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 is frustrating. We aren’t sure why you can't rent here, but a number of reasons have been suggested. These include the tendency of tourists to have accidents when confronted with the unpredictable and frankly loopy driving of the locals. And then there’s the tuk tuk mafia, which would be aggrieved at the loss of business; we still see cyclists being jeered or sneered at by tuk tuk drivers.
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, an 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, which is not only the more scenic way of doing it but, with less traffic, is also infinitely safer.
Their half-day tours start at $30, and the signature one-day countryside adventure tour is $70 ($60 per person if booking for two), and includes a chance to go water tubing or chill out in a reservoir, visit the secluded Chau Srey Vibol temple and tuck into a delicious barbecue picnic, a tough to get to temple where you’ll find divinely few fellow travellers.
If travel is all about the romance for you, then a Vespa tour might be just the thing. You can choose from a heritage, food, or countryside-based range of itineraries, with prices starting at $60 per person. They enjoy a stirling reputation for the quality of their tours, and their attention to details, which includes your safety. You don’t ride the Vespas yourself, but if you had to pay attention to the madness all around you you might miss some of the sights anyway.
For those wanting a little more adventure, it’s time to saddle up on one of the 250cc dirtbikes that can be hired from either Siem Reap Dirtbikes, or Hidden Cambodia Adventure Tours. 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.
A couple of operations in town roll on the dark side of the law and will rent you motorbikes. We can’t vouch for the quality of the bikes, or their safety, and we don’t recommend using them unless you’re very experienced. Cambodia is not the place to learn to ride a motorbike and Siem Reap, where medical services are patchy at best, all the more so.
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 28th March, 2015.