Tuesday, January 24, 2012



This is the final day of our ride, and the shortest one. It would just be about 65 kms to our final destination Siem Reap. We woke up early to the crowing of cocks and hen, just like in the good old days in the kampong. It was chilly and we knew we had to put on our rain coat again, at least until we had generated sufficient body heat. This was the day when the temperature dipped below 20 and I recorded the lowest temperature at 17 degrees C. It is not often that cyclists in the tropics get to enjoy such pleasant though slightly chilly weather.

Lowest temperature recorded for the day

Without hot water we could not prepare our simple breakfast, i.e. Campbell soup. There was no one attending to the guest house so early in the morning. We made do with some bread and mineral water knowing with confidence that our lunch would be Halal food in Siem Reap. Prior to this trip, I had booked  a Malaysian owned hotel serving halal food in Siem Reap.

So here we were, posing in front of the MAI BO GUESTHOUSE in Kampong Kdei, raincoats on, ready for the chill wind. For US$8 a night, the guesthouse was value for money.

We could feel the chill on the face as the morning breeze gently blew. For the past several days, the morning breeze made riding pleasurable. The head wind would gather strength as the sun heated up the road, a double whammy of sort. This added to the small challenge of cycle touring.

We passed by a school, one of the better schools we passed by. The "headmaster' blood in Khailani must surely stop here for a pose. In my previous travels, I used to pass schools along the road but I had never stop to pose at one.

I had occasions though to capture school kids either going or leaving school.  Obviously this was a secondary school. These three schoolgirls gladly posed for Khailani, obedient to the headmaster!

We stopped at a road side stall, curious to check out whether there were anything worth stopping for, to whet our fast growing hunger. There was nothing much and we moved on until we reached a bigger town.

We stopped at a fruit stall for fruits

and were surprised to see "etok" dried in the sun and ready for sale. Back in my state of Kelantan, I would not miss the chance of savoring this saltish delicacy of the East Coast. The "etok" here were too exposed to the dust. I doubt I have such a strong stomach to give it a try. With chilly generously sprinkled on the "etok", it was a guaranteed frequent trips to the toilet, if ever I could find one along the road. So, no thank you.

A road side mechanic attracted my eyes as I stopped for another breather. His tools were simple, honed with skills probably learned since he was a kid. I had found similar road side mechanics in my trips in Indonesia.

I took a close look at a tractor which doubled as transport for the rural folks. I was sure handling one of these machines required considerable skill as these machines were not designed to travel on the road, let alone to carry passengers. But rural economics necessitated such needs to be creative and adaptive. 


Next road side activity worth stopping for were the lemang stalls.  Along one particular stretch, just as we could find back home, there were numerous stalls selling Cambodian version of lemang. The lemang were packed in much smaller and shorter bamboos. Once cooked, the bamboos were stripped clean of the burnt parts. The discarded materials were recycled as fuel for subsequent cooking. No waste.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012



We did not see much of Kampong Thom since the guest house we stayed in was located at the periphery of the town. We did walked out after dinner, looking for Japanese slippers to buy but the shops closed pretty early. Dinner was instant Nasi Beriani, heated by immersing in boiling water. It was wishful thinking on our part to expect the Beriani to taste like the famed Beriani Batu Pahat. But it was the first solid food for the day.

We would recommend this Guest House Ponleu Thmey we stayed in. For US$10 a night, it was good value for money - clean room, air-conditioning, hot water and of-course Wi-Fi, including free internet. One of the counter staff was very happy to have English speaking guests, a way to improve his English.  

Before departure

We had Campbell soup for breakfast, too light a breakfast for cycling activities. We planned to stop along the way for some hot drinks and hopefully a heavier meal. Again, wishful thinking to expect Halal food. Perhaps a decent coffee shop. Again wishful thinking. 

This day's ride would bring us to Kampong Kdei (pronounced "Kedai") and I would not be surprised the meaning is similar to ours. As we cycled northwards towards Siem Reap, I noticed the weather got more chilly. We had to don on our rain jackets to keep warm, at least for the first 20 kms before we generated enough body heat to make wearing the non-gore tex jackets uncomfortable.

When we saw a market by the roadside, we stopped to look for a coffee shop. There was none but we had friendly tourist personnel eager to have a picture taken with us. They were sure proud of their uniforms and why shouldn't they? 

Friendly Tourist Police personnels

A stop at a roadside market

As usual, in the early morning, most activities and the noisiest activities were at the schools we passed by. There were no school buses to ferry the children to school. Out of necessity and financial constraints, bicycles were the major mode of transport.

