Crossing Cambodia

Saturday, March 31, 2007

No news?

Hardly any posts the last few days, partially due to the upcoming local elections of tomorrow. Why? Well, the printed and unprinted media focus all their resources on the campaigning. So hardly any news on traffic, unless you are interested in freakish accidents. Here, car kills motorcyclist (a hit and run), tuk-tuk which is bring body to victims home, gets involved in another accident. Well, this is hardly typical for Cambodia, so is it worth a mention?
However the media (in this case the Cambodia Daily of March 30, 2007) do report on lawlessness which is tolerated in the run-up to the elections.
'Rearview Mirror Laws Lifted for Election Period'.
is the headline on an article. Untrue again, it was not a law but a municipal decree, which has less implications. Anyway for those of you who have been following the story on mirrors for motorcycles (postings here, here, here, here and here), this hardly comes as a surprise. The conclusion from these postings can be none other than that the decree has been disregarded for the last two months, so why the need to announce this officially?
Apparently the disregard to enforce this decree follows a request by Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief to stop imposing fines from roughly two weeks ago. He wants
'to keep traffic flowing smoothly throughout the election period. "I do not want anybody to allege that traffic police stop party rallies by asking peoplefor money", he said. He added that anyone without mirrors would be fined once the election is over on Sunday'.
Cryptically his deputy added:
'We don't force them to have mirrors, but people must know they are important'.
Uhhh, so the whole act is simply to emphasize the potential importance of having mirrors? As enforcing mirrors is not the only traffic issue over which the traffic police rules, one must think about the need to enforce stoplights, driving on the right side, one-way streets. Are the traffic police only emphasizing their need as one of demonstrating their importance? Seems like the traffic police are trying to describe their job description as one whereby police hang around in the shade all day, emphasizing the importance of all and sundry and only using fines sort of to enforcement law when their needs need to be met.
Handicap International, the NGO that takes on the traffic safety issue are not much of a help:
'Mirrors help reduce accidents, ...'
Again the simple fact that a motorcycle has a mirror leads to more accidents, not less; the need is to use mirrors, but as all Cambodian traffic users are customized to not using them, why enforce the need for them or stress the need to use them?
',... but the government should also inform people about the dangers of speeding, drink-driving and not wearing a helmet.'
This is at best the briefest wish list one could make, there are many more issues that need to be tackled and foremost amongst these is the need to enforcement law.

So that for the soundbytes from the media. Crossing Cambodia has been looking into the issue of using mobile phones and actively driving. In Asia it's quite customary not to turn your phone off, whatever the occasion, so it's little surprising that 1 in 10, 1 in 11 of car drivers drive and phone at the same time. The sample size was last week over 200, this week 143. Unfortunately Saturday morning is not a highly mobile phone traffic time so the average should assumed to be above 10%. That's quite a few. It is perceived to be banned in future but in the meantime nothing happens. What happens when one of these drivers crashes? Zilch! Who cares? Certainly not the traffic police they are only there to
'inform people'.
So what's the difference between the parties:

Norodom Ranariddh Party(NRP), former government ally, now opposition hopeful: some with mirrors, others not

Cambodian Peolpe's Party (CPP), the evergreen ruling party, has informed public of Letter of Intent to rule the rest of this century: no need for mirrors, because the traffic police are also CPP members!

Sam Rainsy Party, most serious opposition party, form a threat to ruling CPP: must have mirrors at all times.

All photo's reproduced from Khmer Intelligence Media Site

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

After the accident

Today's (27 March 2007) Khmer 440 site gives an in-depth look of the Cambodian emergency services. Not a pretty picture apparently. Here's an excerpt concerning a traffic accident:
A large crowd of people had gathered just opposite [author's restaurant] – rubber-neckers enjoying a little local carnage. A cyclo and moto had collided; the injuries had been sustained not by the actual drivers or passengers, but by a hapless passing motodop who stopped to try to calm down the respective parties and had nine bells kicked out of him by the two thugs on the bike.

