Motorbike Safety in Cambodia: What To Know Before You Go

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From picturesque Tonle Sap Lake to the noise of Phnom Penh, motorbiking is a great way to get around Cambodia. Jessica Hayward gives us her tips on how to do it legally and safely.


Tonle sap lake, Cambodia Photo © Getty Images/TravelPhotographer

Motorbikes up to 125cc can be ridden legally without a license, however, check your travel insurance wording. Many insurers will require a license from the destination country or your home country, so this loophole may not work for you!

If you want to ride higher than 125cc, you can transfer your valid home license at the Dept. of Public Work and Transport outside Phnom Penh for a one-year Cambodian license.

If you do not have a valid home license, you may apply for a 10-year license here as well, which will require relevant documentation, a theory test (can be taken in English) and a basic practical test.

Riding over 125cc without a valid license is illegal. For minor infractions, you might be able to bribe your way out of scenarios, but if serious injury or death occurs, you will be held responsible.

Renting a bike in Cambodia

Try to rent from reputable companies that provide proper vehicles (Honda, Yamaha etc) rather than Chinese knockoffs.

Note, it is forbidden to rent a motorbike in the Siem Reap area, so you will need to bring a bike from a different area of Cambodia.

Can I bring a bike to Cambodia from neighboring countries?

You should be able to bring a Vietnamese or Laotian bike into the country without issue. However, many people report problems at borders when trying to cross with cheap motorbikes, as Cambodia does not want these motorbikes to be sold in the country. You are advised to bring only a quality rental bike brand (e.g Honda) to avoid border disputes.

What type of bike should I rent?

Motorbikes of 110cc to 125cc will be good enough for touring the country unless you intend to head off along the dirt backroads. If so, a more powerful dirt bike may be required.

Whilst many Cambodians know how to repair motorbikes, if you do not know what they are doing it will be hard to judge if you are being scammed or sold faulty parts. With a Honda bike, you can take it to one of the many Honda dealers for service and be assured of legitimate mechanics.

Riding in Cambodia

Cambodia is undergoing huge infrastructure upgrades with its roads, and you can expect to ride on smooth paved highways for most of the main routes, including the northeastern areas, which are now fully accessible by highways. The worst roads are between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, as these see the most traffic and can be quite potholed and rough in places.

Traffic is an issue, and you will need the confidence to manage it. Most roads have shoulders for motorbikes to travel in, but expect trucks and buses to use these too, and it is your duty to navigate out of their way – even if it is into a ditch. It is not uncommon to witness a truck overtaking a truck that is already overtaking a truck, leaving you no space on the road. Be aware and drive defensively at all times.

Use your horn liberally – motorists in Cambodia rely on being notified of your approach by your horn rather than monitoring the road themselves. When in doubt, beep! Make sure you are heard, particularly coming around blind corners.

Manage your fuel. There are long stretches of road in Cambodia where no one lives; the last thing you want is to run out of fuel in such an area. Carry extra in bottles if you need it. These are easily purchased along the way.

Similarly, make sure you have enough food and water on hand in case of a breakdown in an isolated area. Help may take a bit of time to arrive.

It is best to travel with someone else in case of an emergency. You can motorbike in Cambodia solo, but invest in a good SIM card to ensure you can call for help if something happens to you.

Scams to look out for

Police target foreigners regardless of whether they are riding legally or not. Whilst 125cc motorbikes or lower do not require a license, expect police to pull you over and try to fine you regardless. This is a scare tactic; what they want are bribes which supplement their low wage. Paying a bribe will be the fastest way out of the situation, usually US$2-5.

If you choose to stand your ground, do so carefully; take the keys from your bike when the police pull you over and hide them on your body, so they cannot confiscate the bike. Be patient and calm and eventually the police will leave you alone. You can also try showing them an international driver’s permit which, while not technically legal, may get you off as the police education levels are very low and they will assume you have correct papers.

When it comes to roadside motorbike repairs, many Cambodians will provide you a good service, but a few will try to scam you into more expensive “repairs”, or try to sell you dodgy products. Go to an official repair place if you can.

When you fill up, make sure the attendant resets the fuel gauge before they refill your motorbike.

Dangers while riding in Cambodia

Cambodia is a relatively safe country; your biggest concern will be ensuring your motorbike's safety overnight. Check that your accommodation provides secure, safe parking, and do not leave any gear on your bike, including helmets, as thieves will take what they can get.

Traffic is chaotic and you must always drive defensively, but the speed limits are relatively low so crashes are not typically very dangerous. Keep in mind that no one wants to hit you!

Best routes for motorbiking in Cambodia

Main Loop: Covers the highways circling the Tonle Sap Lake between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Covers Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom, Siem Reap, Battambang and Phnom Penh. Allow one week to travel, two weeks including travel time in the main cities.

Southern Loop: Heading south from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, then following the coastline towards Kampot, before crossing the Vietnamese border or returning to the capital. Three to six days depending on how long you spend along the coastline enjoying the beaches.

North Eastern Loop: Heading east from Phnom Penh to Snoul, Sen Mormoron, Ban Lung, Krong Stung Treng, Kratie and Kampong Cham. One week to travel.

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