Exploring Cambodia by Motorbike
By Brandon Follett and Amy Johnson
For Westerners who are unsure if they recklessly want to invest time and money in motorcycle safety classes and the purchase of a motorcycle, Cambodia is the perfect place to test your motorcycle wandering spirit.
Our tour began in Sihanoukville and took us on a 175-mile (281-kilometer) round-trip journey over scenic mountain passes, through coastal villages.
Touring by motorbike in Cambodia
Seeing the country just like a local, and along winding jungle roads to the corner of southeast Cambodia near the Vietnam border. This fun, overnight experience only cost $23.
To rent a motorcycle, all you need is a passport, four dollars, and some previous bicycle-riding experience. Honda motorcycles are the ride of choice in Cambodia, especially the Honda Dream.
I handed over my national identity and signed a form accepting responsibility for any potential theft, injury, or damage, and I was given the keys to the Honda Dream. The Dream has four speeds, a 125-cc engine, a front basket for luggage, and comfortably sits two.
No need to be worried, paranoid, or fearful of cops who nap in hammocks.
Driving Guidelines & Advice
My best advice for people familiar to Western driving standards is to start your trip by erasing all preconceived notions and habits. Cambodian roads are not for people who fiddle with their cell phones, adjust the air conditioning vents, shuffle through CDs, and need to apply make-up at stoplights.
In Cambodia, common sense, defensive driving, and a healthy sense of adventure will safely guide you to your destination.
Speed limits do not have any relevance. What might be a dot in your mirror can instantly turn into a car just four feet off your back tire.
No stoplights or stop signs. Choose a path carefully, and stick to it. Everyone else will hopefully go around you.
Motorists generally drive on the right, the same as in the United States. When there is a dotted or solid line separating the lanes, disregard it just as everyone else does.
It is advisable to drive hugging the shoulder of the road. Large buses and semi trucks do not slow down, but they do warn with manic honking to get out of the way. When there is oncoming traffic, they will pass vehicles in their own lanes.
At first, the honking might scare you like gunshots from hunters firing rounds at deer across a valley. Recognize the sound as a friendly hello, and as soon as you hear the first honk, move quickly to the edge of the road.
Even though I recommend driving on the shoulder, there are exceptions. Always be aware of side roads and driveways that intersect the road on which you are traveling.
Drivers will not stop or even look to see what vehicles are already on the road. Traffic will pull out right in front of you, so be ready to slam on your brakes, especially if you hear the honking of a semi truck directly behind you.
In most industrialized countries, motorists only need to be concerned with scared cats, lost dogs or suicidal squirrels. A worst-case scenario is you squash someone’s pet and leave a note of apology.
In Cambodia, the roads are a long, winding, petting zoo. A motorist must be prepared to swerve, slow to a crawl, or completely stop for goats, pigs, cows, water buffalo, and elephants.
The roads are as unpredictable as the animals. Be prepared for leisurely paved roads, a scattering of large potholes on hard-packed dirt roads, and the front tire wandering along loose sand and gravel roads.
Cambodia has plenty of gas stations, and the most you’ll pay for a liter of gas is $1. Some gas stations offer the standard pumps and flushing toilets. Other gas stations offer a beer bottle full of gas and a tree for a bathroom.
The motorcycle rental did not include the protective AAA guardian angel, but we found the Cambodian people in the countryside very helpful in providing mechanical services. At one point in our journey, the Honda Dream started to wobble violently. Amy and I pulled over to find the back tire completely flat.
I pushed the motorcycle over to a group of people standing by the roadside. None of them understood English, and I do not speak Khmer.
With some pointing at the back tire, soon enough heads started to nod in understanding, and they motioned for me to walk down the road.
I once again started to push the bike, but this time a little boy came to help. He and I pushed the bike for about five minutes until he motioned toward the front yard of a house.
The front yard doubled as a tire shop, and the flat was repaired within 30 minutes. A new tube and labor cost $3.
The Seaside Guesthouse
Shortly after dusk, we arrived at the coastal community of Kep. We found clean, spacious rooms with a bathroom for $4 a night at the Seaside Guesthouse.
When looking for a guesthouse, one thing to keep in mind is that motorcycle theft is common in Cambodia. The motorcycle came with a lock and chain, but we appreciated the additional security of enclosed parking for motorcycles provided at the Seaside Guesthouse.
The next day, we chose two tourist attractions that would give us plenty of time to visit and also get back to Sihanoukville before dark, a pepper farm and a local cave.
Upon returning the motorcycle, we paid the $4 rental fee and I retrieved my passport from an envelope containing an assortment of passports.
It feels good to know that there are plenty of fellow travelers who will gladly give up their national identities for an adventure.
Having survived our motorcycle journey, my imagination feels caged with the thought of taking photos and watching kids’ smiles through a bus window. My mind already feels numbed by the dull excitement provided by the movies shown on long bus trips.
Cambodia seen through a bus window is like fast-forwarding through a movie to the love scenes or the climatic ending. The journey definitely is as important as the destination.
Motorcycle rental: $4.00
Repair flat tire: $3.00
Souvenir pepper: $1.00
Our overnight scooter adventure for two people cost $23.00
Amy Johnson and Brandon Follett are the creative team behind Earthworm Envy films and omelet reviews. They are currently traveling together in SE Asia as amateur documentary filmmakers, organic farmers, and volunteer English teachers. Brandon has a website, BrandonFollett.com, and writes a blog called Earthworm Envy.
Read an interview with Brandon and Amy from the Idaho Statesman.
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