I contacted a friend-of-a-friend who lives there as soon as I arrived, and she signed me up for a bike ride with a bunch of expats. We pedaled out of the downtown Phnom Penh area past traffic that is charitably described as terrifyingly chaotic. Motorbikes are the norm there, and they dictate traffic, and they follow no rules. No. Rules. At. All. Arriving riverside (the Tonle Sap first, then the Mekong as we island-hopped on the bikes) we took a ferry ride across and immediately were on rural, muddy paths on Silk Island. We heard silk operators clanking looms behind bamboo curtains as we rode past, and every child within view of the road would shout out “hello! Hello!”
The Ferry Boat (20 cents a ride):
After three hours, we stopped for an iced coffee (Asian style with sweetened condensed milk at the bottom) near a Wat (temple). Heading out again our bike path dropped off into a deep stream. The first bicyclist tried to ride through, and ended up swimming his bicycle back to shore. On the far side we could see a dugout canoe, so he swam across and brought the canoe over to our side. It wasn’t exactly seaworthy one end was almost completely rotted away. The weight of a human would’ve sunk it. But we were able to stack some bikes on it and one guy swam the canoe across. Then a few of us would wade in and swim ourselves. We repeated the process till everyone made it through.
Loading the canoe:
Stinky water, choked with grasses, deeper than I am tall – when we got out we even theorized it’d be a good hiding place for snakes. It wasn’t all that pleasant, but we did feel like bad-asses when we were through. There are no more pictures of me after we crossed because I was wearing white cotton pants that were as muddy as they were transparent after this escapade. I had to buy a scarf to tie around myself, so as not to show off my underwear in the fancy hotel lobby when I got home. I looked like a wet muddy rat, with a very pretty scarf tied around its waist.