5 Reasons to Bicycle in Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh’s streets are clogged and chaotic. If it isn’t traffic that’s blocking the way, it’s an impromptu flood during the rainy season. The roads can be dangerous, with everyone driving a motorbike or SUV seemingly on their phones and oblivious to their surroundings. That’s not to mention the appalling condition of some of the streets. To top it all off, the weather can be downright nasty during mid-day in the scorching dry season.
I’m really selling the idea of bicycling in Phnom Penh, aren’t I? Despite all the danger and the tropical heat, I fell in love with bicycling for the first time after riding through the city daily. Here are five reasons why bicycling in Phnom Penh can be a good idea.
1. Phnom Penh is Small
Sure, going out to the suburbs can be a long ride, but the city center itself isn’t that far. From the Central Market in the north to the Russian Market in the south is just a 4 km (2.5 miles) ride. Most of the nightlife, restaurants and tourist destinations fall in between that area. Sometimes it’s possible to make a trip without breaking a sweat…but not always considering the heat.
2. Bicyclists are (Somewhat) Respected By (Most) Motorists
Most SUV and luxury car drivers are an absolute menace on the road to anyone but themselves. Fortunately, most people ride by motorbike. These motorbike drivers are typically decent at giving the appropriate right of way to bicyclists and generally give bicycles the same respect as they would another motorbike. Compare this to the U.S., where bicyclists are treated like garbage by drivers. Of course, there are still many dangerous drivers in Cambodia – especially in the evening when drunken drivers overtake the roads. Be careful out there.
3. Phnom Penh is Flat
Before a pair of overpasses were recently built, the only hill in Phnom Penh in the city bicyclists had to worry about was the Chroy Changvar (Japanese Friendship) Bridge leading to the other side of the river. Now, the few hills in the city are man-made and about 99.5 percent of the city is completely flat, making for some easy rides. After a year of riding only in Phnom Penh, the first hill I encountered way out in the countryside was a rude awakening as to how weak I am as a bicyclist.
4. The Roads are Bad
There are two benefits to the poor condition of Phnom Penh’s roads. First, it makes riding a mountain bike a lot more fun than it’d be in most urban areas. Second, it keeps most vehicles driving fairly slowly. You still get many assholes who barrel through the streets at breakneck speeds, but they’re in the minority.
5. Repair Shops Everywhere
With these poor roads, punctures and other bike problems are common. Fortunately, there are repair shops on almost every other corner. Using the word shop might be overselling it, because it’s often a guy under a big umbrella by the side of the road. These skilled repairmen can patch up a tire in no time for less than a dollar.
I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?