Cycling Around Siem Reap – From Riverside Rides to Temple Bike Tours
Surrounded by pancake-flat plains, lush green rice paddies, and laidback villages with leafy lanes, cycling around Siem Reap can be an absolute delight – once you get out of the busy little city. This is our detailed guide to cycling Siem Reap.
Most travellers to Cambodia’s ‘Temple Town’ use tuk tuks to explore, but cycling around Siem Reap is an option if you’re confident on a bike and used to the craziness and chaos of Southeast Asian roads and the impulsive behaviour of drivers and their refusal to follow road rules.
If you reckon that sounds more thrilling than frightening and you can remain calm with a big black Hummer on your tail, oncoming vehicles which are clearly on the wrong side of the road, and vehicles continually cutting you off, then what are you waiting for? Get on a bike and go cycling around Siem Reap.
Bikes are not only an option for cycling around Siem Reap, they’re a wonderful way to explore the temples. Many travellers hire bikes to visit Angkor Wat and the Angkor Archaeological Park.
While the town’s proximity to the Park makes cycling to the ruins a viable option in the right conditions – when it’s dry and not sweltering, and perhaps not in the rainy season – you still have to contend with the traffic and mad driving (add buses and mini-buses into the equation) on the way there and back. So if you’re not an experienced cyclist and you’re not used to riding on Southeast Asian roads, consider arranging a tuk tuk to take you and your bikes out to the temples and start from there.
Cycling around Siem Reap itself can be very pleasant – a riverside ride is especially lovely – but it’s even better once you’re out of town and pedalling along the quiet red dirt roads that run through rice fields and sleepy hamlets.
If you’re not a confident and experienced cyclist, you’re not used to Southeast Asian roads, or you simply prefer not to do the hard slog (after all, you’re on holidays), then a cycling tour with an air-conditioned vehicle following behind is definitely worth considering.
Cycling Around Siem Reap – Our Comprehensive Guide
Our detailed guide to cycling around Siem Reap…
Cycling to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park
The nearest temple to Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, is only 7kms from the centre of town (the Royal Gardens), while Preah Khan, the furthest main temple in Angkor Archaeological Park is 14kms north of town, so when we’re talking about cycling around Siem Reap there aren’t great distances involved.
Most travellers who cycle to the temples hire bikes in town or use free bikes provided by their hotels or hostels, and make a beeline for the Park along Charles de Gaulle Boulevard, also known as ‘the road to Angkor’. Note that while you could once upon a time purchase your Angkor Passes at the old main entrance along the way, you now need to go to the new ticket office on the corner of Road 60 and Apsara Road.
The road to Angkor is heavily trafficked road from the centre of Siem Reap until Charming City, the last main urban area before the forest surrounding Angkor Archaeological Park. After this, it’s just tourist traffic – tour buses, mini-vans, tuk tuks and motorbikes – to contend with and riding is much more enjoyable and less worrisome. If you don’t mind the dust and chaotic traffic, this is the most direct route to the temples.
If you’re not in a hurry to get to the temples for sunrise, and want to do a bit of cycling around Siem Reap first, then a more pleasant way to start your ride is to cycle from the centre of Siem Reap along the River Road, which runs along Siem Reap River. Go as far as you can and then take a left, which will lead you to Charles de Gaulle Boulevard.
The riverside route is fascinating and provides a wonderful insight into everyday life, passing local markets, food stalls, barbers, tailor-shops, and pagodas. Aside from the handful of small hotels and apartment blocks popular with expats, it’s about as local as it gets.
However, if you’re not staying in the centre of town and are staying in the Wat Bo or Wat Polanka areas, you could take the Apsara Road, past the big newish Apsara Authority headquarters, which is handier if you’re heading for Srah Srang, Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm or Pre Rup.
Once at the temples, the cycling is easy with shaded narrow roads, plenty of leafy areas to shelter during the hottest part of the day, and no traffic to stress about except post-sunrise during high season when the traffic is gridlocked and things can get a bit mad.
