Category Archives: Destinations

My second Southeast Asian solo bike tour saw me again crossing the border to bicycle Cambodia. After my first trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in 2014, I promised myself a return for an extended tour. Fortune smiled upon me and I returned for a 16-day solo tour.

A promised return for a solo bike tour to Cambodia and Vietnam

by Chris Olson

My second Southeast Asian solo bike tour saw me again crossing the border to bicycle Cambodia. After my first trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in 2014, I promised myself a return for an extended tour. Fortune (and a little savings) smiled upon me and I returned for a 16-day solo tour.

Setting up the Trucker

Setting up the Trucker

Solo bike tour preparations upon my arrival

On this trip, late in November, I enjoyed  one day in Ho Chi Minh City. This allowed me a chance to overcome jet-lag and tweaking my Surly Trucker DeLuxe for the 16-days ahead. I landed in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Many residents continue to use the city’s former name and that use is reflected in signs throughout town. I stayed outside the tourist area, in a neighborhood northwest of downtown.

Attempting to synch my body clock with the time change and 22-hour flight, I drank plenty of coffee and assembled my bike. My Surly frame splits into two separate pieces, equipped with S&S couplers, that makes it easy to pack into an S&S suitcase. With this set up the bike can be checked as regular airline luggage with no additional cost. I spent the remainder of my first day taking in the smells and scenery of the neighborhoods, eating and most importantly acclimating to the heat humidity.

A slow start to my solo bike tour and it was a holiday at home

The morning of November 23rd, Thanksgiving Day, I was on my bike early. It wasn’t long before the heat and humidity began partnering with the jet lag for a troublesome first day. On my previous visit to Vietnam, I had four days of heat and humidity acclimation and conquered my jet lag before I began that seven-day tour.

This trip I had only 18 waking hours before pedaling.  Shortly after I merged onto the busy street winding my way out of Saigon, I was joined by a young girl, about 16 years old, who rode up alongside me and wanted to practice her English. In her school uniform, with badminton racket sticking out of her backpack, we conversed for the next four miles while weaving through the morning rush hour traffic. After 36-miles of extreme heat, traffic congestion and many 30 to 60 minute rests, I realized I needed to stop for the day.

Ba Den mountain at a Mekong tributary

Ba Den mountain at a Mekong tributary

My first night

In the city of Go Dau, I found a guesthouse, registered and slept for 2 hours with the fan set on high. After I woke, the owner’s brother took me by car to his favorite pho restaurant. Virtually all restaurants are family run, this one no exception. I watched as the cook dipped the noodles, beef and veggies in broth for the perfect amount of time before serving. I happened to be the only one currently eating in the tiny restaurant and all seven family members gathered around to watch me savor a unique Thanksgiving dinner.

Hello Cambodia on my 16-day solo bike tour!

Trucker waiting outside the Cambodian customs

Trucker waiting outside the Cambodian customs

Today the air was thick with humidity from last evening’s torrential downpour. After a light breakfast, filling my water bottles and checking my map I was off for a full day in the saddle. Crossing the river and leaving out of town I suddenly braked when I saw waffles, my favorite treat from the last trip to Vietnam.

I brake for all roadside Asian waffle stands

I brake for all roadside Asian waffle stands

One of my favorite carbs

The young man making the waffles made me five and then invited me to join him at a “coffee klatch” down the hill. The two of us were the only men in a group of twelve, enjoying the famous Vietnamese drip coffee for a onetime price of 35 cents. With Google translate as our aid, we carried on for almost two hours before I was on the road again. I still had eight miles to ride to the Cambodia border.

Border crossing at Xa Mat Vietnam

Border crossing at Xa Mat Vietnam

The border crossing at Moc Bai, Vietnam and Bavet, Cambodia was not as busy as anticipated for the largest crossing between the two nations. Alerted to the various border scams by travel journals on “Crazy Guy on a Bike,” I ignored the money changers and visa “helpers.” The entire boarder process took only 30 minutes, leaving Vietnam and entering Cambodia.

Driving a bicycle in Vietnam vs. Cambodia

The traffic differences from Vietnam were immediately noticeable with many more SUV’s and large trucks on the road. The motto ruling Cambodian roads is “might makes right” and cycling in Cambodia is not for the fainthearted. I also witnessed a greater military presence than the last trip. This was prevalent throughout my trip due to political unrest building before the July 2018 Cambodia elections. The sky threatened rain for the last half of my ride and the clouds were welcome friends as they blocked the sun. Not knowing where I was exactly staying each night, I missed my destination town of Prasat. Continuing on I finished my 59-mile day ride in tiny Kampong Trabek.

Motorbike ramp leading to dirty rooms but good food

Motorbike ramp leading to dirty rooms but good food

 

Rats lurking near my room

Here, there were no clearly marked guesthouses, so by asking those in town I found a small bar and restaurant with rooms in the back to rent. The room I checked into had not been cleaned from the last guests so I laid my hammock across the bed. The bedding was used to plug the large gap at the door bottom. I convinced myself, this would keep the rats I had seen earlier out of the room. The proprietors made me dinner and after visiting with them and their two daughters, I retired for the evening.

Onto Phnom Penh with fewer smiles

The next morning, waking to the faithful’s call to prayer, I began riding toward my goal of Phnom Penh. Searching for food and coffee I remembered Cambodia coffee is usually in small cans of Nescafe, thick with sugar and milk. So, Nescafe it was, when I stopped at a bakery for breakfast. As I ate, I reserved a hotel in the heart of Phnom Penh, through Booking.com. Having clean bedding and air conditioning would be a welcome luxury.

35 K to my hotel

35 K to my hotel

The children along the way were always entertaining to watch

Pedaling through the countryside I stopped and watched as three young children herded a flock of goats across the busy highway. Further along roadside vendors began selling interesting foods including: bowls of chicken heads; piles of deep fried frogs; and beautiful fruits. Fruits we could only hope to see in grocery stores in the U.S. Sadly, the most noticeable difference as I came closer to Phnom Penh were fewer smiles, waves and “hellos” from people along the road.

Cambodian Family maneuvering the highway

Cambodian Family maneuvering the highway

Mid-afternoon with 55-miles pedaled I arrived at my hotel. In the luxury of air conditioning I immediately researched the locations of the Cambodian Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. These were my two must-see memorials of this trip. I discovered the museum was only a mile walk from my hotel and the Killing Fields about ten miles. After laying the groundwork for a Sunday in Phnom Penh, I ventured away from the hotel and took in many sights. Along the way I found a tiny coffee shop making lattes that I could enjoy while watching the activities in the neighborhood!

An to get some valuable travel advice

I had also arranged to meet a fellow Warmshowers host from New Zealand that evening. She has been living in Cambodia for four years while completing her Doctorate in pediatric dentistry. Her bicycling and travel advice was invaluable as was her insight of the current political unrest. Knowing tomorrow would be extremely difficult day emotionally, I returned to the hotel to organize my panniers and get to bed early.

Bearing witness to genocide and the need to stay an extra day

This Sunday morning I walked a mile to the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum. A former Phnom Penh High School, the campus was used to imprison, torture and kill those who were perceived as threats to the Khmer Rouge regime. Between 1975 and 1979, over 17,000 Cambodians passed through Tuol Sleng Prison, also known as Security Prison 21.

Approximately 525 non-Cambodians were also tortured and killed here, including two Americans victims, one born in Minnesota. Of the seven people known to have survived this prison, two were on site. Selling their autobiographies, recounting the few stories they wish to share with visitors and urging all to never let this happen again.

Vietnamese roadside cuisine

Cambodian roadside cuisine

Advice on renting a tuk tuk

After spending over three hours at the museum, a solemn walk brought me to a small café for lunch. While dining, I met two European travelers visiting family. They advised me on costs of renting a tuk-tuk, a motorbike pulling a small cart to transport  people. This is the equivalent of an American taxi. Returning to the hotel, I rented a Tuk-tuk to take me to the Killing Fields, also known as Choeung Ek, southwest of Phnom Penh.

It was here the Khmer rouge murdered 8,900 of their fellow Cambodians. This site is now home to a Buddhist Stupa containing over 5,000 of the victim’s skulls. Total, the Khmer Rouge were responsible for a genocide claiming the lives of one in four Cambodians, or 2.2 million between 1975 -79.

Stephan, Soporn and me at Vicious Cycle in Phenom Penh

Stephan, Soporn and me at Vicious Cycle in Phenom Penh

 

A needed one more day in Phnom Penh

As I headed back to the hotel I realized I needed one more day in Phnom Penh to uplift my spirits.  A day riding free of panniers and discovering the city. I returned to the hotel, then rode my bike and rode along the  waterfront. Entering a vibrant market district, I discovered my destination – Vicious Cycle– a bike repair, rental and organized tour shop. Owner Stephen and head mechanic Soporn, both of Phnom Penh, welcomed me and insisted on a photo. They had not seen an S & S coupler before and thought the engineering was significant. From here I rode to the French Alley Cafe’ where I had agreed to meet the European couple for dinner.

