At about noon yesterday, dozens of young women pushed their mountain bikes up the steep ramp of a ferry on the shore of the Tonle Sap.
Weary, but remarkably dry-faced after a six-hour bike ride, they looked ready to tackle the final leg of their trip.
The group of 40 had gathered at 7am for a six-hour fun-ride to promote cycling to women in the capital, where the pastime is often shunned as associated with poverty by those who can afford more expensive vehicles.
The trip, which was arranged via social media websites, was intended as both an environmentally conscious form of exercise and a form of business networking, according to the organiser.
Len Leng, 21, a media student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said bicycles allow people to “explore every corner of Phnom Penh and see people in their real lives”.
“Cambodia is a materialistic country and many bike users are actually poor,” said NGO worker Kalyan Sann, 30, who took part in the ride.
“I don’t care what people think. I am glad that there are a few people that adopt a more conscious lifestyle,” she added.
According to Len, the event also offered a chance to reclaim the sport for women, who were afraid to cycle alone because of reports of sexual attacks against female cyclists.
“Many girls think they could get pulled off a bike and be raped, but not off a moto,” she said.
Riding in a group was safer, she said.
Len created the Facebook group “Girls on Bicycles”, two weeks ago and more than 60 women had signed up by yesterday morning.
The group attracted a great deal of attention from locals, according to Rithy Thul, 26, one of five men who joined the group. “Many people were surprised and didn’t understand why we were using bicycles. They thought we were foreigners.”
Thul, who is a co-founder of SmallWorld Cambodia, a hub for social entrepreneurship, said cycling in a group offered a good opportunity to network.
“Cycling with others is like having a meeting but more productive,” he said.
“Riding bicycles together is the best environment to connect with like-minded people and exchange ideas.”
Sophalline Ros, 30, a government worker who cycles in her spare time, agreed, adding she had already organised another tour.
“When I came along this morning I only knew Kalyan. Now I know all the others as well and we already agreed to organise another tour again,” she said.
Though women were encouraged to dress-down there was no shortage of spirit in the uniform.
Each wore a T-shirt quoting Estee Lauder: “I am a woman with a mission and single-minded in the pursuit of my dream.”