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.

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