Stuck in the Mud: Dirt-biking in Cambodia’s Wet Season

[Guest blogger Toby Jacobs discovered Cambodia in 2007 while traveling the world. Having fallen in love with the place, he moved there permanently and set up a motorcycle touring company, Ride Expeditions, with his partner, Anna.]

Running a motorcycle touring company in Cambodia has provided me with some eventful stories over the years, but I feel particularly obliged to share about a certain tour I ran a few years ago. “Eventful” doesn’t come close to summing it up. Why?

This tour took place during Cambodia’s wet season.

Visiting Cambodia during the wet season has its perks—fewer tourists, temperate weather, and lots of greenery. Wet season also means the rivers flow high and fast. Dirt roads turn to mud. Ruts and pot-holes appear. Dirt-biking, while a popular adventure activity in Cambodia, is a whole other story during the wet season.

However, during the wet season of 2012, I was approached by a young and adventurous group of bikers who were keen to travel the country on a dirt bike. I pointed out that October is the wettest month of the year, and although a tour is possible, the conditions are far from perfect. There would be many parts of the country that would simply be impassable.

“Perfect!” they said. “The more challenging, the better.”

I explained further: We will get stuck. We will break down. We will have to camp out, likely in the rain.

Well, now they were more excited than ever.

The entire two-week trip was left me with a book’s worth of stories. For this post, I’ll share with you just one from early in the trip—a river-crossing on the very first trail.

We arrived at a river in Mondulkiri, a province of Cambodia, and tried to locate the local boatmen to ferry us across. After checking with the locals in the nearby village, however, it became apparent that there were not going to be any boats coming our way on this occasion. Not to worry though—we’d come prepared.

Giant truck inner tubes are the way to get yourself out of a situation like this. We inflated them most of the way using the exhaust of one of the bikes and then finished them off with a hand pump. And there you have it: a vessel capable of carrying a dirt bike!

A river, 12 bikes, and a truck inner tube.

I jumped in the river and swam to the other side to tie a safety line to a tree—easier said than done in a fast flowing river with steep banks on the other side and sharp bamboo bushes.

By this time the sun was starting to get lower in the sky. There was no point starting the task of shipping the bikes across the river today, so we left the bikes and tube in the bush and walked back to nearest village.

In any other country, a big group of hairy, smelly, muddy bikers probably wouldn’t be greeted with much welcome. Here, though, the villagers were thrilled to see us. Everyone came to have dinner with us, sacrificing a couple of the village chickens and opening bottles of rice wine. A jungle party and a warming campfire was a very welcome surprise for us wet and muddy bikers!

The next morning we woke in our hammocks to the sound of the village starting to come to life. We threw a couple of coffees and some noodles down our necks, said goodbye to our new friends, and trekked back to the river to begin the floating the bikes over to the other side.

Now, the way you do this is to lay the bike flat on its side on the inner tube with the foot peg in the middle, tying the bike to the tube with rope. Next, you connect another piece of rope between the bike and the safety line that is attached to trees on either side of the river. This prevents the bike going on a tubing trip downstream. Next, you attach another long rope to the bike and have someone swim over to the other side to help pull the bike across. Two other people then swim behind the bike helping push it across the river. Slow going, but simple.We were way behind schedule, but no one seemed to care. It is an incredibly fun and adventurous way to cross a river. Needless to say, our group of riders were in their element!

This was just day two of a two-week adventure that, unbeknownst to our happy group, would include a ride in a near-sunken boat, a boot full of leeches, a bike getting washed down a fast flowing river, getting stuck in a swamp, trench foot, more camping in the jungle, and hauling all our gear, the bikes, and our group in small long-tail boats for a 3 -hour boat journey up the river. It was epic!

Ridding ourselves of leeches.

The riders loved every minute of it, but if I’m ever approached by a group who wish to ride a similar route in October, I tell them these stories. Two years later, I still have not come across another group crazy enough to go through with it.