Active travel: Cycling in Cambodia

Thursday, April 19, 2018

One of the new features of this website is offering ideas on how to stay active while travelling. Too many times, people will overindulge on food and drink while away from home, only to return to reality feeling sluggish and bloated, in addition to being back at work.  Any fitness or exercise regime you keep to at home will often do out the window when you travel because you don't know where is safe to run, if your yoga class will be in English, or the weather is just too hot.

Enjoying the temples in Siem Reap.
Personally, I find I have more time to exercise while I am on holiday and aim to make the most of it.  It really can depend on where you are and what you have planned though.  For example, we recently went to Siem Reap, Cambodia, for three days/three nights (due to travel to and from Bangkok) while visiting Thailand for a family wedding.  We booked one full day with a tour guide in Siem Reap to see lots of temples and left the other free in case we wanted to see more temples, spend time at the pool, or find something else to do.  With the help of Tripadvisor (seriously, what did people do before the Internet?), we discovered Grasshopper Adventures.  They offer cycling trips in various cities in Asia but all tours are designed to have a positive impact on the local community.  My husband, James, is more into cycling than me, but I was keen to get outside of the city and see another side to Cambodia that wasn't touristy.  Grasshopper Adventures charge 'reasonable' rates for their trips but the bikes are all name brands (we had GT mountain bikes) and well-kept.  You also get a reusable water bottle to take home which was a nice surprise.

Ready to go!
The weather in Siem Reap was 30+ degrees C and super humid so we opted for a half day tour of the Siem Reap Countryside.  It was $35 each (American money is preferred in Siem Reap) which is definitely expensive compared to how much other things cost in Cambodia but I will say it was worth it.  The bikes were all new, as were the helmets.  We had two guides for our group, which had a family of five (kids 5, 4 and 2), me and James, and a women from Taiwan.  We met at the shop quite early in order to get out on the road before it got too hot.  We had sent our heights ahead of time which meant our bikes had been set up for us.  James' bike was fine, but mine needed the seat raised a bit.  We left the shop as a group and hit the city roads.  Did you know Siem Reap only has seven stop lights? Traffic just seemed to sort itself out at all the roundabouts (rotaries) and junctions (intersections) but it made me very nervous.  I am by no means an agressive cyclist and was more than happy to have the guides stop traffic so that we could make our way across busy roads.  Once we were out in the country, the road were much quieter and I relaxed a bit.

Village roads were much less crowded for riding.
Along the way, we made several stops to allow for a break from the sun and learn about the local culture.  We first stopped at a family home that had a farm.  We learned about the typical Cambodian house design which is on stilts and how people farm land.

Stilts help protect from flooding and add additional shaded areas when it is hot out.
Our next stop was a small wet market where were were able to tried raw lotus, fried bananas and local coffee (I opted for full fat Coke).  We walked around too and saw the variety of things for sale, like live fish in bowls, whole plucked chickens, fresh eggs, and decorations for the upcoming New Year celebration.  The women selling at the stalls loved the little kids on our tour.  I think because they were all blonde.

The fried bananas were delish!
Our next stop was a hut on a pond with hammock, fresh fruit our guides bought at the market, and 50 cent beer.  In the cool shade, we ate our fill of fruit and chatted with the family. Within a short walk, there was a field of lotus and a flower farm which were lovely to photograph.

Huts and hammocks
Our last stop was a monastery for Buddhist monks which had a large five-toed pig (the genetic anomoly is treated as holy), a temple, and a family cemetery for ashes.  Unfortunately, I don't remember the official name, but the shrines are quite striking.

Unfortunately, we couldn't enter the monestary but the artwork on the outside was impressive.
We then headed back, cycling along a highway and then a dirt path on the river to avoid the busy roads. The children with us were on the verge of a breakdown since the monastery as it was super hot by now and their attention span was waning. We were back by 11:30am for fresh in-the-shell coconut water, cool washcloth, and of course photos.  It was a lot of fun and we even tried to book in another tour with them in Phuket.  Unfortunately, they don't have any tours there yet.  On my next trip to Asia, I will definitely keep me eye out for this company and you should too.  I really admire that they try to educate their customers about the local culure.  For example, another tour you can take in Siem Reap includes a stop at a training centre for rats used to detect land mines, then you stop at a shop to learn how to recycle plastic bags into jewelry, and then finally stop at a brewery how to make wine out of rice.  Grasshopper Adventures have an app so you can go self-guided if  you are more independent or you can take a multiday trip to see things at a different pace as you travel between major cities.

Stopping at a lotus farm
Overall, we were veyr impressed with the level of service, quality of the kit, and what we saw during our tour.  I can say, hands down, we recomend the shop in Siem Reap.  I cannot wait to try another tour the next time we are in Asia.  Perhaps when we go to Japan in 2020 for the Tokyo Marathon?

Have you ever books an activity last minute while on holiday?  Tell me about it in the comment below.

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