Monday’s city ride and Tiny Toones

Inspirational mural at Tiny Toones

Inspirational mural at Tiny Toones

Planning for my boat ride up the river

My second day in Phnom Penh began hot, humid and sunny as usual. Strolling through the neighborhood I had to sample a few different lattes then back to the hotel where I arranged a Tuesday morning boat transport. This would be a full day, eight hour, speed boat ride up the Tonle Sap River, then across the lake of the same name. With the passage for tomorrow’s journey reserved I grabbed my trusty steed and I decided to try to get good and lost for a couple hours. I saw a fair portion of the city this way. Then, with the help of Google maps I was able to wind my way through the Phnom Penh traffic back to my hotel.

Classroom at Tiny Toones

Classroom at Tiny Toones

In the afternoon, I hired a tuk tuk to bring me to Tiny Toones. This is a school for homeless and at-risk children in a “more difficult” area of the city. Yesterday, when I shared with the European couple where I planned on going, they advised caution. The tuk tuk driver raised his eyebrows as I showed him on my map. The “roads” in this section of Phnon Penh were mere alleyways and it took over 40 minutes of searching, along with a phone call to the administrator of the school to finally pinpoint the entrance.

More on Tiny Toones

Shhort the school’s Administrator, along with K.K. the schools founder met each other as kids in Kentucky. Their families resettled there after fleeing the Khmer Rouge. They returned to Cambodia to help the children in Cambodia who, most likely, were not going to be as fortunate as them. Tiny Toones uses dance, music and visual arts as the common learning thread throughout the school. In Cambodia, families pay for schooling and often cannot afford to send or bribe school administrations for a much sought-after education.

Shhort and myself at Tiny Toones

Shhort and myself at Tiny Toones

Returning to the hotel, I picked up my fresh laundry and met the European couple at the rooftop restaurant of their hotel. Five hours of stories and contemplating the future of Cambodia found me arriving to bed late, with great anticipation for tomorrow.                                     –

A day on the Tonle Sap River

One slip and "tour over"

One slip and “tour over”

Leaving Phnom Penh, Tuesday morning, I aged a year watching the deckhand cautiously nudge my fully loaded bike along the edge of the boat. I took one photo of what I thought may be the last time I see my Trucker. I then turned my back and knew if I heard a splash it was “tour over.” Settling in for a look back upon a unique city I may never see again, I breathed a sigh of relief as the boat (with my bike) left promptly, 20 minutes late.

Floating villages along the Tonle Sap River

We passed three floating villages along the way to Chong Knaes , our destination. These villages are populated by people who fish for a living or transport goods along the river and its tributaries. While occasionally getting fresh air, I did use the opportunity to catch some needed sleep and prepare for the days ahead. Arriving at Chong Knaes, I relived the anxiety of the morning as they successfully unloaded my bike.

Floating village on the Tonle Sap River

A Floating village on the Tonle Sap River

A low tire in a small town

As I wheeled up the boat landing I noticed the front tire was extremely low. Luckily, most Cambodian towns, no matter the size, (throughout Southeast Asia as well) have at least one motorbike repair shop.  The mechanics, boys no older than 12 years of age, filled my tire and sent me on my way after refusing an offer of payment. Chong Knaes is the gateway to Siem Reap and the Ankgor Wat temple complex. The small village is located 16-miles south of Ankgor Wat. I had reserved a room at a “boutique hotel” run by an Australian couple and their French Chef.

Cambodian school on stilts over water

Here I repaired my flat and was directed to the non-tourist area of town where I found dinner, again beef and rice. Watching a soccer match between local schools proved to be the highlight of the evening. I then wound my way through the maze of streets to the hotel for conversation and advice on how to experience Siem Reap tomorrow.

Pedaling the world’s 7th wonder

7th wonder of the world

Main Temple and entrance to the Ankgor Wat

I found my breakfast ready and in the fridge near the hotel desk. The chef had prepared it to take with me today as I planned to leave before dawn. Leaving the hotel I rode through the maze of dark alleyway streets to the main road through Siem Reap. Last evening’s advice included directions to the only building where $36 tickets are sold to enter the Ankgor Wat complex.

A huge area with only six gated entrances

Imagine an area many miles square with only six gated entrances where tickets/passes are checked – I think you have a rough idea of the complex. The entire archeological area set aside by the Cambodian government encompasses 154 square miles that includes forests and small villages. The area is home to both the famed Ankgor Wat and Ankgor Thom temples built in the 12th century by the Khmer King Suryyavarman.

Dieity  statue in Ankgor Wat

The day was cloudy so hopes of a brilliant sunrise over the temples were not realized. The silver lining was arriving before the throngs of tourists to this seventh wonder of the world. These grand temples and stone carvings built with ancient engineering mesmerized me. Here were many tourists on bikes; there are bike rental shops in Siem Reap and no lack of bicycle racks at either complex.

Trees growing throughout the temples remains

I rode the “ring” roads around each complex entering at the main walkway at Ankgor Wat while riding to different ruin access points in Ankgor Thom. Thom looked much more ancient with its iconic trees growing through, around and over the remains of temples, walls and walkways. The vendors here were more aggressive than other areas I encountered along this journey. Most bicycle tourers, I know, travel to meet people and experience cultures. Purchasing souvenirs can become problematic while touring. I did purchase a $1 coffee, the most expensive coffee of the entire trip.

A close shave

After lunch I scouted the non-tourist area of Siem Reap for a barber shop. After making a shaving motion with my hands, a young lady kindly pointed to a shop down the alley. My beard was the longest ever and I had not shaved my head for almost two weeks. The young barber, under tutelage of his father, produced a straight-razor in which he slid a new, long blade. Now I became nervous. The young man proceeded to give a fine shave and really got enjoyment from people crowded around him as he shaved the “barang.” I spent the final two hours of sunlight mailing postcards and meandering through the city markets tasting different foods.

Cambodian version of Danish Abelskiver

I came upon what some westerners would believe to be Danish Abelskiver. Not being able to pass on this tasty treat, made with rice and coconut milk, I bought four. To my surprise each contained either a small piece of green onion or single kernel of corn.

Sweet taste treat - Cambodian abelskivers

Sweet taste treat – Cambodian abelskivers

With approximately 30-miles on my tires, viewing the 7th architectural wonder of the world, receiving a fine shave and enjoying Cambodian taste treats, it was a fulfilling day!

Into the countryside with several coconut stops

Every morning on this trip I have woke to a rooster crowing, even in the hearts of Phnom Penh and Saigon. This Thursday was no exception, though I managed a little more sleep before my tires hit the pavement again. My goal was to be in Stoung , about 61-miles away, this evening. The earlier starts had an enormous impact on my daily riding. The cooler sometimes cloudy mornings allowed me to stay a step ahead of the humidity as it mixed with a high sun later in the day. I also could allow longer, shaded breaks to enjoy a full coconut.

I found, after drinking an entire coconut full of juice, heat and humidity had no effect on me for the next couple hours.

Coconut break at rural Cambodian market

Coconut break at rural countryside market

Another joy of bicycling through Southeast Asia is seeing uniformed children biking to and from school. This morning, I saw hundreds of children riding along the highway waving and shouting “hello!” Early on I attempted to be one of the friendliest tourers on the road, but I stopped waving. During my first three days of riding I came upon the scenes of two fatal accidents that may have been avoided if those poor souls had paid more attention.

Playing it safe around the kids

The distraction of waving and the careless drivers, coupled with no enforcement of traffic laws brings danger to these children. The children are packed together in their own unique peloton, many giving rides to other siblings or friends.

I did not want to see children losing control and creating an accident with highway drivers who do not care. It was along this stretch of road I experienced an oncoming tour bus passing a semi-truck, which was passing another tour bus. I of course, found myself far in the ditch as I saw this happening before my eyes.

Another coconut before finding breakfast

Out of town I realized I had not eaten yet. The coconuts being very filling, I rode to the next town, Dam Daek where I stopped for breakfast. Though I could not communicate through words, the chef made me the most delicious and welcoming meal of the trip. Here the custom of cooks and restaurant owners serving you. Then sitting across from you and watching you eat is a little unnerving and takes some getting used to! Though the friendliness is enjoyable!

Beautiful presentation & delicious breakfast Cambodia style

Beautiful presentation & delicious breakfast Cambodia style

I stopped later on this leg of my journey to enjoy another coconut. Encouraged by two young children, with their waves and shouts I surprised them by my highway U-turn. They could not hide their excitement of this foreigner at their mother’s roadside stand. Though we could not communicate through words, when prompted by their mom, they began to sing the children’s song “Head, shoulders knees and toes!”  This “concert” was captured on my phone and continues to be one of the trip’s highlights.

Trying to avoid the trinkets

Riding into Stoung, I took the first guesthouse available. It was first and foremost a restaurant for Ankgor Wat tour buses. Tourists could purchase items to remember their travels without the bicycle’s conditions of limited space or weight. At this inn, $15 got me a clean room with air conditioning and a fan, though the fan proved more effective. Stoung’s roadside vendors primarily sold dried fish hung on roadside racks.

Riding through the town, I found an unmemorable dinner, passed a group of young monks on their walk back to the Wat and stopped to get a bottled tea for my morning ride. The girl selling beverages from her cooler reminded me of a lemonade stand back home; as she opened the cooler to display her wares I saw a mix of bottled teas, pop and beer. After purchasing a tea and a 10 ounce Black Panther stout from the 8 year old, I made my way back to the guesthouse. After journaling my day, I slept well.

