Category Archives: Destinations

As fall approaches and many of the migratory birds starting to gather for their departure south on the flyway, we wanted to share a few bike/birding hotspots we found in the Twin Cities Gateway.

A Minnesota fall bike/birding hotspot in the Twin Cities Gateway to enjoy

As fall approaches and many of the migratory birds starting to gather for their departure south on the flyway, we wanted to share a few bike/birding hotspots we found in the Twin Cities Gateway. While ground-truthing a few bike maps in the MN Bike/Hike Guide we noticed some wildlife haunts perfect for viewing the fall migration.

As migratory birds start gather for their departure south on the flyway this fall.

As migratory birds start gather for their departure south on the flyway this fall.

An area once inhabited by Dakota and Ojibwe tribes, today the nine communities in the Gateway offer excellent viewing opportunities in the parks along its lakes and the Mississippi River. These parks provide nature enthusiasts several places to enjoy bird watching. Why here? From these areas alone you are able to spot an impressive list of waterfowl, along with hawks and songbirds that are still around. Starting with many spots along the Mississippi River Trail (MRT), the Rice Creek Trail and the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary (BWS) check all the Important Birding Areas (IBA) out:

Bike/birding hotspots along the Mississippi River

The Mississippi River, north of Minneapolis, is an important IBA waterfowl area that is adjacent to floodplains areas easily accessible to the MRT bike trails passing through Anoka, Coon Rapids and Fridley. This IBA area also connects to the Rice Creek corridor and its adjacent floodplain on public lands. With the bike trail following the stream, it flows out of the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes, near Lino Lakes, towards the Mississippi where you will find many birding opportunities. According to the National Audubon Society website this IBA lies within an area that has a very high population density and an area that is one of the fastest growing areas in the Twin Cities area.

A viewing spot on the Mississippi River Trail near the Coon Rapids Dam.

A viewing spot on the Mississippi River Trail near the Coon Rapids Dam.

The Mississippi Flyway is not only a tremendously important flyway for waterfowl, it also attracts raptors and other migratory birds. Warblers can be seen in abundance along the river because of its rich source of insects during both the spring and fall migrations.

Bike/birding hotspots along the Rice Creek Trail

A group of birders set up viewing along the Rice Creek Trail.

A group of birders set up viewing along the Rice Creek Trail.

The Rice Creek IBA is another Important Birding Area and consists of two parts: The Ramsey County Open Space, also known as Arden Hills Army Training Site (AHATS) and Rice Creek North. This stretch, you will find sizeable populations of birds and other animals in a supported variety of marsh, grassland, and wooded habitats. See the National Audubon Society website on this northeast section of the Rice Creek flowage.

The Blaine Wetland Sanctuary

Back in the center of the Twin Cities Gateway, the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary (BWS) offers over 500 acres of wetland and upland habitat for viewing. A boardwalk through the sanctuary, extended from a parking area connect the existing paved trail to East Lake Park. Walk or ride your bike, with viewing equipment, along with the boardwalk and trail.

For more information on these birding hotspots and others, contact Ramsey County Parks and Recreation Department at (651) 748-2500 or see www.co.ramsey.mn.us/parks for more information.

Nearby places to stay and connect to the trails while birding, see these Twin Cities Gateway lodging properties. For maps showing bike trail access from your selected hotel, check here.

Have Fun!

With record attendance the first few days of the 2018 Minnesota State Fair, using a bicycle to get there can reduce the hassle factor out of visiting the fair. Plus, it is also a great way to burn-off those extra calories from all of the fun things to eat on a stick.

Remove the hassle factor going to the Minnesota State Fair and see more!

With record attendance the first few days of the 2018 Minnesota State Fair, using your bicycle is a comfortable mode for getting there. If you haven’t yet and are planning on attending this year’s ‘Great Minnesota Get-together’ bicycle parking is still free. Ride your bike from home, park your car a few miles away with your bike along or incorporate the Metro Transit Bus for a multi-modal commute. Commuting by bicycle can take the hassle factor out of visiting the fair. Besides, it is a great way to burn-off some those calories from all of the fun things you can eat on a stick.

RIDING YOUR BIKE TO THE MINNESOTA STATE FAIR CYCLIST CAN CHOOSE BETWEEN THREE SECURE BIKE CORRALS TO PARK THEIR BIKE WHILE VISITING THE GREAT MINNESOTA GET TOGETHER.

