Phnom Penh to Laos: a cycling trip along the once-popular Mekong Discovery Trail

It was the realisation of all my backpacker dreams. I leant across the bar at the small Cambodian hostel and asked, conspiratorially, in hastily translated Khmer: “Do you have a map of the Mekong Discovery Trail?”

Shrouded in mystery and muttered about on cycle touring forums, the Mekong Discovery Trail was a once-popular bike trail along the banks of the Mekong river between Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Laos, through quiet villages and unspoilt islands. Launched in 2006 as a joint venture between the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and a Dutch aid agency with the aim of drawing tourists away from Siem Reap and towards Cambodia’s quiet northeast, it fell into disrepair when funding dried up. Maps — detailing friendly homestays and the best route to take to avoid areas prone to flooding — went out of print, and even the trail’s ramshackle website disappeared.

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