Archive | January, 2012


30 Jan

It’s a special feeling to be on the eve of a little event that we dreamed up a year ago, and feel the excitement coming from the other participants as they converge on Phnom Penh from all around the globe. The facebook chatter as the guys packed bags, boarded planes, and then waited it out in transit lounges around the world, was really exciting.

Some excitement is a really good thing too because waking up it the unlit dungeon every morning is starting to mess with our zen a little.

Speaking of messing with our zen… last night we rode to the airport in the dark to meet Susan, one of the founders of Sustainable Cambodia. Armed with a GPS worth more than the motorbike (which i have named “Turtle” for obvious reasons), we figured it would be easy enough to get there. But since the traffic over here is chaotic and doesn’t move very fast, we gave ourselves half an hour to travel the 10km route…

Rule No. 8 : Try to avoid riding at night in the suburbs of Phnom Penh.

We were doing pretty well at picking our way through the traffic, but after 10 mins of travel I realised we were moving so slowly that we were going to be 20 mins late! Not wanting to miss Susan we tried to step it up a notch, so there we were zooming in and out of the other moto’s on poorly lit roads – which progressively became more deteriorated and even less lit.

A tuk tuk driver telling me we were going the wrong way should have rang alarm bells but it was not until all street lighting disappeared and we found ourselves riding through a busy market, negotiating trucks, hand drawn carts, effluent spills and speed hump after speed hump, that i realised we’d gone very wrong. The road did lead straight to the airport though, so we persisted until the gps route led us to a turn off the busy road and into an unlit building. Hmmm

We stopped just short of this, at which point a bunch of pretty girls in tight dresses and high heels walked over to us…

“what the hell are these girls doing standing around in the dark in this part of town” was my first naive thought…

Needless to say we didn’t stop to chat. A quick consult with Dave and we concluded that we were actually almost there, but on the wrong side of the airport. Oops. Back onto the turtle and finally the market road led us to the main road that passed the entry to the airport. It was wide and straight and well lit… i was finally going to have a chance to stretch the Turtle’s legs, and long legs they turned out to be!

You know how some old cars sound awful at 90km/hr but at over 100 they start to smooth out and actually sound better? Well the turtle is nothing like that at all. I’ve already mentioned that at 70km/hr it sounds like she’s about to explode, well at 90km/hr the experience is truly terrifying, and almost nudging 100 it feels like her remaining engine life can be measured in seconds rather than kilometres. Regardless of that we did get to 95km/hr! Yeah baby, Turtle’s got legs!!

Rule No 9 : don’t underestimate the Turtle.

While it’s nice to know that Turtle will manage more than a slow walk, we don’t plan to travel so fast as the conditions don’t lend themselves to it at all, so we reigned it in and arrived safely at the airport in time to briefly meet Susan and some of the gang from Sustainable Cambodia. We didn’t have much time to talk but it’s obvious that they’re passionate and caring people, we’re really happy to have partnered with them. Visa was there with her mum too, and with what little shyness she initially had towards us now completely gone, she wasted no time is teasing us about everything from taking the wrong directions to the airport to losing my parking ticket when we went to leave.

Back to today… our list of things to do included heading out to see the now drained lake in central Phnom Penh, get a haircut, work on the blog and meet up with Frank and John, our first two arrivals.

We got the blog out of the way early and headed out for a bite of street food at one of a thousand little kitchens that litter the sidewalks of this city. This one in particular was making some sort of little round food balls about the size of a tennis ball.

“what is it?”
“i have no idea”
“1 please”

There was a girl stirring a bucket full of some sort of white-ish liquid with some green stuff floating in it, and with a ladle she’d fill little cupcake sized holes in a tray sitting on a wood fire. After a minute or two another girl would flip these little balls, and eventually they’d be tossed into another pot of boiling oil to be deep fried before being drained and served.

We sat on stools about 30cm high at a little table and were served 5 of these little balls along with a small bowl of another white liquid. It wasn’t bad, but not so inspiring either, so we also ordered the other dish being prepared, which resembled an omelette but was actually just a skin of fried yellow something, with bean shoots, thin egg noodles and ‘maybe-chicken’ in the middle. This was served with a big bowl of green leaves, which I’m sure is picked from a several trees nearby, along with a few lettuce leaves.

