One of the places Sisi and I had planned to visit was Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Sisi is sadly enough not among us anymore, so I decided to go to Angkor Wat on a bicycle. Well, not the whole way from Holland, but with an organized bicycle tour from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Siem Reap in Cambodia.

This tour is therefore dedicated to Sisi.

 

Click on a day image to go to the photo album of that day (not for day 1 and 2).

 

After a hard's day work I flew on Thursday evening October 18th to Vietnam.

 

With a stopover in Kuala Lumpur I finally arrived in the early evening in Ho Chi Minh City. I had to wait about 20 minutes before Vy, a Vietnamese woman and living in Ho Chi Minh City, showed up. A few months ago I was introduced to Vy by her uncle, who lives in Roosendaal, Holland and we had communicated ever since via Viber, a mobile phone communication app. She was delayed by the traffic and after a short introduction we took a taxi to my hotel.

In the hotel I met Pol, our Dutch tour guide who gave me some instructions for the next day. The other 7 members of the group had already arrived earlier this day and I would meet them the next morning at breakfast.

Vy and I went out for a drink in a roof top bar with nice views over Ben Thanh Market and other highlighted buildings. Around 23:00 we were back at the hotel and I said goodbye to Vy. I would meet her at the end of the tour in Siem Reap where I had 2 days left before returning to Holland.

 

 
 

Breakfast was at 6:00 am and that would also be the breakfast time for the rest of the trip. Due to the hot and humid weather it was better to leave early, which was around 7:30.

I was introduced to the other members of the group: Mieke and Guido, Francis and Jules, Lia, Diana and Els. And in the hotellobby I met Quang, our Vietnamese tour guide, a friendly guy of 58 with lots of energy and always ready to help. Quang and I became partners in crime when it came to drinking sugar cane juice during tea stops.

 

It was raining lightly when we left the hotel. By minibus, that would stay with us during the trip through South Vietnam, we rode through the city with its crazy traffic and found the highway towards My Tho, the gateway to the Mekong Delta. At a petrol station near Tan An the truck, that had brought our bicycles, was already waiting for us. After some last minute modifications we finally started the bicycle tour that would lead us through parts of the Mekong Delta and into Cambodia and would end at the famous temple of Angkor Wat near Siem Reap. But that was still far away.

 

Quang led us over small roads through villages and dragon fruit plantations. The first stop was at a temple where I made an offering and asked for blessings for a new relationship and according to Jules also for good weather for the next 2 weeks.

Lunch was in a luxurious restaurant, situated at the road from My Tho to Ben Tre. Here we got our first taste of the Vietnamese kitchen. Green salads and vegetables, fresh springrolls, fish, rice, tofu and fresh fruits.

 

Through more dragon fruit plantations we finally arrived in Ben Tre, where we boarded a boat and sailed across the river and into the smaller riverways to an island where we visited a cococut workshop. The owners explained us how sweets (keo dua) from coconut and other ingredients were made. The shop sold besides sweets also coconut oil, soap and shampoo.

Two motorised riksha's drove us a few kilometers over a small road through coconut plantations to a landing place where we boarded 3 small boats. A couple and their daughter used long wooden pedals to sail us through even smaller riverways, lined with all sorts of green trees, back to our boat that was waiting near the main river.

 

Once back in Ben Tre it was a short bicycle ride across the river to our homestay that we could reach only by foot.

The Mai homestay was nice and simple and the dining area had nice views over the river. Some of us had cooking lessons which they found interesting to do. Luckily there was enough food cooked to feed us all a delicious dinner.

 

Cycling distance: 36km.

 

 
 
 
 

I got up early to watch a beautiful sunrise over the river.

We left at 8:00 and rode over small roads winding through coconut plantations and small villages. Most of the time the roads were too narrow for cars, so it was really nice to cycle. We passed many houses and everywhere children came out to cheer at us when they saw us passing by. We crossed many bridges and took a few ferries to cross the bigger canals and rivers.

 

Just after lunch, a filling noodle soup in a local restaurant, we visited a factory that made long mats of cocunut fibre for export to South Korea, where they were used in the mountains as a sort of cover for steep mountain paths.