Bicycles, bicycles and bicycles

We came across a lake, and got a young boy to capture us for a pose together. Since it was still early, there were no visitors yet. Two eating stalls were just about to open for business. This lakeside rest area reminded me of such numerous spots found scattered along the south Thailand coasts on both sides of the Isthmus of Kra. 

The atmosphere was rather serene and quiet. There was a gentle breeze coming from the lake. The breeze and the hammock lying motionless in the empty huts were a perfect combination for a great siesta. If we were only 10kms from our today's destination, we would have readily occupy these hammocks. But we were only at the beginning of today's ride. We moved on.

Lakeside R and R

We found a rather busy coffee shop at a village where there was another market. We decided to have another round of Campbell soup here. But getting the hot water from the owner was a little bit trying until one customer, who probably understood a little bit of English told the owner what we wanted. In the midst of the crowd, there was a man whose screw was a little loose. He was talking loudly, pretending he was on a phone. We were a little concern that he might approach us and asked for our phones. We were obviously not part of the usual crowd. But he stayed away though his eyes momentarily were trained at us.

We progressed on and arrived at STUONG, a comparatively big town and stopped at a decent looking Restaurant. Again we were not expecting to eat what they sell, but we could have a decent place to have our Tom Yam lunch and a rest away from the afternoon sun. We did that and before we left town, we stopped at a market to buy fruits.

Late afternoon, we stopped at a goring pisang stall. Surprisingly, this lady spoke pretty good English. Looking at the size of the fried bananas, one would expect that the bananas were from the "elephant" variety. Not actually. The bananas, split half were first pressed flat, hence the extended size. Tak dapat makan ayam penyet, pisang goring penyet jadi lah!

Goreng Pisang Cambodian style

In a travel blog I read doing my research, I read about an ancient bridge in Kampong Kdei which was a tourist attraction. We arrived Kampong Kdei and headed for this bridge.  There was no other tourists when we arrived, and in the evening light we got a boy to capture us besides the bridge.

The bridge was an ancient engineering wonder as it was constructed from blocks of stones placed layers upon layers forming the bridge.

An extract from Wikipedia has this information about the bridge : Spean Praptos on the road from Angkor to Phnom Chisor[1]Cambodia, used to be the longest corbeled stone-arch bridge in the world, with more than twenty narrow arches spanning 285 ft (87m). The bridge was built in the 12th century during the reign of King Jayavarman VII.[2] It is one of the few Khmer empire era bridges to have survived to the modern day"

Historical Bridge @ Kampong Kdei

A shot borrowed from a website http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Asia/Cambodia/West/Siem_Reab/Kampong_Kdei/photo1106679.htm

There was nothing more to explore in Kampong Kdei, a one road town. True to its name, the Kampong is a row of shophouses, and so we went looking for a guest house. We found one and decided not to explore beyond our first find. We settled down for the night here.

US$8 twin-sharing, warm water, air-conditioning and NO wi-fi. Could not have everything.


Distance : 88.6km
Average Speed : 16.1 kph

Thursday, January 12, 2012


DAY 2 - SKUN TO KAMPONG THOM (12th Dec 2011)

Our destination on the second day was Kampong Thom. From the map, Kg Thom is a bigger town than Skun, and we could expect a bigger guest house and hopefully with wifi connection. Funny that in the internet age, one would momentarily felt cut-off without such connection.

Day 2 - Skun to Kampong Thom
We were again joined by Mr Zakaria for breakfast at Restaurant Mukmin. He told us we would be able to find a Muslim village and food outlet about 50kms from Skun. Still, I bought a packet of biscuits and filled up our water-bottles. It was always  better to have some extra food than to run out of them. I had experienced that situation in the mountains of Chiengrai in Thailand once, with a group of "tuarers" almost stranded in the mountain at night.

We overnighted 4 mms before Skun. Skun is a small town with two highways, one branching to Kampong Cham and the other to Siem Reap where we were headed. Skun is popular with one delicacy which would turn off most foreign visitors - fried Tarantulas or spiders. As we cycled into town, it was too early to visit the market to have a look at this famous delicacy. No, we had no intention of trying out this so-called delicacy.

We stopped at a village a few kilometers after the town to photograph the folks at their daily activities. This is a padi-growing area and it was the harvesting season. Most activities along the route were therefore related to harvesting and dehusking padi. Where we stopped, sometimes a small crowd appear, out of curiosity. Such occasions were excellent for getting to know the locals, and we usually get eager friendly locals to be photographed.

