Motoring mayhem of Cambodia

By Paul Pinkerton
Publish Date:
Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia.

It appears there is absolutely nothing that bars what can be possibly carried on a motorbike in Cambodia.

Be it wide, long, too bulky, if they can find a way, it will get carried. That also applies to whether it be animal, vegetable or mineral and of course human too!

It’s sheer madness to Western eyes to see small Honda motorbikes (other well known makes are available too) dashing and weaving around the streets of every City, Town and Village weighed down by what can only be described as everything under the tropical sun.


Fruit and the family transport Cambodian style.

But even I needed a double take…on the road from Battambang as I watched a Father, Mother and baby on a bike easing past our queuing car. Not such an unusual view as it happens, as it’s quite normal to see a family of five on one bike!

However what made this so very different was that the young family were seemingly heading home from a visit to the local hospital with mum cradling baby in one hand and deftly holding up a wooden stick with the other and attached to that stick was an intravenous drip feeding liquid into the tiny foot of an obviously very young baby!

Motorbike medicine on the move…an amazing insight into life in Cambodia for sure, leaving you with little other conclusion than you are indeed visiting an astonishing country and its people.


Motor bike medicine in Battambang carrying a drip for her baby.


A traffic police officer from the West would find this anarchy on the road totally perplexing, car’s, lorries, buses with the tiny motorbikes flitting in and out of them sometimes even in the wrong direction. I did expect to see accidents around every corner but miraculously that was not the case.

Sure there was honking of horns, a constant and relentless cacophony, as the bikes carried on weaving around any slowing vehicle, going for minute gaps between them, as their owners steered them niftily and nimbly through what seemed micro spaces. This practice of course does go on whilst they are often on their mobile phones too!


Confrontations with aggrieved motorists, shaking of fists or even fighting with fellow road users was something I thought I would be witnessing, but somehow in all this noise and chaos a calmness seemed to carry along with the traffic and I never once witnessed any riders road-rage or motorists mouthing off at each other.


Giant faces around Angkor Wat.

The Buddhist backbone to the country seemed to translate to here with the motorist’s moods, getting to their destinations unscathed in the end, but how many traffic laws they broke on the way did not seem matter.

On certain days of the week, the motoring public do get some reminders of what they should be doing on the road. Not from the local traffic police, but of all people…the Scouts.


They stand at junctions displaying traffic control flags and hold up posters to passing motorists telling them to belt up, put on helmets, etc., Lord Baden Powell would be pleased.

How you get from woodcraft skills to teaching your elders the rights and wrongs of the road may not be obvious, but it is certainly extremely public spirited and a worthy thing they carry out, twice every week!

Of course Cambodia is famed for it huge temple complex at Angkor Wat thought not built by public service volunteers, this legacy of one of the biggest projects ever carried out in human history was probably by slave labor. The scale of the monument that is on a par with, the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt and in terms of stone used is of similar size.


Angkor Wat almost as famous as the Pyramids now.


Not just one temple, but in fact a whole range of temple developments of both Hindu and Buddhist designs covering an area of around 390 square miles.

If you are planning to make a visit to this vast Cambodian complex you should certainly allocate at least three days of your travels to do so. Access is gained via a controlled and centralized entrance where you need to obtain a photo-pass that you have to wear in order to visit the outlying temples.

A pass can last three days and you have to log in every day through the special main entrance gate, but you will also be checked at the individual temple entrance points too! If you just tried to turn up at a random temple you will be directed back to the main tourist access point no pass, no entrance!

However once inside the size, scale and human endeavor is clearly obvious. One could argue that the Pyramids were in effect a pile of large rocks that were once covered with polished limestone. However the Angkor temples are also massive piles of rocks, but in this case nearly every part is covered with very meticulous carvings, great Hindu and Buddhist stories are told in minute detail.

Deities from both religions of the Khmer Empires adorn from the very tiny at what is called the Women’s Temple to the massive faces that are carved and adorn places like the main gates that once allowed access back in the 12th century when these temples were in use.


Monks walking through the rice fields in Cambodia.


Also an interesting point in terms of effort, much of the stone used at Giza came from the plateau itself, the nearest quarry to Angkor is some 30 kilometers away so as you walk around and see that every block and some are the size of small cars had to come that distance and there were no motor bikes around then and even they would have struggled. The transport of choice would have been elephant, ox or human!


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