As long as you’re careful, you’ll be at an advantage on a bike at that time of day, as you can ride on the verge. However, take care: don’t wear expensive watches or jewellery, take only as much money as you need, and secure your camera around you tightly. There have been a few reports of cyclists being robbed by thieves who suddenly appear from the forest and grab people’s bikes.
If you’re buying a 3-day Angkor pass (valid for 7 days), you could take the main road to Angkor (Charles de Gaulle Boulevard) the first day, then the Apsara Road the second day. On the third day, you could ride out to the Roluos Temple Group. See our comprehensive Guide to Experiencing Angkor Wat and the Angkor Temples for more practical information.
TIP: If you’re cycling out to the temples in the darkness for sunrise, take one of those head-lamps. We recommend a waterproof one if you’re visiting during monsoon. They’re also handy for crossing the causeway across the Angkor Wat moat, which most people don’t realise is pitch black dark at that time of the morning.
Cycling Around Siem Reap, from the City to the Roluos Temples
There’s no better case for cycling around Siem Reap than a ride out to the Roluos temples, which is a special experience for the intrepid cyclist.
You don’t have to bike far from the city centre before you’re sharing the road with ox carts and scrawny chickens and cycling along dusty tracks dotted with traditional Khmer timber houses between rice paddies rimmed by towering sugar palms.
The laidback rural area around the Roluos group of temples, 13kms east of Siem Reap, is our favourite area when it comes to cycling around Siem Reap and is the most popular for bike tours.
In between the wooden homes on stilts are dilapidated bamboo huts, everywhere there are children shouting out “hello!”, and in wet season, water buffalo wade through the sodden fields. You should also stumble across a local market or two.
The Roluos temple group consists of the splendid pyramid temple of Bakong surrounded by a moat and shaded road; pretty Preah Ko with its three towers decorated in carvings; and, on the other side of National Route No 6, Lolei, with its series of towers with carvings, and a modern pagoda beside it with a vibrant mural-clad interior.
They’re compact, fairly close together and don’t take long to experience, yet they see far fewer travellers visiting than the main temples, so you can sometimes find yourself quite alone if you’re here very early in the day.
Officially, you’re required to have and show an Angkor Pass, however, when we first visited we didn’t have one and we simply paid the guides. Do that at your own risk, however; these days the staff are more strict.
There are also smaller crumbling ruins that you can scramble, scattered around the countryside, often hidden within forest. They are nowhere near as impressive as the main Angkor temples, but their settings are atmospheric, plus they’re free.
The flat red-dirt tracks that criss-cross the farmland around Bakong in particular make for an easy ride. There’s very little traffic – mainly rice farmers and their friendly kids on motorbikes and pushbikes – and it’s difficult to get lost.
If you do get lost, just ask someone the way back to Bakong to get your bearings again or if you have a phone with Internet access, check Google Maps. All of the following roads (most unnamed) are on the map and there are even Google Street View photos. I don’t recommend referring to it the whole time – it takes the adventure out of it a bit, doesn’t it? But if you’re uncertain and there’s nobody around, you could take a peek.
Self-Guided Bike Tour from Siem Reap to Bakong
When it comes to cycling around Siem Reap, this is our favourite route.
The fastest way to Bakong and the Roluos Group of temples is along Highway 6, but the traffic is mad and it’s not at all scenic. This route is quieter and more picturesque. If you attempt it, have the number of a tuk tuk driver handy in case you get lost. Yes, it is possible to fit people and bicycles on a tuk tuk.
- Start out by Wat Damnak at the beginning of Wat Damnak Village Road (near the lane that goes to the Golden Banana and Rambutan resorts) and cycle away from town in the direction of Cuisine Wat Damnak restaurant. At the first fork in the road, turn right onto Sala Lodges Road.