I’d eaten one of these things the previous day, so i knew to refuse the cutlery we were offered and instead took a lettuce leaf, broke up the omelette with my other hand and put some of the filing in the leaf, along with the tree foliage and then wrapped it up with the lettuce a bit like a Vietnamese cold roll. This is dipped into a peanut-ish sauce and tastes delicious, the bill was only $2 for both of us!

Eggy Stuff


Devoured Eggy Stuff.


Rule no. 10 : street food rocks.

Belly’s full we set off for a street side haircut. This was easy to find as there are kids working in many of Phnom Penh’s streets, where an old chair and a desk with a mirror sitting on the kerb constitutes a hairdressing salon. There was the obligatory negotiation on price, which started at $6 and ended with $1.25, and then a genuine jostle for the business when they realised we both wanted to be cut at the same time. I sat there as a 14 year old kid went to work on my afro with a set of electrical clippers, while discussing politics and corruption in the Cambodian government.

The conversation was interesting, if a little one sided, but he was passionate about the plight of the Cambodian people and the widespread corruption that he put down to the high number of wealthy Vietnamese controlling the city. I don’t know enough about the situation to really engage in that conversation, but will try to learn more as we travel through.

Our first arrivals came in today, so we headed back to the hotel to met Frank and John this afternoon and went out for a beer or 3 and eventually some dinner later on. It was great to finally meet them and with 2 more Australians on board the beers came a little faster than usual. Dave was struggling to follow the Aussie accents, but had even more trouble keeping up with the rounds, and at 11 we said our goodnights and retired to the Dungeon, with a loose plan to meet tomorrow morning and go out to pick up another 2 moto’s, hopefully making Monday’s workload a little lighter.

Rooftop Beer


Rooftop View


“hey Dave”
“we forgot about the lake”
“oh yeah!”

Fixing Scooters

29 Jan

Once again today started with darkness in the dungeon, but according to our previous nights agreement (to get up early to service the bikes) we were both in the bright whitely decorated Blue Pumpkin for the now routine breakfast in lightning time. By lightning time i mean about an hour later, and not before Dave had well and truly tainted the atmosphere of the dungeon beyond thoughts of any further habitation.

I guess that’s one way to make sure we get out of the room quickly Dave…

Rule No 7 – Dave yields the bum gun with an iron fist. Be warned.

Last night over some beers we got chatting to some moto taxi guys about the going rate for bike service work, and armed with the new information we started by asking the hotel staff for the nearest strip of motorcycle repair shops.

The Official Ride For Cambodia Workshop.

“You go up and first of block, then straight and straight and on left side find”

“ummmmm ok.”

It was actually really easy to find, and in a new tactic for trying to close the gap between local prices and stupid tourist prices, we entered the negotiation by offering the correct amount for what we needed rather than asking for what it would cost.

WIN for the Ride for Cambodia team!!

Oil Change $5
Chain and Sprockets $9
Front Brake Pads $2.50
Rear brake light switch $2
Labour $0.50

Rule No 8 : First find out what something should cost from someone without a vested interest, then go buy it.

The guys in the shop spent a couple of hours on our bikes collectively, changing parts and chasing up loose wiring to get the tail lights working again. I guess that’s one advantage of using these bikes, there’s someone on every corner who knows how to fix them! We were really impressed with how quickly they worked, and the guys were really friendly and spoke enough English to tell us what the various parts would cost before going ahead and doing the work.

While the wheels were off we were able to check the wheel bearings, one of which needed replacing on Dave’s bike at a grand total of $1.50. Eventually we each paid our $19 bills and left 2 happy men.


No traditional gender roles here. This is the first time I've had my oil changed by women.


The older woman's assistant is by far the best dressed garage employee


The counter sprocket from Dave's bike was really worn. Dean's bike was in good shape


The work is quick and of good quality.


Electrical problem diagnosed and fixed in less than 30 minutes. Total labor cost: $0.50


The Damage. This shows that there is no reason to fix your own machine here in Cambodia.


Rule No 9 : Leave the bike repairs to the locals.

That done it was back to the hotel to take stock, eat some food, and generally be enthused about how easy getting some work done on the bikes had been. We resolved to return to the same shop on Monday and have all the bikes oil, chain/sprockets and wheel bearings changed, along with a check of brake shoes, and repair to any faulty wiring. A little preventative maintenance goes a long way.