RIDING YOUR BIKE TO THE MINNESOTA STATE FAIR CYCLIST CAN CHOOSE BETWEEN THREE SECURE BIKE CORRALS TO PARK THEIR BIKE WHILE VISITING THE GREAT MINNESOTA GET TOGETHER.

This year the fair started on August 23rd and runs through Labor Day, September 3rd. So there is plenty of time to go, plan your mode of getting there and what you will see.

A hassle -free way to get to the Minnesota State Fair

Riding your bike to the Fair cyclist can choose between three secure bike corrals to park their bicycle while visiting. As in the past, riding your bike to the fair can be fun and reduce the hassle of traffic congestion getting there. This year ride your bike, take a shuttle bus or both by multi modal commuting. Each day, those who commute by bicycle to the fairgrounds, from 6 a.m. to midnight, will find three (3) secure bike locations. They are located at:

North Bike Lot: Hoyt-Snelling Gate (#2)

West Bike Lot: Randall Ave-Buford Gate (#16)

South Bike Lot: Como-Snelling Gate (#6) A popular location, this bike corral fills fast so if it is not to inconvenient, plan your route to one of the two above locations.

AT THE MINNESOTA STATE FAIR , CHECK THE LATEST IN ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY EXHIBITS IN THE ECO PROGRESS CENTER.

AT THE MINNESOTA STATE FAIR , CHECK THE LATEST IN ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY EXHIBITS IN THE ECO PROGRESS CENTER.

Here is a map, from St Paul Smart Trips, showing the best bicycle routes to ride your bike comfortably to the fair.

Bike related things to do and see at the Minnesota State Fair

The Shoe Clip Light is an ideal item bike commuter safety

The Shoe Clip Light is an ideal item bike commuter safety

Now that you are at the fair walking around you can think about what you might want to purchase. Maybe a shoe clip light at the both under the Grandstand so you are more visible when out riding? You will find out more on where to purchase this item and other fun things on the free Minnesota State Fair App, (Apple App Store or Google Play store).

At the Minnesota State Fair, check the latest in environmentally friendly exhibits, like the e-bikes, in the Eco Progress Center.

IN THE ECO PROGRESS CENTER SEE THE LATEST ON ELECTRIC ASSIST BIKES.

IN THE ECO PROGRESS CENTER SEE THE LATEST ON ELECTRIC ASSIST BIKES (e-bikes).

Need a new Minnesota Bike Map? In the Education Building, look for the Minnesota Department of Transportation booth where you will find the latest maps free of charge.

Didn’t get a printed copy of our 2018 Minnesota Bike/Hike Guide? Pick up a copy at the Minnesota DNR Information Center, while supplies last.

Like parades?

AT THE MINNESOTA STATE FAIR PARADE, ITS FUN TO SEE THE UNI-CYCLISTS RIDING AMONG THE FLOATS AND MARCHING BANDS.

AT THE MINNESOTA STATE FAIR PARADE, ITS FUN TO SEE THE UNI-CYCLISTS RIDING AMONG THE FLOATS AND MARCHING BANDS.

At the Minnesota State Fair parade, its fun to see the uni-cyclists riding among the floats and marching bands. Each day at 2 p.m. on Cosgrove Street you can watch the Minnesota State Fair Parade. If you are lucky you might see the Twin Cities Unicyclists Club performing.  These single wheeled bicyclists always do some fun tricks as they pedal along the parade route. As the parade ends near the Eco Progress Center you can check out the latest exhibits in environmental friendly living.

Fun foods at the Minnesota State Fair to try

YOU WILL FIND PLENTY OF FUN FOODS TO TRY AT THIS YEARS MINNESOTA STATE FAIR.

YOU WILL FIND PLENTY OF FUN FOODS TO TRY AT THIS YEARS MINNESOTA STATE FAIR.

You will find plenty of fun foods to try at this years Minnesota State Fair. Every year there are many fun and wacky foods entrees to try at the fair. This year is no exception looking at the latest published list of new foods to try. Item that caught my attention, that I tried included:
Firecracker Shrimp Stuffed Avocado, Irish Tater Kegs and Nordic Waffles to name a few. And that’s for starters, some of the tried and true treats I normally only indulge in once a year included: the Bacon Fluffernutter (say that ten times), the triple truffle trooter, Memphis Tochos and a cup of maple cream nitro cold press coffee.

See the latest in action biking stunts?

TAKE A LOAD OFF YOUR FEET AND WATCH THE BMX’ERS PERFORM SOME STUNTS, AT THE X-ZONE.

