Cambodia doesn’t have many asphalted roads and Siem Reap is no exception however the countryside is criss crossed with sandy paths in the dry season and muddy tracks during the rains, which means the best way to explore is by mountain bike.
A couple of kilometers in any direction and the bus loads of tourists and mayhem of the Siem Reap traffic becomes a distant memory as you reach the outskirts of the town and start to see life as most Cambodians live it.
Once the heart of the Angkorian Empire Siem Reap or the city that stood there was the largest in the world about the same size as Sydney is today. And it’s structures; the temples, trapaeng (pools), baray (reservoirs) and roads still shape the Siem Reap Province countryside.
You can let your mood decide where you want to go though your IndochineEX guide will make some suggestions. A favorite route of ours is to head off from the hotel or get dropped off at the start of an irrigation channel that leads to the Angkor Thom moat. The path follows a straight line through rice paddy with the pillars of Angkor Wat and the hilltop Bakheng Temple to the right.
Angkor Thom was a 10 km square city so the moat is a serious bit of pool work and a long way round. We cycled only the small section that zigzags through thick undergrowth and offers a taster of technical cycling emerging near the West Gate and a new Korean Road that heads nowhere useful.
It was the country on the other side of the road where we were heading. Small paths leading through rural Cambodia, where Khmers grow their living much as they always have. A landscape dominated by rice paddy and sugar palm trees.
A few patches of open forest remain and the many watercourses and trapaeng (pools) had a little water left from the rains a few months back.
Children shrieked barang as they rushed to catch a glimpse of the strange phenomenon that we must have presented to them, while their peers and better informed randomly shouted hello or goodbye. The countryside is diverse at one time we had an open view of fields stretching to the distant Phnom Kulen Hills at another we were cycling along a narrow track past the bare earthen yards of stilted wooden Khmer houses surrounded by fruit trees.
We could have carried onto Pouk, a small dusty town on the way to Thailand, famed for its concentration of NGO’s all vying with each other to find a deprived family to support but it was an easy decision to give that a miss and go to Prasat Kok Po instead. Time has not treated the structure kindly. It’s a stretch to call it a temple, a pile of stones would be more accurate but never mind we’d been cycling hard for 2 hours and there it was hiding in a clump of trees surrounded by paddy fields like it had never been discovered before.
If you feel Kok Pov is a bit of a shaggy dog story the West Baray more than makes up for it, built on the same mega scale as Angkor it is, even now, the largest completely manmade reservoir in the world, 8 km long and 2 km wide. We scaled the North side and came out half way round the perimeter track, opposite the sluice that irrigates the lands to the South.
The Baray is as close Siem Reap gets to the sea so local Khmers treat it as a Sunday city get away and come to play in the muddy water or lounge and drink beer on the shaded platforms built into the banks of the reservoir. The platform seller will organize lunch and drinks for you but its much cheaper and you get what you want if you buy from the stalls at the end of the beach.
The home run heads back to Siem Reap along the banks of the baray with the weird juxtaposition of jets taking off from the Siem Reap Airport on one side and the ancient structure on the other, through a pagoda and round the end of the runway.
Indochine Exploration organizes day trip bike rides along the route described, with a packed lunch or the barbecued chicken mentioned at the West Baray, returning to the hotel after about 6 hours. Alternatively we can pick you up from the hotel and drive to where the path leaves the new Korean road and cycle for a couple of hours to the Baray for lunch or drinks then take the waiting transport back to Siem Reap.