March 3, 2007
Unless you have spent time in a state mental institution or indulged in hallucinogenic drugs there little to prepare you for the rolling catastrophe which is Cambodian traffic. I spent four years as a London motorcycle courier, which I thought was a fairly bonkers occupation but I felt like a boy scout in Baghdad on my first days biking in Phnom Penh. In London drivers are aggressive and impatient, but predictable. In Cambodia drivers are seldom aggressive, occasionally impatient but completely unpredictable.
Basic road rules: Driving on the right is the norm, unless you want to drive on the left in which case that's fine too. Priority is in order of size, big smoke-belching lorries do what they want and everyone else gets out of their way, then in descending order: 4x4s, minibuses, pickup trucks, Toyota Camry (Cambodian national car) then motorbike and trailer combinations, Honda Dreams (national motorbike), ox carts and lastly cyclists pedestrians dogs and chickens.
Exceptions to this rule are: Large Mercedes or Hummers with fancy wheels and blacked out windows, their drivers are always heavily armed and so have extra priority. Convoys of Mercs, Hummers, Land Cruisers etc with flashing lights get extra double priority as they will be taking the prime minister's wife shopping and this is vital to the economy. Cyclo taxis are given way too because people feel sorry for a six stone pensioner pedalling a half-ton tricycle. Monks; easy to spot because of their bright, saffron coloured robes and therefore easy to avoid. It is seriously bad karma to run over a monk, so they have extra triple priority. Cattle: Locals have allowed their cows to range freely for centuries, safe in the knowledge that they will return home at dusk, building a main road through their territory will not alter the cows' daily routine one jot. Small herds wander down the busiest of highways stopping to graze on the verges and sometimes lay down for a nap in the centre of the road. Killing a cow is not as bad as killing a monk, but it will be expensive and can damage your motorcycle.
Gasoline couriers: These deserve a special mention, filling stations in Cambodia range from the modern forecourt style to little roadside stalls selling petrol in old pop bottles. Supplying these outlets are small motorbikes carrying five or more plastic jerrycans, all lashed to the seat with string.
Night driving: All of the above apply except that around a quarter of all vehicles do not have lights and there is no actual offence of drunk driving.
Enjoy your trip!
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