TAKE A LOAD OFF YOUR FEET AND WATCH THE BMX’ERS PERFORM SOME STUNTS, AT THE X-ZONE.

Take a load off your feet and watch the BMX’ers perform some stunts, at the X-Zone.
In a new location on Machinery Hill you will find the stunts being performed on bikes and skateboards. Here watch some BMX’ers and skateboarders perform some high-rising stunts right in front of you on the new amazing exhibition course they have laid out.

Hope this helps you plan for your next visit to the Minnesota State Fair. If we missed something you may have discovered? Please let us know, please leave a comment below.

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The Mall of America (MOA), located in the east side of Bloomington, is just one of the many travel treasures to explore by bike, when visiting.

Exploring Bloomington’s east side by bicycle for hidden treasures

by Russ Lowthian, HaveFunBiking.com

The Mall of America (MOA) is just one of several travel treasures to explore when visiting Bloomington, MN. Along with the many memorable activities at the Mall, venturing out on a bike can an make it easy to see more fun attractions in the south metro. With designated bike routes and commuter paths along the streets it’s easy to spend several days seeing the sights.

Bicycling to MOA from American Boulevard.

Bicycling to MOA from American Boulevard.

When visiting the area, the MOA makes an excellent multi modal gathering point to see all the treasures here. By starting at the MOA’s north parking lot and pedaling east it is less than a mile and a half to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Center. Along the way you can stop by the Northwest Airlines Museum to learn more about Minnesota’s aeronautical history.

If you want to watch the big planes land and takeoff it is fun to take the north route to the viewing station at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. To the west, less than five miles, saddle up the family for a days adventure at the Works Museum. To the south along the Minnesota River Valley mountain bikers and hikers alike will find hours of fun.

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

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

One the north side, one of many bike parking racks at the Mall of America.

A revolutionary place for shopping, entertainment and attractions, John Emerson says it best, “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 bike parking.” We agree with John, the Mall makes the perfect multi modal commuting hub to explore Bloomington on two-wheels.

From the Mall of America’s north parking lot, the sidewalk/trail running parallel to American Boulevard works well as a 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 inside for changing clothes.

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

Northwest Airlines History Center Museum

Riding east from the Mall, stop in at the Crowne Plaza Hotel where the NW Airline Museum is located.

One of the displays at the Northwest Airline Museum.

One of the displays at the Northwest Airline Museum.

Located one mile east of the Mall of America the Northwest Airlines History Center Museum is worth checking out. Here you will find Minnesota’s home-town airline of the past. Visiting you will find over 4,000 aviation artifacts, from 1926 to 1998, to sift through. Plus, a gallery of photos hanging in the hotel hallways to enjoy as you make your way to the museum. It is easy to spend a couple hours looking at the various collection here!

What you may discover at this home-town airline attraction

According to the Minnesota Historical Society’s review you will find records on air routes, aircraft accidents, hijackings and more. Also see information and video on Northwest’s involvement in World War II. In the airlines correspondents section discover communications with aircraft manufacturers and aviators like Amelia Earhart. There are also newspaper accounts of the 1989 takeover of NWA Inc. and of the company’s brush with bankruptcy.

To find the museum in the Crowne Plaza Aire MSP Hotel, at Two Appletree Square, take the elevator in the lobby to the 3rd Floor. As you make your way to the museum enjoy the photos along the hallway. If the weather isn’t conducive for bicycling to the museum consider using the light-rail from the Mall of America. The Hotel is across the street from the 34th Avenue Blue-line station.

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

The castle-like presence of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Visitors Center.

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

A short distance east of the airline museum and 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 of all ages can learn about the wonders of the natural world. There are also several large murals that are actually made out of tiny pictures of animals that can be found inside.

Step outdoors, 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 while relaxing in centers natural surroundings.

Take a walk and get close to nature

If you are up for a walk and want to get a close to nature, take a hike on the many well-managed trails in the refuge. Walk at your own pace and stop periodically to reflect on the serenity of nature. As you explore some of Minnesota’s nature you will find sitting areas scattered along the path to stop and reflect.

Long Meadow Trail

At some point, if you walk far enough, you’ll connect to a dirt road known as the Long Meadow Trail. This multi-use trail takes you up the river valley to the old Cedar Bridge and beyond. Along the trail you will pass by fields that grow long grass; trees that every now and then shelter you from the blazing sun; waterfowl floating in the wetlands; and a bridge that takes you over the Minnesota River. If you’re lucky enough you might even pass by an artist taking inspiration from what’s around them and putting it on canvas.

