Jan 16 2012
Unlike most other places in Southeast Asia, you cannot freely rent a motorcycle or scooter here in Siem Reap. Considering you can rent bikes elsewhere in Cambodia, this may seem incongruous and indeed it is, but there is no real clarity on why it’s the case.
A number of reasons have been suggested, however. These include the tendency of tourists to have accidents when confronted with the highly unpredictable and frankly loopy driving of the locals, which seriously makes you question everything you ever thought you knew about human nature, in particular whether the will to live is innate or acquired. And then there’s the tuk tuk mafia, which would be aggrieved at the loss of business. The rude comments that I still see cyclists get from tuk tuk and moto drivers would support that contention.
If you do happen to spot a foreigner on a motorbike in or around town, the odds are good that they’re an expat. Unfortunately, wandering up to them and wistfully enquiring where they got their bike won’t help.
But driving, especially, on a motorbike or scooter, is still one of the best ways of seeing Cambodia and the spectacular countryside where, for good or ill, life hasn’t really changed a great deal (bar the addition of loudspeakers) since the days of the Khmer Empire.
It is still possible to get out there on two wheels however, provided you do it with a tour company and it’s not necessarily as expensive as you might think.
Experience, while always helpful, is not even strictly necessary. If you go with Khmer Ways, a newish outfit founded by a group of German guys who have been booting around the back roads of Cambodia for years, their small 125cc Honda Dream motor-scooters are perfect. They’ll give you a lesson before departure, and will make sure to drive as slowly as you need them to go.
Like most motorbike tour companies, they steer clear of the main roads as well. After all, you’re not paying them so you can spend the whole time looking at the back of a bus wondering when some lunatic is going to come shooting out of a side-road and straight into your path without even a sideways glance.
Their prices too are excellent. Their signature one-day tour is $50, and includes a ride to Phnom Bok, a reservoir for a swim and inclusive barbecue picnic, and then the ruins of Chao Srei Vibol, a tough to get to temple where you’ll find divinely few fellow travellers.
Both of these operations are very experienced, maintain their own bikes, and pride themselves on their safety records. You can go on simple one-day trips of the countryside around Siem Reap, and it’s gorgeous, or on bigger cross-country tours, staying in local accommodation, eating local food, and really getting into the thick of it.
And if you’re looking to really burn up some road, and cash, well then a Harley Davidson is the only thing for you. Harley Tours Cambodia, though based in Phnom Penh, also offer one-day Siem Reap tours, to Beng Melea and Kampong Khleang, for $300. Now, where did I put my Steppenwolf?
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