Cycle along Sala Lodges Road for 4.2kms, passing Sombai Road and Sala Lodges resort, in a fairly straight route until you reach an intersection and an unnamed road. Turn left here.
Ride another 4.8kms along this slightly dog-legged red-dirt road through rice paddies and small plots of farmland, past traditional wooden houses on stilts, until you get to the end.
Turn left at this bend in the road and then ride for about 400m before turning right onto another dirt road. You’ll pass around four narrow dirt roads (most going to farms); you’re at the right one when you see a shop with a red ‘Cambodia’ beer sign on your left with a group of stalls and umbrellas out front. If in doubt ask the locals which way to Bakong.
Continue along this road for another 5.5kms until you come to a four-way intersection. Look right and, 450m down the road, you will see splendid Prasat Bakong or Bakong Temple, surrounded by a moat. Note: if you want to visit Bakong you are meant to have an Angkor Pass and they are strict about checking these days.
Take a right and left, riding along the track around the perimetre of the temple, then, as you ride over the moat, veer right. From the moat to the end of this straight stretch of track, surrounded by rice paddies, it’s 2kms. You’ll pass Hariharalaya Retreat on your right.
At the end of the road (there’ll be a small house and stall on your left) turn right and ride for 600m. On the way you’ll pass one intersection and the road will veer left, taking you through a small hamlet and market, with stalls on either side of the road, to another intersection where you’ll need to turn right. The market is liveliest in the morning. If it’s busy when you’re here it’s worth getting off your bike and checking out the local produce and buying some snacks.
At the next intersection, continue straight and you’re in the main village in the area. You could ride through it for 500m or so then turn around and return the way you came. Instead of going straight through the market area you could turn left and ride parallel to the road you cycled along earlier. When you hit a 5-way intersection you can turn right to return to Bakong and then you know your way home from there.
If you check Google satellite images, you’ll see that the countryside is criss-crossed with dirt roads, so while you could very easily stray from this route it really is hard to get terribly lost. None of these roads (more like lanes) are heavily trafficked and they are a delight to ride. Whatever you do, avoid National Highway 6, which is terrifying in a vehicle or tuk tuk, so imagine what it’s like on a bicycle.
If that does sound too complicated for you, then there’s a much easier ride you can do to the Tonle Sap lake, 12kms away, which while it isn’t as interesting, nevertheless takes you through the countryside. You can follow the riverside in the opposite direction to that you’d take to go to the temples.
The trip is best done on a mountain bike, as it can get bumpy – or you can take the smooth Road 63. On the way back stop at Wat Atwea, a lovely pagoda with a rarely visited Angkorian temple tucked behind. No Angkor Pass needed, as it’s free.
When to cycle around Siem Reap
The comparatively cooler December through February ‘winter’ months are the best time of year for cycling around Siem Reap. This is when the weather is loveliest and there are balmy breezes. You can explore on two wheels to your heart’s content and can easily ride comfortably from dawn until dusk.
This is also high season, however, so the traffic is at its worst and the road to Angkor is busy just before sunrise and gridlocked after sunset.
March and April are the hottest and driest months, when it’s sweltering and you should limit rides then to early morning and late afternoon. Stay out all day and you risk getting sunstroke and suffering from dehydration.
During the monsoon season, from May until October, the weather is temperamental and there’s always a chance of rain. In the second half of the monsoon season the issue is not when it will rain but for how long – you need to be prepared to get wet.
Having said this, there are some days during monsoon when it’s gorgeously sunny and dry. We recently had ten such clear, beautiful, blue-sky days. Hope for those while you’re here.
Tips for cycling around Siem Reap
- Ensure you have insurance – don’t even think about coming to Cambodia without travel insurance and definitely don’t even think about cycling around Siem Reap let alone getting on a bike without it. The road accident rate is scarily high and hospitals are ill equipped to deal with serious injuries. If the worst was to happen you’d be flown to Bangkok. Most bike rental shops will also require that you replace or repair stolen or damaged bikes – even from your hospital bed!
