Takeo to Phnom Penh with some great stops inbetween

It’s possible to cycle from Takeo to Phnom Penh in a day (81km) but there were a number of reasons why we chose to spread the distance over three days ride:

The N2 road which offers the most direct route isn’t the best road for cycle tourers. There’s no hard shoulder, its incredibly dusty in the dry season and the road is busy with trucks and and other heavy traffic. (At the time of writing – Jan 2016 – there are also major road construction works between Tonle Bati and the capital which adds to the dust and general unpleasantness)

Most importantly though there are four major sites of interest on the way – Phnom Chisaur, Phnom Tamau Zoological Park and Rescue Centre, Tonle Bati, and finally the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek. We wanted to hit them all and decided that Phnom Chisaur and Tonle Bati would be the best bets for camping. (Don’t be tempted to camp near the zoo, you will be no match for the semi-tame monkeys).

Taking all this into consideration we stocked up at the big market in Takeo, let some air out the tyres and headed directly north out of town along the windy roads through the lakes and canal network which run parallel with the N2. It was a great ride – a flat, quiet dirt track lined with spectacular lily covered lakes, friendly villages and plenty of shelter from the headwind.
   
 We stopped at this amazing setting for lunch along the way which gave us the opportunity to try out our Life Straw filter.

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We reached Phnom Chisaur at 3.30 and headed straight for the 400+ steps which lead up to the temple at the top which boasts a sacred linga ($2 entry fee).

At the bottom of the steps there is a school surrounding a playing field and lake. We parked ourselves on the edge of the playing field and made some tea. Nobody took much notice so we agreed it would be ok to camp. 

After more than a few days, Paddy’s back is still covered in red spots and I’ve had an erruption on my back and upper thighs now too. We have been super careful to cover up while stopped and have come to the conclusion that the problem isn’t ant or mozzie bites at all but rather an extreme case of heat rash. I’m contemplating throwing away my cycling top and stocking up on white baggy t-shirts instead but the padded lycra shorts pose more of a problem.

The next day we continued to head north towards the wildlife zoo. Some great more scenic tracks – this ‘road’ was barely more than a walking path between cropped rice fields.

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The landscape continues to be dominated by canals and irrigation systems. It’s hard to imagine what it must look like at the end of the rainy season, the grazing cattle gone, it covered with lush green.

We get to the zoo at around 11am and climb the steady incline to the entrance (you pass quite a big wat on the way). It’s very quiet and we continue to cycle another km through beautiful countryside before we reach the start of the enclosures. It feels incredibly remote but as we park we instantly get bombarded by sellers offering bananas and potatoes to feed to the animals. Very different from London Zoo!

We instantly felt uneasy about leaving all our stuff – we just got a feeling it could be a bit dodge. In the end we agreed to leave it parked and tipped one of the boys to look after the stuff – although it is possible and maybe advised to cycle around what is quite a long tour of the enclosures.

Despite its slightly run down feeling we were generally impressed by the size and scale of the enclosures. Most of the animals, many of whom have been rescued from much worse fates, have a good amount of space even if they’re not particularly entertained. You are very much left to your own devises as you make your way around.
  
Tame monkeys rule over the whole site and follow you round expectantly. We enjoyed the crocs and had an exhilarating meeting with an agitated male tiger. Paddy also enjoyed the otters and spotted a very pregnant leopard.
   
   
We cooked up lunch on the lake near the entrance – a group of cheeky monkeys approached and managed to steal out bananas. They ended up getting farely agessive and we had to use the helinox chairs as shields to scare them away long enough to eat our noodles! There’s no end to how useful those chairs have been.
  
Back on the road we head to Tonle Bati arriving for 4pm – we instantly head to one of the stilted picnic huts on the lake. Its here we discovered we had lost (or had stolen) both our foldable knife and our leatherman set. Both items we use every day. 

At dusk we cycled into the modern temple complex opposite the Ta Prohm ruins and ask one of the monks if they would allow us to camp. 

We pitched with the sun going down on these.
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Our food bag got completely attacked AGAIN by black ants in the night. They bit through the black bin liner and proceeded to tear holes in the top of the Altura bag (we wonder if they’d get through our ortlieb bags?).
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Ants have been our biggest problem so far so if anyone has any good solutions to tackle this ongoing problem please get in touch!

A quick stop at the Angkorian Ta Prohm ruins were well worth it – the carvings are amazing!
   
 On to the mass grave site of Choeung Ek which is situated on the edge of the city. The site (1 of many) marks where thousands of Cambodians were systematically murdered and buried during the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. There are no words to describe it; you must visit but be prepared.

The last 10km into the city were easy – we followed the same tuk tuk right into the centre.

Welcome to Phnom Penh!

Takeo

We reached Takeo at around 5pm. The 75km ride was pretty unaventful, good road from Kiri Sela with a couple of steady inclines but all in all pretty flat. 

We headed to the north of the town which sits on the Rohkna Khnong Lake and after cycling around for a while we eventually found a guesthouse (Nita Gueshouse) on the canal which is pretty basic but was $6 a night, friendly and had a safe place for the bike. 

Takeo is quite an important town, it acts as the major trade link with the border of Vietnam and it has a university, language school and plenty of government buildings, banks and a big market. The major draw however is the nearby 7th Century Funanese sites, (the only such sites in Cambodia) Phnom Da and Angkor Borei, which are both reached by boat via the extensive canal network which stretches across the entire province.

We met a nice German couple who were also staying in the gueshouse – Dirk and Karin – who were also aiming to head down river the next day so we agreed to charter a boat between 4, helping to bring the cost down significantly ($35 total). 

Dirk and Karin were a pretty amazing couple. Both into their 60s, they have travelled all over Asia and this was there 4th trip to Cambodia alone. They were incredibly knowledable about Angok Wat and to top it off, over dinner, Dirk told us all about his love for speed road rollerskating – when he was in his 50s he completed a marathon in just under an hour and 10 minutes (that is an average speed of around 36km ph!!!!) 

Anyway, we headed down river at 8am the next morning first stop being the two temple ruins at Phnom Da ($2 each). Theres not too much see of the main site but there wasa good view from the top.

   
    
Paddy made a friend on the way back down…

 
Onwards to Angkor Borei where there is even less actual ruins to see, although a small museum does document the Funannese era quite well.

All in all, considering how much the boat ride cost we’re still unsure whether the trip is actually worthwhile. I guess the boat ride is quite fun (take a jacket) but during the dry season the canal is pretty low which means you don’t get a great view of the surrounding countryside. I would encourage other travellers to head to the site at Tonle Bati instead, where there is a lot more to see with the added bonus of no entry fee.

We spent the afternoon blogging, picking up our washing and trying to sort a warm showers host forPhnom Penh (no such luck, we left it too late). To save on cash we set up the stove on a picnic table outside the guesthouse and cooked up our own noodles for dinner. 

Our lovely hosts soon came out to see what we were up to and after a appreciative nod brought out a light and sticks of insense to keep the mozzies at bay. We ended up having a great evening with them all drinking beer and they even let us finish off their freshly caught lobster and shrimp. Dirk and Karin arrived in time for the viewing of the wedding album!

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The next morning we had a long shopping list to get so we headed the main market in the south of town to stock up on kerosene, foodand toilet paper. We’ve got a great couple of days ahead as we head north towards Phnom Penh.