Crossing Cambodia

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Well, just before Crossing Cambodia goes on a shortened summer monsoonal recess, let’s just look at the postings of the last few weeks.
Crossing Cambodia was quite surprised by the amount of additional information coming from the press / other web sites. Though these postings were either negative or cynical or both. Possibly, because the authors of these, like myself, are foreigners trying to understand the complexities of life in Phnom Penh. Comparing to situations already accustomed to is common and, yes, negotiating traffic in Phnom Penh is not so easy, to a certain degree it could be described as dangerous. Then again if compared with my previous posting in Lao, the speed of traffic here is less, so if an accident happens it’s not as serious. A second aspect of the press is the fact that of course the written press focuses on the weird / extra ordinary. That can be expected and as there seem to be no rules in Cambodian traffic, these articles exemplify the weirdness / out of here–ness one can expect when participating in Cambodian traffic.
Crossing Cambodia must admit that its own writings could also be interpreted as negative or cynical. Unless you are the owner of Humvee you tend to be at the receiving end of impoliteness / incorrect use of in western world written and unwritten traffic rules. Those of you familiar with Monivong Blvd. can relate of the countless near escapes from drivers weaving in and out of traffic at random. Crossing Cambodia’s closest shave the past month came on a local crossroad where a driver ignored a stop sign (yes there are signs) and nearly assisted this bloggers ascent into the other world! Never take something for granted.
But as said, Crossing Cambodia believes that the way traffic conducts itself is a fair reflection of the society: Cambodia seems to be lawless, not that many rules, other than the strongest wins and policing of the few rules is non-existent. An illustration from Cambodian society the last month: evictions of inhabitants by the government to subside private business was certainly one a major political issue the last month. The evictees were hardly compensated whereas the government / private sector (divide not clear) stands to gain handsome profits. Justice?
Then again, there were some soundbytes from prominent politicians (incl. Hun Sen) seeing the necessity for more traffic safety. Ultimately, this is the role of politicians: to protect their citizens. In traffic, especially in Cambodia, increasing safety in this stage hardly costs nothing. What Crossing Cambodia would have to look into is how rules are applied.
Finally, to end this posting on a positive note, a photo of a lone bicycle in Stoeng district, Kampong Thom province. The owner, hard at work transplanting the rice. The brief sojourn / escape from Phnom Penh opens ones perspectives. The rush hour in Kampong Thom still needs to develop itself. Where were all those big SUV’s? Stuck in Phnom Penh? Crossing Cambodia, Cambodia still developing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Cambodia Walkman Continued

Friday, July 07, 2006

From the press: Upcountry transport and Khmer Rouge anti-tank mines

From the Cambodian Daily, Wednesday, July 5, 2006:

2 Killed When Their Car Hits Mine on Rural Road
Two villagers were killed and a third seriously injured when their Toyota Camry was destroyed by an anti-tank mine in Oddar Meanchey province’s Samarong district last week, police said on Monday. The explosion on June 29 in Koun Krial commune pushed the civilian casualty rate in the district to 25 (in 2006) killed from war-era anti tank mines in the last nine months. Samarong district Govenor Bou Sokhorn said the dead and injured men were traveling on a small rural road to visit farmland that had been abandoned during years of fighting in the border region. ……
…… in November, 13 people, most from the same family, were killed by an anti tank mine in neighbouring Trapaing Prasat district while traveling on a well-used rural track. (Saing Soenthrith)

From the press: Drunken drivers

From the Cambodian Daily, Wednesday, July 5, 2006:

2 Drunk Drivers Hit Same Stupa Fence Within 24 Hours
In two separate incidents, two cars driven by drunk drivers plowed in the iron fence surrounding the sacred stupa – which once housed relics of the Buddha- infront of the Phnom Penh railway station, police said Monday. A Toyota Camry smashed intoi the fence at 4 a Nissan Cefiro hit the same fence at 3 am Monday, Municipal Traffic Police Chief Tin Prasoer said. Both drivers were drunk and speeding on Monivong Boulevard when they swerved into the protective fence surrounding the stupa, Tin Prasoer said. Both cars were impounded at the traffic police compound; one driver has offered to pay some of the damage, while the second driver has not yet come forward, he said.’ They have to pay for rebuilding of the fence,’ he added. On Tuesday, a 15-meter section of the fence remained mangled and broken. (Van Roeun)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

