Where’s that you say? Well, Kampong Som is better known as Sihanoukville, or the new Macao. Any way you look at it, the town is worth a visit. Although the Chinese are busily turning it into the casino capital of Southeast Asia, it still has places to escape to. And as a cycling destination, it is a great and challenging trip.
Phnom Penh to Kampong Som
This is a great trip for your cycling bucket list.
A cyclist can either go the shorter route along highway 4, or the longer route along highway 3. The former is about 230 kilometres, and the latter is about 250 kilometres; not a great difference. However, the longer route takes you by Kampot, and a stopover there is a fantastic break in one of Cambodia’s most delightful places.
Mad, the Bad and Crazy Drivers
Cycling along both these routes can be perilous at the best of times. Both routes are heavily used by all types of vehicles, especially crazy drivers of private taxis and mini-buses. Surprisingly, truck drivers tend to be quite courteous and generally honk horns when bearing down on a cyclist. However, keep an eye out for all drivers on a death mission and sleeping pigs.
As with all long-distance cycling in Cambodia, it is best to head off early. If for no other reason, you avoid a lot of traffic in Phnom Penh – if that’s you’re starting point – and the trucks full of workers delivering their human cargo to factories on the outskirts of the capital.
Kampong Som Start Line
To start your journey to Kampong Som, head out from Central Market and find Charles de Gaulle Boulevard. If you head to Monivong Road, you will see it. The road takes you by the Olympic Stadium. Actually, the road changes names before you leave town, such as Monireth Boulevard, but it is Street 217 until the turn off for Veng Sreng Boulevard. Eventually, you get to Chaom Chau Circle, which is near the airport. Here, highways 3 and 4 split off. From here, turn left and go south to Kampot along highway 3. If you make good time, you will be way out of town before the traffic kicks in.
One of the perils of cycling on roads in Cambodia is overtaking … from the other side of the road. It is common to see a slow-moving rice tractor being overtaken by a faster mini-bus which is being overtaken by a speeding private taxi. This leaves little room on your side of the road. The best decision for the cyclist is to hit the dirt on the side of the road and let this tangle of vehicles pass you by.
Early in the morning, there is a fleet of trucks hauling workers to factories. They usually come in the opposite direction to you. One rule about the traffic pecking order in Cambodia is that cyclists are way down the list, in fact, they are one above pedestrians. Expect to be cut off, run off the road and invisible to most other vehicles. These worker trucks will happily turn in front of you if the factory gate is in front of you. So long as you understand the rules, you will be fine. And the golden rule, start early to avoid the traffic snarl.
Kampot and Other Detours
The road to Sihanoukville is quite flat, and you can make good time. Some cyclists like to detour to Takeo, if for no other reason but to enjoy the freshwater shrimp available there. Another place to take a break is Kampot. There are lots of roadside restaurants and café joints on the way to Kampot. About halfway to Kampot is a large service station that is a pitstop for mini-buses coming up and going to Kampot and Sihanoukville. It is a great place for a break and watch the tourists taking the less enjoyable mode of travel.
Destination Kampot and Beyond
If you make good time, you can get into Kampot before midday. Head down to the river where there are plenty of places to stay. Near the Big Durian roundabout, there are a couple of good guesthouses to stay.
A lot a people like to stay in the town for a couple of days or more, and I don’t blame them; it is a relaxing place. But for this journey, it is an over-nighter and forging ahead to Sihanoukville.
To cross the river, you have to take the new bridge. The old French colonial-era bridge is in need of much repair and has been closed off. However, pedestrians still use it and use it if you dare.
The Road to Kampong Som
The road from Kampot to Sihanoukville is a delight. It runs parallel to the sea and in the morning it is fantastic to cycle along. As you head out of Kampot you pass Bokor Mountain, which you can visit on your next trip to Kampot. There is little traffic on the road, and its proximity to the sea makes it cooler than riding inland. However, this comes to an abrupt end at the Prey Nob intersection. The heavily trafficked highway 4 joins the tour.
Nonetheless, this road is good to ride on as it is generally well-made, and the traffic tends to leave you alone. About 20 kilometres outside of Sihanoukville is the airport. After the airport are the hills leading into town.
The Road into Sihanoukville
Renamed after the late King Sihanouk, the town is a bustling seaport and becoming very popular with Chinese tourists.
The lead into town is a hill. The road is a gut-busting three-stage haul after the pleasant flat-terrain cycling of the last two days. Once you get to the top then it is all downhill. Actually, there are two ways into Sihanoukville. If you go straight, you arrive in the busy downtown area. However, just after the top of the hill, you can turn left and take the back way into town.
The back road takes you to Otres beach. A great place to stop and jump into the sea to cool off. From here, it is a short ride on the beach road into Kampong Som: more on that town in a later article.