ABOUTAsia Senior Travel Consultants, Tola and Nick, recently went cycling with Grasshopper Adventures, a company offering two-wheeled tours throughout Indochina. Find out how they got on cycling around the countryside of Siem Reap in their account below…
Many tourists who visit Siem Reap focus mainly on the ruins of the Angkor Archaeological Park, then depart the country hurriedly for another destination. They do not realize, however, that they have missed one important aspect of the true face of Cambodia – its beautiful countryside.
A Grasshopper Adventures cycling tour offers an off-the-beaten-track experience, to get you closer to real Cambodian life, real culture. They use top of the range mountain bikes, with different bike sizes for different people, and allow you to cycle at your own pace. The staff are friendly and informative.
Riding with my team of 7 people, we took to our bikes and pedalled from the Siem Reap River in town, out toward the Tonle Sap Lake. Along the route can be seen the trails of urban expansion creeping slowly over the surrounding countryside. As the country becomes ever more developed the chance of seeing authentic Cambodian housing and the traditional way of life (a pure, natural way of living that has hardly changed since the Angkor era) hangs in the balance, as more people chose to modernize their life styles.
Just 15 minutes in, we were clear of all modern living, surrounded by small wooden Khmer style houses, cycling along dirt roads, adjacent to a running water-filled creek topped up after the recent monsoon rains. You are not a stranger here – as you peddle past paddy fields and houses, the echo of the welcoming “hellos” from the village children are accompanied by smiles and happy faces.
As we reached Chreav Village, our guide, Mr Troeung Somchhay, led us toward a row of stalls in front of the main market, where snacks and local breakfasts were being freshly cooked and displayed on colourful trays. We were introduced to a woman in her early thirties running a food stall (with each word uttered came a smile), and along with the many types of rice cakes, we tucked into a local delicacy while joking along with the owner.
After the cakes, we headed on to the vegetable section of the market, where we took turns asking the name of a vegetable we had never seen before. And made jokes with the market’s friendly people.
Leaving the market, we took a break at a local restaurant for our (second) breakfast before making our way to a family dragon fruit farm. While we were lingering, taking pictures of the plant and its flowers, our guide bought some fresh dragon fruit for our next snack supply, giving us more energy to peddle on.
Then, came a more chilling part of the cycling! We rode past open paddy fields, lush green and filled with clear water, to where two friends were net fishing in the nearby creek. Up a slope we went toward an open visa of golden fields, where the rice was almost ready for harvest and where the structures of a Buddhist monastery were protruding skyward in the distance, and finally reached another village. We made a stop to rehydrate ourselves and took the chance to have a quick look at the crocodile farm at the back of a village house. Crocodile farms are common in Cambodia for meat and skins; these farms can provide a good income for a remote village family.
By this point, we had already encountered what most tourists never will – a heart-warming experience of the country, where poverty can be hidden by friendly smiles and the cheerful look on a village farmer’s face.
The last leg of our journey was to cycle toward Krom Hill, where we could choose to climb the concrete steps up the hill – around 15 minutes each way – to be rewarded with an expansive view of the flat green fields to one side and the glimmering Tonle Sap Lake on the other.
We were back in town after 3 and a half fun-filled hours.
Grasshopper Adventure cycling tours are recommended for the fairly adventurous person with relative physical fitness, and also offer great photography opportunities.