Cambodia offers a lot of opportunities for dirt bike riders. Many of the main roads between major towns are in good to reasonable conditions, but once off these roads the real adventure begins.
You can just rent a bike at one of the rental shops in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville or Kampot and – with a good map – find your own way around the country.
However, if you want to explore jungle tracks (like in the Cardamom Mountains), only do that with an experienced guide. In some areas there are hundreds of walking trails and ox-cart tracks and as there are no signs or people, you’d easily get lost.
When to go
The monsoon (May to October) beats the crap out of the dirt roads. Besides the mud, which makes them impassable, the rain also tends to wash the roads away. Obviously, the best time to go dirt bike riding in Cambodia is during the dry season (November to April). The scenery is best just after the rains have stopped. Just before the rainy season starts, it not only gets unbearably hot, the countryside is brown, dry and extremely dusty.
Dust is probably the main problem for the bike riders and cyclists in Cambodia. Mercifully there isn’t a lot of traffic (once you are out of the larger cities), but when trucks and cars do go by they kick up immense clouds of fine powder that gets in your eyes and mouth. At its worst it’s a total brownout, but most of the time it’s just gritty and annoying. After a day on the road, you’ll be looking forward to a shower.
Roads & Bridges
There are a lot of dirt roads in Cambodia. Some are smooth, firm and easy to ride. Many dirt roads are in bad shape, with ruts, potholes, rocks and worst of all, powdery sand (silt). The holes are sometimes big enough to swallow a car, but as long as the dirt is firm, and you don’t mind the odd spill, it can be exhilarating. Look out for tree branches sticking up from the middle of the road these have been placed here to warn passing vehicles of hazards such as ditches, holes and deep puddles.
Many bridges – especially when following an off-the-beaten-track road – are in bad shape. Like the roads, they’re being repaired day by day. A lot of them are temporary structures, fitted with metal plates, but perfectly functional. Other bridges are just trunks laid across a stream. It is very common for bridges in Cambodia to be missing a few planks, or even complete sides. Half-built bridges are rarely closed off and usually have a small, unmarked diversion. Be very cautious when approaching all bridges in rural areas.
If you’re taking your own bike, get it fully serviced before long trips. Check your tyres, brake pads, oil, cables and suspension, especially if you’re heading deep into remote areas. The last thing you need is a breakdown in the middle of nowhere!
Main routes usually have small bike repair shops that can deal with flat tyres and minor problems, but if you’re heading far off the beaten track, bring a decent first aid kit and toolkit. A good toolkit would include a puncture repair kit, pump, a set of Allen keys, tyre levers and electrician’s tape.
Dirt-bike parts might be hard to find in the provinces, so as a bare minimum take a spare inner tube, spare cables and levers for your clutch and brake, a few chain link and brake pads. You’ll need a few extra sets of brake pads in the rainy season as they will wear out quickly. A good oil-spray will keep your chain slick.
Needless to say, you should know basic bike maintenance and repair. It’s pointless to have a perfect toolkit if you don’t know how to use it!
On the Road
Try to get an early start on rides, the earlier the better. The weather will be cooler and the roads less hectic. If heading into remote areas, this will also give you more time for rough stretches, rest stops and possible breakdowns.
Always, always, always and constantly, constantly, constantly keep your eyes open for chickens, dogs, pigs, cows and young children that might, and usually do, run into the road. Be particularly careful around sunset, as rural roads will be full of cows being herded home and students leaving school on bicycles.
Use your horn. A lot. Sounding a horn is not considered rude or aggressive in Cambodia, and is used by everyone simply to say “I’m here”. Use it as much as you like going around corners, through towns and passing cyclists/cars etc. Don’t expect other people on the road to let you know their intentions. Swinging across to the opposite side of the road without signalling is VERY common, so give other vehicles a wide berth and watch them carefully for any sudden moves.
Eating & Drinking
When in towns or villages you can stock up on water and cold drinks. Along the road you’ll see many people selling sugar cane juice (not as sweet as you might expect, very refreshing and energizing), noodle soups, and other very basic Khmer meals. Do not ever buy any meat from roadside vendors! That is, if you do not want to upset your stomach. Stick to stir fried vegetables, noodles and rice. To be honest, reasonable to good food is only available in towns and cities, not in the smaller villages. Of course there are exceptions, but do you want to test it when you are on a long dirt bike tour?
