This is a summary of my ride through Cambodia in January 2013.(How did I end up riding a dirtbike in Cambodia? )


TOTAL DISTANCE COVERED: ~1000 kms = ~600 miles (70% of it on unpaved roads)


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Cambodia Clip

Chris made a short video of Brett and I riding through Cambodia. It’s kind of fun. :P

Day 7: Kep to Phnom Penh

It was finally Day 7 – the end of our tour. Today we would ride back to Phnom Penh. I think that something happens within my mind when you are approaching the end of a ride. I no longer have the urge to explore, stop, dawdle, dream etc. Instead, everything within me is focused on getting home and finishing. That’s the spirit in which I started the day. I didn’t particular care to go off-road, see any sights, try anything new and difficult. I just wanted to take a straight line path back to Phnom Penh. I think the rest of the group had the same sentiment. We were only about 150km away though and we didn’t mind getting to the city later in the day, so a few backroads weren’t entirely out of the question. I also wanted to get a few pictures of me riding on unpaved roads as all of the GoPro/Contour photos so far had been on paved roads.

We left the island at around 7:30AM on another boat. It was a quiet, peaceful ride. When we got to shore, we picked up our gear, filled up petrol, and took off.


Day 6: Kirirom to Kampot and Koh Thonsáy


Day 6! I was rapidly approaching the end of my ride. By now I had settled into a nice groove and was excited for more. What a change from Day 1!

We woke up at 7AM and set off without any breakfast, much to my surprise. I guess the homestay included only one meal. I wasn’t very hungry so I didn’t mind. It was also really pleasant to ride early when it was cool. I guess some things are constant no matter where you are in the world – Sunday morning motorcycle rides to breakfast are always a wonderful thing! We rode through small villages where dogs came running out into the street at the sound our engines. No survival instincts, these dogs! I narrowly avoided a few of them.

We stopped for breakfast at a local place where we had our first taste of what the locals eat for breakfast. Our options were fried rice or noodles. No omelettes or egg related dishes here! I opted for the fried rice with a hot coffee with sweet milk. Cambodia coffee is very like its Vietnamese counterpart, which I have had in Seattle. It is a thick strong sludgy drink made with chicory coffee and sweetened with condensed milk from a can. I usually avoid drinking coffee in the mornings during long rides to avoid getting dehydrated, but I couldn’t resist. It was odd to eat rice for breakfast, but as always, I was grateful to get good, delicious food for under a dollar. The place was buzzing with flies, something that I could never get used, although my Aussie tourmates told me that you soon got used to it when you lived in hot humid places. Fair enough!

After this, we had a good few hours of riding where it got quite a bit difficult for me. The roads were dusty like yesterday and had a lot of bumps and potholes. At times, we went off into a little bit of single track, which although wide, was a little sandy and rutted and twisty. I went a lot slower here. It was also very hot as the day went by. My dual sporting outfit was fine for most of the roads we had done so far, but on the slow unpaved roads it was less than ideal. For the first time, I wished I had brought a dirtbiking outfit.

We went over quite a few rickety wooden bridges for the first time. We stopped at the end of one and the others went up and down it to take pictures. I was too hot and tired though, and I opted out. Kind of wish I had though, as it would have made for great pictures.


Day 5: Phnom Penh to Kirirom

Our departure from Phnom Penh was delayed by a parade being held in honor of the funeral of Cambodia’s king Sihanouk. We waited around the hotel for almost an hour before the cordoned off streets were opened to traffic again.

It also meant that traffic going out of the city was horrendous. It reminded me a lot of the traffic in Bombay. Lane markings are completely ignored and it is mostly a free for all. It wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be though. Even though the road was full of vehicles, as long as you held your line and didn’t make any sudden movements, there wasn’t any danger of being rear-ended. If a faster moving vehicle wanted to pass you, they’d always pass from the left, and honk to give you fair warning to move over. The order was something like bicycles and scooters to the extreme right, us on our bigger bikes to their left, and cars and vans to our left. We would occasionally encounter a few vehicles coming straight at us in the wrong direction, but they were usually going very slow and avoiding then was not much of a problem. Still, this kind of riding was slow and boring.