Cultural differences and travel warnings on my solo bike tour      

The guesthouse owner had opened the gate early since I had said I was leaving by 6 a.m. Riding through town, children were already on their bikes heading to school. I made 20-miles on one bottle of tea and a Cliff bar which propelled me to the town of San Kor. Here I ate breakfast at a communal table outside a busy market. Though I am open to trying most any food, the meat in this morning’s soup consisted entirely of intestines. I savored the noodles, veggies and broth and managed to let the intestines fall from my chopsticks to the dirt under the table. Here the town dogs lounged waiting for a morning snack.

Dealing with dogs on my journey

As a cyclist, I noticed dogs along the roads in towns and cities posed no threat but dogs in the countryside would snarl and give chase in an instant. From other cycling travel journals, I knew to be cautious of the Cambodian canines. Travel warnings from the U.S. State Department make it clear. If a person is to travel in the countryside, remote areas or spending a large amount of time outside, getting the rabies vaccine before your trip is wise.

In 2017, Cambodia saw the largest increase in rabies cases ever and the vaccine can only be found in the three largest cities. It was also in San Kor where I witnessed a dog get hit by a truck and just left in the road. I did not witness anyone come to the dog’s aid and it continued to get hit by subsequent vehicles. I can understand a person not wanting to risk their life in these dangerous roadways for an animal that may most likely die; there is a different value and perception placed on animals in Cambodia, than in the U.S.

Smiling stone Buddhas at Ankgor WAt

Smiling stone Buddhas at Ankgor Wat

 

 

 The luxury resort & spa that was erie and virtually deserted

I managed to book a room at a resort four miles outside the town of Kampong Thnor, arriving about 1 o’clock with 60-miles ridden for the day. The pictures of the resort betrayed what truly laid in wait for me. I arrived at an almost vacant, eerie and vast lodge complex. The 200 plus hotel was more of an abandoned office building. I was one of the two rooms booked for the evening.

This building I was in was a half mile from the main office and restaurant. The immense concrete parking lot was covered with weeds and looked like it had not seen a vehicle in years. I told the manager I would not stay here and asked for an alternative. Costing $10 more I was reissued a small cabin that was much closer to the restaurant/office and had wi-fi. I showered away the daily dirt, napped then decided to get an early dinner. Being the only patron in this vast dining hall, the best part of my stay was the food. The feast included a fresh salad with beef and salted crab.

I planned to leave early again in the morning, so lights out at 8 p.m.

Dangerous roads and the bamboo bridge on this solo bike tour

Bamboo bridge from my 2014 bike tour

The bamboo bridge (photo from my 2014 bike tour)

This Saturday morning found me packed and leaving the most bizarre excuse for a resort/hotel ever imagined. I rode around the maze of empty cabins to the cavern of a restaurant. The door was open so I walked in, said “hello” a few times loudly and received no response. Setting the key on the reception desk, I left. A mile away, through the small village and almost to the main road, a motorbike pulled alongside. It was the young manager from the hotel accusing me of leaving without paying.

I really couldn’t get angry, he was probably fearful of having to cover the costs if I got away. Showing him the receipts from last evening’s dinner and the separate paid receipt for the stay, he was embarrassed. He urged me to return for the breakfast included with my stay. If last evenings dinner was any indication, I wouldn’t be back on the road until after noon so I passed.

LBN Hotel, Kampong Cham overlooking the Mekong River

LBN Hotel, Kampong Cham overlooking the Mekong River

The most dangerous ride of my life

On the return ride through the town of Kampong Thnor (or Thma; Thna depending on which map, website or sign was being read) I found a coffee shop for the earliest caffeine of the trip. Two cliff bars later I was out on Cambodian Provincial Highway 71 experiencing the most dangerous riding of my life. The roads had no shoulders and at least a foot of the road edge was crumbling enough to force me farther into the traffic lane. Here again I witnessed a double pass, drivers having no concern for human life.

Though I love Cambodia, this day I knew if I ever returned, I would not tour by bike on this highway. I believe it needs to be said; if you are planning a trip to a destination where traffic/driving is heavy, research that area. The site Crazyguyonabike.org has incredible firsthand knowledge of riding conditions the world over. From my research I knew this stretch was dangerous. Though I am an experienced urban/highway shoulder rider I did not expect the callous disregard for human life on the roadways.

Cambodia’s 3rd largest city

There were two trip ‘firsts’ today: first a youngster who said “hi” instead of hello; and another wearing a bicycle helmet.  Wheeling through areas of logging and rubber plantations, I entered Kampong Cham, Cambodia’s 3rd largest city, from the west. While here three years ago, I never rode through the city, just along the waterfront.

Hitching a ride through the market

Hitching a ride through the market

The bamboo bridge

One of the most unique tourist attractions in Kampong Cham is the Kaoh Pen Bamboo Bridge from the city to the island of Kaoh Pen in the Mekong. In March of 2014, I rode the bridge to the island and relaxed at Kampong Cham beach. This tour, now early December, I saw the bridge in its annual rebuilding. During the Mekong region’s rainy season the bridge washes down river each year and is rebuilt in a Sisyphus type scenario. Splurging on a room at the new LBN Hotel, five stars by Western standards, I spent $36 dollars. The room had a view overlooking the Mekong and its river walk, plus breakfast was included.

The Riverwalk in Kampong Cham was entertaining, with many dinner options

Saturday night on the Riverwalk offers many food vendors, organized calisthenics, live music, families playing games, strolling monks and only a handful of western tourists. I ate dinner at the Smile Restaurant on the Riverwalk. Smile is a project of the Buddhism for Social Development Action. They train disadvantaged youth in service and tourism industries giving them marketable skills and education.

At dinner I was joined by a 74-year-old Australian of Sri Lankan descent. He assesses Cambodian projects being funded by German banks and reports if the investments are attaining the desired goals. Foreign investment in Cambodia is everywhere. Many corporations and countries are attempting to gain a toehold of influence in this poverty stricken and increasingly graft run country.

Returning to my hotel, my locked bike had been brought inside by the 24 hour hotel guard. Most places I stayed allowed me to bring the Trucker inside for the evening though those that did not had a 24-hour guard watching customer’s motorbikes. It was there the Trucker was snuggled under the watchful eye of the guard on duty.

My last night in Cambodia on my solo bike tour

On my last Sunday in Cambodia, after a delicious omelet in the hotel and a final 40-minute ride through the city, I turned east and rode the Kizuna Bridge over the Mekong River. The Kizuna is one of many bridges funded by Japan. This evening’s destination was Kraek and today I encountered three Khmer weddings.

After inquiring, I understood these Khmer celebrations usually last three to four days with music and food throughout. The music was earsplitting, I could hear noise three miles away before reaching the party. The wedding rental business must be one of the busiest and profitable in Cambodia. The sad reality is the amount of trash generated, abandoned at the roadside with no infrastructure to collect it.

Still noticeable remnants of  the “American” War with Vietnam

The road continued in its narrow and crumbling state, though undulating rollers, which were welcome from the flat terrain so far on this trip. Finding tonight’s guesthouse I unpacked, reorganized and embarked on a ride through the town. This area of Cambodia saw years of conflict during the “American” War with Vietnam and the subsequent invasion and occupation by Vietnam in 1979 to overthrow the Khmer Rouge.

Returning to the hotel room I began noticing what looked to be dark cracks along the walls and floor. Upon closer inspection, it seemed every ant in Kampong Cham Province had found its way to my room lured by a stale piece of baked good I had placed in the wastebasket. Doing my best to secure my remaining food, I brought towels from the guesthouse desk to wipe up and rid the room of what ants I could.

This meal did NOT go to the dogs

This meal did NOT go to the dogs

 

 

 

Dinner with dogs

For dinner, I strolled along the highway to find the only open restaurant.  Inside large tables, with pots placed in the middle, were chunks of burning wood to cook your meal. I was supplied with gray marinated beef and numerous vegetables by the young couple running the place. I was soon joined by the town canines who were not interested in competing with me for the food at my table. They had their dinner from the remains on the table next to me.

It is really an experience to see a dog eating at a table next to you while the proprietors don’t make a move to get them off the table or out of the restaurant. I returned to the hotel by 8, journaled my day and fell asleep.

Crossing back into Vietnam on my solo bike tour

Waking Monday morning I was itching and covered with mosquito bites. I didn’t remember swatting the little buggers during the night, but had the bumps to show for in the morning. The past few days I had noticed more mosquitoes, but this last evening was crazy. I am glad I took the malaria pills and Japanese encephalitis vaccine, before this trip.

Trucker waiting outside the Vietnamese customs

Trucker waiting outside the Vietnamese customs

I love riding in the early mornings here, children going to school, proprietors setting up shop and families sharing breakfasts at small roadside restaurants. My goal this morning was to arrive early at the border crossing as I entered back into Vietnam.