 

Cycling distance: 75km.

 

 
 
 
 

Before we left Tra Vinh we first visited the beautiful Ba Om lake, which is a spiritual place for the Khmer people who live in this area. The rest of the morning we rode over small roads through the ricefields.

 

After the lunch stop, in a small village, we visited a Khmer family. The son showed us around the house, while his mother and grandmother were watching us. Then he led us outside to some stone barns where pigs and frogs were held. We thanked the friendly family for showing their house and barns to us and continued our ride through more ricefields.

 

We crossed again many small rivers and canals, mostly by bridges but in two places we had to take a ferry. There were always small shops selling all sorts of food and drinks at those ferry places. And it was always great fun to watch the local people, especially when they had loaded their motorbikes to the maximum capacity a bike could take. And some of the bikes we saw were really overloaded. The Vietnamese transport almost everything on their bikes, from dozens of plastic containers to huge blocks of ice and from four or five people to ducks and pigs.

 

In Cau Quan we stopped at the Mac Bac church for a short visit.

From this village we took two ferries to cross the Hau river with a short bicycle ride over the island in between.

 

On the road to Soc Trang we visited Wat Serey Maney Sangke, a Theravada temple in Truong Khanh.

In Soc Trang we visited the Vietnamese Buu Son Ky Huong temple, before we went to our hotel.

We had dinner at the local evening market, where we sat at a small table on simple chairs, enjoying the local food. Later we walked around the vegetable and fruit market.

 

Cycling distance: 65km.

 

 
 
 
 
 

After breakfast we visited the Doi or Bat pagoda where we saw flying dogs, huge bats, hanging in the trees.

A short ride brought us to the beautiful Tac Gong temple, a Khmer temple in Tham Don, where we walked around the different buildings and Pol took some time to explain the differences between the two major schools of Buddhism, the Theravada and the Mahayana, which was very interesting. Here is a nice blog showing the differences between the two.

 

The next few hours we cycled over small country roads through ricefields and along shrimp farms. We had an early lunchstop and by bus we drove further to Bac Lieu.

In Tan Phong we visited the Tac Say Catholic Parish church, which is quite famous among the Catholic Vietnamese.

 

We continued from Bac Lieu again on bicycle and near Ca Mau it started to rain and luckily enough we found shelter at a house with a small overhanging roof, before it really came pouring down. The rain shower did not last long and we rode the last few kilometers over wet roads to our hotel Anh Nguyet.

We were surprised to see huge and luxurious sofa's on different places in the hotel, which of course we had to try out, still in our bicycle clothes. Later we found out that this was one of the many wedding hotels in Ca Mau.

Too bad we found out too late that they also had an outdoor swimming pool. But dinner and breakfast the next morning was really good.

 

Cycling distance: 65km.

 

 
 
 

Due to rain we left one hour later as planned, but we had no more rain for the rest of the day.

It was another day of riding over small roads, crossing a lot of bridges and along small rivers and canals. We made a short stop at a street stall that sold snakes. We visited a paper factory and a crocodile farm. In Trung Tam, a small village, we visited the local poultry market.

 

We passed also many sugarcane plantations. The sugarcane juice, sold in many small roadside stalls, was my favourite juice.

After lunch we rode for another hour or so before we boarded the bus that brought us to our hotel in Rach Gia, where we arrived just in time for a beautiful sunset over the Gulf of Thailand.

 

Cycling distance: 50km.

 

 

The bus dropped us just outside Binh Giang, a small town an one-hour ride from Rach Gia. We cycled most of the time along the Tam Ngan and Moi canals. From the dykes we had nice views over the ricefields and in the distance we saw a few hills rising out of the fields.

 

Before lucnh we visited the impressive Ba Chuc Memorial, the Killing Fields of Vietnam. In the last two weeks of April 1987, the Red Khmer massacred more than 3000 villagers of Ba Chuc.

We visited the ossuary, that housed the skulls and bones of more than 1100 victims and burned incense to honour the victims. The Memorial room had information and photo displays of the site after the massacre.