Maps and Q-sheet make it easy to find these attractions from the MOA

With free admission to get into these two attractions, getting there by bicycle can add to the fun and memories. First, look at the map on pages 40-41 of the 2018 Minnesota Bike/Hike Guide. Then copy the turn-by-turn Q-sheet for your next bike adventure to the NWA Museum and Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Center.

From the MOA Enterance on the northside!                                                                                         0.0 Cross the north MOA parking lot
0.2 Right on East American Boulevard (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 (across from the Hilton Hotel)

If a Viking scrimmage is of interest, continue riding east                                                                See information here on bicycling to the new Vikings Training Camp for a game this summer.

The Works Museum can engineer fun for the whole family

Plenty of bike parking is available at the Works Museum.

Plenty of bike parking is available at the Works Museum.

A five mile bike ride west of the Mall of America, in Bloomington, brings you and your kids to the Works Museum for some mind-expanding fun.

In the interactive Experience Gallery your family can experiment with simple machines, structures and shapes that have sensors and imaging and optical technologies. Your kid’s can touch, try and build as they explore how things work.

The Workshop in the museum is a new creative space for families. This space is perfect for the youngsters in your home. Especially for those  who like to sew, build things, or create art. The perfect place for a bonding exercise with your child. In the the art department classes will help you and your child produce a stop-motion animation video together. Another class allows you to create your own LED sign and there are many more classes to choose from.

The Works Museum is located at 9740 Grand Ave S, Bloomington, MN 55420.

Maps and Q-sheet make it easy to find the Works Museum from the MOA

Getting to the Works Museum by bicycle can add to the fun and memories when visiting with the family. First, look at the map on pages 40-41 of the 2018 Minnesota Bike/Hike Guide. Then copy the turn-by-turn Q-sheet for your next bike adventure to this museum.

Please note – the following route offers a combination of roads with parallel bike/walk paths and quite neighborhood streets.

From the MOA north side entrance to the Works Museum!                                                             0.0 Cross the north MOA parking lot
0.2 Right on East American Boulevard (side walk trail or street)
0.9 Left on 12th Avenue
1.2 Right on 82nd Street
1.4 West onto trail across Smith Park
1.6 Left (south) Park Street
2.1 Right on 86th Street
2.5 Left on 3rd Avenue
3.0 Right 90th Street (Bloomington Aquatic Center)
3.2 Left on Nicollet
3.6 Right on 93rd Street
3.7 Left on Blaisdell Avenue
3.9 Right on 95th Street
4.2 Left on Grand Avenue
4.5 Cross 97 ½ Street into the Works Museum

Watch the plans at the MSP Aircraft Viewing Station

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

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

Another fun opportunity to ride your bike from the Mall of America, includes a visit to the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport Viewing Station.

From the MOA to the MSP Aircraft Viewing Station! 
0.0 Cross the north MOA parking lot
0.2 Right on East American Boulevard (side walk trail or street)
0.9 Right on 12th Avenue
1.6 Right on Diagonal Boulevard
1.9 Left on Bloomington Avenue
2.4 Right on 86th Street
2.6 Left on Old Cedar Avenue
2.9 Right 66th Street across Cedar Avenue
3.0 Left (south) Longfellow Avenue
3.5 Left Cargo Road
4.0 MSP Aircraft Viewing Station

Check here for more fun activities, attractions and hotels to bike to when staying or visiting Bloomington, MN.

Enjoying nature riding the Rice Creek Trail out of Mounds View.

Discover the Rice Creek Trails natural settings out of Mounds View

If you missed the annual ‘Festival in the Park‘ celebration, with bike races, last weekend in Mounds View, MN, this Twin Cities Gateway community is still worth checking out. Here, you will find a great mix of busy and calm. Where you can ride your bike along creekside trails to visit attractions amongst mother nature. Many who visit here enjoy following the natural settings along Rice Creek and the trail near it. Another option, are the bike friendly roads to expand your coverage for more adventure – And you can start, right from your Twin Cities Gateway hotel.

Rice Creek North Regional Trail

Riding over one of the wooden bridges crossing the Rice Creek Trail

Riding over one of the wooden bridges crossing the Rice Creek Trail

Mounds View is one of the many places that gives you access to the Rice Creek North Regional Trail with the Rice Creek North Regional Trail Corridor. The Rice Creek North Regional Trail is located in the Southeast quadrant of Anoka County [see map].