Safety & Health
Wear a helmet. Always. No exceptions. No excuses for not wearing one. Bike shops provide these with rentals, but we strongly recommend you bring your own. The local helmets are made in Asia, and while these are good for protecting your head from insects, branches and the sun, they probably would not pass the standards test back home. Plus if you have a rather large head, you’ll definitely need to bring your own as sizes are small in Cambodia.
Cover up and use sunscreen when riding don’t be deceived by the wind in your ears, it’s HOT out there! A krama (Cambodian scarf) is cheap and will protect the back of your neck.
Drink plenty of water. Buy some ‘Royal D’ rehydration salts and add them to your drinking water at rest stops most pharmacies in Phnom Penh carry them for a few hundred riel. Heat exhaustion won’t hit you until the evening, and the last thing you want is to feel groggy when you should be relaxing.
After you’ve been riding in the wet or through slow-moving water, always check your ankles and arms for leeches.
In the event of an accident, it’s amazing how quickly locals and police appear out of nowhere. If you’ve hit someone else, expect to have compensation demanded from you, whether the accident was your fault or not. The longer you hang around, the more ridiculous the demands are going to get. Try to settle the problem as quickly as possible, because if the police get involved you’ll have to deal with their costs and possible bike impounding as well.
Still want to go?
So, after all these warnings and possible hazards, you still want to go dirt bike riding in Cambodia? Of course you want, it is a true adventure in a beautiful country full of friendly, smiling people.
There are a lot of companies offering dirt bike tours. Here we will list a few of them, including their websites.
The Bike Shop / Red Raid One of the best addresses in Phnom Penh to rent a dirt bike. They also rent out good quality helmets (free when you rent a bike), goggles, gloves and protection sets. At the same address you’ll find Red Raid, organizing dirt bike tours around the country. #31, Street 302, Phnom Penh, T: +855 12 851 776 Websites: The Bike Shop, Red Raid
Dancing Roads Fantastic tours through Cambodia’s jungle and backwaters. And they even cater for non bikers in the so-called ‘His and Hers’ (not politically correct, they know, but so is Cambodia…) tours. While you (m/f) are out getting muddy, they arrange alternative activities for the non bikers. #66c Street 368, Phnom Penh, T: +855 12 753 008 Website: Dancing Roads
Hidden Cambodia Mainly offering tours to the more outlying temples around Siem Reap. Trang Village, House No. 1 (off the road to Angkor), Siem Reap, T: +855 12 655 201 Website: Hidden Cambodia
Siem Reap Dirt Bikes Organizing half-day and full-day tours around the temples. Multi-day tours go to the more outlying temples and to Northeastern Cambodia (Ratanakiri). The six day tour covers the track between the capitals of Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri provinces. Along the road to Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, T: +855 99 823 216 Website: Siem Reap Dirt Bikes
Stray Dog Adventures Mainly organizing tours around Sihanoukville (Ream National Park, Bokor Mountain, the Cardamoms), but also along the Mekong and around the temples of Angkor. Mithona Street (near Serendipity Beach), Sihanoukville, T: +855 17 810 125 Website: Stray Dog Adventures
Jungle Cross Jungle Cross maintains a fleet of 7 Honda XR and Suzuki DR 250 trail bikes, and a Kawasaki 250 for beginners. Founded by British national Nick Berry, they offer spectacular dirt bike adventures in the Cardamom Mountains. Sauna Garden Bar & Jungle Cross, Street 3, Koh Kong, T: +855 15 601 633 Website: Jungle Cross
Extreme Rally Raid And then, there’s Angkor Dirt Bike Tours’ Extreme Rally Raid, an annual dirt bike tour around all of Cambodia. The only company to travel to the very, very remote corners of the country. This 12-day tour is organized in January each year and is for experienced dirt bike riders only. #1319, Street 349, Phnom Penh Website: Extreme Rally Raid