 

We continued our ride and passed more ricefields, Khmer temples and small villages where children greeted us or came running towards us for a handclap, as we had experienced every day of our ride through the Mekong Delta.

During a teastop, we watched how men and women were harvesting vegetables from the land. A group of oxes passed us and in the distance a truck with soldiers was patrolling this borderland area, since we were just a few kilometers away from the Cambodian border.

 

The last 40 kilometers to Chau Doc was again done by bus. The busdriver was in a hurry because this was our last day in Vietnam and he wanted to get home as soon as possible. It was going to be a long ride back to Ho Chi Minh City for him and the mechanic.

After dinner Jules gave a nice speech, thanking Quang for a fantastic bicycle ride and all the things he did for us, and whether it was asked or not asked, he was always there to help any of us.

 

Cycling distance: 57km.

 

 
 
 

We boarded a speedboat that brought us to the border with Cambodia where we left the boat to apply for a visa. It took a while before all the passengers of our boat got their visa, but finally we we were on our way again. We sailed over the Mekong river, which in places was more than a kilometer wide. We saw a few temples and lots of ricefields along the way. It was an easy journey, until the engine of the boat broke down. It took the crew about 30 minutes, while we were sailing back to Vietnam, to fix the broken fuel pipe in Cambodian style. But finally we arrived at the ferry terminal in Phnom Penh, where our lovely young guide was already waiting.

 

After placing our luggage in the bus we walked to a nearby and very luxurious restaurant for a drink and lunch.

Since we arrived rather late in Phnom Penh and the lunch lasted a while, there was only time to visit the Royal Palace, with many beautiful buildings such as the Throne Hall and the Silver Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha, housing many small and big Buddha statues. After we bought the entrance tickets, our guide led us around the complex and told us all about the history of the buildings and the many kings who have lived here.

One day I will come back to stay longer in and explore this beautiful city.

 

 
 

After breakfast we met our tour guide Bon, a quiet and friendly guy of around 26 years old. We left Phnom Penh by bus and via Highway 6 we arrived at the market in Skuon. This market is famous for selling fried spiders (tarantula's) and all sorts of bugs, like grasshoppers and maggots. They also sold dried fruits, vegetables and household stuff.

After visiting the market the bus drove for another hour and then we were dropped just outside Prey Chhor village, where the bikes were already waiting for us. After some checking and re-adjusting we were finally on our way.

 

Via Highway 70 we rode over a good road, through the ricefields and small villages with many houses built on stilts. The riding was more relaxed than in Vietnam because there was much less traffic.

We cycled for a few hours and reached Kang Meas, a small town situated on the banks of the Mekong river. We followed the river and stopped at the Roka Koy pagoda for a delicious takeaway lunch and nice views over the Mekong river.

 

After lunch we made a nice bicycle tour over Koh (island) Pen, where we saw a huge traditional wooden canoe and children flying kites in the fields.

From the island it was a short ride to our hotel in Kampong Cham. The hotel was very nice and my room had a nice view over the boulevard, the Riverside Park and the Mekong river. In the evening the boulevard was busy with strolling people and street stalls, selling ice and all sorts of meat and fish snacks.

 

Cycling distance: 53km.

 

 

Before breakfast I made a short walk over the boulevard. Already lots of people were jogging and doing exercises.

We left Kampong Cham and followed again the river. Just outside the city we saw a few floating houses and a bit further we visited a small market.

 

A steep climb brought us to the top of a small hill where Wat Hanchey was situated, overlooking the Mekong river. The area housed buildings like an ancient stupa, the main temple and a few smaller temples and a number of stone sculptures of fruits and vegetables.

It was rather busy with families, sitting in stone carriages, or posing in front of the stone sculptures. In a small temple people were praying and offering. For them it was a long climb from the parking area at the foot of the hill. To me it looked a bit like a small amusement park.

 

In a village we stopped at a small roadside noodle factory where women were making noodles.

