Travelling Cambodia – A Road Trip

Phnom Penh-Siem Reap

Having recently travelled the length and breadth of Southeast Asia on various transport; including an overnight sleeper train, a long-haul bus, and a river ferry, the choice to travel our next leg, the length of Cambodia, by road, definitely fitted with our sense of adventure.

Non, our handy tour guide turned taxi driver, the man who saved us from ourselves on the dock of Phnom Penh, was returning to pick us up as our driver/tour guide.

Heading for Siem Reap in northern Cambodia, he picked us up early on the day of our departure to embark on an 8-hour road trip. When reaching the outskirts of Phnom Penh, we travelled northwest into the vast countryside.

Our view from the car was surrounded by never-ending flat green, low-lying plains, small rivers tributaries, cows lounging on roadways, little grass roof huts on stilts, grand homes surrounded by villagers’ smaller abodes, children running helter-skelter barefoot in the dust, and locals commuting with “you name it they transport it” goods on the backs, fronts, sides and on top of all manner of transport. Oh and endless red, dusty , unsealed roads.

It was a special experience to be chauffeured through Cambodia’s countryside and observe the daily lives of locals. A good chunk of our trip, thus far, had been spent in cities.

As incredible as those cities were in all their variety, sitting in a comfortable vehicle, observing and being part of “real” life around usin the remote middle of this lovely and unfamiliar country was eye-opening and fun.

Our first stop north was a small, almost indistinguishable town, surrounded by every imaginable type of outdoor market. We stopped and wandered, trying really hard to appear enthused when presented with trays of various insects, cooked to perfection.

The spiders looked charred. (I’m not sure if they were actually black spiders before being cooked), the crickets appeared crispy. I’m sure they would have been delicious had I had the will to try one. And the grubs (once white?) were shimmering in their oiled skins. Some still writhing on the plate.

I was glad I had eaten breakfast, so with minimal appetite, I wasn’t tempted to try any of the dishes on show. Nonetheless, the sight of this local fare, loaded with protein, was a fascinating peep into lives being led in this very different country to our own.

Our journey continued through the vast flat land, swishing past more villages, roadside markets, carts with firewood, and others with hay or wares for market. We arrived in Kampong Svay-Tbaeng on the shores of the beautiful lake for a very welcome break.

Non, familiar with the routine rustled up some locals who lived in a nearby village, to provide us with snacks, some sugar cane syrup to quench our thirst and a hammock to sway in under a straw hut pagoda. Complete with a view of the lake, It was heaven resting in the hammock while waiting for lunch.

Soon, presented with a lavish feast, made up favourite Cambodian dishes and kindly served by Non we were tucking into Beef Lok Lak and grilled fresh fish from the lake, served with copious fluffy white rice and delicious Cambodian sauces and spices. The food was fresh, hot, and tasty.

Swinging away in the hammock, eyes closed, feeling replete, I napped in the stillness, peace, and fresh air. We were halfway to Siem Reap.

After my siesta, we continued north. Non called his brother, Nathan, a Tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap. He arranged for him to pick us up and also arranged a guide for a trip to Angkor Wat during our stay in Siem Reap. We would have been lost without his help and care. Thank you, Non.

Drawing closer to our destination, we travelled through more villages and markets selling goodies. With one last stop, at a remote riverside market, sitting under dappled light from trees overhanging on the banks of a river spanned by the awe-inspiring Spean Praptos bridge.

A 12th-century structure built during the reign of  King Jayavarman VII, I marveled at witnessing this ancient history in the middle of a remote spot of northern Cambodia. A country with a deep, fascinating and sadly, also dark story.

Wandering around this ancient artifact in the middle of nowhere, we bought bamboo chopsticks and bracelets from friendly, smiling craftswomen while watching local children dancing in the red dust, delighting in their joy. We even spotted a small set of bamboo and straw houses tucked in the trees on the banks of the river. Their lives appeared subsistent, peaceful, and happy.

Continuing into the last couple of hours of our road trip, we gazed at more landscapes, never dull and always changing. As we approached Siem Reap, we looked forward to meeting Nathan, checking into our hotel, and settling in for five days of more adventures in this exciting country.

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