After about two hours of it, we finally got out onto the outskirts of the city with more breathing space. I kept riding on the unpaved shoulder, because unbelievably so, I was really starting to crave riding offroad. Maybe we’ll make a dirtbiker out of me yet!

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Day 4: To Phnom Penh!

We had a very short day ahead of us a mere 60 km ride to the capital city of Phnom Penh. The plan was to arrive there early enough in the day that we wouldn’t get stuck in rush hour traffic on a Friday evening. I was quite pleased about having a shorter day as a little respite from the longer riding days we had had so far. It’s true that we covered very short distances on even the longer days but riding on unpaved roads on small bikes meant that we rode a lot slower than I normally would in the United States. The heat also made it a lot more tiring.

We made a short stop at a market which specialized in insects. As in, insects that you could consume. They had fried spiders (tarantulas, I believe), crickets, roaches and some small birds. We tried spider from a young girl who had two baskets full of them, one of which was filled with live spiders, while the other was full of cooked ones. I’m not an arachnophobe but the sight of the gigantic spiders crawling around the basket made me shudder. A couple of my group let the spiders run over their hands and one of them stuck it right on his face. He said that they had little suction cups on the ends of their feet (just like Spiderman!). I refused to handle them even though they had had their teeth removed and could not bite. I did try eating a couple of legs of the fried spiders though. They tasted more of the spices that they had been cooked in than anything else. The feel of eating the hairy legs still made me squirm a bit though, and for the rest of the day I couldn’t help but think that I had spider stuck in my teeth.

I refused to eat the crickets too as they didn’t look as appetizing as the spiders. As for the roaches, forget about it. These were water cockroaches, something that I didn’t know existed.

The kids who were selling the insects were amused by our reactions to the insects. They had grown up around them and were used to handling them, of course. It did strike me that my reaction was absurd but not something I could not control. Intellectually I can understand that poor people eat what they can get their hands on. The more privileged people could get access to eating cows, pigs or chickens, while poorer people had to make do with rodents or insects. If we were suddenly in the midst of a famine, I’m pretty sure most of us would throw our apprehensions out the window and eat what was available.

Live spiders!

Live spiders!


Day 3: Kompong Thom to Kompong Cham

We left Kampomg Thom after breakfast, and looked forward to a slightly shorter day than the previous one, about 150km. It was also by far the most perfect one riding-wise. We started with two hours of riding on paved tarmac, which was a bit dull. We took a short break to stop to see a some sculptors carving out gigantic statues of the Buddha. I was also surprised to see a few little statues of the Hindu god Ganesha.

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Day 2: Koh Ker to Kompong Thom

The next morning, we set off for Kampong Thom. It would be a 200km ride with one detour to a temple. We did mostly asphalt roads for the first half of the day before switching to dirt. The dirt riding was a little challenging to me as it was riddled with potholes and very sandy. I spent a good bit of time going thunk into each pothole and bottoming out, which got very tiring very quickly. I was relieved when we stopped for a break near a river, the first real water body we had seen in the past two days. After the break, things seemed to come together pretty well. I learned how to weave around the pot holes and power through some of the more slippery bits. I was more able to enjoy the scenery as we passed through more villages with lines of houses and banana trees in their backyards. Lots of kids stood by the road and running with us and waving. It struck me that the red mud roads that were so challenging and new to me were just “roads” to them.

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Day 1 – Siem Reap to Koh Ker


We set off at 8:30 from the hotel. After a brief stop for gas and adjusting of various equipment, we took off down the streets of Siem Reap. After a few kilometres of riding, we turned onto a red dirt road. I struggled on this for the first few minutes, like I always do on dirt, as I try to get used to the feeling of the bike moving around under me, and rolls over gravel and small rocks, and negotiates with bumps in the road. Pretty soon I got used to it and started speeding up. The bike handled really well, much like the TTR125 which I had ridden in the past, and better than the XT225, the dual sport which I rode. There was something to be said for riding a pure dirtbike.

This was the dry season and we kicked up a lot of dust. We shared the road with other scooter and bicycles and the occasional car, farm truck, cart and pedestrians, depending on how populated the area we were passing through was. People on the scooters and bicycles were wearing their street clothes and wide brimmed hat, occasionally wrapping their faces with scarves to guard against the dust. I felt a little overdressed in my full riding suit and helmet.


