Cambodia has become a hot destination for adventure riders in recent years and for good reason too. The locals are exceptionally welcoming, the weather is fairly reliable during the non-monsoon months and there are so many options of graded red dirt roads and serious single lane jungle tracks.
The result? A riding destination that is unsurpassed for that absolute feeling of freedom you get when riding the exhilarating trails that the Kingdom of Wonder has to offer.
But how does someone go about heading out on an epic Cambodian adventure? We spoke to self-confessed Buddhist dirt biker and organiser of The Red Dirt Tour, Tim Highfield (a.ka. Red Leader) from Mototrails Ltd to find out more.
Who should you ride with?
That’s down to your budget and expectation of comfort and welfare. Cambodia is an awesome place to ride. Personally though, if you are going to travel to a developing country and engage in a fairly high-risk adventure I would strongly advise against plumping for the cheapest option available to you.
Sometimes you get what you pay for in life. You must remember that Cambodia is among one of the poorest and least developed nations on this planet. So when things go bad, they can go really bad, and quick.
Adventure riding is fun yes. But nothing saps the enjoyment out of riding more than having to fix a puncture on your own, in 35C heat. Also, if you are constantly worrying about whether or not you are on the right track, or if your motor is about to seize on you, then bad things can happen quickly if you’re not fully engaging in that riding moment.
Leave the company to do the worrying about punctures, breakdowns, route planning etc. You pay to ride and that is what you should do.
Don’t worry though, I don’t guarantee we won’t get you lost or have unexpected difficulties on the journey we need to overcome as a group. It is an adventure after all, not a holiday! And in Cambodia, well, anything can happen.
We are not the cheapest option for riding Cambodia. We do however put together the most experienced team, and we aim to offer a world class riding experience. We always run a team-heavy tour, so that clients get the attention they deserve. There is nothing more likely to ruin your dream adventure, than an under-resourced team.
So what type of ride can Red Dirt Tour clients expect? A very interesting one. Currently we don’t do big adventure bikes, we just do big adventure. I am keen to get the Adventure Bike fraternity into some really amazing off-road riding experiences in Cambodia. I firmly believe that where the tarmac ends, adventure truly begins. Actually, no one tour is the same. The landscape and infrastructure changes so rapidly from season to season, what with the destructive monsoon flooding, and the rapid development of tarmac roads. The destinations and sights on our tours are fairly consistent, but often the actual trails ridden to get to them will vary hugely.
What level of ability does riding off-road in Cambodia require?
As great as Cambodia is, it is definitely not the place to sample the local medical facilities! So while we do not expect riders to be enduro champs, we do expect them to have ridden an off road motorcycle before, and have some degree of confidence away from the black-top.
If prospective Red Dirt trailblazers have a lot of road bike experience and no off-road, and really want to ride with us, then we are happy to arrange some basic tuition with one of several UK based Mototrails Approved partners that can cover basic handling and riding techniques.
Mototrails Ltd’s ethos is one of long-term sustainability of serious off-road motorcycle adventure. In fact, I’m just one half of the Cambodian/English partnership. My Cambodian wife is also my business partner.
Any advice on finding a reputable dirt bike tour guide out there?
The internet is awash with dirt bike tour operators in Cambodia, and videos of Cambodian tours that just make me hang my head in despair and think, ‘what a damn shame!’
I firmly believe that when you visit a country, you should embrace its culture, and abide by its customs and traditions. In fact Cambodia has its own saying, “Negotiate a river by following its bends, enter a country by following its customs.”
Cambodians are a very reserved and respectful nation and it pains me every time I see a YouTube clip of someone riding at breakneck speeds, or binning their motorcycle into a ditch at the side of a graded dirt road.
Make sure your chosen tour provider is compliant with the Package Travel Regulations in that they are either bonded, or put all your money into an independent trust account until your tour is completed, so that you are financially protected against supply chain failure or the organiser facing insolvency.
Is the business Khmer owned or foreign? Chances are a Khmer or part Khmer run business will have more respect for local customs, traditions and communities you ride through.
Any other tips for safely embarking on dirt bike adventures?
Absolutely. Insurance. Insurance. Insurance. I cannot stress enough the importance of your tour company having the correct Tour Operator Liability and Indemnity cover, the necessity of you having the correct holiday/travel insurance policy with the correct level of cover, and the minimum local third party insurance for riding the bike.
Admittedly the local third party insurance rarely comes into effect, as accidents tend to be dealt with on the spot. That is why it’s best to travel with a company that employ the services of a local fixer, to deal with such scenarios.
Ask to see the tour company’s certificate of Tour Operator cover, so you know they are compliant with UK law. If a tour is being offered for sale in the UK, even through the internet, then the supplier/organizer is required to comply with UK travel industry laws.
When it comes to personal Travel Insurance, shop around, but make sure with the company via phone, that they definitely cover riding a motorcycle of any engine size off-road in Cambodia! That is essential.
Oh, and I nearly forgot, and it’s kind of insurance – Boots! Make sure you bring decent Enduro/MX style boots to wear. The most common injuries amongst off-road riders are foot, ankle and lower leg. So an enduro boot really does offer the best protection.
Also, if you get paperwork and checklists from the tour organiser before your ride, READ THEM! It could make all the difference between you being prepared mentally and physically for the journey and thriving on every trail, or being ill-prepared and dreading every section!
Head to www.reddirttour.com to check out the Red Dirt Tour. Tim has a trip leaving Phnom Penh on 6 December 2015 arriving in Siem Reap on 14 December. If you mention this article, he may even offer a 20% discount…