Cycling Across the Cardamom Mountain Range in Cambodia (Day 4)

This is final post in a four-part series describing my cycling trip with a friend across the Cardamom Mountain Range in Cambodia.  You can read Day 1:  Pursat to Red-Hat Man’s House (Follow the Steel Pylon Road) here, Day 2: Red-Hat Man’s House to Oasom (The Climb Up “I Hate Myself” Mountain on the Cardamom’s Front Range) here, and Day 3:  Oasom to a Riverside Campsite (or “Climb Mountain, Downhill Single Track, River Crossing, Repeat”).

Day 4: A Riverside Campsite to Koh Kong City

Throughout the night, Steve and I have gradually slipped on every piece of clothing and oil-stained kroma we could dig out of our panniers.  Still I toss and turn to generate the least bit of warmth.  The sound of the flowing river just a few meters from our hammocks is a pleasant companion in the pitch black darkness.  I listen to it for awhile and finally pull out my GPS to check the time – 3AM, just barely a suitable hour to get up and start a pot of tea.

I do a few stretches on the deteriorated bridge foundation next to the river.  Steve rolls out of his hammock and gently coaxes our fire back to life.  I filter a bit of river water and we enjoy a tin cup of hot green tea next to the fire.  We only have another 85 or so mountainous kilometers to Koh Kong, so we can afford to take our time and enjoy the scenery.

After a brisk swim in the dark, we pack up our gear, switch on our headlamps on and push our bikes up the first steep climb.  I hate pushing a bicycle – it’s so unnatural and demoralizing – but, alas, the sand and the grade make the trail unrideable.  There’s no option but to put my head down and push it ever upwards.

Reaching the top, we sit to watch sunrise over Tabletop Mountain and listen to the plethora of birds singing around us.

We take advantage of the cool morning air and make our way up and down two more mountains.

After “Woohoo” pass, the trail begins to widen into a dirt road and we see more half-constructed bridges.  We gather from the date (2000), that they are from when the Thai army helped plow through a road from the border (Koh Kong city) down to Route 4 near Sihanoukville.  They were obviously a bit too ambitious in their decision to also push northeast through the mountainous, dense jungles of the Cardamom Mountains.  Why did the Thai government decide to build this road to nowhere in northwest Cambodia?  Well, they always had an economic interest here – especially with the Khmer Rouge, which funneled high-quality wood and gems (both of which have long disappeared in Thailand) via their borders and likely the coffers of Thai government officials.  As an American, however, who am I to judge?  After all, my government did destabilize the entire region, leading to the Khmer Rouge era in the first place.   Only Steve, my Molson-drinking Canadian friend, is guilt-free here.

We approach a t-junction.  If we had the time, we both agree, we’d turn left and head a few hundred kilometers into Southern Cardamoms and the secluded village of Chi Phat.  Alas, we turn right and continue our downhill descent toward Koh Kong city.

We speed by a construction crew working on the road.  This time it is the Chinese, repairing some of the original road but cutting a trail that runs north along the Thai border toward the dam we passed earlier.  This will make the Smugglers’ Trail (used by the occasional motorcycle loaded with cargo, illicit and otherwise) all but useless.  With no one taking the time to maintain the trail, we’ll see how long it takes the jungle to envelop it.

We complete the long downhill at a your usual provincial traffic circle.  Extraordinarily hungry and hot, we head into town and devour a few Porn Marinas (a brand name that is hilarious to us, perhaps due to dehydration).


Hydrated and checked-in to a pleasant guesthouse, we head over to a small restaurant along the river, drink a few coconut shakes and call it a ride.

~ by responsiblenomad on September 24, 2011.

2 Responses to “Cycling Across the Cardamom Mountain Range in Cambodia (Day 4)”

  1. hi, am planning to visit cambodia in Nov, and came across your blog. Was deciding between Virachey NP in the NorthEast or Krong Koh Kong/Cardamom. No cycling adventure like yours, i regret. No experience. Will likely hire a moto+driver or join day trips/trekking trips to the mountains. Could you advise how Krong Koh Kong is? What’s good or not? Worth the long bus trip from Battambang which will transit in Phnom Penh? Not sure if it’s possible to get a moto+driver & do it in a day.

  2. Hi! Thanks for your comment – really appreciate it!

    Where do you plan to fly into? When will you fly in? Road conditions depend on season and weather usually. As I wrote, there is a brand new dirt road between Pursat and Koh Kong city – so now you can make the journey in a taxi I believe, if not a sturdy hired moto. If you arrive after rainy season, I’d recommend hiring motos in Battambang and crossing the Cardamoms in a day or so that way. There is a massive waterfall near the new road and dam I wrote about (unfortunately) – if you are coming soon after rainy season, it should be in its full glory. Not sure if the dam has altered the watefall – let’s hope not. If you are coming before November, the road conditions might not allow for the trip in a day. I am not sure, however, given the new roads going up so quickly. My trip was nearly a year ago, so the road could very well leveled dirt and quite nice.

    The Chi Phat community-based ecotourism project is a great destination, as they have everything neatly set up – not necessary to haggle, manage logistics, or bring your own gear. I have a write up and video on Chi Phat here: https://responsiblenomad.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/community-based-eco-tourism-in-the-cambodian-cardamom-mountain-range-in-chi-phat/ . Their website is here: http://ecoadventurecambodia.com/.

    You have to keep in mind that there are villages here, so it isn’t pristine untouched jungle with tigers running around. However, it is very pleasant and the mountain biking is really fun to novices and advanced alike. There are many trekking and boating options as well. I heard rumors they were getting kayaks too. Overall, you get to help a good cause, see a VERY rural area of Cambodia, and enjoy the Cardamoms with little hassle. To get there, take the bus to Koh Kong at 7am or so from Mao Tse Tung Blvd, near Psar Domhkor (Domhkor Market) to Koh Kong town and arrives in Andong Teuk village (the first or second bridge toward Koh Kong) around 10:30am or 11:30am. There is a public boat everyday up river to Chi Phat village at noon for a few bucks. You can get a private boat for a fair bit more money. I’d recommend at least 2 full days in Chi Phat, as you’ll have to leave the village very early to catch the bus back to Phnom Penh in the morning – the motorcycle trip out of Chi Phat (if road conditions and weather allow) is very fun and scenic.

    Koh Kong city itself is nothing too interesting. Oasis Lodge is wonderful and the owner knows everything about trekking and so forth – I’d recommend emailing him and booking a spot at his lovely hotel (great pool overlooking the river!). He can set you up with great day trips, including one boat upriver to some waterfalls, go fishing, and swim.

    If you have the time, you can catch a boat to the large Koh Kong island – amazing, whitesand beaches and crystal clear water – as far as I know still uninhabited except for an army outpost.

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