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Motorbike Trip Across Cambodia and Thailand

So Seb and I left off drinking cheap beer in a weird empty hotel near the Poipet border to Thailand, having spent 4 hours watching a roadside mechanic pull Sib’s fuel system to pieces and superglue it back together again!

Motorbike Trip Across Cambodia and Thailand
Photo by
CC BY-NC 2.0

When we got up at 6 am to try to cross the border we had no idea what was going to happen or if we’d even be allowed to cross. A quick 5 minute ride to the border gate and we pulled up alongside some border police, who looked at us, looked at the bikes and burst out laughing.

They then took great pleasure in letting us know that 90% of people trying to take bikes into Thailand are turned away, particularly if the registration is not in your name, but the name of the original owner in Vietnam.

Motorbike Trip Across Cambodia and Thailand
Photo by Travolution360
CC BY-ND 2.0
So not the best start! We decided the best thing to do was for one of us to walk over to the Thai side and find out before we officially left Cambodia and ended up stranded in no mans land between two countries. Seb went across and I stayed with the bikes and the highly amused border guards, who kept asking me how much we’d sell them the bikes for when we weren’t allowed to cross the border! After about 30 mins of sitting, sweating and hoping, Seb came running back with a big grin on his face….we were allowed in with the bikes! The original answer had been no, but it all came down to paperwork. He’d managed to find a friendly female border official who seemed to like all of our forms and registration documents.
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This was still not the end though as we then found out we had to buy insurance, which is a minimum of 6 months and would cost 200 baht for one bike, when we told them there were 2 bikes the cost was 480 baht….of course it is, that makes perfect sense!

Motorbike Trip Across Cambodia and Thailand
Photo by Ikhlasul AmalCC BY-NC 2.0
The only problem now was that we didn’t have any Thai Baht and they wouldn’t accept US dollars, so Sab went off again to try buy some Baht from a phone shop and even then we only just managed to afford it by scratching together the 1 baht coins i had left over from my last trip to Thailand a month earlier!  So after 4 hours of negotiating, sitting and sweating in the scorching sun we were finally allowed into Thailand and we on our way to Bangkok.
Motorbike Trip Across Cambodia and Thailand
Photo by ND StruplerCC BY 2.0
By this time it was already 2pm and we had 350 km to go.  This might not seem like much but our bikes will only go 75km/h at top speed and we didn’t even know where we were going. A couple of locals waved and pointed in the right direction and we set off, knowing that we were probably going to end up trying to find our way through Bangkok in the dark.  The first thing we noticed was that the roads in Thailand are far better than anything you’ll find in Cambodia.  For example, you don’t just suddenly come across a massive hole in the ground and have to slam on the brakes and swerve of to the other side to avoid smashing the bike and yourself to pieces. Because we had lost so much time at the border we had to go full speed all the way, pushing the tiny 4.5hp engines to they’re limits.  Just imagine sitting on top of a lawnmower that’s about to explode and you’ll be somewhere close!  Despite this both motorbike just kept screaming on without a single cough or splutter.

The scenery was stunning and the temperature somewhere up near 40 degrees, so we both acquired lovely Keith Lemon’esqe t-shirt sun tans.

Motorbike Trip Across Cambodia and Thailand
Photo by Espen Faugstad
CC BY 2.0

Surprisingly as the sun was setting we joined the main motorway for the last 50km into Bangkok.  After a couple of minutes, I turned around to see Seb with the exact same expression on his face as mine and was clearly thinking the same thing, ‘Where are all the other bikes? Oh crap!’ As we pulled up the toll booth queue a very surprised and confused attendant waved us down, shouting something we didn’t need to understand. Apparently motorbikes are not permitted on the motorway!  Luckily he radioed his boss and told us to get off at the next junction, which left us 40km outside of Bangkok with idea where we were going, but that was nothing  new.  We headed of towards what we assumed was Bangkok and spent the next 2 hours dodging traffic on all sides and basically trying not to get hit by cars, buses and scooters. We got so lost that we had to wave down a motorbike taxi and pay him 100 baht (about £2) to escort us to Kao San Road, a place I didn’t like the times I’ve been and never wanted to re-visit and because of that I’m going to skim over the two nights there. We got our Vietnam visas from the embassy, my motorbike start lever broke off and went flying across the road so some tuk tuk drivers and I fixed it with some wire coat hanger, then we left the next day.

Motorbike Trip Across Cambodia and Thailand
Photo by Neale BryanCC BY-SA 2.0
We set off at 8.30 and set about trying to get out of Bangkok without ending up on any motorways.  After about an hour on the main highway Seb and I managed to get separated as Seb was fearing for his life and pulled off onto a smaller road.  After one hour, a useless sim card and a visit to Bankok University to find Wi-Fi, I managed to contact Seb who turned out to be waiting at the next town about 30 km away. This was another race to ride 450km in one day so I won’t go on about it.  Long, hot, tiring and painful, the last 150km in the dark and gale force winds were a lot more fun!