We passed through small villages where the houses were built on high foundations, presumably in case of flooding during the monsoons. Little kids on the side of the road waved excitedly, motorcycles being a rarity here (I had yet to see a single one on the road). It made me sad to realize that many of these kids were of school going age, but they were either working or playing in the streets. We did see a few children in school uniforms, but they were hugely outnumbered by the ones who didn’t appear to have had the opportunity to get an education. Seeing this and seeing the extremely humble conditions in which so many of the people here lived made me thankful for everything I had. It reiterated my belief that travel is such an important learning experience that should be a part of everyone’s lives. The more I see how other people live, the less judgmental I find myself, and the more thankful I am for the things I have due to nothing more than circumstance.

We made a brief stop at a temple and hung around a bit chatting with a food vendor outside, who had all sorts of fresh vegetables and disembodied animal parts for sale. It made me think of how real the connection between the animal and food is here, unlike in most developed countries, where unless you live on a farm, you can go a lifetime without seeing an animal cut up for food.




From here, we rode through more flat dirt roads for about 30 more km to get to the next temple. We parked next to a food vendor in a village and first got some coconut milk. I don’t think I’ve drunk it straight out of a coconut since I was a child! After this delicious break, we set off towards the temple. It was a 500 meter walk, so I took off all my gear. I was a bit relieved to not be wearing dirt bike gear that I couldn’t take off. My boots were the only things not conducive to walking around and exploring, but I’d deal.

It was a short but very hot walk, as it was almost noon and the sun was high overhead. The temple was a crumbling ruin. As we were walking past the first one, a guide magically appeared and told us that we could climb inside. He indicated a narrow flat stone stretched across what looked like a moat connected to the building. Sure, why not? We walked over it, clung to the building wall and walked along the side to the entrance of the building. There were more collapsed stones inside the building. We walked in and clambered onto them and walked from room to room. The guide pointed out various things like intricate carvings on some stone, and thick vines that had overgrown and taken over the stone. N0thing lasts forever! In my head, as I walked down a darkened passage, it felt a little awe inspiring that I was walking in the footsteps of people who had walked here more than a thousand years before. We saw buildings that had been libraries, bridges over what had been pools, coffins, and more intricate carvings of Vishnu and his wife.
We finally arrived at the place where our guide informed us that the Lara Croft Tomb Raider movie was shot. It has been almost 10 years since I saw the movie, but the setting looked familiar.



When we were done, we tipped the guide and left. We got some delicious inexpensive lunch – I got some fried fish with ginger and rice for a princely $5 (tourist prices, but who cares at that price?).

The rest of the riding was on more flat roads to a guest house where we stayed for the night. I got to watch the sun go down in Cambodia amidst an immense vista of a completely different landscape that I’ve been used to.


First day in Cambodia

My flight from Zhongguo, China took about three hours to get to Siem Reap, Cambodia. This would be the starting point of my tour of the kingdom of Cambodia. I had spent a week in cold, snowy China and was now on my way to warm, tropical Cambodia. As the plan descended and got closer to the airport, I gasped. The airport looked like no airport I have seen before. I commented to my seatmate that I felt like I was arriving in Vegas. This was a bit of a disservice to Seam Reap, although it did seem near magical to arrive at a place full of palm trees, where the airport building looked like a little villa. I got out of the airplane and was greeted by warm air, statues and chirping birds. The wait for my checked in bag was short, and I went through immigration fairly quickly.

Outside the airport, I was met by a guy holding a sign with my name on it. He led me to a scooter driven tuktuk, a vehicle where a scooter pulls a carriage where the passenger sits. I need hardly say that I was delighted, although I felt a bit sorry for the guy who had to lug my two heavy suitcases onto the tuktuk and then get the scooter off of its center stand. As we took off from the airport, I saw a girl riding a scooter while talking on a cellphone held in her left hand. Welcome to Cambodia! Women on scooters and bicycles everywhere was something I’d see quite frequently over the next few days.


