Taking a moto taxi–often called a motodop–is the cheapest, fastest way to get from point A to point B in Cambodia. But riding on the back of a motorcycle or scooter is also one of the easiest ways to get hurt in Cambodia.
Here are some tips for getting around Cambodia by moto taxi. Many of them are covered in more depth in our Getting around by tuk tuk section, but others are specific to moto taxis.
Get a map, learn the pagodas, and learn to give directions in Khmer. Always remember that most moto taxi drivers are not actually taxi drivers. They’re just guys with motos who see a foreigner walking down the street and offer him a lift in exchange for cash. This means that if you take moto taxis you’ll often meet off-duty police officers, teachers, and various other professionals. However, you’ll rarely meet someone who has a working knowledge of the geography of the city you happen to be in, despite their assurances that they know exactly where you’re going.
Remember that the Western frame of reference–using street names and cross streets–is foreign to most Cambodians, who use the locations of markets and pagodas (or wats) to help them navigate. Learning the names of the markets and pagodas closest to your destination will save you lots of time. Giving directions in Khmer will also make a big difference.
Stay safe. Driving laws in Cambodia are lax and the streets are unsafe. Moto accidents are Cambodia’s leading cause of death, and countless expats are hurt every year because they’ve neglected to take elementary precautions while riding on motos.
If you choose to ride moto taxis, buy a helmet and put it on whenever you climb aboard a moto. (For more about helmets, see our Cambodian road safety section.) Although moto drivers in Cambodia are required to wear helmets themselves, moto taxi drivers in Cambodia–unlike in many other countries–are not required to provide a helmet for their passengers (although new helmet laws are in the works).
This does not mean that you do not need to wear head protection. With or without laws requiring that you wear a helmet, your head is still just as likely to crack open like a melon when it hits the pavement. So please, wear a helmet. And make sure you have health insurance or travel insurance.
Another thing to remember is that many foreigners are targeted for bag-snatchings while riding on moto taxis. Ask the driver if he can hold your bag in front of him or if he can hook it to the moto. At least one tourist in Phnom Penh died when someone grabbed her bag and she was pulled off her moto and run over, and many others have been injured in similar incidents. If this makes you nervous, consider taking a tuk tuk or a car taxi.
This is an excerpt from Move to Cambodia: A guide to living and working in the Kingdom of Wonder. To learn more about 100+ topics that pertain to Cambodia expats, please consider buying the book.