Nothing really happened in Sukhothai, because there’s not a lot there and all I wanted to do was eat and sleep.

We left at about 10am for Chiang Mai and quickly ended up on beautiful mountain roads with hardly any traffic.  The views were amazing and it felt great not to be in a huge rush for a change.  By this point though, Seb’s bike was pouring smoke out the exhaust which turned out to be all of his engine oil being burned up in less than 100km.  Mine wasn’t in a good way either barely making it up the hills with a horrible rattling noise coming from the engine.  As I tried to accelerate up one of the longest and steepest hills there was a crunch from the gearbox and suddenly I had no gears.  Great.  I managed to start it up again and luckily pulled away without any problems but something was clearly not right and I spent the rest of the journey wondering when everything was going to fall apart.  It didn’t though and we made it to the outskirts of Chiang Mai as the sun was going down and massive storm clouds and lightning filled the sky.

motorbike trip across cambodia and thailand
Obviously the best thing to do was stop at a bar and have a beer to help us figure out where to go next. This was the exact time I needed my headlight to work I was completely unsurprised that it had decided it was time to stop working, leaving me to ride through the city with no lights whatsoever.  Literally as the sun dipped below the horizon, the timing could not have been better!

We found our way to JJ’s Guesthouse in the old part of town without any problems.  The city is so much nicer than Bangkok.  It’s quieter, friendlier, the tuk tuk drivers don’t hassle you every second and I haven’t been offered cheap tailored suits.  It’s quite refreshing really!

After a quick shower we met up with Mithin, a guy Seb and Sophie had travelled with through Vietnam, for some food and a few drinks. This turned into quite a few drinks and we ended up playing pool in a seedy bar full of prostitutes and dirty old western men, playing ‘She or He/She?!’  All in all was a really good night, especially knowing we don’t have any more massive journeys to do, the pace is going to be a lot more relaxed from here on.
This morning we woke up with a massive hangover and a list of things to get fixed.  I managed to stumble across a British run bike shop called Tony’s Bikes, just a 2 minute walk from the hostel.

motorbike trip across cambodia and thailand
same hill but with the Frenchman in it — Seb

We rode the bikes into the shop and that’s when we found out just how much damage we’ve done to the engines by racing them through 2 countries over 4 days and over 1000km.

Both engines are rattling, mine has even less power than usual and Seb’s is much the same with burnt engine oil pouring out the back.  Both bikes need a top end rebuild, meaning new pistons and rings, new valves and timing chains.  The cost of getting all this done in Laos by a roadside mechanic with cheap Chinese parts would be about $20.  But we’re not in Laos, and we’re not using cheap Chinese parts.  The cost for all this is going to be 3500 baht per bike, about £80.  This is alot, we only paid £192 each for the bikes.  But this is a good mechanic who wont use silicone sealant and cardboard instead of a head gasket and it should mean the engine lasts all the way to Hanoi without needing any more work. I hope so!

Transportation Tip: If you’re looking for the cheapest way to book the Trains, Buses, Ferries, Transfers on this route, we use 12Go.Asia to compare the prices!

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5 thoughts on “Motorbike Trip Across Cambodia and Thailand

  1. Hello ! Thank you for sharing your experience! It is very helpful for someone like me who is traveling southasia w motorbike … i am traveling starting from vietnam and laos with my honda win from vietnam … i would like to cross thailand with my motorbike but everyone say it is possible except you guys! What paper work do i need to cross border to go thailand? Thank you !!

  2. Hey, I’m planning to do a very similar trip. But I’m worried about getting a Vietnamese bike into Thailand. What border did you cross at? Is there anything specific I can do to make this possible?

  3. Exploring the countryside by rental motorbike is one of the best things that a traveler can do. My only problem is—I’m afraid of driving one due to the very frequent motorbike accidents that happen in our country. I have no qualms though in riding one as a passenger as long as I tell the driver to drive easy.

    1. Heya Adrenaline!! I can feel you, I was afraid to drive too until I had to learn driving a scooter in Hanoi, Vietnam.. that’s the only way I can go around the city!

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Written by Kach Umandap

Founder of Two Monkeys Travel Group. Since 2013, Kach has visited all the 7 continents (including Antarctica) and 151 countries using her Philippines Passport. In 2016, she bought a sailboat and went on sailing adventures with her two cats - Captain Ahab & Little Zissou in the Caribbean for 2 years. She now lives in Herceg Novi, Montenegro where she's enjoying her expat life and living on a gorgeous Stonehouse. She writes about her experiences traveling as a Filipina traveler with a PHL Passport. Also tips on backpacking trips, luxury hotel experiences, product reviews, sailing & adventure travel.