Kampot was our final stop in Cambodia, before heading to Vietnam, so we wanted to try out riding a scooter before leaving! As soon as we arrived in Kampot we could tell the roads were already a lot quieter than anywhere else we had been in Cambodia, the quieter the better for us beginners! We hired our scooters from Bison Tours, which had good reviews and seemed pretty popular (too popular we were soon to find out!). We were both eager to drive, so we decided to hire a scooter each for $4 a day.
The only downside being was Mr Bison had our passports for our Vietnam Visas, so we were under pressure from the outset to bring back the scooters in one piece! Our scooter driving experience on the right hand side of the road, goes as far as us both being able to drive a car on the left hand side of the road, so not much difference really?! I don’t think Mr. Bison was very confident in our abilities either, as he asked ‘have you drive before?’ to which I answered no, ‘how are going to drive then?!’ he exclaimed. I took my chance at this moment and powered down the road. Well, I say powered, I was doing no more than 10 mph! It’s pretty much similar to riding a bike, but with added weight and acceleration. After 30 minutes or so of driving around the town, getting to grips with our scooter, we were ready for the next adventure of driving up to the top Bokor Mountain!
Situated 1000m above sea level, 37km west of Kampot, Bokor Mountain was once a French Colonial resort, which is now a National Park visited regularly by tourists. The drive was so much fun! With only the odd car passing us, we basically felt like we had the road to ourselves, which made winding round all the hair-pin bends a lot less nerve racking! As we climbed you could noticeably feel the temperature drop, even so we had to put our coats on! The views were stunning and we were surrounded by beautiful scenery all the way to the top. There was the occasional odd foggy patch, which made for a more atmospheric drive. Each time this cleared, we were treated to more breathtaking views of the plateau below and the rolling jungle in front of us.
After about an hour of driving we neared the top where we were able to visit the sites of what once was a swanky art deco French resort.The government keep attempting to re-establish the mountain as resort and as a result, have constructed a monstrous modern Casino at the summit. This was our first stop we came to on our drive, it was not that pretty to see, but still it seemed to be really popular with Chinese day trippers, with large numbers of them taking minivan tours up to it to grab pictures. A big building with a lot of tourists having pictures outside, is not the most interesting thing to see! Having spent all of 2 minutes ‘admiring this view’ we decided to get back on our bikes and made our way to the next site, an old church. We left our bikes on the road and headed up to look around the church,which was really quite eerie.
We were probably there no more than 10 minutes, but as we marched back to the road (knowing we were the last people leaving the church) Tom’s scooter had gone, vanished! Well, as you can imagine Tom went in to melt down! First time renting a scooter and this happened! Tom went sheet white and we were both panicking and wondering how much a new bike would cost? There was only one other scooter that was left, parked on the other side of mine to where Tom had left his. We took a closer look and realised this was similar to our missing scooter. When I say similar, I mean it was red, hired from Bison Tours, BUT it had bright pink handlebars, a different number painted on the bike and a girl’s bag under the seat. We decided (hoped and a prayed to the god of scooters) that someone must have accidentally ridden off with Tom’s bike (yes at this point we realised all the keys worked in each bike!). So off we went, charging around at the top of this mountain on a search for the right bike. Most people do a loop of the mountain, the next stop being the abandoned old Casino, so we were hoping whoever had Tom’s bike fitted into the category of ‘most people’ and had stopped here. 5 minutes later we were at the viewpoint, we had found bike no.61, Tom’s bag still under the seat and his black handlebars clearly on show.
We spotted a French girl looking anxious because Tom had moved what she had thought was her bike. We explained what had happened and all she said was she had wondered why her mirrors weren’t in the same position she had left them?! Finally, with our hearts back in our chests and with the threat of having to buy a brand new scooter off the cards, all we had to do now was get the things back to Bison tours in one piece! Off we went back down the mountain. The fog had cleared by then, which made the drive even more enjoyable, taking in all the views as we let the bike take us down.
5 hours later we were back in Kampot, with some very questionable tan lines, but an amazing and very memorable first day on our scooters!
Top Tips for driving a scooter with zero experience
1. Never leave your passport as collaterall. Leave a monetary deposit if you can or even better, a photo coy of your passport
2. Take time to learn what each button and control does on the scooter, you don’t want to be squeezing your front brake
3. Accelerate as slowly as possible and lean forward, even more importnat with two people on the scooter as we later learnt!
4. Wear trainers as you will be using your feet to balance, especially when stopping and around slow corners.
5. Don’t go picking fights with bigger vehicles, they will always win
6. Make sure you drive your own scooter and not pick a random one!