One of the best fun we had in Siem Reap was biking across the countryside with Siem Reaper Travel. I discovered them through their listing in Klook, and paid S$30.45 per adult / S$27.95 per child (3 - 17 yrs old).
On the morning of our activity, we were picked up by tuk tuks at our hotel at 0720 hrs, then driven to their office where we met our guides, Muen and Snair (hope I spelt his name correctly). Muen briefed us on bike handling and made sure that our helmets were fitted on properly. He was our main guide. Snair was a trainee, so his job was to bring up the rear and take care of any stragglers.
We cycled in a single file behind Muen. He said that, about 20% of the time, we would be travelling on roads, but the bulk of the time, we would be biking on dirt trails in the countryside. I was initially apprehensive about cycling on the road, but it turned out to be very manageable. Unlike in Singapore, the roads in Siem Reap were not congested at all. Motorbikes, tuk tuks, and the occasional truck all gave us a wide berth.
Our first stop for the day was a crocodile farm not far from Siem Reaper Travel's office. We did not enter the farm, but just peered through a fence to look at the reptiles in their enclosures.
Muen shared that crocodiles used to be sold for USD150.00 each, as they were sought after for their skin and flesh. However, their prices have since plummeted to around USD35.00 each. Demand for them has waned and desperate farmers who find them too expensive to upkeep were forced to drop their selling prices drastically.
Visiting a Local Farming Family's Home
After crossing a main road, we turned into a rural dirt trail. That was the start of our adventure in the countryside. Parts of the trail were muddy, had potholes and were littered with manure from farm animals. We had to stay alert to avoid any unpleasant mishaps! There was a particular stretch which was especially narrow, flanked by watery padis.
We passed rice fields, a farmer with hundreds of ducks, grazing cattle, lotus farms, fruit trees and a village school where the small children yelled "Hello!" and waved excitedly when we passed.
Muen led us to a local farming family's home, and showed us the family's crops, their little pet crocodile and their outdoor kitchen. A Khmer festival was approaching and the family was busy making traditional rice dumplings for it. The dumplings were commonly stuffed with pork or bananas.
A Taste of Moonshine
The second family we visited had a bunch of cute kids, puppies and they ran the village rice whiskey distillery. My whiskey lover friend was more than happy to dismount and park himself there.
A used 2L Meiji milk bottle containing rice whiskey and a few shot glasses were brought to the table for us, and we poured ourselves some to taste. While my whiskey connoisseur friend was pondering aloud the layers of complexity he had detected in between sips, I was busy worrying about my liver function after this visit.
My friend was curious to know how much the family charged for their rice whiskey, and was told by Muen that a 1L bottle would cost a princely sum of USD5.00. He ordered half a litre and asked to take a look at the distillery. Muen returned with 500ml of clear liquid in a used mineral water bottle, and said that the family had declined to give a tour of their distillery as they were renovating it. Hmmm...
The Village Marketplace
Our next stop was the village marketplace. Muen bought us Cambodia's version of kueh bahulu (egg sponge cake) and banana fritters to try, then took us for a walk around their wet market.
I was surprised that their wet market was cleaner than the ones in Singapore. The floor was completely dry and it didn't smell bad at all. There were plenty of green grocers with an abundance of locally grown vegetables. Muen showed us how to make a whistle with the stem of a Morning Glory plant. He also shared that baby watermelons were eaten as vegetables in Cambodia.
The most interesting stall at the market was probably the one selling water snakes. Muen said that Cambodians enjoy eating them. He didn't buy one for us to try, but the vendor kindly allowed my daughter to hold one of the snakes.
We were at the market for around 40 mins. Our Trek and Merida bikes were left unlocked outside the market and no one was watching them the entire time we were walking around, yet everything was as they were when we returned for them. Muen said that in all their years of running this tour, none of their bikes had ever gone missing. It cemented my view that people in Siem Reap were honest and trustworthy.
The people we met on the ride were cheerful and friendly. The vendors at the market were smiley and eager to show us their wares the moment they detected we were unfamiliar with something and curious about them. I rode past a young lady doing her chores and she actually greeted me with "Good morning! Have a good day!" Yes, in those very words. To say that Cambodia surprised me is an understatement.
Our bums were pretty sore after riding for several hours on the bumpy dirt trails, so we were really relieved when Muen signaled to us to stop at the picnic area. Soft drinks, beer and water were brought to our little hut over the water. We lay back and hung our legs up on the hammocks. Muen and Snair sat with us, and we chatted about life in Cambodia.
As we were leaving the huts, Muen pointed out to us bright pink clusters of eggs laid by channeled apple snails on the wooden posts holding up the huts. I'd never seen such eggs before.
We returned to Siem Reaper Travel's office at 1230 hrs. Fatigued, sunburnt, mud-splattered, hungry, but all smiles. After a drink of cold water, and wiping perspiration off our faces with chilled towels, we thanked Muen and Snair for an epic ride. An exhilarating tuk tuk ride back to our hotel wrapped up our excellent day out with Siem Reaper Travel!