I observed the scene for half an hour as we waited for and ate our meal. I saw up to a hundred people standing around, blocking the passing traffic; I saw people pushing food-selling carts stop to get a bit of trade whilst the residents of the flats above relaxed on their verandas with drinks to watch the spectacle; I saw the police who inhabit the corner to extract on-the-spot ‘fines’ surreptitiously slip away (Two cops did belatedly show up). What I didn’t see was one single person call an ambulance or even stroll the 50 metres along the road to the nearby hospital with its emergency ward. My girl explained why: if an ambulance is summoned, the first thing the paramedics do is demand an outrageous fee. If the person cannot or will not pay they will literally drive off, leaving the victim to bleed to death.
After this follows a complete expose on how emergency services work and how they are financed. The first commentator has stressed how you should not believe exaggeration (about the money matters). But in all the above does draw a near precise view of what happens after an accident. Loads of people turn up and most watch resulting in a flash-market!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Motorbike robbers II

A follow up on the story of just a month ago. Crime takes place in Phnom Penh (surprise!). Violent crime takes place. Sometimes the crime is hideous. As said we reported on a spate of motorcycle robbers who execute their victim and then take off on their motorbike.
This fortnights' Phnom Penh Post's Police Blotter lists another number of the same crime from March 9 -15. Three incidents:

... died ... after two gunmen wounded him. ... shot him once in the rightear ..., then stole his motorbike.

... after two robbers wounded him .... Witnesses told [he] was shot in the chest, then stole his [motor]bike.

A motorbike taxi driver ... was knifed and later died. ... Witnesses told police ... one of them stabbed him in the neck then they escaped on his [motor]bike.
Oddly enough, never are cars stolen ....

Friday, March 23, 2007

Enforcing the law: at the traffic lights

All wait for the green light to come

Some of the Crossing Cambodia postings linked to other publications / articles during the last few months have emphasized the lack of law enforcement /road safety and exemplified these with situations at the traffic lights. Time to find out the truth.

On the crossroads of Monivong Boulevard and street 214, there are a set of oldish traffic lights. Monivong is a busy road, street 214 a busy local road. Per traffic light sequence change (red to green to red for both sides) about 150 motorcycles and 45 cars cross this intersection in mid week during mid-morning traffic. Over 7% of the cars went through red and 3.6% of the motorcycles. This was a cross road whereby traffic police were lurking in the shade, though during the data collection they let everybody pass in spite of a few passing them while just committing an offense (crossing during the red light, though possibly this no offense).
Most of the offenders were vehicles which continued to cross the road despite the colour of the light having changed from yellow to red. There were also a few motorcycles which cautiously crossed, despite the change of light having changed some time before.

Red has changed to green, but crossing vehicles (motorcycles) haven't vacated (or are not willing to vacate) the intersection

So what did we learn? Yes, ignoring lights occurs and in quite significant numbers. Dangerous? Not really, all traffic is used to the few (is 5% just a few?) who ignore the lights; so even though the light is green they proceed cautiously. And the traffic police? They are just doing their job (luv' to see their job description: a major part of your assignment is to hang around in the shade and look interested)
Watch out for the police!

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Stan Kahn's monthly blog on the Khmer 440 site delves into the levels of noise he appreciates. What's that got to do with traffic in Cambodia, Crossing Cambodia hears you say? Well, look at this section:
' ... The use of horns on the streets of Vietnam’s big cities is constant and deafening. ... Noise discomfort there [Vietnam] is compounded by the fact that walking is even considerably more difficult than here [Phnom Penh]; on top of sidewalks that are consistently blocked to pedestrians, traffic is much more dense and drivers more aggressive. '
So in Vietnam the traffic is 'more dense' and 'drivers are more aggressive' or in other words the situation is worse! And what about Cambodia's western neighbour Thailand:
'Thailand, on the other side, which should know better (and should’ve known better 15 years ago when I first arrived there) is filthy with 2-stroke engines, motorbikes and tuk-tuks that go bang-bang, pop-pop, sputter-sputter.
... The one thing in Thailand’s favor is their reluctance to use their horns, still, overall the country is far worse in the noise department than Cambodia.'
So Thailand is 'filthy' but less noisier. Then Stan gets into the Khmer psyche:
'From what I’ve gleaned, Cambodians disinterest in complaining seems to be a combination of tolerance and reluctance to start potential altercations. Live and let live even when it drives you crazy. Though, in fact, complaints do have an effect: not long ago City Hall ordered beer gardens to shut down at midnight: a great relief to those living nearby. One facet of the noise problem I will never understand is the need for karaoke singers to have the volume turned way up. It’s kind of nice that they aren’t shy about belting out a song in spite of their atrocious singing, but it’s positively painful for me, a musician, to have to bear it.'
So, would Cambodia streets become safer (better?) if the Cambodians whined more?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tales of Asia: a 'readers' submission

