Cambodian jungle bikes: the mechanical work-horses of Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri provinces
Located in Cambodia’s far flung eastern reaches, close to the border with Vietnam, the provinces of Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri see few tourists, yet both regions are bursting with things to see and do. Ethnic hill tribes, remote river trips, elephant sanctuaries, great trekking and some of the most gorgeous scenery in the country are just a few of the highlights for those who make the effort to visit.
A typical Mondulkiri village, Cambodia
Although they are neighbours, both provinces are quite different, both ethnically and in terms of natural appearance but what they do have in common is this weird, almost apocalyptic-like mode of transport the locals in both provinces simple refer to as the jungle bike. Away from the main roads, both Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri comprise of a series of crisscross dirt trails which link remote villages and outposts. These trails tend to be quite narrow and most cannot accommodate transport of the 4-wheeled variety. Hence the popularity of the jungle bike, as it’s either that or walk.
Whether these contraptions started life as a brand new 125cc Honda Innova or the like and have gotten this way over time due to the ruggedness of the tracks, or been built from scratch using various bits of old bike (and anything else that might come in handy for that matter) is a question I could not get answered. Every time I asked, I got a laugh, a shrug of the shoulders and murmurings that I can only assume were along the lines of ‘why on earth is he asking me about this heap of junk?’.
What I did discover however is that these bikes are not just used to transport granny from one village to the other so that she can see her long lost cousin. Oh no, everything and anything goes on the back of one of these peculiar-looking motorbikes. Note the extra-long saddle, which has been stripped down for that exact purpose – perfect for transporting squealing pigs, homemade jar wine (rice wine), sacks full of God knows what and even ill-gotten gains from the not so legal logging which goes on throughout this part of the country.
Talking of jar wine, I assume these jungle bikes run on petrol but, having tried the local fire-water on more than one occasion, it wouldn’t surprise me if they chucked in the odd litre or two of this lethal concoction when petrol supplies were running low.
They are obviously a joy to ride, especially if you are young. There are no police out here, waiting around the corner to extract a penalty for not wearing a helmet or for having a broken back light. We saw plenty of what I can only describe as kids screaming through the villages and along the trails on the back of one of these – way more fun than a computer game, that’s for sure. Then there’s the noise. You can hear a jungle bike coming for miles around. The exhaust makes a real racket and the WEE WEE WEEEEEE noise that the bike makes is not dissimilar to that made by the 1970s classic Yamaha FS1E, aka the Fizzy and the bike of choice for most of my mates when we were sixteen years old (*).
(*) Not me. I made a pact with my parents, waited a year to get mobile and in return got a car!
The trucks and vans are also pretty wild looking and I don’t think Mad Max would look too out of place being chased across the characteristic red earth roads and tracks of Cambodia’s two most remote provinces by bunches of marauding jungle bikes and other crazy-looking types of transport!
And just in case jungle bikes aren’t your thing … Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri provinces have plenty of beautiful scenery to keep to occupied …
San River in Ratanakiri
Bou Sraa Waterfall in Mondulkiri
Lots more photographs of Cambodia can be seen here.