From the press: Freak accident

Yesterday, the article on Cambodian railroads. They are desperate to expand, because 1 return service per week is certainly limited. Today (Cambodia Daily, July 6) the news that on this railroad a train clips a car:

1 Missing, 2 injured After Train Hits NGO Pickup
A 19-year woman was missing, presumed drowned and two men were badly injured after an NGO’s pickup truck was hit by a train in Pursat province (that’s the branch line to Battambang) late Monday night, knocking the occupants into a river, police said. Som Thy, 40, and Sam Hing, 45, staff members for the NGO CARE Cambodia, and Kong Rattana, 19 were crossing the track at 11.45 pm when they were hit by the Battambang-to-Phnom Penh train, which pushed their vehicle 20 meters along the track. The three fell from the vehicle onto riverbank and into a tributary of the Tonle Sap river in Sampov Meas district, district police chief Len Song said. Passengers from the train were able to rescue the two men, but Kong Rattana was not found, and authorities were searching for her body in the river, Len Song said. Lach Bunthoeuth, a project manager for CARE’s Pursat office, said the two men were in stable condition in a hospital in Phnom Penh. Len Song said that the three were traveling back from a party in Banteay Meanchey province and that he suspected alcohol may have played a part in the collision, though he admitted that the railway crossing had no signs or barriers to warn that trains were approaching. (Saing Soenthrith).

• Freak accident! You probably have more chance to win the lottery than to end up in this accident. Traffic at night is sparse, trains even sparser!
• What was the train doing in Pursat (half way from Battambang to Phnom Penh) traveling in the middle of the night?
• The same can be said concerning the car. An NGO car returning from a party, nearly 200 km’s away? Most NGO’s are very strict with alcohol and driving. And why two middle age men (staff of NGO) with a teenage female (not staff)?
• Crossing Cambodia looked at the map, you do not need to cross railroad between Battambang and Pursat, the direction from where the car was supposedly coming.
• Well, with such a low use of rail frequency what’s the use of signs / barriers? Especially at night, when trains are usually used.
• Did the train have a head light?
• If there are no rail cars for passengers how were the passengers housed on board the train?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

3. Modes of transport: 3.1 public transport 3.1.1. The Moto-dup (Part 1?)

What makes traffic in Cambodia so different from its neighbouring countries? Chaos? Anarchy? Not really, it’s the existence of the moto-dup, in short a motorcycle taxi.
You hire a motorcycle with driver, just like a taxi. They exist in other Southeast Asian countries, mostly used for short-distance travel in cities, where they have the added advantage of squeezing through traffic jams and taking back-roads / shortcuts not fit for 4 wheel vehicles. But for longer distances in these countries there are usually taxi’s. Not so in Phnom Penh, well, there are a few taxi’s but locals will not be caught in a taxi, they take the moto-dup. In most countries there are laws forbidding more than two persons per motorcycle. Not so in Cambodia, the moto-dup will take as many as possible, that also seems to be rule in Cambodian public transport sector. The more the merrier.
So how do you fit more than one passenger per motorcycle? The rear seat is enlarged, a bit longer / wider. The passengers refrain from eating too much, the driver gets used to sitting on the point of the seat. As females are usually a little smaller than the males, they seem to be able to fit more on theses moto-dups. They also sit amazon style, the legs alternating, the first has her legs left, the second right, the third left again, the fourth… No, more than 3 (adult) passengers is not possible.
Moto-dup, a Cambodian word, can be translated as motorcycle service, service as in to take / to carry. The moto-dup (meaning in this case the driver and motorcycle) can be found on every street corner, as well as lounging around in shady areas. They are there from early morning until the small hours of the next morning, hanging around nightclubs driving the all-night customers back home. They ply the streets looking for a lone pedestrian(s) someone who clearly needs there service but needs a little coaxing. ‘Moto, sir?’ The minute you step outside onto the street you are approached. If you are walking for 5 minutes, you will be approached by at least 10 different moto-dups, 1 for every 30 seconds. If you need to go somewhere, you announce that, discuss the price, hop on and then mostly everything goes wrong. It’s presumed you as passenger know where you are going, the driver drives! So you get taken for a ride and once at the destination you will be charged twice what you agreed, because the driver of course did not know where he was supposed to go, but it’s always further than the price that had been agreed on. Tough luck.
Most moto dup drivers are from the provinces who are trying their luck in the big city. At the beginning of the day they will take some locals into town (20-30km), quite near to their inner-city stake-out: all the street corners are ‘owned’ as well as places such as (super) markets. Prices for a ride start from 0,25 $US and there’s no maximum! You can hire per day / per distance, whatever you want.
Besides being unfamiliar with the major attractions of Phnom Penh they are equally unfamiliar with usual traffic rules. Research last year by the ngo Handicap International revealed that moto-dup drivers do not have a driver’s license (not required for motorcycles under 100cc) nor have any idea concerning traffic rules. Does this make them exceptionally unsafe? Not really, as stated earlier adhering to basic rules (right side of the road) is near non-existent on Cambodia’s roads. Foreign passengers can be occasionally spotted; they stand out as they have a helmet!
Another aspect of moto-dups and their popualrity is their ability to fuction as a small truck and with a cart behind to function as a big truck!

