If you want to attempt some adventure cycling, then take a look at Pailin to Battambang. It is not far from Battambang and only about 15 kilometres from the Thai-Cambodia border. So, you can enter from Thailand or make a side trip from Battambang, or vice versa. Either way, it is an adventure you won’t forget–ever.
Cyclebodia: The road from Pailin to Battambang
I decided that I wanted to spend most of my time cycling around the province, so to get to Pailin I bundled the bike into a taxi in Battambang – no easy task, as it’s a 29er – with the aim of cycling back to Battambang.
Pailin is a small town and has some decent places to stay, such as the Ruby Guesthouse. It comes across as quite safe, odd when you consider it is a former Khmer Rouge stronghold and racketeering centre. However, I erred on the side of caution and found a guesthouse that let me park my bike inside at night time. Having said that, most places were accommodating with this request.
Another convenience the locals offer is that they will accept Baht, Riels and US dollars; the preference is dollars. And always remember that in Cambodia, the wise bring small denominations.
The first day I was there I decided to check out the sites in town. Very easy to cycle to all these places. The real hump would be the trips to the sights out of town.
Wats and More Wats
In town there are a couple temples to visit. You can cycle to all of them, in fact you can take your bike to the top of the hills and right into the temple grounds.
There is the famous Wat Gohng-Kahng where the official Pailin reintegration ceremony occurred in 1996, after the Ieng Sary faction of the Khmer Rouge worked out surrender and semi-autonomy deals with the Cambodian government. It is also the gate that faces you as you enter the town from Battambang. These days it is the centre of holiday festivities.
Another place to visit is Wat Phnom Yat, which was built by Shan migrants from Burma. This Wat is a cultural and historical site and is not a holy place This hilltop temple is in the heart of Pailin and next to Wat Gohng-kahng. It includes an old pagoda, similar to the Kola pagoda.
There is a beautiful new decorative stairway leading to the hilltop temple area, where a new temple is under construction and the monks openly teach the faith. Before you climb, don’t forget to visit the statue of Phnom Yat or “Mountain of Grandma Yat”.
There are many ancient structures on Phnom Yat, including the big and small stupas and Asroms – hermitages for meditating. Many small cottages are available for visitors to relax in on the mountaintop and enjoy the fantastic views of the Pailin area and the beautiful sunsets over the mountains.
All that cycling around town would have built an enormous hunger. The local dishes are distinct to the area. You can try Mee Kola, a vegetarian noodle dish made from thin rice stick noodles, steamed and cooked with soy sauce and garlic chive, sometimes mixed with some meats and small lobster. Another dish is Mon banana. Of course, there is Thai food such as Tom yum.
Out of Town
Cycling around this part of world during the rainy season would be tough going. It would be wet, muddy, slipping here and there, maybe a tumble, and the ups and downs of the roads would be a challenge. My advice, if cycling then visit during the late wet season or dry season.
Another word of warning is mines. A gift from decades of fighting is the enormous number of landmines that were planted in the province. So, if you’re planning a visit to the countryside around Pailin City ask a local about the current de-mining efforts. Also, point out where you are planning to go, and they will let you know about the current situation. That, and staying on marked roads, will keep you out of trouble.
Most of the rides from the city are easy day trips. Here a some you can attempt.
There’re a couple of short trips that a cyclist can attempt to get a taste of the conditions. The first is to Kbal O’Chra, which is located O’Chra village, and is about a 5-kilometre ride. There you’ll find a nature & wildlife reserve. Another 5-kilometre ride is to a small wooden bridge going over the Oh-chah-rah River. The water coming down from the mountains is cool and clean, so just right for a swim after a hot ride. You also pass by a tank’s bombed-out shell. Tanks have just remained where they were destroyed in Cambodia and have simply become another part of the landscape. One final short ride you could try is to O’Tavao, which is about 5 kilometres from town. It is a place rich in beautiful scenery and clean water, which flows from Phnom Khieu.
Probably one of the most interesting places to visit is Bah Hoi Village. There you will pass through an internal refugee camp with people from different parts of the country that were formerly under Khmer Rouge control and are now in the hands of the government. The people are quite friendly and don’t mind a chat.
There are many waterfalls in Pailin Provence and the best time to visit is during the rainy season. However, there are still pools to cool off in during the dry season and the heavily forested hills provide pleasant scenery. Locals from Battambang visit them on weekends. They are a great destination for cycling. One waterfall you can visit is O’Eb and is about 10 kilometres northwest of town along the road to Bo Yakha and Bo Tang Sour.
A few other places to consider cycling to are Phnom Koy, which is about 20 kilometres north of town. Phnom Koy is an area rich in forest and big lianas. A natural stream flows down the mountain.
Another is Goh-Ay Mountain that has a river which is great for swimming. Stay on the worn paths by the river area as there are landmines around.
You can also cycle to the border that is a vibrant place. It is only 15 kilometres. At the border there is a flash casino called the Flamingo which has a rather good bar attached to it. Maybe that is reason enough. The border crossing and casino area is called Pbrohm by the locals. So, if you want to throw a few dollars, there a several choices to achieve that end.
As for using Pailin as a border crossing to and from Thailand, the Thais have no problem with it and will issue you a Thai visa or stamp. However, the problem is on the Cambodian side as the immigration police say that it’s not an official crossing: maybe.
A Memory of Pailin
Before you leave Pailin, a souvenir to remember the place could be a gemstone. Unfortunately, all you can find these days is hand-faceted, low-quality and cheap gemstones at the market in downtown Pailin. Nonetheless, even a cheap gemstone can hold good memories.
A five-in-the-morning start will get you on the road for a pleasantly cool ride through the foothills of the Cardamom Mountains: it is also pitch black. Once you go beyond the city limits, street lights are far and few between. Another hassle are farm dogs. At that time of the morning, dogs seem to like chasing invisible cyclists. As you pass farms, snarling, barking dogs set off in hot pursuit. Luckily, they are easily out-paced and a loud snarl from the rider finishes the dog’s pursuit. Apart from that, the road is in good condition and a good bike light will set you straight until it starts to get light.
And what a sight the sunrise is: the sky lightens, and a ribbon of dark blue appears on the horizon; the air fills with the smell of hay. You cycle through rice farms, piggeries and quite an assortment of farming activity. Remember this part of Cambodia is the bread basket of the country. The sun is up, the humidity rises, and it is daytime. You are halfway to your destination.
The ride to Battambang is only 90 kilometres. If you leave at 5am, you can be in Battambang before 10am. See you in Battambang.