Everything I saw seemed new and exciting. Different clothes, different faces, billboards and road signs in Khmer, palm trees and other tropical flora, warm, humid air. We stopped briefly for gas where the attendant helped us fill up. When we got ready to leave, he looked me in the eyes and said – “Have safe travels. I hope you have a good time in my country.” I burst into a grin. In all my travels, this was the first time that I had been welcomed into any country in such a warm and friendly way.

The tuktuk driver moved on, and as we rode down darkening streets, two wheeled scooter and mopeds kept whizzing past us on both directions. We eventually came upon an intersection where the left arrow pointed to the famous Angkor Wat, while the continue arrow pointed to Seam Reap. Sadly, we continued. Through a turn of circumstances, my flight to Cambodia had been delayed by a day, and I would be unable to see the famous temples like I had planned.

The tuktuk turned right onto a rougher road riddled with pothole and gravel. Before long we turned into the courtyard of the Central Boutique Hotel where I had been booked for the night. The hotel grounds resembled a botanical garden, filled with all kinds of tropical plants and flower. The two swimming pools looked very tempting, but I was too exhausted and I needed to get together with the group to discuss logistics for the next day. I proceeded to check in, and ran into Nicole, the gal from Australia with whom I had been exchanging emails for the past couple of months, trying to plan out this trip. She was accompanied by the two other guys who would be doing the tour with us, Chris and Brett, both Australians, our tour guide Chia, and Pich, the guy who would ride sweep, who didn’t look much older than fifteen. We got together for dinner and chatted a bit. The logistics turned out to be – “Show up here at 7:30AM tomorrow.” *groan* How I wish I’d had at least one rest day.

But first – beer!


Cambodia by motorcycle…


How did I end up riding a dirtbike in Cambodia? Here’s the story so far.

Two months ago, sometime in mid-December, I had found out that I’d be going to Beijing for a week on business. I started scouting around for something fun to do at the end of the trip, since I had some time off saved up, and I would be on the other side of the world anyway. January would be cold enough that any extended travel in China or Japan would not be much fun, and motorcycling certainly wouldn’t be. I looked southward at the warmer countries, like Vietnam and Cambodia. Thanks to a Top Gear special I had watched, Vietnam sounded like it would be an incredible place to ride in. I included Cambodia in my search, even though I knew very little about it. I searched the internet for motorcycle touring companies in the area, and halfheartedly sent off a query to a company that looked like it had the best looking website. It was called Dancing Roads. I didn’t hear anything back for a few days, this being the busy Christmas season. Then one morning, I woke up to a reply from Sonia from Dancing Roads in Cambodia, who said that they didn’t have any rides scheduled for January, but they could put something together for me if I was interested. I think I can honestly say that this was the happiest day I had last year. I replied excitedly to let her know that I was very much interested in a beginner level dirtbkiking tour which would let me experience the country in a unique way. I spent the rest of the day dreaming, and hoping that this would work out.

I had a few qualms about doing any sort of organized tour, something that I have actively avoided, as it conjured up images of overfull tour buses groaning with the weight of bored tourists ferried between scheduled stops and unloaded at regular intervals to take in a bit of culture while insulated from the local people. It also went against the grain of self-sufficiency and independence that had led me to do my previous motorcycle rides on my own. My decision to go with a touring company in this instance was influenced by many different factors, partly on account of my experiences during my solo rides.

I didn’t have much time to plan out the details of such a trip, which would include finding a bike to rent, getting spare parts for it, research routes etc. There was a certain kind of freedom in being able to have someone else take care of all the details and just ride your bike and enjoy the ride. In the past, finding accommodation at the end of every day had always been a bit of a source of stress, especially in countries where they didn’t speak English. During many of my rides, I had been consumed with the minutiae of travel, like food and accommodation and hadn’t had the time to check in any of the sights. Another important factor was that since I didn’t have much experience with dirt riding, it made more sense to have the company and backup crew.

A month later, everything had been finalized. I would fly from Seattle to Beijing for a week, the fly to Siem Reap for a seven day tour. The tour would go from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh during the first four days, and a small round trip south to the beach area during the last three. There would be a good mix of sightseeing and riding. There would be four of us on the tour, two women and two men. Since we were all beginners to dirt biking, the tour would cater towards our skill level. We had the option to start out easy and build our skills us as each day progressed. We would ride Yamaha TTR230s. All we had to do was wait until the day arrived…