Drying Padi In The Sun

Bahasa speaking gentleman

One for the road with the village folks

It had been in the yesteryears in the Malaysian kampong to see this traditional instrument to pound padi, making them into "empeng".  Khailani told me it's called "INDIK". These boys manning the INDIK seemed rather amused at us photographing them, and again we attracted a small crowd.

Making "empeng" with the "Indik"


In the jungle warfare fighting the colonialists, we were informed that the "empeng" was the ration the soldiers carry into battle. It's light, easy to eat and have good nutrition. I guess that makes the soldiers slim, light and very mobile, an ingredient for battle. So, all those who are also doing their battles against FAT, how about trying "empeng". It's a guaranteed win.

But what is the relationship between "empeng" and hammock? Again it's about mobility, plus good rest. The soldiers carried hammocks with them. Hammocks are easy to instal and remove, and in the jungle can easily be tied tree to tree.

Compare these two items against the colonialist soldiers so used to the comforts of life, thrown into the jungle to fight the local soldiers who were fighting for a cause.


As I said earlier, this ride reminds me of Malaysia about 30 - 40 years ago. When I was a kid in the village (a long time ago), there were cock fights. We do not see them anymore. In Cambodia, I believe cock fighting is still legal. We came across fighting cocks on display and obviously for sale. At such early morning, a prospective customer was making choices.

Fighting cocks

We were hoping to get some worthwhile photographs of the monks in their orange saffron robe getting their daily meals from the villagers. We did not see too many of them but I managed to capture one solitary young monk waiting to cross the road. He actually offered a smile to me but I was too slow to capture him at that instant. Moments like this, you wished you carried a DSLR. But when you think of the added weight on a bicycle tour, you compromised. I would have another occasion later to regret not having a DSLR.


By about 11am we had covered 48kms and our stomach was ready for some solid food. The biscuits had come in handy during the stops. We guessed we were nearing the Muslim village mentioned by Mr Zakaria. We slowed down (not that we were fast) and after asking 2 shops in sign language, we were pointed to a stall with a halal sign. There were two stalls, side by side. The first stall could not offer much except for instant maggi mee. We consider Maggi Mee as emergency food and since there was another stall, there was no emergency! We went to the other shop, owner spoke Malay (again) as she used to be a cook in Kuala Tregganu. So, nasi dagang on the menu? No la. She offered fried rice. I did not offer to ask whether the fried rice come with chicken or cow!

A man with a Kupiah was chatting us up. He is the local Imam, Hj Zuhli.  A little bit later, we were joined by a comparatively fluent Malay speaking gentleman. He introduced himself as Hj Ali, a brand new Haji as he had just returned from the pilgrimage. Alhamdulillah. He is now a Malaysian, having migrated to Johor under the UNHCR about 16 years ago. He performed the Haj though via Cambodia, a faster approach as the waiting period to perform the Haj is much shorter in Cambodia. He originates from this village and returns often, helping the kampong to raise funds to build a new mosque.

The near completion mosque @ Kampong Therpiangchuk
We later took a short tour of the almost completed mosque, accompanied by the Imam. It was indeed very near completion. Sadly, there was no work in progress. There was no work because the fund had run dry. They wait for fresh injections and it's individuals like Hj Ali who gradually and patiently helped to raise the fund. See you in Malaysia Hj Ali!

A little bit short of fund for final completion
With Imam Hj Zuhli
We said goodbye to the Imam and proceeded on. Much later, we came across a stretch of road where big square boulders were laid by the road side and village folks were chiseling and sculpting statues.

Rocks in boulder size waiting to be sculpted
The job was both noisy and dusty. I was covered in dust just videoing them up close for a short while. I do hope the masks they wore were effective enough, or else they would have really dusty lungs.

Skilled craftsmen sculpting a figure

We stopped for a short rest at a wakaf and I took the opportunity for a short nap while Khailani was busy taking shots whatever he fancied, including my siesta.

the good old well

A short nap
Another quick stop for mini watermelons by the road side. Here, they eat watermelons with sprinkles of salt. We did the same and I quite like the taste. Guessed it was okay to have some extra sodium as cycling is a great hydrating hobby. In my case, when I sweat heavily I could feel the crystals (salt) lining my arms and face. We relaxed a while at this place as Kampong Thom was less than 5 kms away.

The sweet mini watermelon
Soon we were entering Kampong Thom and looking for hotels was not a problem. There were numerous hotels and we were happy with our choice - hot water, air-cond and of-course wi-fi and CHEAP - US$10 twin-sharing!