I don’t mean this to seem as though i’m riding like a lunatic, but i’m trying to do a bit of a ‘high speed test’ to gauge what sort of highway speed we will be able to maintain with these bikes. The result is not encouraging. It goes like this…

Lights turn green and i surge forward in first gear to a max speed just a bit faster than walking, select second and nail it again. A few minutes later second gear has run out and i’m travelling marginally faster than a jog. Yawn… The jump to third is a long one so the little 100cc motor needs a bit to get wound up but at the top of 3rd I see about 45 or 50km/hr on the GPS – now we’re really moving!! This is the tricky part because the traffic in Phnom Penh only travels at about 40km/hr (max) so by now i’m working hard to judge the distance to the next potential obstacle… i snatch 4th gear and move into the left lane now outpacing even the bravest teenagers on their shiny new fuel injected Honda Dream 125cc bikes (insert jealousy here).

Fourth gear is L O N G so the speed now builds even more slowly than before, 55….. 56…..57…..58……59 well you get the picture. Eventually i see 70-something just as a huge black 4WD pulls out in front of me and i have to execute an evasive manoeuvre that even Bill Clinton would be proud of.

On my best run i think i saw 72km/hr on the GPS, by which stage everything on the bike was starting to shake and make those strange noises that usually serve as a warning to slow down. I think with a bit more road we’ll see over 80, but i have no idea how long the engine will hold together at this speed.

Rule No 9 : There is no shame in being towed to the finish line.

Street food in Phnom Penh

So I went out for a more leisurely spin on the bike for the rest of the afternoon, buying some antibiotics ($1 for a full course), and about 5 meals at different stalls i moto’d past while exploring the city. I love the little encounters you can have by eating in tiny little ramshackle places most tourists only take pictures of. First it’s surprise and the “are you lost?” look, closely followed by shock when i point at something and say “one”. Next people scramble to get a clean chair and somewhere for me to sit amongst the crowd of locals. Then there’s the raucous laughter by everyone present when the food arrives and i smell the various bits and pieces and don’t really know where to start. But finally it’s just warm friendliness as they mime out the process for me, then linger to see if i pull a face at the taste, and smile broadly at my approval. At the end of the meal i say O-kun (thanks!) and Lee-Hai (good bye) which again gets the crown laughing, and even more chatter follows when i get onto the Dailem scooter and point to it smiling and say “Mine”.

This trip is going to be so much fun.

Buying the Bikes

27 Jan

Day 2 by Dean

It was still dark when i woke up this morning, but then again it’s always dark in the dungeon, (the name we have given to our windowless room).  I couldn’t decide if the feeling in my belly was a little nerves at the prospect of heading out to buy the motos, or the lingering effects of all the chilli and beer we consumed on one of Phnom Penh’s street food districts last night.

Unfortunately the rumble in my belly confirmed the latter, so i stumbled my way across the room and into the bathroom to once again to do battle with the bum gun.  In the Dungeon the bum gun is king.

Rule No 1 : You have to embrace the Bum Gun.  (

Dave and I eventually hauled ourselves out to the Blue Pumpkin down the street where we had arranged to meet Visa, an employee of Sustainable Cambodia.  Visa kindly offered some of her time today to help us out with the negotiation of a fair sale price on the motos.

Like most Khmers, Visa turned out to be lots of fun to  hang out with, and after a cup of coffee we headed off to the Orussey Market area to look around.  We took a walk along the roads that were dotted with secondhand moto shops, unfortunately most of them were closed due to Chinese new year.  They have been closed all week…

Dean and Visa from Sustainable Cambodia roaming Phnom Pehn looking for scooters

Ride for Cambodia – Timing fail.

Luckily though there were a few still open for business, or sort-of-open enough that we could chat to the shop people via Visa, and we started to understand a bit more about the price of used moto’s here in PP.

We set ourselves a budget of between $400 and $600 for a bike, figuring that in the absolute worst case, if we had a bike stolen or lost one in a river crossing, then the loss wouldn’t be so costly, but at that price point we figured that we should be able to buy a reasonable bike.

The bikes we originally wanted to buy, Honda Dream or Wave retail new for about $1200 over here, but there is all sorts of conjecture about the value of different models depending on the country or origin.  If it comes from Japan, even an old bike will fetch over $1000, if it comes from China it gets very little.