Passing through customs leaving Cambodia

Rolling up to the border I was able to rest the Trucker against a rail and walk to an open customs window. The Cambodian guards were having difficulty with their retina scanner. After 30 minutes of trying one, then another scanner, they finally found one that worked to their satisfaction. I refused to place “extra funds” in my passport receiving a cold stare as I handed it over. Locals lining up behind me had either U.S. dollars or Cambodian Riel peeking out from their passport as a way to ensure their border crossing.

Approaching the Vietnam customs, I locked my bike outside and walked through a huge building; more of symbolic puffed chest toward Cambodia than a practical government building. I took the long walk through this port of entry. Not seeing a soul, I passed the official passport check station and walked right up to the guards at the exit.

These guards panicked, alarmed that I had strolled right through to them, without being stopped by the custom official and having my passport stamped. As one guard escorted me back, the other was yelling for the person responsible for monitoring passports and missing me. Five minutes after handing over my passport, I was back at the exit station. The two guards there scrutinized my passport, since they had nothing better to do.

Back in Vietnam

Returning to the front of the building, I grabbed the Trucker and rode the 100 odd yards to the exit where yet another customs official scrutinized my passport. All cleared and back in Vietnam, I tucked away my Cambodian Riel and American Dollars and returned the Vietnamese Dong currency to my wallet. Though it is illegal for the Vietnamese to accept dollars, when paying for larger ticket items like hotel rooms, they will quietly accept it.

It could have been a marriage with coconuts as the dowry?

Today’s 62-miles were uneventful; keeping an eye on the traffic while dodging puddles from last evening’s rain. I did stop twice for coconuts, I swear they have an ingredient that rejuvenates, like no other. The second stop was run by a mother and her two adult daughters. This mother was very serious about me returning to the states with one of her daughters and hope of an immediate wedding.

After emphatically stating “NO” three-times I was back on the Trucker and gone. Riding through the large city of Tay Ninh, gateway to Ba Den mountain, I pondered whether to stay for the night or keep riding. Ba Den Mountain was used as a signal post by American forces during the war and is now an amusement park complete with vendors, rides and a tram to the top of the mountain.

Setting my sights on a guesthouse I had stayed at 11 days prior

Tay Ninh is also home to the Cao Dai Temple.  This religion was founded here in 1926 and is formally known as “The Great Faith [for the] Third Universal Redemption”. The temple is adorned with paintings of the “Left Eye of God” the symbol of Caodaism. It was still before noon so I set my goal as Go Dau with hopes of staying at the same guesthouse I had 11 days prior.

When I arrived, the owner was very happy to see me and chatted again about his time in the U.S. He rode his bicycle with me to the restaurant.  It was then I learned his brother had taken me to his favorite pho restaurant, not the one having a business arrangement with the guesthouse owner. During my fantastic dinner of shrimp fried rice, we were hit with a sudden severe storm which knocked out power to most of the town. This must be a common occurrence since all along the street generators fired up and it became business as usual.

Returning to the guesthouse (in the dark, rain and without a shoulder against oncoming traffic on the divided highway) I was met by the owners brother in law and a friend from Cambodia.  They proceeded to tell me, as I quietly listened, all the problems with the American government today. After an hour of international insight I called it an evening and retired to my room.

Shopping and breathing in Saigon on the last leg of my solo bike tour

Enjoying acclimation to the heat, humidity and exhaust day 14 was my last planned day to ride. As I repeated the tour’s first day of mileage and divided highway, I happened upon a grand opening. Here at the 7-mile mark a new combination coffee shop/ motorbike/car wash just opened. This idea makes great sense in Vietnam. Ready to pay for my latte, the woman behind the counter thanked me profusely for coming. She insisted my morning caffeine was free as long as I came back some time – I just might!

Vietnamese street vendor making savory omelettes

Vietnamese street vendor making savory omelettes

Closing in on Saigon, I rode past the usual grouped retail shops. A stretch of landscape shops would give way to a mile of woodcarving artisans, then motorbike repair shops followed by pharmacies. No rhyme or reason that I could tell, though it seems to make it easy to negotiate and fix prices. The shops I hated to see were the ones selling caged wild birds sold as pets. It was along this group of shops I saw a man on a bike with a platform on the back selling beautiful birds of prey, each tethered to a board.

Bicyclist with cages mounted on back selling beautiful birds.

Bicyclist with cages mounted on back selling beautiful birds.

The air thickened as I rode into Saigon

Each mile closer to the city center saw the air thickened to the point of being able to grab it, a sickening exhaust-humidity cocktail. The buff across my face was worth its weight in gold.  After a fried rice breakfast in Cu Chi, I stopped for another coffee. It was here the young lady behind the counter brought me three large green teas as I chatted with the owner and drank my coffee. As I said goodbye to them both, she brought me another bagged tea to hang from the handlebars!

With every Vietnamese coffee comes a side of iced green tea

With every Vietnamese coffee comes a side of iced green tea

After checking into my hotel in the early afternoon, I immediately took all my dirty clothes over to the laundry. By the early evening they would be cleaned and folded for $3.50. With time to relax, I walked to a fancy new restaurant serving Vietnamese and Cantonese dishes. The shiitake soup was wonderful and the entire staff was dressed in Santa or elf outfits for the approaching holiday.

Then I returned to Amy’s coffee a short walk from the hotel. The owner seemed surprised to see me again. He immediately brought an iced coffee without asking. Though I paid for it, my system could take no more caffeine today. Instead I ordered apple juice and was very happy with that as my nightcap.

The last two days of my solo bike tour were spent walking Saigon

Leaving the Trucker behind, I put on over nine miles walking on Wednesday as I made my way to Ben Tanh Market and other sites around Saigon. I purchased a few items to bring home, ate well throughout the day and arrived back at the hotel during rush hour. To show others what the road was like at this hour, I donned my helmet and jumped on Trucker to record an 11-minute video. Here I am, with a Go Pro attached to my helmet, riding from the hotel, down the neighborhood street to the main road and around the huge roundabout at rush hour.

Later, I washed the evidence of Cambodia and Vietnam from the Trucker’s frame and let it drip dry overnight. Tomorrow I will take it apart to be packed for my flight back. If the stars align, I will see it in Chicago when I arrive.

Shopping for tea and packing

Thursday morning scouted for various teas to enjoy back home and was pleasantly surprised to find lotus flower tea. Soon after, the bike came apart and the components were smuggled past the front desk and into my room where I could pack without a crowd gathering to watch. Re-wrapping fragile components with bubble wrap and padding the corners of the cloth case with clothing proved again to be a tight fit. Then it happened!

The cloth along one side of the zipper on the top side of the case ripped the entire length. All I could do was finish packing and grab a roll of canary yellow duct tape (it’s in my DNA, I carry duct tape) and proceed to reinforce the case. Now the hope was airport security would not decide they need to open it?

I challenged myself the rest of the day to find different street vendors and sample their foods. One reason being, I may not return to Vietnam for a while and the other is to spend my remaining dong since it won’t go far in the states.

With gear loaded, 22 hours later I was back in the U.S.

With my new Deuter backpack I purchased in Saigon, as my carry on, I went to bed early preparing for a 5:15 a.m. taxi to the airport. Checking in for the flight to Narita Japan, the counter agent did not weigh either my cased bike or my checked bag so no worries there. I also watched security through a propped door as they x-rayed my bag. I believe the protocol here was to wait until a passenger’s luggage was screened and if all was well you could proceed to the gate.

My bags passed and 22 hours later I landed at Chicago ‘s O’Hare for an evening with my daughter and son-in-law. Now for the last leg of my journey, a five hour drive home, from Chicago to Minneapolis for the Holidays.

Practical details and tips for planning a Cambodian journey

Think I travel light? The joke with all my past travel companions is “where is he hiding the kitchen sink?” Being called a pack mule doesn’t begin to describe me; never a boy scout yet always prepared.  This trip I attempted to turn a new leaf by limiting the items I packed.  The following items were not necessarily used, but carried with me.

But first let me start with:

The Trucker crank section nestled in the case

  • The Surly Long Haul Trucker; 26” wheels; outfitted with S & S couplers , Dynamo front hub and Sinewave converter for devices.
  • An S & S carrying case for the bike. So I can check it in as normal airline baggage -using: bubble wrap, pipe insulation and tennis balls to slide over frame ends.
  • Surly Pannier racks; front, rear and handlebar Ortlieb bags.
  • Coupler wrench & thread lube; 3 extra spokes; extra tubes; tire levers; patch kit; mini pump; extra brake and shifter cables; head/tail lights; helmet; bell (a must for answering the school children’s bells); bungee cords. Chain lube; extra chain links; adjustable wrench; spoke wrench; needle nose pliers; swiss army knife; and Allen wrench/screwdriver multi tool.
  • Android Nexus 5; IPhone ; Go Pro Hero and 64 GB SD cards; Charging cords/adapters
  • Keen sandals; pair of Crocs; pair wool ankle socks; 2 pairs padded shorts ; pair no pads; underwear, 1 pair long pants (zip offs); 3 long sleeve shirts , 3 short sleeve; 1 wool beanie; 3 Buffs (can’t live without ‘em); 1 yellow windbreaker.
  • 6 epi-pens; malaria pills; z-pack, ibuprofen; Tylenol arthritis, Pepto Bismal, Neosporin ointment, toothpaste/brush/floss; liquid soap; hand sanitizer; deodorant; Misc. bandages/gauze pads/tape/Q tips; Katadyn Micropur tablets/ 2L Hydrapak container; washcloth/ towel; 50 SPF sunscreen; toilet paper
  • Small mirror; clothesline; spork; ENO hammock; Chimes ginger chews; Nuun electrolyte tablets. Clif bars; G.I. can opener (the same one used on my first tour at 12 years old), hardcover journal/pen; People for Bikes stickers ( given to children in lieu of candy); 5 Sea to Summit various sized dry bags and back pack; Ziploc bags; duct tape; sunglasses and bifocals
  • Passport w/ extra photos; medical information; decoy wallet; waistband pouch for money and passport; 9 million Vietnamese Dong (about $400); $400 U.S. cash

Reservations along the way

The only reservation I made before I left Minneapolis was for the Minh Chau Hotel in District 10 in Saigon. They had done a superb job 3 years prior and though the ownership had changed, the service was wonderful. Not a fancy hotel by any standards but a large room with a queen size bed and full bath was $19 per night.

