Since 2002 Siem Reap has enacted a law that motor scooters and small motorbikes, collectively known as motos, cannot be rented to tourists. And since 2002 that law has been a bane to tourism operators who view the ban as a blockage to a potential new cash cow.
But the law is now being tested on two fronts. Frenchman Yann Vaudin recently launched his new business, Green E-bikes, renting low-powered electronic two-wheel vehicles which, although motorised as such, are considered to be bicycles rather than motos. The e-bikes have a battery that, once charged, can travel for small distances at a top speed of about 32kms per hour.
Yann Vaudin, a renewable energy engineer, promotes the ‘green’ aspect of his e-bikes, arguing that they are environmentally beneficial – and for a full story of this business endeavor, see page two.
Meanwhile, an entrepreneurial Khmer businessman, Bun Socheat, is challenging the law head on after opening the Moto-go Rental company in April. The company’s website boldly states: “Moto-go is the number one motorbike rental company in Siem Reap! Live the Cambodian dream, by driving through the incredible landscape of Siem Reap with our motorbikes.”
Last week a Man About column item about moto rental laws said, “There’s a sense in town that restrictions have eased on the renting of motos to tourists. Emphatically not so, according to Tith Narong, Siem Reap City police chief, who told reporter Thik Kaliyann that moto renting is only available for Khmer people not foreigners.”
This prompted a solid stream of comments on the Siem Reap Expats Facebook page, with discussion about the legality or otherwise of Moto-go. One respondent wrote, “First I heard it [moto rental] was only for Khmers, but not so according to their [Moto-go] website. Then I just read an article in the PPP that the police chief has reiterated that tourists cannot rent them here at all, ever. Yet, I went to their shop and indeed they are doing just that. What gives?”
Moto-go, on its website, also poses the question, “Is renting motorbikes legal in Siem Reap?” The somewhat fey answer is, “We ensure that everything we do is legal. We have licenses and have been provided access to rent motorbikes to tourists.”
And this week Bun Socheat told Insider that he has started running the business because he wants the relevant authorities to change this “principle” or law.
He told Insider that he acknowledges that renting motorcycles to tourists is not allowed in Siem Reap, and he understands the reason why it was prohibited. But he wants to show, through the “quality management” of his company, that moto rental should be allowed in Siem Reap.
“We know that it is not allowed, but I just want to create a business chance for myself and other people, and I would like to change the principle that tourists cannot ride rented motos in Siem Reap” he said. “I was told that there are lots of places renting motos to tourists, but they just don’t do it openly like me.”
He explained that Moto-go Rental mostly focuses on those foreigners and tourists who come to Siem Reap to work for short periods or run a business, as he believes that such people may face difficulties if they don’t rent motos. He added, “I know that I will have some problems with the authorities. But we are now in the testing period of running this business, and it will take about six months. After that I will go to talk to the relevant authorities about it.”
He said he will then accept whatever decision the authorities make. “If they want me to close, I will close and convert the business to a tour company” he declared.
Moto-go Rental set up business next to the ANZ Royal Bank headquarters in Samdech Tep Vong St, and when foreigners or tourists want to rent a moto, they have to give the company their passport, proof of insurance or sign the company’s insurance agreement, provide cash or credit card for the desired length of rental, and pay a deposit of $125.
Customers will then be given a helmet, a mobile phone for emergency use, a map for adventure routes and a 15 minute lesson about traffic in Cambodia “ensuring they are comfortable and ready to go,” according to Socheat.
The Moto-go Rental website lists rental rates as $10 for five hours, and for a rental period of one to five days, the rate is $12 per day.
Socheat adds that he feels visitors would prefer to travel around the tourist attractions on motos because it adds to their personal adventure.
But tourism police officer, Kim Kouy, reiterated that tourists were prohibited from renting motos or driving in town, and especially in the temple complex, since 2002 when the Siem Reap provincial government released a “principle” after a discussion with relevant Siem Reap authorities and provincial police.
“We believe that there are many problems caused by renting motos to tourists. Unpredictable traffic that goes on the opposite side of the road to what many of the tourists are used to might cause an accident,” he said. “There were a lot of tourists having road accidents when they drove on their own.”
He added that the “principle” applies only to tourists, not expats because expats live in Siem Reap for a long time, understand Cambodia traffic and can learn how to drive locally to get a Cambodian driving license.
“We do make exceptions for foreigner who living in Siem Reap for long periods. They can learn how to drive a moto and buy one,” he said.
He noted that authorities in Phnom Penh, Kampot, and Preah Sihanouk allow tourists to ride rented motos.
“But we just have our own principle for our province to make sure that tourists will not go anywhere on their own without a Cambodian driver because we worry about their safety,” he said.
Tith Narong, Siem Reap City police chief told the Insider that, “We have thought about when tourists have an accident with local people. Who is going to respond on that matter? Will the company respond for that?” he queried.
“Maybe we can tell the owner that if he still runs this business, it will affect a principle of our province and tourists’ safety. That is what we can do.”
Additional reporting by Peter Olszewski.