager to go forth and explore.


I thought that we were on an island, but in actuality we were on another part of the mainland. Without the ferry ride, it would have taken a much, much longer journey.
Here, we were riding on the dusty, laterite roads of the back-waters of Phnom Penh; it was most fortunate there was a drizzle the previous day so it was not as dusty as it would normally be.


Amoum was a very versatile cyclist and knowledgeable tour guide all rolled into one.
As she cycled along, she would turn around and brief us on the surrounding area, it's cultivation, etc.


We cycled through orchards...


... and farmlands. All along the way, she was explaining to us what type of fruits and vegetables we were seeing and how they were used in Cambodian cuisine.


At a small piece of vacant land, we stopped for a short rest; over on the other side of the Tonle Sap River, the skyline of Phnom Penh can be seen.
The overcast sky has made our ride pleasant but at the same time without the bright sunlight, our photos were not turning up that colorful.


Over on these islands, far away from the bustle of the city, the village atmosphere was rustic and friendly. Often, children on seeing us will shout their hellos to us and also reach out with their hands to give us boosting high-fives.


Stopping at an eggplant farm, we met the friendly owner. In a way, his dressing (bare-chested and with just a sarong) with his funny hat and carrying a plastic basket full of eggplants sort of represent the village people - simple, warm, pragmatic and with no airs.


And his farm produced healthy large, purple eggplants... yeah, Amoum!


As we rode along the very narrow path, a Cambodian woman farmer with her young daughter waved us by. She was carrying a sickle for harvesting lemon-grass. The daughter reached out with an outstretched hand .....


... Yes! Another High-five boost!


We rode passed kampung houses...


... children playing in large concrete water pots ...


... and passed by some cows - such is the way of the village life, everything blended in  naturally.


Destination No. 1 - a silkworm farm!


Inside, silk cocoons were harvested ...


... spun into threads ...


... and loomed into silk cloth. All this was done by hand, and what you get is fine hand-crafted Cambodian Silk.
(Note : they do sell their products here.)


A bit of rest with some drinks and fruits (bananas, watermelons, longans & mangos) before we continued on.


We are onto wider tarred roads. Hey! the skies seems to be getting darker; let's hope it doesn't rain soon.


Passed by a street market. Eric really seems to be enjoying himself.


But all too soon we were back to riding off-road again, onto narrow tracks that led us to a small non-descript muddy cove. It is here, at this small cove, that we will be boarding the second ferry. In the meantime, some cows are bathing here, no worries they will move off once the ferry comes.


Oh dear... The weather did not hold; it started to rain and strong winds were blowing. Right on cue with the start of the bad weather, the little ferry can be seen approaching.


It IS indeed a very small craft, with passengers, bicycles and motorcycles squeezed into it.
Are we getting into that rickety thing to cross the mighty Mekong in this foul weather ...
Read Part 2 to find out!


This is Part 1 of a 2 part blog, click on following to go to other pages :
Cambodia : Pedaling Phnom Penh - The Mekong Islands Pt.2


Related Blogs :

Cambodia : Phnom Penh Museums : December 2012
A surprisingly educational visit to the National Museum of Cambodia.


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