In the Meadows along the Rice Creek Trail see song birds amongst the wild flower.

In the meadows along the Rice Creek Trail see song birds amongst the wild flower.

 

The trail provides a connection between Anoka and Ramsey counties and connects the Cities of Blaine, Shoreview and Lino Lakes. A unique feature of the trail the 8-10 foot wide paved trail passing towering trees and the creek (bearing the same name) underneath crossing quaint wooden bridges along the way. Enjoying nature riding the Rice Creek Trail out of Mounds View.

There are also several different landscapes passing through wooded areas where trail users can occasionally see whitetail deer. Then wandering through open meadows the trail greets users with array of natural flower and songbirds. Further along, cyclist will circle several low land marshy areas where it is easy to view many species of waterfall gathering for the fall migration. On the north end of the trail, one can witness prairie restoration.

On the Rice Creek Trail, as fall approaches, view waterfowl as they gather for and prepare for migration.

On the Rice Creek Trail, as fall approaches, view waterfowl as they gather for and prepare for migration.

A part of Minnesota’s Community, located on the northside of the Twin Cities it is easy to find your next bike adventure with a mix of mother nature, near your lodging choice when visiting the area.

In its 32nd year the pedal Van Buren ride will be hosting their annual bike ride visiting several Civil War historical villages along the way.

Pedal Van Buren bikes through 10 Civil War historic villages in SE. Iowa

Again in its 32nd year the villages of Van Buren County, in Iowa will be hosting their annual pedal Van Buren ride August 18-19, and there is still room. Join over 200 bicyclists as they tour the countryside visiting several Civil War historical villages along the way. Ride participants can select the 42 or 66 mile route on Saturday and a 42 mile’r on Sunday. Along with SAG support and refreshments, a fun poker-run will be a part of the ride both days.

Bike Van Buren is a ride the whole family with enjoy.

Bike Van Buren is a ride the whole family with enjoy.

If you want to experience pedal Van Buren

The host villages will welcome the bikers with free refreshments and outstanding hospitality! All of the routes will lead you through some of the most beautiful countryside in Iowa!  Register for Bike Van Buren online at www.villagesofvanburen.com or walk-up registration will be held at the Keosauqua City Park, Saturday 7 to 8:30 a.m. and Sunday only rider registration is 7:30 to 8 a.m. Two day registration fees: Adults: $45, Children under 18 years old: $37. Single day registration: Adults: $35, Children $27.

Meet old and new friend while touring the villages of Van Buren County

Meet old and new friend while touring the villages of Van Buren County

Bike Van Buren route options

Two routes will be offered on Saturday (66 miles & 42 miles) and 1 route on Sunday (42 miles). Riders can create their own route as well. All routes will begin and end at the Keosauqua City Park and all are clearly marked with large colored arrows. Bickel’s Cycling & Fitness, of Burlington, will provide technical support and several SAG (Service and Gear) wagons will be in-route with the riders at all times. Phone numbers for staff support crews are provided on the maps riders will receive upon registration (Riders are encouraged to carry a cell phone). All support crews will be equipped with free cold bottled water, courtesy of Dutchman’s Store, in Cantril and limited first aid.

Route options cover some quite county roads that meander from on village to another.

Route options cover some quite county roads that meander from on village to another.

Lunch options on the ride

Riders will have the option to purchase a lunch band at registration ($8 adults, $5 youth). Saturday’s lunch will be hosted by the Lunch Box Café, in Douds and on Sunday the Bridge Café, in Farmington will provide a lunch buffet. Registered riders will take advantage of 100% complimentary refreshments at each of the nine hospitality stops. Hospitality stops average 8-10 miles apart and will include some fascinating historic sites such as the Bonaparte Pottery, Stockport Depot and Pearson House Museum Complex.

A little gaming fun is included on the ride

A Fun Poker Run will be part of the event on both days. Riders will try to build their best hand of poker by drawing cards at designated hospitality stops. The best hand on each day, will win $100 cash. Bickel’s Cycling & Fitness in Burlington will provide prizes for 2nd, 3rd and 4th place winners.

Tour the Underground Railroad after the 1st days ride

Saturday’s ride will conclude at the Pearson House Museum Complex. Here ride participants can tour the Underground Railroad safe house. The tour shows places where escaping slaves hid under the floorboards, during the Civil War, on their journey to freedom. The Pearson House will also be open on Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. On Saturday evening, in the Keosauqua City Park from 4 to 7 p.m. Goehring Brothers BBQ will be serving mouth-watering pulled pork & brisket plate dinners. From 5 to 6 p.m. the Tarnished Brass Band will perform  and everyone is invited to bring a lawn chair and enjoy the evening!

