Phnom Penh to Battambang
Cyclebodia takes you on a journey from Phnom Pen to Battambang via Kampong Chhnang and Pursat.
When you start early Phnom Penh is quiet: not much traffic, the city is waking up, and an army of street sweepers come into play. Lots of Phnom Penhers like to exercise in the cool of early morning: joggers, walkers and other cyclists. By the time the sun rises you are out of town and on the open road, ready to take on whatever is thrown your way. The ride to Battambang will take you along the south-western side of the Ton Le Sap.
Cyclebodia: Cambodia by Bicycle
The Road to Kampong Chhnang
Getting out of Phnom Penh to Kampong Chhnang is best achieved with a 5am start. Eventually, you hit National Highway 5, and this is the road you use to get to Battambang. The road is reasonably good for the most part—by Cambodian standards. However, on the outskirts of the capital there are some rough patches prone to flooding. If you are on a mountain bike, then you glide through these obstacles. We suggest you do not cycle or drive through flooded potholes for obvious reasons – they might be deeper than you think.
To begin with, riding up Monivong road takes you past the Chrouy Changva Bridge and along the Ton Le Sap River. This part of town has a Muslim flavour. You cycle past Mosques and Masjids with bearded men wearing kufis and thobes while many of the women wear hijabs and abayas. Another fascinating side of Cambodia. After awhile you pass the second Ton Le Sap bridge.
About 40kms out of town you see Oudong on your left. It is easy to spot as the remnants of the former centre of power are perched on one of the few mountains in the area. Oudong was the royal residence and Cambodia’s capital for more than 250 years until 1866. It is also known as the “City of Past Kings”. You could stop here and look around, but it is better to visit Oudong on a day trip from Phnom Penh.
After Oudong the ride takes you through some twists and turns before you arrive in Kampong Chhnang. The journey from Phnom Penh to Kampong Chhnang is light on traffic and the hazards presented are few. There are plenty of places to take a break and top up on water. As usual, the inquisitive locals will want to know what you’re up to and smile with disbelief.
By now you are in one of the central provinces of Cambodia, and its capital is, what else, Kampong Chhnang. It is amazing how tidy the town is. Most Cambodian towns are dusty and littered but not this one. As you ride in there are several guesthouses to choose from but continue to the centre of town which is nearer the Ton Le Sap. Kampong Chhnang is about 100 kilometres from Phnom Penh, and it is next to the Ton Le Sap. The town’s name literally means Clay Pot Port.
Take a ride to the bustling dock on the Tonlé Sap River. This is the jumping-off point for boat rides to floating villages. Ferries leave here and ply the lake to the other side or further afield. Near the port are many Chinese shops. There is also a large Vietnamese community. Outside of town, you can visit the areas where the area’s distinctive pottery is crafted underneath stilted homes.
Kampong Chhnang Province
Centuries ago, Kampong Chhnang Province was on a main trading route between China and India. The Kampong Chhnang museum has the archaeological record of its history. There is a Khmer Rouge-era airbase in the area. This base was built, but not completed, to handle Chinese aircraft. During its construction, there were many Chinese advisors overseeing the works.
The military airport was the product of forced labour under the Khmer Rouge. Construction on this military airbase began in 1977, but it was abandoned in 1979 when Vietnamese forces invaded and occupied Cambodia.
Though never used for any actual aviation, the land holds several abandoned roadways leading to old buildings, water tanks, and the huge airstrips themselves. There is also a guard posted at the runway. Typically, visitors have to pay a “fee” to look around.
Kampong Chhnang to Pursat
The next stage is another 100 or so kilometres from Kampong Chhnang to Pursat. This town is also the gateway to the Cardoman Mountains and beyond. Pursat is located between the Tonle Sap and the northern end of the Cardamom Mountains. The Pursat River bisects the province, running from the Cardamoms in the west to the Tonle Sap in the east.
First impressions of Pursat is that it’s another dusty Khmer town. However, it is home to Wat Bakan, considered to be amongst the oldest active pagodas in Cambodia and revered as one of the holiest sites of Cambodian Buddhism. The province also hosts the annual River Run Race, an event for men and women, including those in wheelchairs. It has five and ten-kilometre races that follow the path of the Pursat River. Since its inaugural race in 2007, the event has grown to the second largest of its kind in Cambodia.
Pursat to Battambang
The Pursat to Battambang road is unusually quiet in the early morning. There is an odd line of street lights lining the road as you leave town. They seem to go on forever. Once past them, there are rice fields on either side of you for the next 100 kilometres or so. The ride to Battambang, or city of the lost stick, is quite uneventful. However, when you enter the city you first encounter the Battambang statue. A short ride from this and you are in the city centre.
Battambang is the leading rice-producing province of the country. It was also part of Thailand for some time before the French ceded it in 1907, and French Colonial architecture is a notable aspect of the city and an excellent opportunity for picture taking. The city is situated on the Sangkae River. This is a small river that winds its way through Battambang Province to the Ton Le Sap. Battambang has several Angkorian temples in the area, and it is definitely worth staying in the town for several days.
If you have enjoyed this Cambodian cycling adventure there are plenty of other Cambodian destinations to keep you busy and fit. Try Anlong Veng or Kampong Cham or Ratanakiri or Preah Vihear and never missing out on Angkor Wat. For a party atmosphere visit Pub Street in Siem Reap whilst experiencing sunset or sunrise at the Temples of Angkor.
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