Cycling into Kampong Thom

The Guest House in Kampong Thom


Distance : 95 kms
Cycling Time : 5 hrs 58 mins
Average Speed : 15.8 kph

Tuesday, January 10, 2012



Tonight, we look forward to our dinner and thinking forward, also looking forward to breakfast tomorrow before our Day 2 journey.

Rested, bathed and feeling fresh, we were back at Restaurant Mukmin. The sun sets early and is dark by 6pm, which is equivalent to 7pm Malaysian time. Dinner was just before 8pm. A waitress who doubled as the cook was at the food counter. We were looking forward for something hot from the wok and asked for fried rice. Nothing fancy. Her question (in English) caught me by surprise. "Sir, you want chicken or cow?" Took me awhile to gain my composure, "Err chicken" I said. Guess cow would be too big for me!

Khailani and I were joined by a young man, the son of the owner. He could speak some splatter of Bahasa and English. He recently graduated from a University in Phnom Penh and on the way to become a civil engineer. Not much later, we were joined by the owner. He introduced himself as "Mr Zakaria". Hmm, I could have told him I am his son! The only problem was he was about 7 years younger.


Mr Zakaria is a building contractor, has his business in Poipet, the border town between Thailand and Cambodia on the western side. He hailed from Kampong Cham where the bulk of the Muslims in Cambodia lives. He speaks a fair bit of Malay, but his wife spoke fluent Malay. This is a family of business-minded individuals. The wife comes to Malaysia twice a month to sell Cambodian made clothings which explained her fluency in Bahasa.

Mr Zakaria was a teenager during the Pol Pot regime and had his fair share of misery. Two of his brothers were killed by the regime. He narrated quite a fair bit of his family's life during the regime. I was not quite in a mood to listen to the atrocities. I had visited the Tuol Sleng prison back in 2006 and what I saw then was too much to be recalled.

Silently, I was happy for this family. By Cambodian standard, I would class them as in the middle-upper class, and that would be out of sheer hardwork. A Toyota Harrier parked at the garage, an extension of the Restaurant was a deserving symbol for the family.

Thursday, January 5, 2012



Day 1 : Phnom Penh to Skun
Day 2 : Skun to Kampong Thom
Day 3 : Kampong Thom to Kampong Kdei
Day 4 : Kampong Kdei to Siem Reap

It would be a 4-day ride, covering a distance of under 400 km. Cycling in Cambodia would make a Malaysian feel very much at home. For a start, you would be cycling from "kampong" to "kampong". Though not as frequent, you will also have some rare sightings of ladies in their tudungs, signaling that you would be passing a Muslim community. And if you are lucky, just as we did, you could converse in Bahasa with some of those you would meet. These Bahasa speaking men or ladies have worked in Malaysia before, and they are found in the small villages as well.

On the road we traversed, the scenery reminded us of Malaysia about perhaps 30 - 40 years ago. The highways, as they would call their roads, are our present federal roads. Red dusty laterite tracks served the interior, feeding into the highways. All kinds of modified vehicles with loads we would never imagined to be carried are found almost everywhere and almost all the times. My regret was not to capture these overloaded vehicles as they zoom past. Amidst all that, do not be surprised to see spanking new (though dusty) Range Rovers, Toyota Harriers, Audis and BMW's overtaking you at highway speeds! In spite of that, we felt safe on our bicycles, as we have always felt in all our past cycling tours. Or else, we would not be here, two senior citizens cranking away the kilometers on pedal power.

We woke up early on this Day 1, excited to a certain degree to start what we have planned couple of months earlier. Noting the possible challenges for halal food,  we carried instant Nasi Beriani, Nasi Goreng and Mee Maggis in several flavors, including my must have 3-in-one Nescafes. But this first morning, we need not worry about breakfast. D Nyonya Restaurant would be opened by 6:30 am as they had indicated last night and we checked out from the hotel at about 7 am after paying the US$16 for the night - clean room, air-conditioned and free Wi-Fi. What more can we ask for.

We posed for this picture before setting off to D Nyonya Restaurant around the block. With stomach ready for a sumptuous breakfast, we had the first disappointment. D Nyonya was still sleeping! Khailani tried to peep through the shutters hoping that it would be opened soon. Tough luck.

No point waiting. We followed my GPS towards the direction of Kampong Kilomet 9. We consoled ourselves that we would find Muslim food stalls there in the morning. We had promised Ustaz Daud we would cycle to the Madrasah since he had suggested us to take the new bypass towards Skun, which passed the madrasah. Skun was our destination for Day 1, roughly 80kms from Phnom Penh.

