So far, I know two mountain biking routes out of Phnom Penh. One goes North. The other goes South. So when I got the Sabay Cycling group email suggesting mountain biking to the East of Phnom Penh, I had to take them up on the offer.
The Sabay Cycling Group has just been formed in the last month. Spearheading this motley crew of mountain bikers is Pierre-Yves Chatry, Cambodia’s distributor of Cannondales and GT bikes, and owner of the Flying Bikes shops in Phnom Penh. The plan was to meet outside his downtown shop at 7am on Sunday morning and to cycle out from there.
Normally I go mountain biking with one, max two other people from the Phnom Penh Wheelers group. Yet, despite Sabay Cycling Group only officially forming in February, 67 other riders turned up for the spin. Yes, 67. 67 other mountain bikers is a heck of a big cycle. And there was every type of biker, from young kids to an elderly mother, mainly Cambodian but also expat, all decked out in their spandex to go for a Sunday morning spin.
Heading east of Phnom Penh meant getting the ferry across the Mekong River. So we all crowded on to the first boat we found, landing on the island after less than 10 minutes. There were however too many of us to fit on to the one vessel, so we had to wait for the second sailing to arrive in before we could re-assemble.
Unfortunately, the need to re-assemble became a major feature of the morning’s ride. The route was slightly complicated, through villages with many turns and deviations, the best mountain biking trails being the little paths off the main thoroughfare. And trying to keep 67 riders of vastly different abilities together over this network of trails was simply impossible. It was akin at times to herding cats. After more than 2 hours of this rigmarole, and with some riders lagging, Pierre Yves decided to tactfully split the group. Those who were less tired and faster could do an extra 20k loop. The rest could get the ferry home.
Despite the logistical difficulties, the island did offer a few fun trails through some great scenery. We biked through villages with cool kids screaming after us, along the river banks of the hot and humid Mekong, through paddy fields, banana plantations, and chilli crops. There was none of the muck, rain, and cold that I remember Irish biking involves in wintery February. Instead there were dust clouds, copious sweat, and stops for iced sugar cane juice – that’s what nice mountain biking in Cambodia consists of.
So hopefully I’ll head back to Mekong Island some time to do some mountain biking again. But next time I’ll probably go with my one, maybe two other mountain biking friends… and drop the other 65.
All photos courtesy of Brian Chen.