- Wear a helmet – don’t think twice about the helmet (see above); most bike rental shops offer them.
- Take a krama – the traditional Cambodian checked cotton scarf, called a krama, is handy for keeping the sun off your neck and wiping the sweat from your brow. Cambodians take delight in telling you about all the other uses it has. You can buy them in the markets.
- Protect yourself from the sun – slather on strong sunscreen, wear good sunglasses, pop on a hat when you don’t have your bike helmet on, and cover up: wear lightweight long-sleeved cotton shirts and pants. If you’re planning on doing a lot of cycling, or just spending a lot of time outdoors, high-tech long-sleeved shirt and lightweight travel pants with UV protection are essential. Avid cyclists love the unisex sun-protective leg sleeves.
- Protect yourself from mosquitoes – malaria and dengue fever, carried by mosquitoes, are an issue in rural villages and more off the beaten track temples. Wear long-lasting insect repellant (the mosquito repellant bracelets, anti-bug balm and towelettes are also brilliant) and, once again, cover up. It’s worth investing in long-sleeved shirts and long trousers with insect shield. Bug-free hats and long-sleeved t-shirts are also useful.
- Dress modestly – long sleeves and trousers are also more respectful to locals than tank tops and short shorts. Keep in mind that the archaeological ruins you’re exploring are religious monuments. A code of conduct was introduced in December 2015 and there are fines for flouting it.
- Protect yourself from the rain – while you can buy a $1 plastic poncho at the market, they can be very uncomfortable when the humidity is high. You’re far better off bringing a quality, hi-tech, light-weight waterproof rain jacket in the wet season. Make sure that it’s a well ventilated breathable jacket as things can still get steamy. Bring a small, fold-up, quality travel umbrella for ambling around the temples (the cheap ones at the markets break easily) and a waterproof daypack. A small micro-fibre travel hand-towel will also get used.
- Protect your Angkor Pass – Apsara Authority guards check tickets at every temple so if you lose or damage your Angkor Pass you’ll need to buy a new one. Bring a protective, waterproof plastic pouch to hold your ticket (and phone, etc); buy one that you can wear around your neck so you don’t have to search for it every time.
- Take zip-lock bags – available from Angkor Market and Lucky supermarkets, these are also great for keeping your Angkor Pass, money, phone, and camera dry and secure.
- Wear good waterproof walking shoes – if you’re planning on scrambling a lot of ruins and spending more time on the ground than a bike, rather than buy cycling shoes we highly recommend investing in top quality waterproof walking shoes or hiking boots if you like the extra support, and cushioned socks. Good tread is important as the temples can get incredibly slippery when wet.
- Drink lots of fluids and re-fuel – stay hydrated: bring a big bottle of water and Gatorade although there are stalls out at the temples where you can buy additional water, cold drinks, and some very good Cambodian food. Head to the places where the tour guides are eating. Also see our tips on how to eat street food safely in Cambodia.
Hiring a bike in Siem Reap
Some hotels provide free bicycles for their guests. Budget hotels often have very simple, older, second-hand bikes while upmarket hotels tend to offer fancier bikes with gears and good tread or cool restored retro bikes from Japan with pretty baskets.
You can hire a bike for as little as $1-4 a day in Siem Reap. You’ll find bicycles for hire everywhere from guesthouses to mini-marts and laundries.
If you’re serious about cycling around Siem Reap and plan to spend a lot of time on two wheels and get out into the countryside, then hire a quality bike from one of the specialised bike hire shops, where they are generally better maintained – and therefore safer.
White Bicycles is a Norwegian non-profit charity that has over 100 bikes for rent at hotels and guesthouses all over Siem Reap for $2 a day. The income goes to projects that support clean water, education and the Giant Puppet Project. Their website provides a full list of places where you can hire the bikes, including Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel, Karavansara, Soria Moria Boutique Hotel, and Rosy Guesthouse, among other properties.