This was about 3 miles from downtown Ho Chi Minh City where the costs climb slightly but the rooms, beds and baths shrink exponentially. The other plus was the Minh Chau was in the heart of a neighborhood; coffee shops, restaurants, 2 schools, laundries and morning markets made for an authentic, day-to-day vibe. The day after I arrived, I booked my final two nights here and they agreed to store my bike case and packing materials for my return.

Google Maps

I relied on Google maps as I looked ahead each day, searching for guesthouses or if the city was large enough, hotels. In the larger cities, I would scan for the words “guesthouse” or “hotel” as I rode through town. Only once I saw no indication of places to stay on Google maps or Booking.com. Of course, this was also the small town that most people waved me away after my game of charades to find lodging.

Lodging

Guesthouses and hotels outside the large cities of HCMC, Phnom Penh and the tourist city of Siem Reap are rented by the hour, 2 hour or night.  Most family living is multi-generational in a 2-3 room dwelling with extremely little privacy. These places offer an inexpensive getaway to couples looking to be alone. Sadly, this pricing and availability also enable sex traffickers and tourists to continue victimizing Southeast Asians.

In Phnom Penh

I spent 3 nights at the luxurious Mekong Dragon Boutique Hotel at $39 per night.  This booking.com reservation was made from the road 5 hours ahead of time; they had all my information and an iced mango juice (in a martini glass!) as I walked through the door. This hotel was close to the sites I was to visit the following day and enabled me to experience the true feel of Phnom Penh city life.

Approaching Siem Reap

I made reservations for a small hotel and received the Booking.com confirmation number.  For $16 a night, I stayed 2 nights in the clean and friendly Ankgor Beauty Boutique Hotel, 2 miles south of Siem Reap happily hidden in a maze of alleyways and roads.

The Samrith Hotel outside the small city of Kampong Thnor was questionable?

The booking site sorely misrepresented this location as a luxury resort & spa though it was eerie and virtually deserted. Booking.com also allowed me to make a reservation for a hotel that closed six months earlier. They notified me two hours later to make different plans.

The luxury LBN Hotel to the the Mekong hotel

Three years ago in Kampong Cham, the Mekong hotel was one of a handful of places to stay overlooking the Mekong River. I stayed here and marveled at the large construction project next door. Fast forward to this trip and that project is the luxury LBN Hotel, the tallest building in Kampong Cham. I stayed for one night at $36 with a delicious breakfast included.

If you decide to visit Vietnam or Cambodia, there are plenty of places to stay and sleuthing to discover them takes little effort. You may be surprised at their definition of “clean” but the hospitality more than counters most issues that may arise.

Shoreview offer miles of paved trail to enjoy

Shoreview’s music will have you dancing on your pedals to natures beat

by Andrew Ellis

The trails here, can be your playground for you and your bike in Shoreview  – there’s no where you can’t go. This Twin Cities Gateway community here offers friendly road routes, trails and sidewalks so you can take another bike journey wherever you wish. The city also offers some off road paved trails to get closer with nature and all the beauty the community has to offer. You may even find some smaller paths worth exploring. It’s your adventure and it all starts as soon as you leave your hotel in the Twin Cities Gateway. And don’t forget Slice of Shoreview Days July 27-29.

A perfect vacation headquarters, the Twin Cities Gateway is a cooperative of nine communities including Shoreview and just a few bike friendly miles north of Minneapolis. Here you can enjoy:

Concerts in the Commons

Shoreview's Concerts in the Commons is the perfect way to get a pedal dancing rhythm for your #NextBikeAdventure.

Shoreview’s Concerts in the Commons is the perfect way to get a pedal dancing rhythm for your #NextBikeAdventure.

This summer features free entertainment outdoors at the Shoreview Community Center concerts, starts in June. Each Wednesday the Center features an outside concert with a different band, starting at 7 pm. It’s free, so steer your bike over and get ready to tap your feet.

Rice Creek North Regional Trail

Get close to nature on all the paved trails winding through Shoreview.

Get close to nature on all the paved trails winding through Shoreview.

With more than 50 miles of paved trail (see map) there’s plenty of riding for several visits. Although it is hard to see some trail markings, especially when connecting from a road route to get to the next section, these trails offer many opportunities to take wildlife pictures, discovering the area’s diverse landscape while catching scents of wildflowers. As you ride you will also see and hear plenty of birds of different kinds chirping away. Every once and a while the the trail crosses over the creek and you may want to consider some fishing.

Other Activities

If you want to take a short bike ride over to nearby Spring Lake Park, you can also enjoy the Shorview Sweetroll Skate Park. The SweetRoll is a tier-one skating facility on the north side of the Community Center. The park here includes a wedge, a spine, a fun box, a quarter pipe, grind rails, and a mini ramp..

If you’re looking for a fun way to cool off, you can bike on over to the Shoreview Community Center for their tropical-themed water park in the Twin Cities Gateway. This three-story water slide equipped park features a one-of-a-kind jukebox with over 100 songs ready to played along with a light show that sliders can enjoy as they twist and turn down to the bottom. At the main pool you can also play volleyball and there is even a adults-only whirlpool and patio area.

Disc golf opportunities are always a highlight in the many parks of the Twin Cities Gateway.

Disc golf opportunities are always a highlight in the many parks of the Twin Cities Gateway.

For those wanting a round of disc golf all you have to do is ride over to Hansen Park in New Brighton. With 12 holes, this disc golf course is complimented by stands mature trees amongst open spaces to skillfully connect with the baskets. It’s a great way to take a break from biking while still enjoying the the amenities of Shoreview.

And don’t forget Slice of Shoreview Days

Consider biking to the Slice of Shoreview for a weekend of fun.

Consider biking to the Slice of Shoreview for a weekend of fun.

If you’re exploring the area in July, from the 27th to the 29th, then you will be in time for the communities annual celebration. Slice of Shoreview Days is packed with fun for the whole family. There is live music, local arts, chalk drawing, a petting zoo, pony rides, a carnival, fireworks, and more.

Visiting shoreview with your bike can be a memorable weekend you won’t soon forget.

The Mesabi Trail now crosses over Minnesota's tallest bridge.

Ride across the highest bridge in Minnesota this summer on the Mesabi Trail

by Ardy Nurmi-Wilberg

Did you know you can ride your bike across the tallest bridge in Minnesota on the Mesabi Trail?  Did you also know that on August 4th, all four routes for the Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour will be going across that bridge?

More on the Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour

Whether you are an avid cyclist, a casual rider or you’ve got the kids in tow – don’t miss this fun. The ride is filled with many opportunities to experience the Best Rural Bike Trail in Minnesota (according the 2013 Star Tribune).

With kid's in tow the Mesabi trail is always fun!

With kid’s in tow the Mesabi trail is always fun!

The 2018 Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour has a route for riders of any level and every year the tour route is changed to highlight the wonderful communities along the trail. This year all four routes will lead to a slam bang finish at Mesabi Station in Eveleth.

Trail Route Options

Just eight miles from Grand Rapids, take the 71 mile route from Bovey and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the picture Grace.

52 miles from the finish join the tour in Nashwauk, and enjoy the first of 5 rest stops with snacks and entertainment.

Buhl is the 3rd start location, with 25 miles to go to finish line outdoor concert and BBQ lunch. Don’t miss out on some of the Finest Water in America, in Buhl.

The shortest route, great for all the kids in the family, is just 11 miles from Virginia.  And just a couple of miles away from the tallest bridge in Minnesota!

After riding across the tallest bridge have your photo taken at the finish line!

After riding across the tallest bridge have your photo taken at the finish line!

The new Minnesota Bridge

Crossing the bridge, 200 feet above the water’s surface, the $220 million bridge is part of the relocation of Hwy 53. This allowed United Taconite to mine under the old highway. In order to connect Virginia with the reminder of the Mesabi Trail heading towards Ely, a 14 ft wide addition was added to the bridge to accommodate the paved bike trail. In the winter, this also serves as a snowmobile crossing.

The trail stretches over 155 miles

The Mesabi Trail is one of the premier bike trails in Minnesota. Currently over 135 miles of this paved trail is complete, when finished it will stretch over 155 miles and pass through 28 communities in northeast MN.

