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Touring Cambodia on a scooter - is it foolish?

Posted by hora9 on 20/3/2013 at 22:46

My friend and I would like to tour around Cambodia on our own wheels, to see more of the country than just the easily accessible locations. We have experience riding scooters, but no experience riding bigger, more powerful bikes, and from the research we've done, it seems like they are highly recommended for Cambodia's terrain. We fully understand the risks involved in biking in the country as well as the poor condition of most roads, but if we're not planning on going off-roading or to any really remote areas, would it be foolish to try to get around on a scooter?

We're thinking something around 125cc like a Honda Wave, anything bigger/more powerful than that we've never ridden and don't have the proper licenses for either.

Has anyone tried to do this? Any tips are welcome :)

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Posted by MADMAC on 20/3/2013 at 23:00

I always recommend against small bikes for anything other than local putting around for a lot of reasons:

1. Smaller bikes are inherently less stable. They don't do potholes, etc. very well.

2. The saddles on smaller bikes are really uncomfortable over the long haul.

3. Smaller bikes can not keep pace with traffic, so if you are driving ont he highway, you can't keep up. Speed differential is a big cause of accidents.

4. You have more control of the bike if you have a clutch.

I own a Honda Wave and a CBR. I don't drive the Wave much anymore. That's for the wife and it's only for around town. I use the CBR and have driven all over Issan with it (even out of Issan and into Bangkok). It is the smallest bike I would recommend for long trips.

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Posted by caseyprich on 21/3/2013 at 02:04

Usual disclaimer - check insurance, how it fits with your licensing situation - etc. etc.

You can certainly go between towns on a scooter. We did the Bolavan Loop in Laos over a little more than a week and some days we were on the bike (with stops) all day. Laos drivers are more relaxed though, but Cambodian bus drivers won't run you off the road like they will in Vietnam. Most of the highways also aren't so bad at this point - keeping it at 40KM/h with stretching it to a max 60KM/h and you're usually going at the flow of traffic. I don't see much difference between spending all morning on the highways around Battambang vs. driving from Battambang to PP - other than having to deal with stuffed traffic getting in and out of PP. That said, certain stretches of rode are terrible - like that between Kampot and Kep, so you may be well served to have a face-mask in your bag for if the road gets dusty.

I'm not a very big guy and fit on the bike just fine (especially if it is a semi-auto as I find the balance is better than on an automatic). If you're small like me and don't take a huge bag you can strap it to the back part of the scooter seat using some bungee cord and the trip is much more relaxing. My larger friend would not have wanted to do long-hauls with his bag though (as he alone took up most of the scooter seat).

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Posted by sayadian on 21/3/2013 at 03:46

I had a Honda 125 in Phnom Penh .
First off I have to say that I don't know anybody with a motorbike in Cambodia who HASN'T had an crash of some sort.
I had two in a year.
First one, the idiot on a motorbike just took off from between two vans and straight into me. I was totally unsighted.
Second time another idiot on a bike tried to overtake me on the one-way system outside Psar Thmei when there was absolutely no way he was going to get between me and the tuk-tuk at the side of me. Again, although I use my mirrors, it happened in a fraction of a second and his back wheel clipped my front. On both occassion we escaped without injury. (Life is strange because soon after that I broke my ankle just walking on wet grass!)
I did a number of short rides on it to places like Oudong, Kampong Speu, etc. All about two or three hours ride in total from Phnom Penh. Made it in one piece but TBH I had a headache from the strain of keeping out of the way of the idiot Khmer drivers.

We went on one long run.
From Phnom Penh to Kampot and then on to Sihanoukville and then back on the highway to Phnom Penh.

Madmac's advice is pretty good, you can't keep up with the traffic so you are constantly being overtaken by trucks and buses which drive dangerously close to you.

The road from PP to Kampot is a joy. Newly laid, no potholes and very little traffic. Kampot to Sihanoukville wasn't too bad either though the road joins on to route 4 (main road from PP) about halfway and the traffic gets heavier.

'Cambodian bus drivers won't run you off the road like they will in Vietnam.'
Can't agree from my experience.Read on.

Coming back the problems started just before Kampong Speu. Heavy traffic coming south and just overtaking regardless of us. I had to drive slowly since they were constantly forcing me off the road onto the dirt. I get the impression if I hadn't moved I'd have been dog meat.

The trip was too long on a small bike.If you are going to do a trip around Cambodia I would advise doing small sections a day (maybe 3-4 hours max) because you have to have powers of concentration way above what you need on a Western road.Over time this brings on stress and you want to enjoy yourself not get off the bike shaking. Just remember to expect anything and treat all other drivers as if they were idiots who know nothing about driving ( mostly they are)

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Posted by caseyprich on 21/3/2013 at 05:15

Sayadian - I'd have to say form my experience around Battambang and Kampot/Kep only, wasn't on major roads most of the time . . . and I won't even ride in Vietnam the drivers are so bad, so that could be clouding my perception.

