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International Ride Cambodia before it changes

Discussion in 'Roads, Touring, Journeys, and Travel' started by Chuffa, Feb 13, 2013.

  1. I am lucky enough to have just spent a week riding the roads (paved & dirt) of Cambodia as part of an organised motorbike tour group. If you get the opportunity I would encourage you to give it a go too.

    My small group had 4 riders, 1 guide and 1 mechanic/sweeper. The 4 of us were road bike riders and not very experienced on dirt bikes so the path was worked out specifically for us, with paved roads and graded dirt roads the norm. That being said, the guide was happy to throw in more testing dirt riding whenever the group wanted it.

    To my way of thinking, the city of Siem Reap should be more of a holiday hotspot for us Aussies. Forget Bali, Siem Reap is cheap, safe, interesting and not over exposed. The vast Angkor Wat temple complexes are a short tuk tuk ride away. Did I say cheap? A stay in a 4 star hotel, dinner & drinks cost me less than I can pay for dinner alone in Perth. In the central 'pub street', you will get a wide range of great food and beer at 50c a glass. I went over expecting to lose a little weight but actually put on some kilo's with the great food and the large portions. We stopped at roadside cafes along the ride and as long as we didn't have ice, the food was safe and delicious.

    We bumped into a couple of guys on a different bike tour & they were doing a hardcore run. They looked at us and said "We expected a fatality!". Fair dinkum. No bullshit. They had 20 in their group and did some rides into the night. Now the dry season is very dry and the dust is very fine, at times it was hard enough with 4 riders in front of you during the day. The locals also like to burn off along the sides of roads, fields & rice paddies. So dust and smoke at night while riding dirt tracks will give adrenaline junkies a decent fix.

    The bike hire & accommodation was inclusive in the tour cost. A tour might put a few people off but the interaction with the locals that we got from having 2 of them with our group was enormous. We stopped in places and ate at small roadside eateries that I just wouldn't have been game to do otherwise. Having an interpreter obviously means you get to interact with a wider range of the community. The guide & sweeper tried their hardest to give us an insight into the real Cambodia, its people, its past and its likely path into the future. A dirt bike is a great way of getting around the country but the locals on scooters put us to shame with their ability to carry a family at speed over pot-holed dirt tracks.

    Its hard to convey how good Cambodia is. As we rode by villages, kids would run out to have a look & wave as you went by. Tourists are an unusual sight off the beaten track and the locals have that natural warm welcome & inquisitiveness. Tourists are generally welcomed in Cambodia, not just tolerated as I get the feeling we are in some other asian hotspots.

    Summary... Cambodia is how I imagine Bali a few decades ago. Tourists are welcome. Locals are friendly. Everything is cheap. But get there fast, the place is being modernised at a dramatic speed. Before too long it will just look like every other neon signed asian holiday destination. At the moment it has charm by the bucketload.

    Warning... If your going on a dirt bike tour, check the operator out as best as you can. This is a bit of a boom market for dirt bike tours and not everyone is sane!


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  2. Sounds awsoume! Where did you book the tour, do you have a link??
    My sister is currently working in Cambodia for the next 12 months so may visit her at some stage this year and would love to do something like this
  3. Thanks for sharing - great post
  4. Yeah what BitSar said, how was the heat in all that gear?
  5. Wow you've got balls. I did a ride in Vietnam but with an estimated 4,000,000 active landmines in Cambodia, I would be far too paranoid to go anywhere near an unpaved road in the wild west.

    Siem Reap is awesome, as is Sihanoukville. It's not a place I'd describe as safe though. The thousands of amputees and ‘no grenades or guns’ signs at clubs can attest to that. They've also got some of the most intense beggars I've come accross. I really don't like the drug culture there eithor. Second hand opium smoke is nasty...

    In saying that, I'm sure it was heaps of fun.
  6. #6 Chuffa, Feb 13, 2013
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2013
    Cambodia is pretty darn safe now. For the most part land mines have been cleared and the remaining ones are usually near the border in hard to get to areas. These have been identified however, and can be easily avoided.