We still followed the river and saw a traditional racing canoe being towed by a speedboat to the starting point of the race in Stueng Trang, a few kilometers further up the river. When we arrived there, we saw many spectators cheering for their own (village) canoe. It was a nice spectacle, but we could not stay for long.

 

After one more hour on bicycle we stopped and continued by bus. On our way to Kampong Thom we visited a rubber plantation and a place with small factories where all sorts of stone sculptures were made. The sculpting of the stone blocks was a dusty job. Road stalls sold the created statues, hopefully for a better price than in Siem Reap.

Sambor Village hotel was just outside Kampong Thom, located on a small road next to a river. It had nice cabins and a swimming pool.

 

Cycling distance: 57km.

 

 
 
 

It was a nice bicycle ride over country roads, through ricefields and little villages to Sambor Prei Kuk, a huge tempel complex with hundreds of ruins, dating back to the sixth century.

We spent a few hours wandering around and admiring the many ruins. On our way back we met a Cambodian family, on their way to make offerings in one of the temples. They wore traditional clothing and when we stopped to make photos of them, they also wanted to make photos of us. It was great fun to the see the young woman directing everyone to the right spot for the photos.

 

By bus we went to Siem Reap. Along the way we stopped at the scenic Preah Tis bridge in Kampong Kdei, a Khmer built bridge from the days of the Khmer empire, with statues of the naga (snake) at both ends of the bridge.

 

Siem Reap was the end of our bicycle trip. We would stay here for the last days and visit the temples and Tonle Sap.

Our hotel, Central Boutique Angkor Hotel, was close to the centre and the main markets of the city. It was nice and quiet place with rooms lined around the two swimming pools. Every evening before dinner I went for a swim.

 

Cycling distance: 35km.

 

 
 

After breakfast we collected our tickets to visit the many temples in the Angkor Archeological Park in the Siem Reap area for the next few days. From the ticket office we left Siem Reap and cycled over dirt roads through the beautiful countryside. We stopped at a little house where a family was making straw baskets and bought a few baskets. It needed some creativity to attach the baskets to the bicycles.

 

We visited the temples at Banteay Samre and Ta Prohm, well known for its buildings that are strangled by trees and the movie Tomb Raider. Both temples were beautifully decorated with all sorts of mythical figures, Buddha's and apsara's.

 

Once back in Siem Reap I visited the Old Market and bought a nice painting of a traditional Cambodian countryside.

 

Cycling distance: 35km.

 

 

Another day of exploring temples. We cycled again around Siem Reap and first visited the ancient capital city Angkor Thom. We entered the city over the southern causeway, lined with statues on both sides. In the centre of the city was Bayon, the state temple with its many Buddha faced towers. We left the city through the northern gate and cycled to Banteay Kdei, meaning a Citadel of Chambers and also known as the Citadel of Monks cells.

 

After lunch we visited the temple we all have been waiting for to see: Angkor Wat, originally a Hindu temple, but later transformed into a Buddhist temple and the largest religious monument in the world.

We explored this huge temple complex, climbed the central tower with nice but hazy views over the area, walked through the galleries to watch the reliefs about wars and afterlife on its walls. And like in other temples in many places in the walls statues of apsaras were sculptured.

I felt really great to finally wander around in this place, but I also felt sad that Sisi was not here to see this beautiful place.

 

The evening before Jules, who played the bassguitar, was invited to perform in a small pub nearby Pub street. So around 20:30 we walked over to this place, took place and ordered beers and fruit juice for me.

A man, also on bassguitar, and his girlfriend were playing some hits from the sixties. And then Jules was invited to play together with the owner of the pub, an American guy?, who has set up a small centre for orphans. Occasionally assisted by Francis on beatdrum, basically a wooden box, they blew the roof off the pub with their (blues) rock covers.

 

Cycling distance: 25km.

 

 

On our way by bus to Tonle Sap lake we were held up by a parade of schoolchildren. It was their first day of school and many classes, in their school uniforms, marched through the streets of Siem Reap.

After one hour of riding over of bad roads we made a short stop in Roluos to visit the 100 year old traditional Khmer market.