Honda SuperCub - Quality but expensive

To get a Japanese Dream or Wave in reasonable condition we were up for more than $800, anything less and the bike wasn’t really expected to go much further.  Similarly an imported Honda Super Cub, in good condition but second hand still gets $1200, which is a bit disappointing for us because we’re big fans of these old things.

Next in line is the Honda Dailem, a Korean made bike known for it’s durability, and hence used as the workhorse in Phnom Penh to tow around the tuk tuk wagons.  Most well to do Cambodians wouldn’t be caught dead riding one as they are seen as a bit lower class and ugly, but after some negotiation you can get one in reasonable condition for between $450 and $550.

Last on the list is the Honda Chaly, regarded as even more undesirable than the Dailem, these have little 8” wheels and a 50cc motor.  I have a soft spot for these bikes because they just look so ridiculous, (Visa laughed out loud at me when i pointed at one) and we were really tempted by the $300 price tag too, but we have some serious miles to ride on some rough terrain, and with a maximum speed of only 50 or 60km/hr, they just wouldn’t be practical for our needs.

Rule No 2: Ride for Cambodia – It’s not a holiday.

Then there is the constant stream of crappy chinese made Honda replicas that tuk tuk guys keep trying to sell us on the street for anywhere from $200 to $600.  We don’t really trust these guys so this isn’t an option either, but it is fun bartering a price with them.

Rule No 3 : you can usually barter the cost of a tuk tuk down by at least 50%

Honda Daelim Citi 100. Made in Korea

So we settled on the Dailems and returned to the shop front that had the most of them, (albeit spread across a dozen different stalls).  The first time we saw this shop was the previous day, when we were greeted by 10 or 15 guys all jostling for position yelling at us “you want to buy moto? You want moto… this one good moto!!”.  This was a bit intimidating at first, but we ignored them and wandered through the stalls one by one looking at bikes, and gradually the hawkers settled back to their hammocks or working on their bikes.

Wanna Scooter Sales, PP


We’d been there for an hour looking through all the stalls when eventually we found one owned by a younger lady, who we eventually came to know as Ms Wanna.  Ms Wanna hadn’t tried to sell us anything, she spoke quietly, all her bikes were clean and her tiny corner of this little market was relatively tidy.


Ms Wanna had about 15 Dailems for sale at between $400 and $600, so Dave and i picked through them while Visa explained why we needed them and talked about a buyback arrangement.  Eventually we picked 2 and settled on a price of $550 each, on the condition that some little defects were repaired first – things like lights, horns, seats and a throttle control.

(by the way Laurence – they have a blue one for you too mate J)

Ms Wanna’s boys went to work on the bikes while Dave took a moto taxi back to the Dungeon to grab our helmets.  I chatted to Visa while watching interestedly as the boys pulled the parts we wanted off the other bikes they had for sale…  I don’t know how this is going to work when we come back for another 7 bikes on Monday but i’m sure they’ll work it out somehow.

Having Visa along for this was really invaluable, knowing that we were being understood and being able to explain what we wanted was really important, and her local knowledge was invaluable too.

Happy Wanna with $$$ in her hand

Visa also arranged to have 9 sets of new tyres ready for us to have installed on Monday, and she even sold the old tyres back to Ms Wanna for $10 a set!  (The new ones cost about $10 or $15 each).

Rule No 4 : EVERYTHING in Cambodia is open to negotiation.

So an hour later we rode out of the shop, proud new owners of a pair of red Dailems. Visa doubled on the back with me and didn’t even complain much when i rode out on the left side of the road into oncoming traffic.  Funnily enough neither did anyone else so it took me a second to realise i was on the wrong side of the road, but eventually i merged back to the right in that seamless but chaotic way that only seems possible here in South East Asia.  It occurred to me that if i’d made the same mistake back home, in this traffic density there would almost certainly have been a near miss and I’d probably have lost my license.  Over here no one even beeped their horn at me.

I really love it here.

Rule No 5 : crossing the road in Phnom Penh – close your eyes and walk, don’t ever stop or slow down, it confuses the oncoming traffic.

Now that we have our own moto’s the tuk tuk drivers out front of the hotel don’t bother us anymore, they just want  some of our cool “Ride for Cambodia” stickers to put on their rigs.

