Cambodia Like The Locals Do – On A Scooter!

Scootering the Cambodian Coutryside

It is a few years since I was last time in Cambodia. During my previous visit, I did all the main tourist sites in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Now this time I wanted to venture a bit closer to the regular Cambodian and tour the countryside.

My verdict on the scooter I had for this ride, can be found at the end of this post!

I took this trip without much preparations, as my idea was just to “go for a ride”. Now after Covid-19, it turned out that many bike rentals no longer existed and getting a decent off-road bike was not as easy as before.

Somehow, I thought that it would be a nice idea to do my tour on a scooter “like the locals do”.  Bike rentals in Phnom Penh were not very eager to rent a bike for taking it outside PP but I found Victory motorcycle rental (nothing to do with Victory motorcycles!), who were happy to give me a bike – a scooter rather.

Furthermore, I had crossed roads with my old friend Arto, who was touring Asia and had some time available and was keen join me for the ride. Great, now we were two on the road! As a seasoned traveler he was not too bothered with my lack of plans and was happy to go with the flow, deciding next steps based on what we would find ahead.

Well deserved pint in Battambang

First thing one notices, as without exception anywhere in Asia, is the rapid development mainly in the cities and key artery roads. This is the case really everywhere, but obviously in a different scale outside the main cities and growth centres.

Heading north, out of Phnom Penh, the new dual lane highway was being finalized. Driving to Battambang (presumably further to Siem Reap as well) will be very quick in the near future. Even now it was quick with only some unfathomable sections where traffic was guided from one side of the road to the other, at times without any visible reason.  The obvious outcome was that all vehicles rode on both sides to both directions. Motorbikes usually picking the side with less cars and trucks. Locals also saw the opportunity to dry rice on the closed sun bathing sections of the road.

New road from Phnom Penh to Battambang with rice being dried

Our first destination was Kampong Chhnang with the idea of crossing the rivers and to ride the east side of Tonle Sap -lake. That turned out impossible just now – or rather – possible only around February when the marsh and wetlands dry on the other side. Now we would not be able to ride there. So heading north, we would have to continue on the west side of the lake towards Battambang. This meant staying on the not-so-interesting main road for now, but as we soon realized, the time saved would later be quite welcome.

Battambang is a lively town, third largest in Cambodia, and capital of Battambang province. One could see we were entering the rice producing region as rice was being dried on the already completed but coned off sections of the new highway.

Battambang has many layers of architecture but the most visible is the French colonial feel and the old town is also a candidate for the UNESCO world heritage list.

A movie titled “First they killed my father” based on the book with the same name was filmed here. A book worth reading and very touching when touring Cambodia.

What comes to tourism in general in Battambang, as one of the main cities in Cambodia, there is a lot available. From bat caves, bamboo train to circus and temples. Battambang is also not far from the Thai border and is easy to get to by crossing the Pailin / Ban Pakkad border.

For us, the road south would not be the highway but smaller roads veering west, eventually to the sea at Siam bay in the south.

Fixing a flat tire. Repair shops are everywhere!

Now this was very different! Small, often unpaved roads with long distances without any habitations at all. Just what I wanted. I actually got more than I wanted on these small-wheeled scooters. Dirt bikes would have been better! As it started to rain, the red dust turned into mud and the small, smooth city tires gripped as riding on soap. End result being broken mirrors and muddy clothes and seeking shelter from a distress accommodation before night fall.

Cambodia has plenty of decent hotels, hostels and homestays available and accommodation is not a problem, particularly if you are not too fussy or just need a night’s sleep before continuing.

No need to go hungry – Restaurant on the road

The next morning it did not rain but it was still damp if not wet on the road. Riding the slippery road towards Koh Kong was quite entertaining and the road turned out to be a small jungle road, in large parts built by the Chinese (my guess!) for their hydro projects. Some deep mud challenging us on our small scooters – Fun!

At one point near Koh Kong, we started looking for accommodation and selected Cocoon in Nesat village without knowing much of the place. As it turned out, this was one of our best lucky decisions.

Cocoon. Our accommodation in Nesat village.

Nesat village is an international village, which perhaps could be called a hippy-village (!?!) where people have bought the land and cleared the jungle for their houses and have decided to live a very different life, providing services for tourists and working as digital nomads.

The village seems to have integrated well with the local community, developing the whole regions around the village. A very pleasant surprise and if you do not fancy chain hotels and enjoy relaxed community, this could be for you.

Klub Haus for evening drinks

Digital nomads are a new, growing segment of tourists in Cambodia and nowhere was it as obvious as in Kampot. Kampot is a nice, small town by the sea with easy access from Phnom Penh of even from Thailand by land.

Onederz hostel in Kampot

Many hotels compete with quality Wi-Fi, cleanliness and good food, which is  usually a mixture of western and Asian dishes. Anything to make digital nomad feel at home. Our hotel even had a large pool, so two nights were comfortable to spend here. The town itself is small but lively and easy to walk in. Kampot pepper is world famous!

The ride back to Phnom Penh was both heavy rain and bright sunshine, in that order!

After returning the scooters Arto headed to Singapore and I returned to Battambang and to Rayong in Thailand. Some final little touring on the holiday island of Koh Samet on another tourist-scooter and along the coast-line with my friend’s Honda 500x: Rayong – Chanthaburi – Trat, almost back in Cambodia.

A very nice way to finish my small Cambodian biking tour.

Watch the Video of the Tour

About the scooter

It soon became very clear that the small scooter Honda AirBlade  was not ideal for travel. Well, I knew it when we started but just how bad it was, was to be found out. I have earlier travelled through Vietnam on a scooter, which was much better for long distance travel, Japanese Honda Winner (?) .

This scooter had a very small rake and short wheelbase, which makes it very nimble in the city traffic but not ideal when driving faster and hitting potholes etc on the road. Similarly small tires found every bump on the road and quickly filled with mud, making them really slippery.

On the other hand the bike was very light to handle and easy to pick up if dropped.  Scooter also keeps your feet away from splashes and a suit or a dress appeared fine as riding gear. Small rake also gave it a small turning circle. As said, easy to handle in the city.

You can also fit more riders on a scooter in Cambodia than you can comfortably fit in an average city car in the west! Usually up to 5 passengers, if not even more!

I can understand why it is a popular model in Cambodia – besides the very affordable price.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

one + fifteen =