A Van Buren breakfast tradition

The Keosauqua Lions will be serving an all-you-can-eat pancake & sausage breakfast ($7) with scrambled eggs and fresh fruits (courtesy of the Dutchman’s Store in Cantril).  Held  in the Keosauqua City Park and open to the public, both mornings, serving time is from 6:30 to 10 a.m. A raffle Saturday morning, for a beautiful TREK Domane AL 3 Road Bike, will be held at the pancake breakfast. The Keosauqua Lions, First Iowa State Bank and Bickel’s Cycling & Fitness have partnered together to raffle the bike. Tickets ($5 each or 5/$20) will be for sale during the Lions breakfast on August 18 and again that afternoon at the Keosauqua City Park. A winner will be drawn Saturday evening, at 6 p.m. You need not be present to win the bike. Proceeds will benefit various Lions Club projects.

Hope to see you on the Bike Van Buren Ride!

Hope to see you on the Bike Van Buren Ride!

For more information contact: Villages of Van Buren 800-868-7822 / 319-293-7111 www.villagesofvanburen.com

Riders on the18th Annual Gitchi-Gami Trail Association North Shore Bike Ride, August 18, will enjoy shoreline views of Lake Superior as they pass through a state park or riding over a serenading waterfall as it cascades into the lake.

New routes on the Gitchi-Gami Trail Association North Shore Bike Ride

Get up close and personal on the 18th Annual Gitchi-Gami Trail Association North Shore Bike Ride. On Saturday, August 18, enjoy shoreline views of Lake Superior as you pedal the Gitchi-Gami Trail (GGST). Occasionally along the way passing through a state park or riding over a serenading waterfall as it cascades into the lake. This year with the usual: Snacks, T-shirts and sag support on four ride lengths, that includes a family friendly 8-mile option.

Gitchi-Gami ride lengths

The full map of the Gitchi-Gami Trail

Starting at Gooseberry Falls State Park, the start time is : 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday morning with recreational ride lengths offered at: 8-miles, 28-miles, 34-miles and 55-miles. The 55-mile ride is the only course that will use connecting roads. on the ride. All other options stay on the trail.  Click HERE for a mail-in registration form!

The 8-mile family ride option

A scenic view of the trail along Lake Superior

A scenic view of the trail along Lake Superior

Follows the GGST for 4 miles from Gooseberry to a rest stop at Twin Points wayside, where there will be treats and special events for families. The ride returns on the GGST to Gooseberry.

The 28-mile ride option

Entirely on the GGST, from Gooseberry through historic Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, continuing to the rest stop at the Beaver Bay Wayside, and returning on the trail. Because it is an “out-and-back” ride, bikers can turn around at any time to return to the starting point.

The 34-mile ride option

Rider on Gitchi-Gami Trail as it winds through Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Rider on Gitchi-Gami Trail as it winds through Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

A new route this year (All on trail)! Follows the GGST to the rest stop at Beaver Bay Wayside, continues over the Beaver River Bridge on separated trail. You’ll turn left up the hill on the NEWEST segment of GGT along the West Road and continue on trail to Silver Bay. From there, you’ll turn around and retrace your your path back to the rest stop at Beaver Bay. Refuel and then the route returns to Gooseberry on the trail.

55-mile ride option

Another new route this year! Follows the GGST to Beaver Bay Wayside, continues on trail over the Beaver River Bridge and left onto the NEWEST segment of trail alongside West Road. Continues to Silver Bay where you will make a loop north beginning by turning left on Penn Avenue. Turning right on to Lax Lake Road you’ll bike to Hwy 1 and the Eckbeck rest stop, continue to Hwy 61, where you’ll head uphill at Outer Drive/Penn Avenue and pick up the Gitchi-Gami trail again near Rukavina Arena back to Beaver Bay, and then back to Gooseberry on the trail.

Registration can be completed online (through secure PayPal payment) at the link above or by mail, using the form on this page. Cost of the ride is $45. They offer a $10 discount to members, if you would like to join.

Questions? Contact  [email protected]

Lodging opportunities and more scenic experiences to explore

Consider staying in Silver Bay, the Heart of the Northshore, on the  top end of the GGST Ride Route, for plenty of things to do pre- and post your bike ride.