    In terms of begging... I saw more beggars in Rome. There are some in Phnom Penh but they really aren't a problem. Efforts have been made to offer them gainful work and many groups offer merchandise created by the disabled.

    It is not long since the Khmer Rouge & the civil war so many guide books might be referring to those times when apparently rebels did have guns in clubs etc. This no longer applies. It is completely different now. At no stage did we feel any sort of danger. That's the thing about Cambodia, it's modernising at a dramatic pace. Now is the time to see it before it becomes sterile!

    It was only about 30 degrees so heat wasn't a problem when you're on the move. Take the armour off for extended stops. Our summer is their winter, not that it gets really cold at all.

    The operator we used is www.dancingroads.com . Sonia has posted on NR in the past and they run a really good operation. I highly recommend them.
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  7. Oh I've used Dancing Roads in Cambodia and I've met Sonia. Just hired a bike + an instructor for a day as I'd never gone off-road before. Recommended as OP says.

    I've been to Cambodia about 8 times; used to live in HCMC, so Phnom Penh was close enough to go for weekend trips. Nice place :)


    Laos is quite interesting too, if you are in that general direction. Less developed than Cambodia. Hired a 4WD for a week there and drove around .
  8. Well it sounds like we've had different experiences. Have you got anymore pics?
    I'm sure it was awesome but I’d stick with Vietnam, rural Thailand and possibly Laos for this kind of thing. For me, Cambodia was fun and interesting but also much more intense and intimidating than other countries in the region. E.g. I saw guys in snake skin suits, driving Ferraris and Mercedes, carrying hand guns. I was followed a few times by big guys trying to sell me drugs/prostitutes… I didn’t get that hostile, anxious vibe at any time in Nam.

    @creampuff what's your take on the difference?
  9. I'm surprised about preferring Laos as all the write-ups I have seen say that is more of a safety concern than Cambodia. I met a guy working his way around asia though and he said Laos was an awesome place to visit and felt no abnormal concerns for his safety whilst there.

    One of the girls has done a writeup on her blog site. More general Cambodia pics there.

    I didn't take a camera because I couldn't find it. I had a contour cam but the best bits were off-road & the dust made it too hard to get good footage. + I was too busy enjoying myself and often forgot to turn the damn thing on!

    I did put a little of the video together for the other girl on the ride, Nic.
  10. Laos is less developed than Cambodia, it also has more of a landmine problem. I'd avoid Vang Vieng unless you want to hang out with drugged up weed smoking foreign tourists.

    When the Americans were secretely bombing Laos, they gave the Laotians a load of concrete for the airport. Instead of surfacing the runway, they built this big Arc de Triomphe like thing in the middle of town, Laotian style, with elephants carved on it ;)

    Laos still has quite a low life expectancy around 67 years, although you would not really know it looking at the people, who look quite healthy (edit: just checked Cambodia, they have a similar life expectancy). You will occasionally see farmers walking around with AK-47s in rural Laos; I've never seen people walking around with weapons in Cambodia (although obvballs, you can still go to a shooting range in Phnom Penh and fire off a few rounds or chuck a handgrenade). I did always feel quite safe in Laos though.

    First time I went to Laos, about 12 years ago, many of the roads in the capital Vientianne were still dirt; Phnom Penh roads were all paved at that same time. There is a lot less traffic in Laos, the main roads aren't bad you can easily cruise at 100+km/h and cows are the main road hazard, in contrast to Cambodia where you need to watch out for other traffic.

    The Angkor Wat area in Cambodia is really quite developed now and is packed with tourists, particularly round CNY. The equivalent area in Laos is Luang Prabang; it's a bit less busy, slightly less developed.

    I guess the main difference is that Laos is about 10 years in development behind Cambodia.

    Note I haven't been to the southern part of Laos or the northeast part of Cambodia.

    Laos and Cambodia: both recommended tourist destinations :)

    I think/have heard reports that the Thais drive like idiots; IMHO you are safer on the road in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

    Laos pics:

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