Thursday 24th January: Kampong Cham to Phnom Penh: Flat and 102km

Today we reached a major milestone and made it to Phnom Penh. 1621km cycled so far this trip on 3 weeks of cycling. However more on our destination later. Our day started as usual with the 5.15 alarm and on the road by 6.15. We cycled out of Kampong Cham along the river road with some early morning traffic. We brought our bread and snacks from a passing motorbike man and cycled 18km to a ferry point to cross back to the east side of the Mekong. We could see the ferry coming over and chatted to a woman running a little drinks stall – well chatted might be an exaggeration but she got the gist of where we had started and where we were going and she found it all hilarious. She got quite over excited seeing the Km distance on the Garmin as if to prove we had cycled from Kampong Cham that morning.

Quite a few motorbikes, cars and lorries came off the ferry – clearly rush hour into the town. We rolled our bikes on and sat in the early morning sun, and sat…and sat. Gradually a few more people arrived and about 40 minutes later when presumably the driver thought there were enough people chuntered over to the other bank. It was still only 8.30 and we were in no hurry.

Our aim for the day was to try and take a quiet back route into Phnom Penn. Roads were marked on Google maps but we had no way of knowing whether the road was paved or not. The first few km we bumped along a hard packed dirt road and then at the next village hit some tarmac – or rather one half of a concrete road as they were still laying the other half. The road soon converted to tarmac across the whole road and we were moving along nicely, the wind still behind. We were congratulating ourselves that we had got to the road just as it had been surfaced and that it was likely to get better and better as we got towards the capital. Wrong! The road reverted back to dirt track…but even worse being prepared for the road building so rather than being hard packed it was covered in loose gravel, almost impossible on a bike. There was a small rim without gravel on the side left for bikes and motorbikes – at times only about a foot wide. We wiggled and bumped along getting covered in dust as the occasional vehicle went by. Our average speed halved and we wondered whether we would get to Phnom Penh today. Luckily it only lasted about 10km and then we were back on paved road the rest of the way. Relief!

The road hugged the Mekong passing through rural villages. Wedding tents were seen on the side of the road at frequent intervals, horses and carts with enormous loads of hay, amazing temples in small villages. Always something to see so although the cycling as again flat, flat, flat we weren’t bored.

Finally we could see Phnom Penh in the distance but we continued on the quiet bank with only a slight increase in traffic for the last few km to a ferry which took us into the heart of the city. A great way to arrive.

We went straight from the ferry to the Vietnamese embassy to sort out our visa. Suddenly we were surrounded by chaotic traffic…but by now we were quite used to things coming at us in the wrong direction – apart from that it was much like cycling in London or any large city – you have to have our wits about you. The first impression was of a clean, modern city.

We found the embassy and sorting the visa was straightforward (unlike trying to arrange an e-visa where you are only allowed particular points of entry and exit). We can pick it up tomorrow afternoon so it will be sorted before the weekend.

Then last few km to our hotel. We have treated ourselves to a bit of 4* luxury (booking.com last minute deal!) so we had flunkies opening all the doors, carrying all our (filthy) panniers and bringing us orange juice. The check in staff were rather taken aback when I said we did not have our passports because they were at the Vietnamese embassy. “how can we check you in?”. Luckily I had copies and they decided that would do.

After a long, very hot shower (what joy) and a rest we took a stroll round the locality taking in the amazing art deco building of the central market (that was packing up for the day), down to the river front along the back streets then circling back to the hotel. There were a few tourists about but this is a living thriving city with activity going on everywhere. It had a good feel.
We then counted up the km and it came to 1691km from Bangkok – so that felt as good a reason as any to have a decent meal. We went to a French Restaurant opposite the hotel which was located in an old colonial mansion with a terrace overlooking the street. There we had a fantastic meal with a bottle of wine, as well as indulging in a little people watching. Then, unused to wine, we ambled back to the hotel – still in bed by 9pm though!

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