Angkor Cycling Tours (in front of Sala Bai hospitality training school, Taphul Road), has 100 bikes in all shapes and sizes to choose from, including city bikes ($2 a day), mountain bikes ($6-7), tandem bikes ($7) and adult bikes with child seats ($8-9) as well as offering a bike drop-off service, repairs, and sales. All come with locks and most with helmets; check when hiring. They also offer tours to the Tonle Sap lake, villages, and the temples, including the Roluos Group.
Green e-bike (Street 6, opposite Provincial Hospital maternity centre) rents out silent, eco-friendly electric bikes, or “power-assisted bicycles”. The battery is charged overnight (6-8 hours) using an adapter connected to any 220V electric outlet (you can do it in your hotel room). Once charged, the bike is powered by a small electric motor in the back wheel hub, which will get you about 40 kilometres before it drains. No license required, but drivers must be over 14 years and only one passenger per bike is allowed. Bikes cost US$10 for 24 hours. A helmet, lock and map showing 16 charge-points around Siem Reap are provided. Note: take a passport and ensure you have insurance; if the bike is damaged or stolen you’re required to have it repaired/replaced. More details here.
Motorbike rental / scooter rental – we often get asked about where travellers can hire motorbikes or scooters. It is illegal for foreign tourists to rent these and it is illegal for companies to rent them to non-residents. If you see a foreigner on a motorbike or scooter they will be an expat.
Bike tours around Siem Reap
While most travellers are content cycling around Siem Reap on their own, there are some advantages in doing an organised bike tour, whether it’s a group or a private tour. You’ll have a guide to get you safely through the heavily trafficked areas, which can be dangerous. You won’t get lost and won’t have to continually check Google Maps. You’ll see the most scenic bits and parts that you probably wouldn’t find on your own. And you’ll get some insight into Cambodian culture and village life from the guide, as well as chance to engage with locals that you might not have on your own.
Bike tours can start at as little as $20 a day for a group tour and $50 for a person riding solo to the temples (Angkor Pass not included) and can go up to US$3,000 for a longer tour of the sort I mention below, that includes the works.
There are all sorts of bike tours on offer in Siem Reap, from fairly easy one-day rides, such as those that Angkor Cycling Tours offers (above) to more demanding multi-day bike tours of the kind that Spice Roads and Grasshopper Adventures (Street #26, Wat Bo Village) specialise in – everything from Spice Roads’ 3-day Angkor Explorer and new 5-day Angkor Family Explorer, which includes fun activities for the kids, to Grasshopper Adventures’ 12-day ‘Karma Cambodia’ bike tour taking in the highlights of the country. Another company that comes recommended is Cambodia Cycling (East River Road, Wat Damnak Village).
Other advantages of doing bike tours is that the specialist cycling tour companies generally have great quality bikes (and a replacement or someone to fix them if something goes wrong), there’s an endless supply of water so you don’t have to worry about lugging around your own, and they also have support vans that often drive you through the boring bits to get you to the most scenic routes.
Some companies also mix things up a bit. We did a lovely Siem Reap Countryside Day Tour (US$39) with Triple A Adventures that included a leisurely morning bike tour around the Bakong area I describe above, followed by a floating village cruise to Kampong Khleang, including lunch at a local’s home. The tour is ideally suited to those who don’t normally cycle regularly.
What I loved about the bike tour was that we drove to the start of the most scenic area and picked the bikes up there, meaning we expended our energy on the most enjoyable bits rather than the dreary ‘getting there’. It was also great to vary the perspectives and experience village life on land and water.
Whether you choose to cycle Siem Reap alone or do it with a group, bike along the riverside or ride out to the temples, cycling around Siem Reap is a must when you visit.
Angkor Cycling Tours
Triple A Adventures Cambodia
UPDATED: July 2017
Have you been cycling around Siem Reap? We’d love to hear about your experiences and tips.