On my first morning in Siem Reap, I could hear the sound of drizzle from my room in Victory Guesthouse. Outside, the sky was dreary and crying. As an aftereffect of my 6-hour sleep, I temporarily forgot that it was a day worth celebrating until I grabbed my mobile phone tethered to Victory’s Wi-Fi. Lots of birthday greetings came in to my social media channels. Okay, so another count has been added to my age, like an increment in a computer program loop but with an unknown condition.
Every time I go to an unfamiliar place, the first thing I look for is the street map. It’s like my non-living best friend. When I asked the receptionist of Victory Guesthouse about it, I was beyond happy when she gave me a detailed booklet about Siem Reap, with the map of course.
My first day in Siem Reap was more about testing the waters. No fixed itinerary, no specific locations to go to. All I wanted that day was to bike around Siem Reap, familiarize myself with the area, and start my new birth year by exercising physically since I hadn’t done it in a couple of weeks or so. Good thing there’s a bicycle rental shop just a few steps from Victory Guesthouse.
Siem Reap is bicycle-friendly. Cycling to the nearby temples is the optimum choice if you want to fully enjoy the surroundings at a slower pace. And so I pedaled on Airport Road and turned left towards Charles de Gaulle, the road leading to Angkor Wat.
I only found out that there’s something wrong with the bicycle I rented when I reached the quieter road. The chain and the sprocket don’t go along together, producing a squeaking sound that echoes to the tall trees. The gears were not well-lubricated, requiring more pedal effort from me. Anyhow, I just enjoyed the ride and smiled back to the people who noticed the noisy sound emitting from my bike.
The 7 km road to Angkor Wat progresses from chaotic to scenic. Coming from the city, the road is dominated by swift vehicles moving on the dusty pavement. If you are biking, hand signals will be your card. Traffic becomes lighter when you’re halfway through the road.
The journals I read before my trip suggested that I should save the best temples for last, meaning, I should go to Angkor Wat on my last day. But the sporadic weather triggered me to do a mock visit to Angkor Wat right on my very first day. I prepared myself to the possibility that the same rainy weather might happen on the last day, so I did a test stroll around the mighty temple.
I was literally on cheapskate mode on my first day. I was afraid that I might have an uncontrolled outward flow of money. I was very keen about finding food at the cheapest possible option. At around 1 PM after my initial tour in Angkor Wat, I decided to return to town. But my remaining energy that time won’t be able to bring me back to town.
And so I decided to take a bite at the local food stalls by the road located near the southwest corner of Angkor Wat’s moat. Curious about what’s cooking, I asked the young lady who’s pan-frying a mixture of flour filled with ground meat.
For US $1, she served me a Banh Chao, a type of Khmer pancake stuffed with bean sprouts and pork meat partnered with a hefty serving of greens. I was partly laughing inside, maybe because of the thought that I’m away from home on my birthday, and that I’m on a foreign land, about to gorge a vegetarian cake of some sort.
Other diners were staring at me because I was just looking at my food, unaware of how to properly eat it. In dire need to eat, I called one of the servers and asked for the steps of eating Banh Chao. Can you imagine how awkward that moment was?
After that somehow-embarrassing-yet-enjoyable lunch, I cycled towards the back road parallel to Charles de Gaulle, as the former has lesser vehicles passing through it. The environment is more rustic and all I could hear was the sound of my collapsing bicycle. There, I saw low-key art shops, simple abodes, and backyards filled with native vegetation. Upon reaching the city center on the same road, I passed by Wat Thmey and the Killing Fields.
At 2:30 PM, I checked out of Victory Guesthouse and transferred to my second accommodation for the rest of my stay in Siem Reap, the Ree Hotel.
Cycling around Siem Reap is a good means of appreciating the laid-back lifestyle in town. Take it slowly so your eyes could fully observe the flow of daily life therein. If you want to rent a bicycle for a day and help a charity at the same time, check out White Bicycles.
- If you’re thinking of putting your valuables in your bike basket, think again. There are opportunistic thieves that might snatch your bag, so better secure it around your handle bars
- Carry a bottle or two of drinking water. Also put on sunscreen and bring extra clothes
- Make sure that the bicycle you’re renting comes along with a bicycle lock
- Should you be venturing out at dawn or dusk, bring a head lamp and a blinking rear light so other vehicle drivers will see you on the road.