A Month of Motorbiking Through Cambodia

August 08, 2018



I wasn’t supposed to go alone. I was going to spend more time in Laos and only see bits and pieces of Cambodia. Well, sometimes it’s good to have a plan just to see how different the reality turns out to be.

So I went alone and rode all around Cambodia. A thousand kilometers on a Vietnamese Honda Win that I bought from a travelling couple. I didn’t get to enjoy much peace of mind, but I did experience quite many adventures and a few unforeseen catastrophes. A few times, I needed to stop and lick my wounds. A few other times I was dazzled, and usually I was simply happy.


The road

Roads, roads, and more roads. Dusty or muddy, they lead from one village to another. They all look the same. Identical billboards, identical stalls where oil is sold in old Pepsi bottles. And everywhere there are dogs, all equally weary of the heat. Sometimes I had to stop for a bit and look at the map. Hadn’t I been there before? What if I was going in circles? Once in a while a blasting horn would wake me up from my slumber. Khmers don’t use it in frustration, they just want to warn you: watch out, I’m coming. And this is how this country works. All of it except for Phnom Penh, the capital. What goes on in those streets is wild. I only spent three nights in that loud, dirty and chaotic city, but it was the best motorbike riding class I could have asked for.


Cambodian kindness

The best thing about Cambodia is its people. Khmer kindness is unimaginable. Your motorbike broke down? During a storm you fell into the mud, with your bike pinning you down? You burned your leg on the exhaust pipe? Maybe it’s deep into the night and you’re God knows where in the jungle, you can’t find a hostel and there’s nowhere to put up your tent because the soil is all mud? Well, I’ve been through all that and each time, Khmers came to my rescue. I didn’t need to ask, they just did and never wanted anything in return. I usually had the most problems with the bike. Before buying my Honda I’d never used one, so it took us two days to get friendly. And before our friendship flourished for good, there were quite many surprising accidents. If it hadn’t been for the Khmers, my trip wouldn’t have been as successful.


Poverty

Cambodian poverty and unawareness can be seen everywhere. Even in the capital the inhabitants wash their clothes in the Mekong. Everyone uses plastic bags for all possible purposes, and then they throw them into the river or to the side of the road. In theory, public servants should gather them all up, but it never really happens. The garbage just stays there, and for a long time. In Thailand there are numerous beautiful, well taken care of parks where people jog, rest and walk around. Cambodia has few parks and most are just dirty concrete areas with rats running around. Theyre dirty too.


Other backpackers 

Youll find backpackers in almost every city or town that you visit. It was them who told me a thousand extraordinary stories and one more. Seven months on the road, eight, ten. Scooter accidents, broken bones, concussions. Escaping from a hospital after suffering from memory loss. Arguments on the size of the bribe on the border, requisitioned motorbikes, getting thrown into jail. Volunteering, vipassana, business plans. All those stories to tell and to hear out. Ill be ready to stand in for Scheherazade.


Glowing plankton and the sky

The most beautiful trip I experienced during that journey happened on the island of Koh Rong Samloem. (Oh and by the way: its really easy to get any drug you want in Cambodia.) One night a couple Id befriended and I decided to walk through the jungle and get to the dark side of the island. We wanted to see one of its miracles: glowing plankton. One of the locals warned us not to enter the sea. The currents get strong enough to pull you into the deep sea and prevent you from going back. I remember us nodding in agreement, chaotically, only to carry on on our way.

We shoved our way through the bushes trying to cut through the darkness with our torchlights. After a while we got to the beach. The crashing of the sea was pretty terrifying. But it was there. We stripped down and ran into the water. It wasnt easy to keep upright with the sea trying to push us down every few seconds. When we finally stood firm and turned off our torchlights, we saw it. There were lightning bugs glittering all around us. Id never seen anything like that.

But it wasnt the end of it. When I returned to the beach, breathing heavily, and lay down, I saw the most beautiful sky you could think of. I stared at the constellations and all the stars Id only seen in photographies. Its a bit funny, but thats when I passed out.


A woman travelling solo – is it safe?

I can only speak from my own experience and those of other backpackers I talked to. As for me, I felt safer in Southeast Asia than I feel in Europe. I was there day and night, in cities and villages, in dark alleyways and on empty roads. I didnt experience anything negative. The worst things Ive heard of were muggings or attempted muggings, but that can happen to anyone – not just women travelling on their own.




The pictures are presented in chronological order. You can see them just like I did traveling from one place to the other. I hope you’ll enjoy it!


In Angkor Wat when you donate money you receive a blessing and... a bracelet

I fell in love with this monkey and she reciprocated the feeling. She kept hugging me!

The most characteristic element of the Bayon Temple – stone faces looking at the four corners of the world

You can buy those dainties in many places in Cambodia, not only touristic ones. Khmer people actually eat them on the daily

The sculptures within the temple depict Buddha and various Hindu gods

The temples of Angkor were built as an earthly representation of the holy mountain of Meru

A picture taken the day I left Siem Reap on my new ride to discover the nearby villages

In the heart of nowhere or a village near the Tonle Sap Lake

This village – I had many accidents on my motorbike here. But it was my first day so I don’t feel bad about it

The night was falling, I had no hostel to go to, and my bike broke down. The irreplaceable Khmers helped me. Thanks!





A week since I started my journey – I get to Phom Penh. That day was a little rainy

Phnom Penh: that view isnt extraordinary at all

Phnom Penh: the kids are a helpful bunch, trying to make their parents’ lives easier

It was a relief to get out of that bustling metropolis and head south to Kep and then Kampot

I spent most of my nights in places like this one. A bed in a dormitory is the cheapest solution at just 3$ 

Ive noticed that my bike is at its prettiest from the booty side

Kampot and its rural charms

Unfortunately, I didnt get to swim in these inviting waters. I had 2nd grade burns

Here, by the river, I recovered after my adventures

More Kampot. I found a few magical places there

Mountain road between Kampot and Sihanoukville

These are the bottles full of oil. In the background, dogs exhausted by the heat

Koh Rong Samloem is serene out of tourist season

The pretty daughter of the owner of Jungle Republic on the island

The most amazing couple I met during my trip!

All dogs are friendly. Maybe its because Khmers like to eat the hearts of dogs that bit them

View from the lighthouse at Koh Rong Samloem

The night we saw the glowing plankton. A little experiment

The darkness of the jungle on our way to the beach

Sihanoukville: I slept in a tiny room over the bar

Krong Battambang and some festivities. No idea what they’re celebrating

This school was louder than a construction site, for real

This little trickster did unthinkable things. When it was time to say goodbye, he gifted me a bunch of lotus flowers

The Killing Cave. Thats where the Red Khmers buried their victims

A reminder of what took place

A monk I befriended in Phnom Sampov

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About me

I am at a crossroads with several passions that, in general, may be described as words and sights. Formally, I'm a Polish Philology and Sociology graduate and right now I work as a TV editor. Not so formally, I’m just a word lover and an amateur photographer.

Here is another thought storage of mine, old, dusty, and abandoned, where I used to write while I was studying literary criticism.

© Sylwia Kluczewska