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Delightful Phnom Penh – Street Life

  • Written by Anonymous
  • April 12th, 2006
  • 5 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

By Hans Meier

It's not only the insane traffic that makes walking Phnom Penh so difficult. It's also the municipal refuse collecting style. It works like this: Put your trash in plastic bags and drop those on the next sidewalk – any time. If you have no plastic bag, just drop your loose rubbish somewhere anyway.


— SLIME SURFING —

In the night, big cars will collect those plastic bags that are still *intact*. That's a minority. Of course our neighbours, the homeless, open all plastic bags just when they appear. What they choose not to use gets a thorough check by our other neighbours – the dogs, cats and rats on the block. The rest of the trash is left sweltering under the unforgiving, 40 degree hot Phnom Penh sun. No municipal rubbish car will remove the open mess, it stays on the sidewalk.

That's what I mean when I say that strolling in Phnom Penh is not only made difficult by insane cars, motorbikes, trucks, tuktuks and rickshaws and not only by all the beggars, shoe shiners, newspaper sellers, flower sellers, restaurant hawkers, impaired and street sleepers getting in your way.

Strolling is also made awkward by the multitude of rotting neighbourhood trash dumps. It's worst around some markets, especially Psah Chas, the Old Market. Several time I had the nasty feeling of stepping into something soft, very undesirable – thank God I'd only hit a rotting durian.


— KHMER COMMUTING —

Of course they ride one-way streets in the wrong direction. And while driving with lights in the daytime is actively fined by Cambodian police, driving drunk without lights in the night is absolutely ok. Actually, after 5 pm there are few street police, except for those khakied guys who fine you to fill their own coffers. Just refuse to pay after 5 pm.

Khmer driving is so insane that you wish to be back in Bangkok! For a nice chat en route to the private English school, locals in Phnom Penh or Battambang happily drive with two or three motorcycles or bicycles parallel to each other – slowly of course. Honk at them from your car, and they will not even look.

Park your motorcycle anywhere in the middle of the road. If then cars can no longer pass, solve the situation Khmer style – look away.


— RACY —

Young, testosterone-loaded Khmer men race their motorcycles through Phnom Penh at breathtaking speed. They ignore the traffic lights on Monivong Boulevard and the one-way signs in the smaller roads; they honk and belt through at about 80 or 100 km/h. This requires intense slaloming – regularly you hear heavy "CLACK"s, as their back wheel hits other vehicles they passed. Before you can even start to curse, they zoom on across three red traffic lights.

In Cambodia, whole generations grow up without the very slightest idea of consideration, order or common sense. Police look on, occasionally squeaking into a megaphone and are basically ignored. When you park your moto right on the riverside's pedestrian strip, you will have a policemen standing next to you, bellowing orders into a megaphone, and looking somewhere else. Just ignore the barking dwarf in khaki. He will walk away. If he gets all too noisy and obnoxious, slip him a buck so that your moto can stay with you on the pedestrian strip – that’s safer than parking the vehicle somewhere out of sight.

On the Phnom Penh riverside, young men speed their moto through the pedestrian strip, honking permanently; they have no chance to stop, should anybody not jump out of their way. On highways around the country, share taxi drivers speed onto narrow one-lane-bridges, honking permanently; they have no chance to stop, should anybody still dare to occupy the bridge.


— RIGHT, LEFT AND WRONG —

In Cambodia there seems to be a consent to drive your vehicle on the right-hand side of the street (as in America or mainland Europe). But at road junctions, they will not turn left western style. Long before the left turn-off, Khmers move over to the opposite lane and drive against the flow there. Then they turn left, into the new road and they're still on the wrong side of the road. They drive against the flow until they find a gap to make it to the other side. If they find no gap, they keep driving on the wrong side. At 80 km/h, honking heavily. This is not just typical behavior of bicycles and motorcycles. I've also seen cars and trucks proceeding against the flow, around the corner and on against the flow.

While there seems to be a consent to drive mostly on the right-hand side of the street, many taxis and other private cars are cheap Thai imports. They have the steering wheel on the wrong, right side, made to drive Thai style on the left. In a country where drivers passionately pass each other at high speed in blind curves full of cows, buffaloes and school children, this common use of this wrong-built vehicles causes a lot of additional accidents.


— SHOPPING ADVICE – CARS

By the way, the import of cheap Thai cars with the steering wheel on the wrong side has just been made easier by Cambo strongman Mr. Hun Sen. The accident rate will surely go up. On local TV, Hun Sen explained that if more Thai-style cars caused more accidents on already blood-drenched Cambodian roads, then this was a problem of the individual drivers. Good news for those school kids who will get killed by speeding Khmer drivers

with cheap Thai-built cars.

— SHOPPING ADVICE – KHMER DRIVING LICENCES —

Now with all those suicidal idiots bouncing over potholed Cambodian roads, you may think no-one possesses a driving licence. Wrong.

In case of an accident, you'll need a driving licence – or police would squeeze too much money out of you. This is why most Cambodians do hold a valid driving licence. They buy it for 30 or 50 USD from police or driving schools.


Stickman's thoughts:

Those sunset pictures are on the folks on bikes are great! I think I will give up on any idea I ever had to drive in Cambodia.