Today's travel advisory referred to the Tales of Asia site. Besides advice there are also readers submissions. 'Butch' recently (3 March 2007) has written a few words on 'Driving in Cambodia'. Take it away Butch:
'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'.
End of first alinea: Cambodian drivers are 'unpredictable'. Cambodian traffic is a 'rolling catastrophe'. Will jot that down for the final evaluation. Let's read on:
'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.

Safety: This being a Buddhist country, everything is down to fate and luck so making an offering at a shrine is considered more useful than checking if the tyres contain any air. Wearing a helmet or seat belt shows you are a non-believer and also marks you out as a bit of a sissy.

Junctions and traffic lights: Stopping at a junction will cause an accident, no one ever stops, so don’t, or everyone else will crash into the back of you. Ditto pulling out onto a main road, stopping to look out for oncoming traffic is also seen as a sign of weakness / sissydom / lack of faith. Traffic lights are used solely for paying police wages. Cops will exact fines for ignoring traffic lights and anything else that takes their fancy such as wearing an offensive shirt or not washing behind your ears.

Overloaded vehicles: Except for the aforementioned Hummers and Mercs which need space for assault rifles, bags of cash etc. Cambodian vehicles are always chronically overloaded. Families of five or more squash onto a moped, taxis carry at least six persons in town and around nine on a long journey. Minibuses load up with cargo and small motorbikes then fill the remaining space with passengers, once the van is full a further ten or so climb on the roof. These vans have poor brakes but loud horns and the screaming passengers on the roof will usually alert you to their presence.

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.
Riding an incendiary bomb does not make these riders any more careful, and so ranks them in the world’s most dangerous jobs, right up there with Alaskan crab fisherman and Harold Shipman's cleaning lady.

Night driving: All of the above apply except that around a quarter of all vehicles do not have lights and there is no actual offense of drunk driving. Enjoy your trip!'
Yes, traffic in Cambodia is essentially a bag of fun! Unless of course you have an unfortunate accident and run into the police. Other than that, no worries. Tah, Bruce.

Elsewhere ...

One objective of the blog is comparison with other countries. In Lao, public transport is apparently like this:
Walk through the streets of most Asian cities and you'll be besieged by taxi drivers clamouring for fares and traders desperate to sell their wares. In Vientiane, things are starkly different. In a queue of three-wheeler tuk-tuk cabs in the centre of the city, all the drivers are asleep in hammocks strung along the length of the passenger seats.
Well, at least that's the case as described in the Austrailian of March 17, 2007. But the author points straight away that Vientiane may be the exception. A positive one?
Unfortunately the author seems a bit lost, for instance
... the first traffic lights arrived only recently
Bursting the bubble: traffic lights have been a feature of Vientiane's roads from at least 2000 onwards. In a sense that's recent.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Advisory sites: Tales of Asia

The Tales of Asia site is a long running site concerning 'No nonsense information on travel and living in Cambodia'. End of quote. It's a collection of stories starting from around the turn of the century focusing mainly on incoming tourists particularly in Siem Reap. There used to be a forum but that is now defunct.

Under 'FAQ (and not so FAQ) Transportation' section they carry the following (hopefully this is a not so FAQ): If I'm involved in an accident, what could happen?

