The Moped Diaries with S Sorrensen

Chapter One: Phnom Penh:


Always look at the wheels first. That's my golden rule for assessing a moped for hire in Cambodia.

Firstly, make sure there are two wheels. That's a good start. Count them: muoy, pii.

Then check that both wheels have tyres. Although sometimes overlooked, this is important.

If you have counted two wheels and both have tyres, you're on a roll. Now check tyre wear. Many mopeds for hire in this country have racing slicks, smooth as the Mekong on a breezeless day. And though racing slicks are excellent for, say, racing, they are perhaps not the best tyre for the current monsoonal conditions that can turn Phnom Penh roads into skating rinks with one downpour.

Mr Lee showed me a Honda Wave S when I walked into his motorbike hire shop. This is a popular little 125cc workhorse. A great little bike. This one, though, had seen better days: the engine cover was gone, there were no rear-view mirrors and the brake light was missing. When I pointed out to Mr Lee that the brake light was not there, he agreed that it definitely wasn't there.

Phnom Penh people are very polite.

"Brakes work well," he said. Which was probably true. Polite and honest.

But Mr Lee, being a businessman and rather keen on my fat wallet stuffed with American dollars, found another Honda Wave S for me. This one had a brake light, an engine cover and two mirrors, one of which had glass in it.

We shook hands and I rode it into the traffic.

Traffic in Phnom Penh is more a state of mind than a system.

It helps if you understand the mystic principle of 'going with the flow'. Phnom Penh traffic is like a hippie dance - everyone is doing their own thing but they're all dancing to the same rhythm.

It also helps if you believe in reincarnation.

If you wish to avoid the reincarnation process (preferable for agnostics like me - and even the monks wear high-vis yellow robes) it's useful to be aware of local traffic customs.

Which side of the road you drive on is optional but with oncoming traffic the tendency is to swerve to the right.

Footpaths are also motorbike paths. Look out for pedestrians and gas-fired woks.

One-way streets are only one way when cops are there.

Phnom Pennies with money like to drive cars. Big cars. (New Toyota utes with raised suspension and extra large tyres are a favourite.) And big cars can do whatever they bloody well want on the road.

The police seem to pick a 'road rule of the month' and enforce that. This month it's one-way streets.

After leaving Mr Lee's, I drove the wrong way up a one-way street (the one-way sign had washing on it) and two police officers stopped me. Normal practice is to avoid eye contact and keep riding but these blokes jumped out right in front of me. A black Hummer coming down the street (the right way) took up the entire width of the street, blocking my escape (and the sun).

I showed the police my business card (in lieu of a licence). They looked at it carefully. I then presented them with two American dollars as a token of my regret at having been caught.

Immediately distributing the newly acquired funds to those on the frontline in the fight against traffic mayhem (them), the police waved me on with a smile.

I fired up the Honda, did a u-turn in front of the advancing Hummer and smiled back at the cops.

I love motorcycling in Phnom Penh.

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