From the international press: BBC boards Battambangs Bamboo Train

From BBC's website, a article considering Cambodia's 'railroads':

Cambodians ride 'bamboo railway'
By Guy De Launey
BBC News, Phnom Penh

Bamboo train loaded and ready to go
The bamboo trains travel at up to 40kmh
Travellers in Cambodia have to deal with one of the world's worst train networks.

There is only one passenger service a week, and it often travels at not much more than walking pace.

So people in the north west of the country, near Cambodia's second city of Battambang, have taken matters into their own hands.

They have created their own rail service using little more than pieces of bamboo. The locals call the vehicles "noris", or "lorries", but overseas visitors know them as "bamboo trains".

A tiny electric generator engine provides the power, and the passenger accommodation is a bamboo platform that rests on top of two sets of wheels. A dried-grass mat to sit on counts as a luxury.

It would be a white-knuckle ride - if there were actually anything to hold on to.

The bamboo trains reach about 40km/h (25mph), with the track just a couple of inches below the passengers. Warped and broken rails make for a bone-shaking journey.

But the drivers insist it is a safe form of transport.

"We're very careful," said 18-year-old Sok Kimhor, a 10-year veteran of the bamboo trains. "We look out for children and animals running across the lines, and we have to slow down when other trains come along."

Unofficial role

Low fares add to the appeal, but the service is not without its quirks. There is only one track - so if two trains meet, the one with the lightest load has to be taken off the rails so the other can pass.

Bamboo train driver Sok Kimhor
Driver Sok Kimhor says he takes care of his passengers

The bamboo trains have been an unofficial part of the Cambodian transport network for years. The official railways survived decades of civil war and sabotage by the Khmer Rouge, but all those years without maintenance have taken their toll.

Recent cuts to the timetable mean the official service to Phnom Penh now departs just once a week, and local people are left little alternative but to use the bamboo trains.

"I use the bamboo trains to go to Battambang from my house in Phnom Teppedey so I can buy medicine," said Sao Nao as she sits on the rails with a small group of people, waiting for a nori to depart.

"They're very safe - a motorbike taxi is too fast, and if I use one of those I sometimes get dizzy and fall off. On a bamboo train I can sit down and go to sleep. You can't do that on a motorbike."

Motorbikes would also struggle to take the loads that bamboo trains happily lug - indeed they often form part of the cargo, alongside freshly-harvested lychees, machine parts and timber for building houses.


While there is plenty of bustle around the bamboo trains at their improvised stations outside Battambang, the city's main station lies deserted. Cattle chomp on the grass growing over the rails and children play on the tracks without any fear for their safety.

Director of Cambodian Railways Sokhom Pheakavanmony
Sokhom Pheakavanmony says a better train service is on its way

In Phnom Penh, the story is much the same. The station is beautiful, but three battered carriages are all that is left of Cambodia's passenger rolling stock.