Stretching from the Mississippi (Grand Rapids) to the Boundary Waters (Ely) you will experience a trail like no other. The trail allows you to pedal past pristine lakes, through woods, over rolling hills, wind through bogs and hey, there’s a taconite mine. It’s a ride you won’t forget, filled with historic sites, not to mention a string of small towns with a TON of charm.

One of the best ways to experience the Mesabi Trail is on the fully supported Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour. At $45 for individuals and $90 for a family (kids 18 & under ride FREE), it’s one of the best deals around. Entry includes transportation for you and your bike, food & entertainment at rest stops, a concert & BBQ at the finish and a commemorative t-shirt.

Register online today https://www.mesabitrail.com/trail-activities/tour/registration, and have the ride of your life!

If you think you will exceeded your planned level of endurance through the summer and are looking for a memorable way to test those glutes, thighs and calf muscles consider 'Ride the Ridges'.

As a seasoned summer rider will you be ready for ‘Ride the Ridges’?

If you think you will exceed your planned level of endurance riding through the summer and looking for a memorable way to test those glutes, thighs and calf muscles, consider ‘Ride the Ridges’. In its sixth year, on Saturday, September 15, 2018, the Winona Rotary Club is expanding its annual road tour event. This ‘Ride the Ridges‘ (RTR) event will take riders through some of the most scenic areas in Southeastern Minnesota.  Participants of RTR will pedal into lush valleys riding alongside cascading streams then up into the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Are you up for the challenge?

Bike Routes on Riding the Ridges

The beautiful scenery and the challenging hills make this ride one to remember.

The beautiful scenery and the challenging hills make this ride one to remember.

Choose one of four RTR routes, each having hills, valleys and spectacular views. All routes have rest stops and SAG support!

Registration

Early registration is through August 31, and includes a pair of RTR socks , meal voucher ($7.50 value), rest stops, SAG support, and after-ride drink token at Island City Brewing Co.

The RTR benefits the Winona Rotary Clubs – Feed My Starving Children program.

Visiting Winona

Check here for places to stay, eating establishments and attractions when visting.

What past riders say about RTR

You have to do this ride if you enjoy biking. Great roads, great event!

You have to do this ride if you enjoy biking. Great roads, great event!

  • The beautiful scenery and the challenging hills make this event one to remember.
  • The ride is beautiful and scenic with long flats and some rolling hills. But what makes this event stand out are the wonderful volunteers along the way. They all had smiles on and each one offered us enthusiastic encouragement. The warm and tasty coffee from Mugby Junction made the event all the more welcoming and memorable.
  • Great ride support. Will do it again.  Hopefully without the rain.
  • Even in the rain, the camaraderie of participants and volunteers was excellent. I would ride definitely ride again.
  • Shower after and a vegan option food truck…what could be better.
  • I have done multiple century rides and the spacing, food quality and staffing of the rest stops is the best I’ve seen. Thank you!
  • Ride The Ridges is as good as it gets when it comes to bike tours. It offers great scenery, safe roads, superb organization, wonderful volunteers, excellent rest stops, mechanical support and a choice of distances…….everything a cyclist could ask for.
  • I have participated in many century rides around Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. This was my first time doing the “Ride The Rides” century and it was a treat! It was challenging, beautiful, fun, great volunteers and in the top 3 of all the century’s I have completed.  If you want an awesome ride come to Winona!
  • This was my first organized cycle event. Being from out of town l was a little nervous but i met some awesome volunteers and local folks that made it a great experience well done.  See you next year.
  • Best organized ride that I did this season. Very scenic and somewhat difficult route.  Just the kind of ride that I want to usher in the end of an awesome road biking season. Thank You All….
  • You have to do this if you enjoy biking. Great roads, great event!
  • This is my third time Riding the Ridges. The route is my favorite among sponsored rides. The signage is always clear and the support along the way is wonderful.  Will definitely do it again!
  • Ride the Ridges had the best rest stops and volunteers. The food selection was excellent. The volunteers were extremely friendly. I also loved the HAM operators supporting the ride.

For more places to ride this Fall

See the Minnesota Bike/Hike Guide and the Iowa Bike/Hike Guide.

In Minnesota, at the confluence of the Rum entering the Mississippi River you will find many beautiful turn-of-the-century homes and gardens to tour.

Anoka’s Heritage Home and Garden Tour is enjoyable by bike

At the confluence of the Rum entering the Mississippi River, you will find many beautiful turn-of-the-century homes and gardens to tour. This coming Sunday, July 15th, by bike, car or on foot explore 13 historic neighborhoods on the Anoka Heritage Home and Garden Tour.

The Big White House is century old home on the garden to tour.

The Big White House is century old home on the garden to tour.

A part of the Twin Cities Gateway communities, Anoka happens to be a very bike friendly town. Biking is the perfect way to travel from one historic home to the next on this tour. The locations are far enough away from each other that you may not want to walk? On the other hand, they are close enough that driving is cumbersome. Biking is an excellent way to justify stopping at one of the many establishments downtown and grabbing a delicious treat after the tour.

The Heritage Home and Garden Tour

This year there are around 18 stops along the tour, showcasing the community’s past while flower gardens are in bloom. Also featured this year is the Federal Cartridge Clubhouse. Along with a special pop-up tornado exhibit and marketplace at the Anoka Armory, that had been destroyed in the 1939 disaster.

The Mad Hatter Restaurant & Tea Room, in the Woodbury House, is another home worth seeing.

The Mad Hatter Restaurant & Tea Room, in the Woodbury House, is another home worth seeing.

As you tour this river community admire some of Minnesota’s most beautiful homes and gardens up close. From the historic neighborhood of Slabtown to Christian Hill, discover how they got their names. Hear the stories of the first occupants who lived there.

One of the homes featured on tour is the Ticknor Hill Bed and Breakfast, built in 1867 and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. . Another home The Mad Hatter Restaurant & Tea House, located in the Woodbury House with great gardens, is also listed on the National Registry Historic Places. These are just two of the many homes on this tour that you will enjoy seeing.

All participants receive a tour booklet, which contains a map and addresses for you to easily  find the charming homes and gardens on the tour. Once you have purchase your tour book, with map, look at these locations on the city’s bike map showing connectors trails.

For more bicycle opportunities in the Twin Cities Gateway check out these maps.

The Fridley Historic Home & Garden Tour coming July 22

Downriver from Anoka, enjoy a new tradition with the Fridley Historic Home & Garden Tour. This tour, on Sunday, July 22nd  will ramble back in time  to this community’s most famous era, the 60’s! Enjoy scenic homes and gardens by bike as Fridley is another bike friendly community in the Twin Cities Gateway.

Watch the Fridley Historic Home and Garden tour video on YouTube. (Link opens in new tab) 

See the Fridley Historic Home and Garden Tour Event Tickets site for more information and to purchase tickets!

If you have three days or more free and looking for a true north biking experience in Minnesota, consider Roseau.

A true north biking experience with family and friends in Roseau

by Russ Lowthian, HaveFunBiking.com

If you have three days or more free and are looking for a true north biking experience in Minnesota, consider Roseau. A few miles from the Canadian border on a recent visit I found this area full of fun offering many off road bicycling opportunities.

An outdoor bicycle paradise

Perfect for the whole family, the city of Roseau offers a paved bike trail, along with a number of quite street routes. Making it easily get around, to and from your hotel, by bike.

The quite city streets makes it easy and safe to connect to the trail to go downtown.

The quite city streets makes it easy and safe to connect to the trail, to go downtown.

On the eastern edge of the city I found Mount Roseau. With no forest vegetation, it made it easy to see the countryside as I rode up and down the trails of this mountain bike park. At the top the view was worth stopping for. But, what was really exciting was learning about the areas remote logging roads and trails in Beltrami Island State Forest. For the gravel, fat and mountain bike riders, this is a haven if you are craving a true north experience.

Roseau a true north biking experience

Minnesota’s North Star City, the community is located in an environmental transition area of the state where the forest gives way to the prairies of the Red River Valley. Roseau is only 13-mile south of the Canadian Border and 27-mile to Lake of the Woods, by auto it is a six hour drive from the Twin Cities. In this friendly Scandinavian community, visitors will find many recreational opportunities in the towns parks and nearby state forests parks.

As a result of this unique location, wildlife enthusiasts traveling by auto, bike or foot can appreciate the outdoor paradise this area offers. Nearly forty percent of Roseau County is open, accessible through state and county parks, forests and wildlife areas. Surrounding Roseau there are tamarack bogs to the north, prairie grasslands to the west and sandy pine forests to the east. All areas provide ample opportunity for a gravel road ride or wilderness fat and mountain biking adventure. Along the way take in several wildlife viewing stations, pick berries or go for a hike and explore. Plus, Roseau is a prime stop on Minnesota’s premier bird watching list, on the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail.

Parks to explore in the area

Four of the most visited Roseau outdoor recreation areas are the Roseau City Park, Sprague Creek Natural Area, Hayes Lake State Park and Beltrami State Forest.

Roseau City Park

The mountain Bike trail on Mount Roseau.

The mountain bike trail on Mount Roseau.