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Posted by somtam2000 on 21/3/2013 at 06:20 admin

I've done a fair bit of scooter riding (nothing bigger than 125cc) in the region, and I think the main issue is that riders, especially those just starting out, worry about their riding ability, and while that does matter, the far bigger issue is other drivers on the road.

Assuming you're relatively sane, keep the speed under control, wear a helmet and don't ride when wasted, then you're mostly looking after all you can control.

What you can't control are other drivers. Simple as that.

The trunk route roads in Cambodia have improved dramatically in the last few years and a 125 cc step through is adequate IMO, just learn to love the shoulder (when there is one) and keep an eye out for the unexpected.

All that said, my last trip in Cambodia was last year, rode Kratie -> Stung Treng -> Banlung and back, roads were fab, little traffic and the biggest issue was getting sunburnt then rained on.

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Posted by sayadian on 21/3/2013 at 06:40

To put it in perspective. I don't want to put you off the trip but to repeat I would do it in small sections.
I think it all depends on the volume of traffic.As I said above, the road from Phnom Penh to Kampot is great-little traffic, good road.

Coming in to Phnom Penh from around Kampong Speu it was clearly dangerous. Speeding 4X4s and trucks overtaking without caring about motorbikes coming up. You ARE expected to get on the dirt shoulder so I had to slow down as there are many potholes on the dirt and more of a chance of skidding.We also had bad timing. Catching the factories coming out in Kampong Speu but that was hilarious; everyone pushing to get on or out-utter chaos.
I just love driving in Phnom Penh,though be prepared for police checkpoint scams costing you a couple of dollars.Are there rules? I remember one day waiting at the lights at Mao Tse Tung approaching Monivong. We had a red light but a slight gap in the traffic and a couple of bikes pushed on through then another and another... Soon we were a phalanx of bikes blocking the traffic on Monivong which had right of way on a green light LOL
So with Somtam's advice you already got some roads which are good to drive. Just be careful of that stretch I mentioned going into PP.

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Posted by hora9 on 21/3/2013 at 07:02

Thanks for the speedy replies, I appreciate the help! I'm glad to hear that some of you have been able to ride around on smaller bikes. I'm not surprised about the biggest danger being other drivers, I've seen some pretty scary stuff on the roads already, but my friend and I are both careful riders and so far we've been OK even in other parts of SE Asia (fingers crossed it stays that way).

We'll digest our options, and if we end up doing any scooter tours around I'll share any relevant information for the curious :)

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Posted by Nisseyaklom on 23/3/2013 at 03:49

It's by far the best way to travel the country and a great idea. I've been driving motorcycles more than 100 000 km on Cambodian soil since I moved here -99, and no accident so far ( knock on wood). Both dirt and road bikes. The major roads are so much better nowadays and a scooter is fine.

Start early every morning (sunrise) and aim to be at your days final destination around lunch, even with flat tires or other problems you will be at your daily goal way before it's getting dark. Driving in the dark can be great fun but not recommended if you are not very experinced. Risk of having drunk locals on the road is higher in the evening and also late afternoon. Drivers who has been on the road all day seems to make more misstakes in late afternoon, falling asleep over the wheel and such :-)

When renting a scooter pay more for newer one and check them up carefully. If you have a breakdown of any kind, you are never far away from a mechanic that can fix most problems.

Happy and safe travel

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Posted by sayadian on 23/3/2013 at 15:14

You're one lucky fellow if you never been hit in Cambodia. Getting t-boned is pretty common. Try the death-run back to phnom Penh Sunday night from Sihanoukville. Or not ;-) that's one trip to avoid.

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Posted by Geer1 on 23/3/2013 at 15:59

I don't think it would be too bad but depending on where you go get ready for some dusty roads. The road from Stung Treng to Kratie, Kampot to Kep and a couple others that I can't remember exactly are very dusty in places. I only rode on the one from Kampot to Kep and it was hell because I didn't have a mask or goggles or glasses or anything to help protect from the dust. The nice thing about Cambodia for something like this is that there are enough decent towns close enough you don't have to do really long days travelling.

I myself would only do something like this if I was sure health insurance etc was going to cover if I were in an accident(some don't cover moto accidents). Otherwise I just take the risk sparingly and rent for a day or two in certain locations.

The benefits of using a scooter in Cambodia is that the traffic isn't as bad as it is in places in Thailand or Vietnam. Phnom Penh can maybe get a bit hairy but not that bad if you just go with the flow and be careful. I also think Cambodia would be a great place to try and check out some of the quieter places and towns as the people are very friendly.

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