At the time of setting up my bike last evening, I realized that the front brakes did not sit properly. I decided to release the front brakes and hoped to get it repaired along the way. We came across a bike shop just as we neared Kilomet 9. It was not just the brakes, the front rim has to be trued too, a skill beyond my capability. Job well done and in sign language, I asked how much? Three fingers came up. Ah, US$3? When I took out US$3, the daughter of the owner spoke in English, "No, too much!"  I laughed. Such honesty. It was 3000 Riels but we had no Riels, so I gave US$1. I was happy, so was the shop owner. (Note: 4,000 Riels = US$1)

We cycled for a short while then we saw a crowd, and we saw a food stall manned by ladies in tudung. Our breakfast! We parked ourselves on the benches together with the locals, who were acknowledging the presence of these 2 foreigners. We ordered our food - rice with duck meat. For US$2.50 each, we had a nice fill and proceeded on to the madrasah.

The morning assembly was in progress when we arrived at the madrasah. Our arrival obviously attracted the kids and felt a little guilty that we had diverted their attention from their daily assembly. The students posed for us and they obliged us with a group photo and after salam bersalaman all round with the teachers, we bade goodbye, to continue with our journey. Thank you Ustaz Daud for your hospitality.

The detour suggested by Ustaz Daud was across a newly built bridge across what I believe is one of the Mekong tributaries. There was indeed less traffic, but the headwind was something else. On the bridge, we stopped to photograph the delta below but keeping the camera steady was a challenge. The wind was too strong and the strong headwind became our permanent companion during the rides ahead of us.



Traffic began to pick up when we reached the main Highway 4 towards Skun. Vehicles in Cambodia, just as in Vietnam moves on the right side of the road, a legacy of the French occupation. Cycling either side is never a problem but I do pay particular attention when crossing the road so that I looked in the right direction. While the road is not very wide, there is certainly enough room for a bicycle. There is also no distinct road shoulder, but the laterite side table provides adequate room should one need to give way to bigger vehicles to pass.

While the weather was hot, the wind was quite chilly and the chill helped to off-set the heat of the day. The ride was generally smooth. At one point, we detoured into a village when we saw a mosque. A Malay speaking lad approached us and pointed to a new mosque under construction. He said the funds came from abroad, mentioning donors from Trengganu. I was trying to get the Trengganu slang from the kid but obviously he did not learn it from any Pak Wan"g" from Trengganu.



When we saw a "cafe" selling coconuts by the road-side, it was spontaneous braking for both of us. It was a temporary reprieve from the heat of the day and we did a favor to the lady and contributed to her meagre daily income. We felt good doing that.

We also chanced upon an Australian couple who had been cycling around the region for the last 4 months. They purposely stopped to acknowledge us and were heading in the opposite direction towards Phnom Penh. They acknowledged the fact that we were cycling against the wind and that they had the tail wind pushing them to Phnom Penh.

After cycling for about 50kms, we chanced upon a RnR. The restaurant sat at a lake edge, and the continous breeze that blew across was just the right tonic for the tired muscles and droopy eyes. If only, if only ......

We knew getting lunch here would be impossible but we had Maggi Mee. So, we asked for hot water but also ordered coffee just in case the hot water was provided f..o.c.  We "enjoyed" our Maggi perasa Tom Yam, while at the same time stealing glances at the food spread served to 5 customers behind our table. Hmm....

After a good rest at the restaurant, we proceeded on and came across road-side peddlers selling what looks like chickens. But up close, they looked like birds, probably water fowls. We had no way to know but we were not buying either.

At one point along the route, both sides of the road were lakes and instead of water fowls, the roadside peddlars were selling smoked fish.

When we were about 10kms from SKUN, we told each other to look out for Restaurant Mukmin, the only halal restaurant in Skun. We were informed of the existence of this restaurant, roughly 3 kms before the town.

With only Maggi Tom Yam for lunch, the stomach was longing for something more solid. The empty stomach caused our eyes to open wide for the Restoran Mukmin. It was Khailani who spotted it. He must be hungrier than I was !

It was about 5 pm when we got there. The lady owner spoke Malay! We ordered our drinks, contemplating whether to return to the Restaurant later for dinner after first getting a hotel. The lady pointed to a building next to her restaurant. That's a hotel! We looked at each other and we had no need for further discussion. So we had our drinks and reserved our stomach for a hearty meal later in the evening.


Distance: 81.8 km
Ride Time : 5hrs 24min
Hotel Rate : US$8