The  City Park here is located on 40 wooded acres in southeast section of the city, along the Roseau River. The park provides a variety of activities including mountain biking and a paved trail. Here you will find Mount Roseau mountain bike trail system offering over 6.5 miles of fun twists and turns for all skill levels. The park also offers: various playground equipment, sand volleyball, a fishing pier and Frisbee golf activities.

Click here to see our bike map of Roseau.

Sprague Creek Natural Area

Easy to ride to, the Peatland Scientific and Natural Area, is just north of Roseau. Once you arrive this area offers hiking trails that features many bird viewing opportunities.

Hayes Lake State Park

Accessible by bike, Hayes Lake State Park is located 18 miles southeast of Roseau, on County Road 4. Located on the edge of Beltrami Island State Forest, this quiet true north park consists of 3,000 acres of pines, Hayes Lake and wildlife. The park also features a day use area with fishing pier, swimming beach and campsites. The lake is a non-motorized recreational area where canoeing is a popular activity. Hayes Lake also offers the opportunity to view rare birds such as bald eagles, great grey owls, Sandhill cranes and a variety of warblers. Wildlife found in the area includes elk, moose, bear and wolves.

Beltrami State Forest

From this forest road many logging roads and trails intersect and are ready yo explore.

From this forest road many primitive logging roads and trails intersect and are ready to explore by bike.

Further east from the State Park and as I mentioned earlier, what really excites me about this area for a true north biking experience in Beltrami Island State Forest. The second largest of Minnesota’s 59 state forests, there are five rivers that have their headwaters here. Also containing scientific and natural areas riding the forest here is unique.

A family enjoying a true north bike experience in the forest.

A family enjoying a true north bike experience in the forest.

In this huge forest there are more than 138 miles of logging roads and trail to explore on your bike.  Make sure you have a compass or GPS device along when exploring the trails. Pedaling around low flatland’s, peat bogs and ridges covered in pines it’s easy to get lost. Pedaling along the forest roads you will pass through the heart of blueberry country. You might find evidence of a former homestead foundation or village also.

When not biking

From wheels to snow track the the Thrill Team helped to promote snowmobiling with this stunt track.

From wheels to snow track the the Thrill Team helped to promote snowmobiling with this stunt track.

Being the birthplace of snowmobiling and Polaris Industries, in between daily outings take in a assembly plant tour and visit the museum in Roseau. At the Experience Center see artifacts from the earliest snowmobiles to Polaris’s movement into All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV’s). History buffs will enjoy the Roseau Pioneer Farm and Village, as well as the Roseau County Museum.

Another Roseau summer tradition is the 100-year old Roseau County Fair. Held in the middle of July, this annual event can add to your biking adventure if you visit at that time. Other activities around town include the community pool, paddling the Roseau River, the local theatre, a bowling alley and arcade. Plus, downtown you will find many antique shops to browse through and reminisce about the past.

Places to stay for a true north biking experience

On my last visit, while exploring this true north play land I headquartered at the AmericInn.  Roseau also offers a couple more hotels to fit your needs. Camping (RV and tent sites-with water and electric) in the city park is also an option.

Roseau has something for every interest. Check your calendar and plan your next true north biking experience today.

Cyclists biking from the Mall of America to one of the many attractions you can ride to in Bloomington.

The Vikings Camp and Bloomington attractions are easy to bike to

by Russ Lowthian, HaveFunBiking.com

Biking to the new Vikings Training Camp, from the Mall of America (MOA) in Bloomington, MN can add to the fun when taking in a scrimmage game. With the recent announcement of the training camp’s schedule, the maps in the Minnesota Bike/Hike Guide can help make it easy get to a game. Less of a hassle factor – starting at the MOA is the perfect place to meet friends staying at area hotels and bicycling together to a game.

A cyclist riding his fat bike across the 494 bike/pedestrian bridge over the Minnesota River.

A cyclist riding his fat bike across the 494 bike/pedestrian bridge over the Minnesota River toward Eagan.

Going to an area attraction like the Vikings Training Camp, the Mall is an excellent multi modal gathering point to get there. Biking from the north parking lot at the MOA it is less than seven miles to the new Vikings facility. Along the way make time stop by the Northwest Airlines Museum or Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Center.

Maps and Q-sheet make it easy to find area attractions by bike

Getting to the attractions on a bicycle can be fun and add to the memories. To plan your next visit to one of Bloomington’s Attractions look at the maps on pages 40-41 and 52-53 of the 2018 Minnesota Bike/Hike Guide. For a trip to the Vikings camp copy the turn-by-turn Q-sheet below for your next bike adventure.

From the MOA Entrance on the north side!                                                                                         0.0 Cross the north MOA parking lot.
0.2 Right on East American Blvd (side walk trail or street).
1.1 Cross 34th Ave. NW Airlines Museum/Crown Plaza Hotel (SE corner).
1.3 Entrance to the MN Valley Wildlife Center.
1.6 Onto bike trails over Minnesota River.
3.9 Right on trail along Pilot Knob Rd.
4.1 Left onto Corporate Center Ln.
4.4 Left onto Trapp Rd.
4.9 Left on Egandale.
5.1 Right on Hwy 55 10 foot shoulder.
5.4 Left on Blue Gentian Rd.
6.2 Cross Dodd Rd/149 onto Vikings Pkwy.
6.3 Left at Round-a-bout onto Lone Oak Pkwy.
6.4 Right on O’Nell Dr.
6.8 North entrance to Vikings Training Camp (Valet gate) and bike racks are available at main entrance inside to secure your bike. 

Starting at MOA adds to the fun exploring Bloomington’s attractions

Bicycling to MOA from American Boulevard.

Bicycling to MOA from American Boulevard.

A revolutionary place for shopping, entertainment and attractions, John Emerson says, “I like using the MOA as a meeting point when biking around the south metro. It’s nice, I can come a little early or stay after a bike ride and get some shopping in or grab a bite to eat. Plus, getting to and from the Mall is easy with the bike friendly sidewalks, access to light-rail and ample parking.” We agree with John. The MOA makes a perfect multi modal commuting hub where travel treasures can be exploredvon two-wheels in Bloomington.

One of many bike parking racks at the Mall of America.

One of many bike parking racks at the Mall of America.

From the north parking lot, at the Mall of America, the sidewalk/trail running parallel with American Boulevard make the best bike commuter route along the 494 freeway strip. Once at the Mall you will find bike racks near most of the main entrances and lockers for changing cloths inside.

If you are coming in by bus or light rail, use the lower parking ramp on the east side. There are bike racks next to the bus station to secure your bike. For more information see MOA services and map.

Now riding east from the Mall, cross the 34th Avenue at the light rail station. Here at the southeast corner of this intersection you will see the Crown Plaza Hotel where the Northwest Airline Museum is located.

Northwest Airlines History Center Museum

One of the displays at the Northwest Airline Museum.

One of the displays at the Northwest Airline Museum.

The Northwest Airlines History Center Museum, a mile east of the Mall of America is worth checking out if you are interested in aviation history. Here you will find a treasure trove of Minnesota’s home-town airline history on display. Visiting, you will find over 4,000 aviation artifacts, from 1926 to 1998, to sift through. Plus, a gallery of museum photos hanging in the hotels hallways to enjoy as you make your way to the exhibit. It is easy to spend a couple hours or more looking at the various collections here.

A short distance east of the NW Airline Museum, is the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Visitors Center

Another Bloomington attraction is the National Wildlife Refuge

The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Visitors Center over looking river and wetlands below .

The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Visitors Center over looking river and wetlands below .

Across from the Hilton Hotel, is the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Visitors Center. Its grand stature overlooking the river valley below offers a castle-like presence. Inside, it feels bigger than the average visitors center and it is. It has everything including information on the wildlife that calls the refuge home. In the theater and interactive exhibits kids can learn about the wonders of the natural world.  There are also several large murals that are made out tiny pictures of animals that can be found in the refuge.

Step outside, right behind the center you will find a stone observation deck with two telescopes. Here it’s easy to focus on the flora and fauna across the river valley. It adds to the center’s castle-like vibe and enjoyment.

Back on the route, cross the Minnesota river to watch a viking scrimmage game.

Taking in a game at the new Vikings training camp

The new Vikings Training Camp in Eagan, MN, less than 7-miles from the MOA

The new Vikings Training Camp in Eagan, MN, less than 7-miles from the MOA

The team’s new headquarters, Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center will open next month for scrimmages, July 25th through August 16th.  Each day of practice games at the new facility the gate will open to 5,000 fans, via free tickets. Daily, 1,300 of those tickets will be held for the general public. Season ticket holders will have first option to the remainder.

There will be no access for fans without a mobile ticket. These digital tickets are free and available at vikings.com. There is a $10 fee for parking your auto if you you decide to drive. For more information see the article: 12 things you should know attending the training camp

If you have any questions about using the Vikings Mobile Ticketing App, contact the Vikings Ticket Office at (612) 338-4537.

More Bloomington attractions and sights to see by bike

Other travel treasure opportunities to consider riding your bike to and from the Mall of America include: Stopping at the observation area at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport; taking the trail to Lake Nakomis, then Minnehaha Falls and back through Fort Snelling State Park; and a family outing at the Works Museum.