It was a short ride to the ticket office to buy the tickets for the boat to Kampong Phluk and Tonle Sap lake. The houses in the village are built on stilts and the inhabitants live mainly from fishing when Tonle Sap is full with water. Tonle Sap lake is fed by the Mekong river, but in the dry season the water recedes because the Mekong river carries less water and the water from the lake flows then back in to the river, leaving the land dry enough for farming. The village can then also be reached by a small road, otherwise all transportation is done by boat. They now also live from tourists by organizing boat trips to Tonle Sap lake and through the mangrove forest, that surrounds the village.

After visiting Tonle Sap lake we decided not to do the boat trip through the mangrove forest. It would cost us another 10 dollars for this trip and we thought it was not worth it.

 

In the afternoon we visited the beautiful temples of Bakong and Banteay Srei. Bakong is one of the four temples which form part of the Roluos Group. Banteay Srei means Temple of Women, because the details on the buildings are so delicately made, that it only could have been done by the hands of women. It is a small temple but it is said to be the most beautiful temple in this area.

 

This was our last night together and the Cambodian travel agency partner had organized a farewell dinner for us in a very fancy restaurant. The food was good, but the place was too clean and not really enjoyable.

Jules held again a thank you speech for our Cambodian tour leader and now also for Pol. He also thanked us for our contribution to a very succesfull bicycle trip through Vietnam and Cambodia. He also said a few things about ourselves. Apparantly he had observed us these two weeks and in a few sentences he had managed to describe how we had been on this trip. Amazing and beautifully observed.

 

Back in the hotel I was told by the reception that Vy had just arrived. I welcomed her and invited her to go to the pub for another evening of good live music, played by Jules and Francis. They also played requests from the public, such as Hoochie Coochie Man and Johnny B. Goode. What a wonderful way to end a this trip and many thanks to all of you!

 

 
 
 

At breakfast I saw most members of the group, so I could say goodbye to them. They would fly back to Holland in a few hours, while I would stay another 2 days, together with Vy.

We had booked a temple tour through our hotel and a young guy drove us in his motor riksha all day around Siem Reap. After collecting a visitor's pass for Vy we visited first Angkor Wat, where it was already too crowded with tourists to visit the high tower complex. From here we drove to Ta Prohm and Angkor Thom. At Angkor Thom we also visited the Terrace of the Leper King and the Terrace of the Elephants, which were also new to me.

 

Together with a few hundred tourists we watched a beautiful sunset from the top of the Pre Rup temple. In the dark we drove back to our hotel and had a late dinner in a nearby restaurant.

 

 
 
 
 

It was an early rise at 5:00 to be in time for the sunrise at Phnom Bakheng. The young guy from the day before brought us to the entrance of this temple.

It was a long walk in the dark to the top of the hill where the temple was located. We were alone, so we did not really know where to go when we reached the top. But luckily other people came and we followed them as they climbed the stairs to the temple.

This place was not so crowded as Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise from, just a few dozen people had made the long walk up the hill and together we watch a beautiful sunrise.

 

We hurried back to our hotel to have breakfast before the bus would pick us up for a trip to Tonle Sap lake.

The visit to Kampong Phluk and the lake was the same as two days ago. Only this time Vy and I did the small boat tour through the mangrove forest, where we saw monkeys in the trees, waiting for food from the tourists.

We also paid a visit to the temple in Kampong Phluk.

 

In the afternoon we had enough time left to go shopping in the Old market to buy souvenirs and clothes.

After dinner we were transported to the airport. The boulevard leading to the airport was lined on both sides with big hotels and many more were under construction. This whole town is getting more and more dependant on tourism, whether that is good or bad, I don't know.

 

Vy and I checked in for our flights to Vietnam and Holland and then it was time to say goodbye to each other. We have had two nice days together, seen a lot of temples and other places and learned much about each other.

Due to a ticket change my flight went first to Ha Noi, then to Paris and the next morning I finally landed around 9:30 at Schiphol airport.

 

 
 
 
 
 

 

On the map you can see all the places we have visited in Vietnam.

 

 

On the map you can see all the places we have visited in Cambodia.

 

 

 

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