It was our final day in Cambodia, and we wanted to try something new this trip. Our initial plan was to cycle around Angkor Wat, but in the end we decided to hire a tuk tuk for the day because of the enormity of that place.
Not to be disappointed, Ian found this great cycling tour, organized by an NGO called Grasshopper Adventures.
Its an organization that offers cycling tours around Asia, and part of the proceeds will be donated to the local community. Their equipment are well-maintained with quality mountain bicycles. Plus, on top of having an experienced tour guide accompany us, we also had a bicycle mechanic to follow us behind in case of any mishaps that needs to be fixed, so we were in good hands.
We opted to go for the half-day tour in the countryside for USD 35 per person. Normally, you have to book a few days in advanced via email, but lucky for us, we got our hotel to give them a call and they managed to book a place for us the next day.
So there we were at the bike shop, at around 7pm. We quickly registered ourselves and made the payment for the tour, before heading off for a quick bite next door while waiting for the rest of the group. There were about 8 of us in this tour, and we went along with a group of Filipino tourists.
The tour started off with a short briefing of the trip; this would be a 30km trip, and we would be cycling around the countryside and the villages. Of course, we will also make a few stops to say hello to the villagers and enjoy the sights, and they also talked about safety procedures.
Throughout the trip, I was mostly surprised with how flat the grounds were all throughout the area. Like seriously, this could be the Asian version of Holland because there were no inclines or hills anywhere in sight! I could see plains of fields from miles away, so it was a very pleasant ride.
Most of the time, I saw a lot of cows and cow pat everywhere. Also, there were a lot of stray dogs all around, but they seem to be well taken care of, considering their shiny coats and nourished bodies. But then again, they could belong to somebody, its just that the owner didn't bother to buy them a collar.
Ugh, it was dog heaven for me. So many dogs everywhere <3
We cycled for about half an hour into the countryside, when our tour guide made a stop at the home of a local family of farmers. It was the first time I saw how Eggplants were grown, and there were chili plants all around too.
The house was a tiny shack of aluminium, and before we entered their property, our tour guide taught us how to say hello Chomreabsuor ជំរាបសួរ in Cambodian.
At the time of our visit, the family of three, including a couple and their teenage daughter were out working in the fields, pulling out weeds. The family dog was out there as well, taking a long quiet nap, before getting up, debating on whether he should go back to sleep or not, and went back to his peaceful slumber.
Our guide explained to us about the schooling system in Cambodia; education is free around, but after high school, students have to pay for their own college fees. However, some of the young folks are forced to work as more hands are needed to bring in the money for survival, which is why you see a lot of children hanging around the tourist spots to sell souvenirs. Its pretty sad, really.
Our guide showing us how the locals get their water. I was very surprised that until today, they still use such an old fashioned way to retrieve fresh water. Also, the water isn't safe for drinking, so the only way you can drink it is to boil it first.
We thanked the family for showing us their home and our tour guide stayed behind a bit to pass them some donation from the proceeds.
As we passed fields of rice plantations and more homes, we came across a woman cutting leaves. To us Malaysians, these leaves looks like Pandan leaves, a fragrant plant which we use for desserts and air fresheners.
Funnily enough, the Cambodians also call it Pandan leaves, except these leaves are ENORMOUS and they're thick with sharp thorns on the edges. There's no smell from the leaves either.
The lady was busy cutting the thorns off the pandan leaves before taking them out to dry, which will later be used for basket weaving. Its quite a laborious job, and you can see all the cuts and scratches on her hands. When I asked why couldn't she use a pair of gloves. she simply said its because the gloves tend to catch onto the thorns, so its very troublesome to use it. She's quite used to the cuts now.
According to our guide, the pandan leaves are grown almost everywhere and it doesn't really belong to anyone. Usually when the locals have some free time and need to extra cash, they would cut out some leaves and use them to weave baskets and other stuff.
Later on during the trip, we stopped at a local marketplace among the village. Honestly, being in the dirtiest part of Malaysia's wet market, I thought I could stomach anything. But the place was just plain nasty.
As we looked around the place, I saw a woman sitting on a stall, with one side selling vegetables, and directly next to it, some questionable pork, covered in flies. There was lots of waste everywhere, and flies all around. I wasn't very comfortable.
So our guide stopped by this stall that was selling fried stuff. I was quite weary about eating street food around here, but nonetheless, the food was fresh off the wok so how bad can it be?
It wasn't at all. The Pisang Goreng (fried banana) was pretty good! I was quite happy to know that the locals enjoy that stuff too. Just that their technique is to flatten an individual banana before covering it in batter and sesame seeds and fry.
We also tried some fried sweet potato as well, and we didn't pay a single cent as everything was all paid for by our tour. But in case you're curious, one pisang goreng costs RM0.50 each.
Here you can see above a woman selling fish paste.Its mostly fermented meat, pulverized into pulp, before selling it to the public. The smell was horrendous, yet people were asking to take a sniff at it before making a purchase.
Our tour guide said that to them, it may smell bad, but it tastes like heaven.
I think I'll stick to my Durian, thank you very much.
The fruits and vegetable side was ok, but the meat section... Let's say the sight of animal gut and head is a normality, on top of the usual cuts and flies. I quickly got outta there as soon as I could.
Our final stop on our cycling tour was to hang out at this Lotus farm. It was beautiful! I saw water lilies covering miles of land. I've never seen so many in my life.
Our tour guide brought fruits such as Longan, Bananas, and Mango for us to eat is this little hut above the waters. He also ordered fried eel and frog as a dare for us visitors.
Jokes' on him! Because you never challenge a Chinese to an adventurous meat challenge. I've eaten those things before and I actually like frog leg. It tastes oddly like a combo of chicken and fish.
Our tour finally ended by lunchtime as we cycled for another half an hour until we reached the bicycle shop. Exhausted and hot, we were all greeted with a serving of cold towels and fresh, cold, coconut juice. Such excellent service!
On top of that, we also got to keep the water bottle provided for our bicycles as a souvenir from the trip.
Overall, I thought the cycling tour was an excellent choice; the tour guide was very knowledgeable and spoke good English, the terrain was very smooth with hardly any inclines, we learned a lot from the village life, and everything was for a good cause, which is to help support the local communities. It was definitely worth every single penny, and I highly recommend this tour if you're around the area!
If you wanna know what we did during our entire trip in Siem Reap, click here.
OR if you need some tips from our recent trek with Angkor Wat, click here.
Anne is the author and founder of this blog. She likes to write about current issues, travels, food and the general struggles of a millennial.