From the outside looking in, riding a motorcycle in Cambodia looks like it’s an utterly chaotic experience. But when you’re in amongst it, it’s not that crazy. You just need a few tips for that light bulb moment to go off and before you know it, you’ll be riding bigger and better than a local.
Do’s and Don’ts of riding in Cambodia
Don’t loose you’re temper. If you expect riding conditions to be the same as in the west then you will be well on your way to having a public breakdown. Accept that riding conditions are different, and enjoy the experience. It’s actually a lot of fun.
Do pretend that you’re in a school of fish, especially in Phnom Penh. If you’ve been taught to leave a distance of two bike lengths between yourself and the bike in front of you, then forget it. That gap will be eaten up by five other bikes before you can say “what the”.
Don’t ever assume that the person pulling out from the side of the road has or can see you.
Do use you horn. It’s not a form of aggression. Instead it’s used to let people know that you’re there. As a bonus, honking the horn also helps to deter the chickens and dogs from crossing the road in front of you, especially when you’re out riding in the countryside.
Don’t trust anyone else’s indicator. There are so many reasons for a car, bike, truck or minivan to have an indicator on. One, they actually want to turn off at the next junction (very rare occurrence). Two, they’ve forgotten to turn it off altogether (most likely). Three, they can see into the future and know that they’ll be overtaking something within the next 10 minutes. Four, eventually they’ll be turning off and just want to be organised.
Do use your arm instead of an indicator especially if you really want make it clear that you are about to turn left or right.
Don’t fill up your bike with Pepsi fuel (fuel that’s in a plastic or glass bottle). It’s obviously not good quality. It can however get you out of a pickle as a last resort. Note – you might want to flush your tank out afterwards.
Do pay attention to sticks, plastic bags and rocks on the road. They may look like a hazard in itself (especially when they are in the middle of the road), but they’re there to let you know that a different kind of hazard is on the road, such as a breakdown or a ginormous pothole.
Don’t stress if you need air in your tyre. Everywhere, even in the middle of nowhere, many small shops have a compressor out the front. And for 500 KHR’s you’ll be back on the road in no time.
Do use your mirrors (you might actually be the only one on the road using them). Those minivans and 4WD’s come from behind at what feels like light speed. If you don’t move out of the way quick enough their horn will shock the bejesus out of you.
Don’t get upset when your bike is parked and people sit on it. They might just need to fix their hair whilst using your side mirror.
Do look out for orange cooler boxes when you’re out on the road and are thirsty. They’re full of chilled drinks. If you can’t speak Khmer, international sign language works a treat.
Don’t completely rely on Google Maps out in the remote countryside. Things change constantly, especially road conditions. Get local knowledge instead. You don’t want to be “that” person who trusted Google Maps’ directions and the next thing you know you’re sleeping out in the jungle for the night.
Do wave. In countryside Cambodia you’re left arm will get a workout. Even the local police will wave back at you.
Don’t’ trust a bridge or the crest of a hill. For some reason they attract all kinds of rubbish. It’s usually two buses and a minivan overtaking each other and heading straight for you in your lane.
Do ride a motorbike. You’ll see some crazy and hilarious things. Go out on an adventure and most importantly have a great time.
Disclaimer: This isn’t by any means an official rules of riding article. It’s just a few observations we’ve made from riding extensively in Cambodia. Always remember safety first.