A Traveler’s Guide To Running In Cambodia

by Andy

When I’m traveling, I love to get up early and go for a run. I find that it’s the best way to really know a city—see its neighborhoods, its layout and its scenery. I’ve done it all over the US and all over the world.

In the spirit of that, I've put together a quick list of tips for running Cambodia...

1. Don’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That's it. Just don’t.

 

 

 

Three minutes into my first run in Siem Reap, I realized I’d made a huge mistake. But if you're as dumb as I was, here are a few fun things you can look forward to on your morning run:

1. Lung-blackening smoke

Two minutes into my run, for a brief, totally ignorant moment, I thought, Wow, what a beautiful sunrise. Two minutes later, my lungs felt like I'd smoked 5,000 cigarettes. The morning sun hung in a thick, burning haze. I was going to give Cambodia the benefit of the doubt and say it was probably from something innocent like clearing forests for farmland or something. But later, several people corrected me on Facebook: It’s from burning trash. Cool.

And although according to WedMD, "Trash Lung" is not a real condition, I’m pretty sure I have it now.

2. 85 degrees, 100% humidity by 6:00 am

Pro tip: Just go ahead and jump straight into the pool fully-clothed, when you get back to your guesthouse.

3. No place to actually run per se

You're just running directly in the road.

4. Motos/bikes/tractors/cars/semis/whatever

Related to point #3, there are also no lanes. And no rules. Sometimes there's not even a road. Just a mass of motos and schoolchildren and tractors and the occasional Lexus taxi all swarming together in one big jumble of horns and low-octane exhaust fumes.

Actually, if I'm being honest,  this is kind of the fun part. It’s like real-life, full-body Frogger. Except, I suppose if you lose a life, you really lose a life.

Bonus points for all the weird looks you'll get.

5. Potentially becoming the inspiration for Brokedown Palace 2

Five minutes into the run I realized that I wasn’t carrying any form of ID whatsoever.  No passport. No copy of my passport. Not even my driver's license. Nothing. This realization was honestly the most stressful part of the run. Every time someone with “POLICE” emblazoned across their helmet whizzed past me I tensed up. Obviously, I don't really think anything bad would happen. But if I got stopped for being a total weirdo, I had no way to prove who I was. And let's be honest: A hairy white dude wearing a bright red singlet with bright yellow New Balance shoes running on a busy Cambodian thoroughfare isn’t exactly the most inconspicuous thing. My second regret: Not having a heart rate monitor so I could see a spike in my heart rate each time.

6. Stray dogs with a taste for runner blood

From time to time during the run, I wondered to myself, How up-to-date are my rabies shots? As I moved out of central Siem Reap, the driveways became increasingly populated by mangy street dogs. There was always a look… scowl... bark… and sometimes chase.  My technique: Try not to make eye contact and give them a wide berth (or as wide as you can with that train of motos boxing you in). When they give chase—as they inevitably will—just keep running. These dogs have been breathing the trash-smoke air way longer than you have. They can’t keep up. And you get a free fartlek out of it!

 

Now, instead of running I’m sitting at a lovely open air bar drinking $.50 draft Angkor beers and wondering if Cambodia has ever sent a single runner to the Olympics. I'm guessing no. There's really no way for me to verify this one way or another until I get wifi. And as soon as I do, I’m using it to check for a hotel I can break into and use the treadmill instead.

All that said, as remarkably un-healthy as my run was, it did give me an immense respect and better understanding of the Cambodian people. I still believe it's the best way to get out and know a new city or country in a really intimate way. And if it took ten years off my life, I think I'm cool with that. 

 

Epilogue

After a little internet research, I found a good solution. Liza and I bike up to Angkor Century Resort and Spa where you can get access to their gym/sauna/pool for $8. It's admittedly a bit steep. But it did let me throw down 17.5 miles today on a treadmill so it was worth it. In case you were wondering, this is what I stared at for two hours. First time I've used a treadmill in about 17 years: