SIEM REAP CITY – Visitors aren’t supposed to be allowed to drive motorbikes in the country’s most popular tourist city. But whatever efforts were previously being made here to protect tourists from themselves by banning motorbike rentals seem to have ceased.
Yann Vaudin, who opened his electric bike rental shop, Green e-Bikes, last year, said that just about every type of shop that caters to tourists was now running a side business renting out motos.
“I remember five or six years ago, the government in Siem Reap put a stop to rentals, as there were too many accidents and it really wasn’t safe for tourists,” he said, referring to a ban that has been erratically enforced for more than a decade.
Gesturing down Central Market Street, a road filled with shops and cafes, Mr. Vaudin, a longtime French expatriate, said there was now a plethora of electric and petrol-powered motorbikes available at anywhere from massage parlors to pizza restaurants.
“On the corner, the guy sells souvenirs and now he rents bikes without safety checks or anything,” he said. “I think soon there will be problems with accidents, and I don’t understand why the government doesn’t act.”
A man working the front at the corner souvenir shop declined to give his name but was happy to promote the motorbikes on display.
“No, no, no, these are not electric, they are full automatic,” he said. “Price is $10 for one day, or $50 for one week. All bikes are new, very fast.”
Asked if he had any problems with police because of the ban on motorbike rentals, the man smiled, shook his head and walked back into the shop.
At a nearby clothing store, a sign said motorbikes could be rented for $10 a day with a passport as a security deposit. After a bit of bartering, a salesman, who also declined to give his name, dropped the day rate to $5 and said the passport was not necessary.
In an open letter sent to the Anti-Corruption Unit and the ministries of tourism and transport last month, a group of “disillusioned” individuals expressed alarm at the apparent disregard for the motorbike rental ban.
“Besides being blind, we don’t see how the police can’t intervene in these illegal practices!” the anonymous letter stated, adding that there would be an inevitable increase in accidents as more novice drivers took to the road.
However, Sam Reaksmey, chief of the Siem Reap provincial tourism police department, said last week that the ban on driving in the city was still actively being enforced.
“The reason that we banned renting is because when tourists get into traffic accidents, we have difficulty in dealing with insurance agents,” Mr. Reaksmey said. “We still implement this rule when we see foreign tourists drive the motorbikes in Angkor Park. We will stop them and we will take the motorbikes.”
Teng Channat, deputy provincial police chief in charge of traffic issues, also said the rule was still in effect, although he admitted it was being widely flouted.
“I only see about 20 percent of shop owners who respect this rule,” he said, adding that offending shops could lose their business licenses.
However, Mr. Channat added that deaths of foreign tourists in the city due to traffic accidents was still a rarity, with only one such case over the past 12 months.