Good times riding in New Brighton

Bike the Long Lake Trail while visiting New Brighton’s Stockyard Days

by Andrew Ellis, HaveFunBiking.com

Riding the Long Lake Trails and taking in Stockyard Days, in New Brighton is a great example of what you will find visiting this area. Located on the north side of the Twin Cities, alongside the 35W Freeway in the Twin Cities Gateway Community, you will find many trails to explore. Along with many bike friendly roads the trail  around Long Lake Regional Park and connects to the Rice Creek Trail Circuit. If you have the kids along and want to take a break from exploring, consider Eagles Next Playground. Another opportunity when in the area the middle of August is Stockyard Days, a long standing New Brighton tradition.

Long Lake Regional Park in New Brighton

From your hotel it’s easy to hop on a trail with your bike to get to the park and its many amenities. Pedaling deeper into the park one of the first things you’ll come across is the New Brighton History Center.  Slightly larger than a one room school house, right outside the building is an old train on the tracks.

The recently refurbished depot was converted into the History Center with many railroad artifacts.

The recently refurbished depot was converted into the History Center with many railroad artifacts.

Move past and you will start seeing more places to stop. The beach, by the main parking lot, is a place to stop, relax and enjoy the cool water. Several play areas for kids are also sprinkled throughout the park. There’s also an all grass ball field, with a backstop, picnic tables, and more.

You’ll also notice that the area is full of paths for both riding and walking to take you anywhere in the park. There are even smaller natural surface walking paths that allow you to get a little close to the water. The paved paths are especially fun for bikers with steep climbs that result in exhilarating descend. It’ll quench that need for speed.

Long Lake Regional Park Map in New Brighton

Long Lake Regional Park Map in New Brighton offers many trails.

The trail left of the beach ends up near a parking lot with a very popular fishing pier. If you travel to the right of beach you have more options for exploring. There will be an area where you’ll see a bridge. If you go to the left of the bridge you’ll end up following train tracks along a paved path that’s part of the Rice Creek West Regional Trail.

If you decide to cross the bridge you’ll begin the lengthy journey on the Rice Creek North Regional Trail which takes you by trees, wetlands, and more. Also, pay close attention, because at some point you’ll have to turn onto a residential sidewalk and after that the trail isn’t very well marked. There’s also road construction that may be obstructing the next trail section. There’s also a gas station and McDonald’s close by if you need a break.

Eagles Nest Indoor Playground

A fun place for the whole family when not biking the trails.

A fun place for the whole family when not biking the trails.

Across the highway is the New Brighton Community Center which houses the massive Eagles Nest Playground. There are plenty of places to sit as your kids crawl in side the tunnels, use the slides or play in the ball pit. There are also a few vending machines for snacks and refreshments. It’s a great way to cool off and relax.

New Brighton’s Stockyard Days

If you’re visiting the area from August 5th to the 13th, come enjoy the city’s annual Stockyard Days celebration. The festivities include a golf tournament, Medallion Hunt, movie night, softball tournament, live music, Grande Parade, and more. Long Lake Park will also feature three days of food and crafts. You’ll also catch the finish of the 120-mile Antique Car Run. These cars were built in 1908 or earlier.

tockyard Days celebrates the communities past when stockyards, railroads, fashionable hotels and meatpacking plants flourished here. Days is full of fun

Stockyard Days celebrates the communities past when stockyards, railroads, fashionable hotels and meatpacking plants flourished here. Days is full of fun

The festival began in 1981 as a way to recall the early days of New Brighton as a center for the cattle industry including the stockyards, railroads, fashionable hotels and meatpacking plants.

Stockyard Days bike sprints will give you a taste of NASCAR Racing on two wheels.

Stockyard Days bike sprints will give you a taste of NASCAR Racing on two wheels.

Welcome New Brighton the beginning of your #NextBikeAdventure.

Is your calendar is still open for riding this weekend? There is still time to experience riding your bike across the tallest bridge in Minnesota. This Saturday, August 4th, consider the Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour.

Still time, ride across MN’s tallest bridge on the Mesabi Trail this weekend

Is your calendar open for a bike adventure this weekend? There is still time to experience riding your bike across the tallest bridge in Minnesota. This Saturday, August 4th, consider the Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour. They offer four memorable route options to choose from, all crossing this new bridge with breath taking scenery.

Still time to ride across Minnesota’s tallest bridge

The 2018 Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour has a route for riders of any level and every year the tour routes change to highlight over 20 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!

Spectacular views await you on the states tallest bridge

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

The Mesabi Bike Trail now crosses over Minnesota’s tallest bridge.

