Floor Wax & Dessert Topping

As Kent Peterson sagely points out, bicycles are neither floor wax nor dessert topping, but they really do get you places quicker than walking. Also, fenders and racks keep you dry and comfortable while carrying heavy things. And gears are nice to help get you up hills or when dragging something like a BOB Yak trailer long distances (as in 10 years ago when I “portaged” 50 pounds up PCH-1 from the Bay Area to Olympia). So yeah, bicycles are pretty amazing.

And I agree with Kent. I don’t personally care if you wear a helmet or not, or if you’re a Dane obsessed with proving a causal relationship between cyclists wearing helmets and traffic accidents. Do what you feel man, but please do get out and ride.

Cambodia by bicycle

It is a truth universally acknowledged in Siem Reap that a foreigner on the street must be in need of a tuk tuk (technically, these are not tuk tuks, they are moto-remorques, a trailer hitched to a scooter, but that’s a rather big French mouthful). It could be 9 o’clock at night, you could even be on a bicycle, but you will invariably be asked if you need a ride by every driver you pass.

We did take a moto one day to visit a few of the more remote sites, otherwise we mostly biked. Pretty much all of the bicycles are single speed steel women’s bikes. Kids will ride them to school, two to a bike, even children so small that their heads are the level of the seat and they have to stand the whole time, peering out under the handlebars. Rear racks support hanging bundles of coconuts or large woven baskets carrying who knows what.

Riding a bicycle around Siem Reap means being one with the traffic. You never stop before making a turn, you just kind of flow. The roads are shared use, and as a result of the constant passing vehicles seem much more aware of their surroundings. Slower vehicles stay right, so we’d pass food vendors pushing their carts, just about any Cambodian on a bike, and occasionally a slow moto. Passing us, in the middle of the road which is basically two way, are tuk tuks, faster motos, cars, minivans and tour buses, all of which constantly honk to let you know they’re coming, which is somewhat considerate, if loud.

The main temples are between 6 and 15k north of Siem Reap but our nicest ride was to a village about 10k to the south of the city, where a hilltop temple (both an Angkor ruin and a modern working one) affords a panoramic view of giant Tonle Sap lake in the distance and bright green rice paddies all around. The road there is raised, with the rice paddies below and simple houses rising up on rickety wooden stilts to the level of the road. Little children play in the dirt on the edge of the road as women tended shop in traditional skirts and checked cotton headwraps, and through the open doors of the immaculately swept houses we got a glimpse of rural Cambodian life.