Ride for Cambodia -This is not a holiday

We scooted around the city yesterday enjoying our new found freedom, eventually arriving at the Russian market to look for some tools to do an oil change and inspect the bikes a little more closely.  With $15 we purchased a full Honda Dailem service set consisting of 4 spanners, an adjustable wrench, a hammer and a spark plug removal tool, and we got some spare keys cut for the bikes (for 50c each) before realizing they didn’t need keys anyway!

The allure of the street food at the markets was too much for me so we settled in for an Angkor beer and some pre-dinner food before returning to the hotel.  Having realised that the ignition locks didn’t do much on the bikes, we were a little wary about leaving them parked out from of the hotel last night, but amazingly when we went down for some dinner later on, someone had put a chain around them both for us!  We asked around and it turned out the security guard who sits out front all night had done it, i suspect so that he could sleep without worrying about them being rolled away!  Still it’s nice to know we’re being looked out for J

Last Rule for the Day : don’t pay more than $1 for a beer in Phnom Penh, but paying 50c each during happy hour (to cool the burning chili in your mouth) will lead to other more serious problems that can only be addressed by referring to rule No. 1.

Which scooter? Dream? Super Cub? Chaly? Daelim?

27 Jan

Day 1 by Dean

This morning we headed out full of enthusiasm to start the search for the scooters, to find another hotel and also buy some doxycycline.

The doxy was easy, $10 for 100 pills from the first pharmacy we came across (no prescription needed), but the hotel and scooters were more of challenge.

After looking at more than 10 alternatives, in classic travel mode we concluded that the place we are already staying at will do just fine, and since it’s is in a lively area we’ve booked 4 extra rooms for Sunday and Monday night for the rest of the gang. Rooms are twin share for $18/night, clean, with AC, hot water and wifi. The only downside is that they dont have any windows… but we aren’t planning to be in them much so this is no big deal just as long as the place doesn’t catch fire! If you want a room to yourself just let us know and we’ll book you an extra one. The name of the place is Royal Mekong Palace, on the riverfront. (if you want to stay elsewhere that’s cool too, just let us know and we’ll cancel the booking).

Scooters… so we eventually found ourselves walking a stretch of the city where the was shop after shop of scooter places, all selling Honda dreams, albeit new. (A new one is $US1200 in case you’re curious). We quizzed some shop owners about the price of second hand bikes but the language barrier makes it a bit difficult, and being a foreigner the prices were hard to take seriously.

Happy couple working at one of the scooter shops. She insisted we take her photo.

We did work out that the older version of the Dream, called a Honda Super Cub, is being imported second hand from Japan, and are held in high esteem by the locals as a strong reliable bike. They are available with engines ranging from 50cc to 100cc, (90cc is quite common), and prices paid by locals are about US600. We really like these bikes.

Then there is the Honda Chaly, much cheaper than the Cub, we were offered 9 of them for $400 each without much negotiation, so they must be available for half that in the right place. Down side is that they have little wheels and a 50cc motor, top speed of 60 or 70km/hr (think ‘Dumb and Dumber’). We think it would be hilarious to do the ride on these – but it’s a last resort.

Last night we met some locals who were helpful with advice on where to go looking for bikes, so today we have a list of 4 different markets and shops where we should be more successful in finding older bikes for sale.

Dave test driving a Daelim

Also quite interestingly, we were offered a buyback arrangement on new Dreams at one of the shops, buy at 1200, sell back for 1000 (depending on the condition). This could be an option too, but we’re worried about the potential loss if we sink a bike, or when we fall off them, so buying an old one is still the preference. It might be that we buy secondhand for a little more than originally budgeted, then sell them back to the same shop and then make whatever donation to SC from the proceeds that each person can afford.

We also found a great local produce market, (complete with slabs of meat covered in flies), and adjacent Khmer food district where we’ll eat on Sunday night. While sitting on the street drinking Angkor beers for 75c each, we were spotted looking at bikes by one of the kids parking them. He promptly brought over a chinese copy of a supercub and told us we could have it for $200!! It was old and very tired looking, (and only 50cc), but still this was really encouraging that it should be possible to pick something up for a good price.

The plan for tomorrow: Go to the Russian Market to look for some second hand bike shops, and try to find a source for offroad tyres 🙂