We decided to get out of tour and do a bicycle tour of some of the islands along the Mekong river near Phnom Penh. I’d almost forgotten we had done something very similar almost a year ago – cycling from island to island along the Mekong in Si Phan Don (4000 islands) in Laos.
We’ve gotten pretty good at being expats in Phnom Penh. We work 5 and a half days a week and are usually exhausted by the time the weekend comes around, and all we want to do is find a cabana poolside at a hotel or go for a massage and a cocktail.
Once we unloaded out backpacks and moved into an apartment, we kind of forgot about many of the activities available to us.
So we decided to do the “Islands of the Mekong” bicycle ride through Grasshopper Adventures. It meant getting up early on a Sunday (our only day off and usually a sacred day of sleeping in, eating big breakfasts and trying to recharge before work arrives again).
The 4 hour tour involves cycling about 20 kms (its a leisurely pace), taking 4 ferries, visiting a couple of markets, temples, a silk farm and finishing at a local restaurant for lunch and beers out of the midday heat.
The Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers meet in Phnom Penh, and there are a number of large islands along the rivers near the city. As soon as the first ferry made it halfway across the Mekong, it already felt like we had left Phnom Penh behind. Disembarking on the other side, and it felt like we had been transported a hundred kilometres into the countryside. Dust dirt roads. Small villages. Buffalo yoked-up and turning the soil. Beeping horns, construction noise and choking traffic fumes has been replaced by simple country life – and yet if we looked back over the river, there was the city.
The ride itself wasn’t anything to amazing, we mostly stuck to the riverside, darting inland through farms and trees, and stopping at a silk farm and food market (I get market fatigue pretty quickly) – but if you are here as a tourist, you’d probably love this aspect of it.
Our guide was a great source of knowledge and humour, and the equipment provided was great (good quality Giant mountain bikes, sized up for each person).
All up I think we visiting two or three islands – i couldn’t be quite sure. It was a great way to see the communities that exist so close to Phnom Penh, yet that we never see.
We will do another trip with Grasshopper – probably the longer trip out to Oudong Hill – which involves more cycling and less sight seeing. But as the hot and dry season takes hold, it may be best left till the monsoon arrives.
I’d recommend the ‘Islands of the Mekong’ to tourists, or people looking to get away from the regular Phnom Penh activities. But if you are looking for a serious ride, id try one of the longer rides.