Phnom Penh road rules OK
Updated: Apr 23
Basically there is only one general road rule as a driver in Phnom Penh, if it is convenient for you to do it, then do it. This does not mean there are no traffic laws, there are, but no one cares.
Lets start at the beginning. This is Asia, “face” is of vital importance. To avoid the risk of losing face by failing a driving test, the examiner (who is not well paid) may accept the offer of ‘a gift’ and be willing to pass the candidate. This is bad for other road users but these guys don’t care.
From 1975 - 1979 approximately 1.7 million people (about 1/4 of the population) were killed under the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge. A particularly high proportion of these were “intellectuals”. Any person with a degree, able to speak a second language, a school teacher, wore glasses or had ‘soft’ hands was considered a threat to Angker , the organisation, the ruling party.
An entire generation of teachers, gone. The next generation of young people with a traumatic hole in their national psyche. The following generation, recovering. This generation are beginning to learn. Add to this the traditional teaching method of rote learning, you have a recipe for “knowing facts” but unable to engage in conceptual thinking. For many modern Cambodians being able to visualise, work through the consequences and repercussions of their actions is simply missing.
This means their ability to read the road, think, predict and act in a way to minimise the danger to themselves and others is … how shall I put it … impaired. Oh and they don’t care.
Finally, the drivers on the roads just don’t care. There is no effective law enforcement, no sanctions, no concept of obedience to the road regulations, nothing.
I want to stop and buy a mango, so I stop in the most convenient place for me to get out and buy a mango. Is parking in this spot dangerous or utterly stupid and does it cause chaos for 100’s of people jammed up all around me? These thoughts are entirely absent from the process of decision making. Oh and I don’t care.
Do I want to turn left at this junction? Yes. Can I turn left? No. So I will turn left, Oh and I don’t care that I am now driving the ‘wrong’ way up a dual carriageway.
Is it inconvenient for me to stop at this red light? Yes. Then don’t stop at the red light, accelerate, weave, cause other people to swerve, brake, cut each other up to miss you, no problem. Do all of this at night without lights, without a crash hat (it’s inconvenient to wear a helmet, it messes with your hairstyle) and talk on your phone. All not a problem and even if it was, I don’t care.
It’s not unusual for a slow moving tuk tuk overtaking a bicycle to be overtaken by a motorbike being overtaken by another two motorbikes being overtaken by the dreaded black Lexus who is texting. This puts the Lexus and three bikes on my side of the road none of whom care.
Option one - Lexus verses me and my 125cc motorbike. I am a westerner, I am educated, I can look into the future and predict the physics meeting the biology and the religious ending to this scenario.
Option two, mount the kerb, drive through a market stall selling mangoes scare the life out of the phytoplankton (see the Phnom Penh Food Chain) and join the road again 20m later. I am a westerner, I can see this is bad but guess what?
I don’t care.