Cambodia is a land of thousands upon thousands of identical black Honda scooters. It is also a country where you need your own moto transport to have any fun.
If you prefer not to ride seated in the “toilet position” on a 110cc scooter (like the guy above), you will want to requisition yourself a real motorcycle – what the locals call, a “big bike.”
And I recommend it. Riding a “big bike” in Cambodia feels like being a Velociraptor in the Jurassic jungle. You get this vibe every time you accelerate through crowded streets to get a coffee, power up a dirt trail, or turn the head of a shy and sultry Khmer girl.
Motorcycle choices in Cambodia are limited. The bikes I outline in this article are the few models of motorcycle that have proven well suited for Cambodia and have reached sufficient numbers in country so that parts and mechanics are available.
The best “big bike” options fall into the 150-250cc range – small by Western standards, but, I promise, they feel bigger in Cambodia.
01 Honda XR250
You cannot go wrong with the legendary Honda XR250. It is the best bike in Cambodia.
They are off-road beasts that can handle all terrain in Cambodia. More importantly, they can survive the sadistic maintenance abuse that the locals subject them to. (There isn’t even a word in the Khmer language for “maintenance.”)
You will be able to find spare parts and a familiar mechanic in any city. Outside of the cities, you must rely on the bike’s reliability to get you home, but it is hard to think of a machine that could be trusted more.
They are the most expensive option on the list, commanding about $900 – $3000 on the second hand market. The seat is high which can be a problem for shorter or inexperienced riders.
02 Honda FTR223
The Honda FTR223 combines bullet proof mechanics with sexy lines. They have a natural cafe racer-esk look to them. It is an equally respectable and pragmatic choice as the XR250, only for a different set of priorities.
This is the most popular “big bike” in Cambodia. The Khmers love them. It is the ideal bike for the rider that needs off-road competency but isn’t going to push it.
They are easy to find for sale and you can get an excellent used one for about $900-$1200. Cost of ownership is low and resale is easy due to its popularity.
The bike is sized for the Asian market – so it is light and sits low. This makes it an ideal first motorcycle that new riders will quickly feel confident on. Those with long legs, like me, will sadly find this bike impossibly cramped for long term use.
03 Honda SL230
The SL230 is also common and sits directly between the XR250 and FTR223 in size and capability. Unlike the FTR, its is a true dual purpose motorcycle. Compared to the XR250 it is less aggressive and sits lower.
I don’t care for the “space age” aesthetics, but it is a good tool and Cambodia is a land for practicality.
Price for a good used one is in the $900 – $1500 range. Maintenance, resale, etc. are easy.
The following bikes are decent choices as well. They are logistically supportable in Cambodia, but to a slightly lesser degree.
04 Bajaj Boxer 150
The Indian made Bajaj Boxer 150 is an up and coming prospect in the Cambodian motorcycle scene. Their popularity is based on their absurdly low price and the concerted effort that India is making to establish parts and dealer support.
Cambodian tuk-tuk drivers are increasingly adopting the Boxer to pull their carts over the Honda scooters they typically use. (Especially in Siem Reap where about 40% of tuk-tuks now use Boxers.)
Here are three important considerations that make the Boxer unique on this list:
- Price. You can buy this motorcycle brand new for about $1300. This allows you to skip the considerable risk of poor maintenance histories on a second hand bike.
- Registration. Because you can buy it new, you can register the bike in your name, even as a foreigner. (By contrast it is very difficult to register a second hand motorcycle in your name.) Having registration in your name is the only way you can drive the bike out of the country. If you plan on crossing borders and have limited funds, the Boxer is really your only choice if you must purchase in Cambodia.
- If traveling to Vietnam. Apparently, it is only possible to cross the border into Vietnam on a motorbike that is under 150cc. This is the only bike on the list that complies.
The downsides. They have low build quality and reliability, the seating position is awkward, and they are ugly. The singular priority in the development of this bike was low cost, and it is evident in every detail.
That being said, they are priced for disposability. Drive the piss out of one and simply discard in a ditch when it breaks.
05 Suzuki DR250 Djebel
The Suzuki DR250 is on par with the Honda XR250 with regard to size and capability.
The only concern is they have not been imported into Cambodia for a while, so they are getting more scarce. While they are still logistically supportable enough to make my list, parts are less available and fewer mechanics know how to work on them.
For this reason, you can purchase them cheaper than a comparable XR250. A good, used one can be had for around $900 – $1800.
It is a fine choice for long terms residents of Cambodia that might be more comfortable and networked when it comes time to get spare parts or find a mechanic.
06 Honda AX-11 250 / Honda Dominator 250
These two bikes share the same motor, but have different trims. They are the only water cooled bikes on the list which is an advantage or a disadvantage depending on who you talk to.
They are a little more street oriented than the XR250, but still competent off-road and have more suspension travel than the FTR223. That water cooled 250cc motor makes it a good choice if you will be doing a lot of high-speed, highway travel.
The ultra-cool aesthetics are a good enough reason to acquire the AX1, in my opinion. Life is too short to not look cool.
This falls into the same logistical support category as the Suzuki DR250. They were once common, but are not produced anymore. Parts and mechanics are available, but just on the decline.
What did I ride?
Do as I say, not as I do.
During my time in Cambodia I owned a ’93 Suzuki DR200 Djebel (the smaller brother of the DR250 Djebel listed above). It is NOT a common bike in Cambodia. I never saw another one my entire 6 months living there.
I impulse purchased this bike because I was new to the country and didn’t know any better. The reason – I loved the 90’s aesthetic and I could see that the bike was entirely original and had never been abused, so I pulled the trigger.
Fortunately, my bike never let me down – even under hard use while riding solo in remote areas. I credit this to three things – luck, Suzuki engineering, and my very meticulous mechanical prep of the bike.
Some problems that I ran into during my ownership were:
- Almost impossible to get spare parts. Even ordering parts from overseas can take 3 months to receive in Cambodia. Often packages never make it.
- I had to craft a new air filter by modifying an XR250 filter to fit.
- I could not get a new oil filter and instead cleaned it and did more frequent oil changes.
- I could not get a new brake lever, so I had a local mechanic hand craft one using a file and a grinder to modify a generic lever.
- Difficult to sell before I left Cambodia.
No kick start – big mistake
I’ll leave you with this. My bike was electric start only. ALWAYS get a motorcycle with a kick start in Cambodia. I really puckered my asshole when I was getting stuck in the mud riding solo in remote Cambodia jungle. I was frequently getting stalled and having to restart the motor. If my electric start failed, I would have been stranded. It is impossible to push start a bike on muddy roads.