The new Highway 53 bridge and bike trail on the Mesabi Iron Range in northeastern Minnesota is worth checking out. After two years of construction you can now ride your bicycle, walk or even snowmobile across the tallest multi modal bridge in Minnesota. Now complete, this year the Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour will include this section of the 135 mile trail system on their route.

The scenery is stunning crossing the bridge and exploring the trail towns along the way!

The views are stunning as you cross over the Rouchleau Mine Pit on the new bridge. The contrast between the aqua blue water and the red cliffs below are breathtaking. Something you will want to see along with the unique points of interest each trail town offers along the way.

Still time to register, sign up today!

Minnesota River bottoms, Bloomington’s natural trail network

John Brown, HaveFunBiking.com

It was the summer of 1849, the first Bloomington Ferry began operations next to the Minnesota River bottoms. It carried people from the Bloomington shores to Shakopee. Exactly 40 years later, the first Bloomington Ferry Bridge was opened. Following that, versions of that bridge carried people, carriages, and motorists across the river for over 100 years. The current pedestrian bridge is a beautiful arch, spanning the Minnesota River and connecting Bloomigton to the Highway 101 trail to Shakopee. The Bridge is also the starting point for The Minnesota River Bottoms trail. The River Bottoms are some of the metro areas last natural trails, popular for mountain biking, hiking, fishing and bird watching.

Minnesota River Bottoms

Bikes on the Bloomington Ferry Bridge, near the trail head of the Minnesota River Bottoms

What are the Minnesota river bottoms

The Minnesota River bottoms are worn in by the riders, hikers, and runners who frequent them

The “River Bottoms” to locals, is a trail network stretching from the south west corner of Bloomington, all the way to the trails of Fort Snelling State Park. These trails are worn in by the riders and runners who frequent them. While under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, they are not maintained by any government entity. Due to the fact that the “River Bottoms” aren’t maintained by any organization, the trails often take on a “path of least resistance” or direction. It is not uncommon for new trails to spring up after heavy rains and high river flooding. While riding, expect exclusively dirt trails with some log crossings, sand sections, and occasional overgrowth. Warning, pay particular attention for the Urtica Dioica plants, or stinging nettles, growing on infrequently used trails from June through August.

Wildlife of the Minnesota River Bottoms

Bikers, birdwatchers and hikers can enjoy the wildlife sightings along the banks of the Minnesota River.

Bikers, birdwatchers and hikers can enjoy the wildlife sightings along the banks of the Minnesota River.

The River Bottoms are great for all types of recreation. It’s not uncommon to see hikers, bird watchers and people fishing along the banks of the Minnesota river. I have enjoyed sharing with my son the sights of Bald eagles and Beavers who make the watershed their home. Additionally, being a natural area, the River Bottoms are home to countless animals.

What to expect

There are a few popular entrances to the River Bottom trail, Lyndale Ave, Crest Ave, and Old Cedar Ave. These entrances offer ample parking and a clear trailhead. Once you start down the trail you will see that nothing is paved but worn-in enough to be firm under your tires. While a mountain bike is best for these trails, wider tires on Hybrids and adventure bikes navigate well. If you need to cross a stream, there are bridges or a ferry (at 9-mile creek) to get you around. Because the River Bottoms are so smooth, they are an ideal place to take kids mountain biking.

The Minnesota River bottoms are worn in by the riders, hikers, and runners who frequent them

You will find runners who frequent the natural settings of the Minnesota River bottoms

When to ride

Spring, summer, winter or fall the Minnesota River bottoms is a natural haven for cyclists

The best part of the River Bottoms is that it is one of the first places to dry out each spring. It is also one of the first places to freeze when winter rolls through. Avoid this trail in early spring as the trails thaw and after a strong rain. Other than that, these trails are sandy enough to drain quickly. One of the best things about the river bottoms is riding fatbikes. There in the winter, in fact, fat bikes can trace their development directly to the river bottom. When the snow falls, the river bottoms are a the perfect mixture of flat trail, bermed turns, and accessibility to create a near-perfect winter track.

Winters can get exciting in the Minnesota River bottoms with Penn Cycles Get Fat with Phat fat bike races in January.

We in the twin cities are lucky to have a place like the river bottoms to ride. The fact that it is left free to change and natural is unique in a metro area. To that point, there are user groups that are working against the eventual possibility of developing the river bottom area. Whatever your opinion is on development, get into the wilds of the River Bottoms and enjoy this local treasure.

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.