The director of Cambodian Railways, Sokhom Pheakavanmony, admitted that passenger services are currently woeful, but said that improvements were on their way.

"In a plan under discussion with the Asian Development Bank right now, by 2010 we will be able to complete the rehabilitation," he said.

"I think that if the rail condition is good, the passenger trains can run. I hope that in the future, people can use the trains to move from one area to another area, and from one country to another."

The ultimate goal is for Cambodia to be a key part of a railway linking all of South East Asia, but that seems a long way off to the people of Battambang.

Despite official efforts to discourage the service, they will keep the faith with the bamboo railway until they see concrete proof otherwise.

• Both in neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam the train is an important mode of transport. But the double decade of non-investment has left the lines from Phnom Penh to the coast and to Battambang/Poipet/Thai border train-less. The Vietnamese are now upgrading their system to cater for faster trains. Thailand looks to increase the capacity of the rail to transport more. Cambodia hopes some investor (a foreign organization) will relay the tracks and provide a new carriages. But currently there is no light at the end of the tunnel….

Sunday, July 02, 2006

From the press: Cambodians dying to go driving

Phnom Penh (dpa, Saturday July 1, 2006) - Cambodia's chaotic traffic has become the fast- developing nation's second biggest killer after HIV/AIDS, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech to the Interior Ministry broadcast on national television.

Hun Sen said the government had drafted legislation in an effort to control bad driving which it hoped would be implemented soon.

Meanwhile, figures compiled by the Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) on traffic accidents showed Cambodia had the worst death rates with 20 deaths per 10,000 vehicles - double that of the second worst nation, which Hun Sen did not identify.

He said developed nations averaged around one death per 10,000 vehicles.

"If we compare the population and the number of new vehicles, traffic accidents increased by 15 per cent this year, and vehicle numbers increased by 10 per cent," he said in the speech, originally given Friday.

"Our traffic is most dangerous. It is the biggest danger to lives in Cambodia behind HIV/AIDS," he said.

Hun Sen said basic measures to curb the alarming rates would include making sure people formally learned to drive, increasing the length of driving school courses at private schools, and making the use of number or license plates on vehicles mandatory.

Vehicles would also have to be registered, he added.

Cambodia's traffic is infamous, with unregistered vehicles and a lack of regard for road rules made worse by factors such as no effort by traffic police to enforce any minimum driving age.

• Good to see there is some thinking about measures to protect traffic participants
• Formally, nothing happens in Cambodia, you need a formal driving license, you buy one.
• How does ensuring license plates are mandatory assist in bringing down the number of accidents? Clearly a case of denying the problem and blaming the statistics. More licensed vehicles means that the number of traffic deaths per 10,000 vehicles drops…., but the number of deaths remains the same, still killer number two
• The rates are double those of the competition (unnamed, could it be Vietnam). Finally some international recognition.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

From the press: alleviating traffic accidents

Seminar on Order, Safety, Traffics and Strategy of Traffic Accident Alleviation

Phnom Penh, June 30, 2006 AKP --

A seminar on order situation, safety, traffics and strategy of traffic accident alleviation and prevention was held at the ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh on June 29.

The seminar was presided over by Deputy Prime Minister HE Sar Kheng, minister of Interior with the participating of officials from the ministry of Interior and ministry of Public Works and transports, and representatives of relevant government institutions, provinces and cities.

The aim of the seminar is to review the past traffic situation, consider various factors causing the growth rate of traffic accident and share ideas and experiences in the resolution of traffic accident reduction and prevention.

According to UN’s report, the mortality rate of the people, injury and damages impact on economic resources due to annual traffic increase.

HE Sar Kheng indicated the order situation and safety of land traffics were difficult and complicated, saying the loss of people’s life and the damage to socio-economic resources in the land traffics were very serious.

A figure showed that in average three people die of traffics and 20 injured per day and other resources were lost and damaged every year at an estimated cost of 100 million US dollars in state budget.--AKP



• The seminar’s objective looked pretty clear, were the powers surprised by the fact that accidents happen….?
• Let’s say recognizing the problem is the first step, but Crossing Cambodia is anxious to find out how to alleviate accidents
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