The MSP Observation Area for those wishing to watch the big planes land and take off.

The MSP Airline Observation Area for those wishing to watch the big planes land and take off.

For more fun when staying or visiting Bloomington check out all the activities, attractions and lodging accommodations here.

One of the newest bike rides in Minnesota may add to your summer fun

Southern Minnesota’s newest bike ride ‘Rock-N-Roll the Lakes’

If you like a beat to your pedal stroke, one of the newest bike rides in Minnesota may add to your summer fun. This year, on July 14th, Albert Lea, MN will host Rock-N-Roll the Lakes. Families and friends, of all ages, will enjoy this fun bike tour around the scenic lakes with food and music along the way!

ON THIS BIKE RIDE THE HOMES ALONG THE LAKE ROUTE ARE VERY PICTURESQUE.

ON THIS BIKE RIDE THE HOMES ALONG THE LAKE ROUTE ARE VERY PICTURESQUE.

The hometown of rock-n-roll icon, Eddie Cochran and Marian Ross (also known as Mrs. C from Happy Days), Albert Lea knows how to rock! Riders can choose from the 10, 25, or 50 miles SAG-supported routes. All three courses hug picturesque lake shores and offer a variety of beautiful southern Minnesota scenery. Along the routes, there is a great chance you will spot some of natures magnificent creatures. See eagles, pelicans and countless other birds and wildlife that live in the area and love the local lakes.

The ride starts on the north side of Downtown Albert Lea

The tour starts and ends right across the street from Fountain Lake Park, just north of Downtown Albert Lea. Check-in and day of registration opens at 8 and closes at 10 a.m. If you plan to ride the 50-mile route, please start no later than 9 a.m. The three courses designed offer the most scenic and pleasant routes around Albert Lea. Along the way on each loop you will find food and refreshment stops offering a great music lined up for all ages to enjoy. Protect your melon, helmets are required!

Bike-friendly Albert Lea

THE BLAZING STAR STATE TRAIL OFFERS OVER SIX MILES RIDING FROM ALBERT LEA OUT THROUGH THE STATE PARK.

THE BLAZING STAR STATE TRAIL OFFERS OVER SIX MILES RIDING FROM ALBERT LEA OUT THROUGH THE STATE PARK.

Less than two-hours down Interstate 35W from the Twin Cities, pull into Albert Lea and prepare for a weekend of outdoor fun. The town is also known by another name: The Land Between the Lakes. That’s because the city sits between Fountain Lake and Albert Lea Lake and both are prime destinations for soaking in the rays. Getting around on your bike in Albert Lea is easy with city’s low traffic bike lanes and trails. Especially with the Blazing Star State Trail that takes you out to Myre-Big Island State Park.
After checking in at one of the hotels its exciting to ride around this southern Minnesota community.

The ‘Rock-n-Roll the Lakes’ is a fundraiser for the Albert Lea Area Cyclists and the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. So come for a fun time riding and a rockin’ good time!

When you need a break from the outdoors there’s plenty to keep your exciting visit to Albert Lea going. There’s locally owned shops, one-of-a-kind restaurants and the area history will top of your bike adventure here. Check out more here.

If you are in the Twin Cities Gateway, north of Minneapolis this summer and near Blaine, here are a couple events you may want to consider jumping on your bike and riding too. The Blaine Festival is family fun!

The Blaine festival and farmers market are two fun events to bike too

by Russ Lowthian, HaveFunBiking.com

If you are in the Twin Cities Gateway, north of Minneapolis and looking for fun this summer? Blaine offers several events that includes a festival, this weekend, that you may want to consider jumping on your bike and riding too.

The Blaine Festival is family fun!

You will find the parade and a whole lot more to bike too.

You will find the parade and a whole lot more to bike too.

Fun for the whole family, the 2018 Blaine Festival (June 22 -23) is a community event now celebrating its 49th year. The fun kicks off on Friday at Noon, with a medallion hunt and

Stack the Oreo cookies always gets grins, young and old.

Stack the Oreo cookies always gets grins, young and old.

festivities that runs through Sunday, at 6 p.m. for a weekend of fun.

Pig races and a “Not So” ugly contest are just a few of the fun events

Events throughout the three-days includes: carnival rides, crafter/business fair, civic tent, petting zoo, magician, recreational activities, food and live bands. Along with the traditional parade scheduled at Noon on Saturday event other highlights include: pig races, a pedal tractor pull, an Oreo stacking contest and the “Not So” Ugly do contest!

Join the fun, the festival is located in Blaine at Aquatore Park (northwest of Highway 65 & 10). With free admission and parking there is a wide variety of entertainment with something for everyone.

The Blaine Farmers Market

The Blaine Farmers Market is easy to get to by bike.

The Blaine Farmers Market is easy to get to by bike.

One of the many joys of summer is to savor the fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden. However, not all of us have the time and space to raise our favorite produce. That’s where farmers’ markets come into play and the Twin Cities Gateway (TCG)has you covered. Along with the Blaine Market, TCG offers six other farmers’ markets, on different days and locations to choose from.  A great place to pick up the couple things you want for a healthy snack on that next bike outing.

In Blaine, each Wednesday in the city hall parking lot stop in at the farmers’ market, throughout the summer.

Visit the Blaine Market, from 3 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday’s at: 10801 Town Square Drive NE, Blaine, MN 55449

Don’t forget two-wheel racing in Blaine

Every Thursday and some weekend offers you the option to participate or watch racing at the National Sports Center Velodrome in Blaine  – see more here!

Need lodging for your visit to Blaine?

You can find a complete listing of lodging opportunities in Blaine and neighboring communities Twin Cities Gateway communities here.

Have Fun!

Pedaling along the Mississippi River Trail, north of Minneapolis, takes cyclists through the remarkable art community of Fridley. With the annual '49er Days, live theatre and a stunning gallery everyone will be inspired biking or hiking in Fridley.

The art of biking and festivals in friendly Fridley Minnesota

Pedaling along the Mississippi River Trail (MRT), north of Minneapolis, takes cyclists through the remarkable art community of Fridley, with the annual ’49er Days,  June 14 -16. One of the nine communities in the Twin Cities Gateway the city offers a one of a kind experience for art and bike lovers alike. From live theatre, a stunning gallery and a festival with many craft artist, everyone visiting will feel inspired after taking a look at the creative scene in bike-friendly Fridley.

Craft art is one of the highlights at the ’49er Days Festival

Come for the 49er Parade, stay for all the fun activities and food scheduled throughout the day.

Come for the 49er Parade, stay for all the fun activities and food scheduled throughout the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fridley Lions Club, ’49er Festival starts with a parade on Thursday, June 14.
Then throughout the weekend the festival hosts many fun activities. In a family-friendly community tradition celebrating the year Fridley was incorporated as a city!

Banfill-Locke Center for Art

ENJOY THE BEAUTIFUL GARDEN AS YOU ENTER THE BANFILL-LOCKE CENTER FOR THE ART IN FRIDLEY.

ENJOY THE BEAUTIFUL GARDEN AS YOU ENTER THE BANFILL-LOCKE CENTER FOR THE ART IN FRIDLEY.

Just off of the MRT the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts makes a great rest stop on your bike ride. Stop in to cool off and admire the works in the gallery. Maybe pick up a gift for another art lover in their gift shop. If seeing all the collections that inspires you, consider making the trip to Banfill-Locke regularly and sign up for a class. You can find a class that would best fit your schedule, from a single lesson to an eight week workshop. The Banfill-Locke Center offers classes in literary, visual, and self-discovery arts. The center also allows brings in local poets for poetry enthusiasts to appreciate.

On Thursday, June 21 from 5 – 8 p.m. the Banfill-Locke Center celebrates the impact the arts have on the Fridley community during our Summer Solstice Soiree.

Fridley Community Theatre

Along with wonderful art, Fridley also has a renowned community theatre. With three productions a year, the community theatre works hard to bring wonderful live theatrical performances to its audiences. For this year’s summer production “Sister Act” is the feel-good musical comedy smash based on the hit 1992 film that had audiences jumping to their feet!

There is still time to get your ticket, the show opens in July with performances on July 20, 21, 26 at 7 p.m. and a matinee performance, July 28 at 2 p.m.

Also playing is the Fridley Community Youth Theatre Production the Lion King, June 29 through July 1, check it out!

Natural art can be found at the Springbrooke Nature Center

After walking through Springbrooke's Interpretative Center take a stroll down one of the many trails there.

After walking through Springbrooke’s Interpretative Center take a stroll down one of the many trails there.

There are two parts to Springbrooke. The inside contains information about the center and interactive section in the back. You can learn about the different kinds of trees, see live snakes, frogs, turtles, wild turkey, and more. It’s a great place to prepare for a hike on the Nature Trail.

Once you get outside there are a couple access points to the trail – and this is where the real adventure begins. Everywhere you go you will be surrounded by nature. You’ve got trees of different kinds everywhere, small and large bridges that will take you across all kinds of creeks and wetlands. There’s even a large walkway that takes you across a semi-large pond were you’ll have the best chance to catch some bird sighting.

So bike on over to Fridley to get your fill of all things art.