The answer is partly as follows:
... Anyway, what happens at an accident scene is first, every Khmer for miles comes around to watch what's going on. If you're injured they will try to help. This is unfortunate as help usually means picking up the unconscious victim and shaking him or her in an effort to revive them. I don't even want to think about how many accident victims were further injured by this practice, but regrettably, as the average Khmer knows nothing of proper medical procedures, shaking the unconscious person seems like the right thing to do.

Other questions asked (and answered are : how is the train service? A.: Cheap, painfully slow, uncomfortable, scenic, friendly, limited, ...)

More in this vein. Another of the FAQ sections relates to : Legalities: visas, police, corruption:
A: If you drive in Cambodia - car or motorcycle, sooner or later, probably sooner, you're going to be stopped by the police for some infraction which you may or may not have committed.

If you can avoid running over the police officer and there's no one sitting on a motorbike that's as big or bigger than yours and ready to give chase, then there's no reason to stop for the police. However, if you do have to stop, it works like this:

In Cambodia you do not hand over your license, registration, and insurance proof because hardly anybody has all three let alone even one. But the very first thing you do is remove the keys from the ignition and put them in your pocket. If you don't, the police might do it themselves and you do not want to be in this situation. What you then find out is what your infraction is and then see what amount of money is requested. As a foreigner the initial request is usually somewhere between $5 and $20. $5 is silly, $20 is simply hilarious and if you are moronic enough to pay $20, well, you deserved it, then.Traffic infractions in Cambodia cost from between 2000 and 5000 riels (that's 50 cents to a $1.25). There is absolutely no reason whatsoever you should ever pay more than this.

In most cases, you stand around with the police for a few minutes chatting and smoking cigarettes. In a majority of instances, the whole affair is very friendly and there is no reason for you to become indignant. This is a game not a duel.


But receipt or no receipt, the most important things to remember are:
1.)Immediately remove the keys from the ignition and put them in your pocket.
2.) Be friendly.
3.) Pay no more than 5000 riels.
Good advice? At least it's clear. Drive carefully and avoid police seems to be the best way around traffic in Cambodia, pretty similar elsewhere in the wild world?

Friday, March 16, 2007

The poitical party electioneering of the one handed ...

A CPP supporter looking to win votes for April 1 local elections

Data Production

Today's (March 16, 2007) Cambodia Daily, a short article on traffic accident statistics. Oddly enough the title reads '526 Traffic Fatalities in Phnom Penh in January'. That's a lot! Let's continue reading:
'Road traffic casualties in Phnom Penh increased by about 20 percent between December and January, according to a report released this week'.
Between December and January? There's not much between December and January. Crossing Cambodia supposes that in stead of 'between' compared to should have been used. OK, OK.
'Officials attributed the jump to a rising number of vehicles and a continued failure of drivers to obey traffic regulations'.
Sorry? The jump is due to the rising number of vehicles? Are there 20% more vehicles on the road? What about the failure of the authorities to enforce traffic regulations?
'A total of 526 casualties were reported in the capital in January up from 440 the previous month, according ... report released by the government and Handicap International'.
Ah! There were not 526 fatalities, but 526 casualties. A big difference.
'The report also said that 2079 road traffic casualties were reported nationwide in January, resulting in 483 serious injuries and 130 deaths'.
Now let's go back a few months. This blog entry again refers to a Cambodia Daily article. Excerpts:
'Nearly 2,000 Traffic Casualties in October' captions an article in yesterday's (December 11, 2006) Cambodia Daily by daily reporter Liz Tomei'.
So January 2007 compared to October 2006: around just 4% increase in casualties. Perspective needed (and accuracy)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Creativity II and more

In the the previous article on 'Creativity II', Crossing Cambodia reported on the ongoings in coastal Sihanoukville. In an apparent effort to avoid publicizing poor policing priorities, foreign tourists are targeted. By using a municipal decree on motorcycle driving it is hoped that foreign tourists will be virtually made impossible to drive by themselves, thereby avoiding incidents of foreigners have bad accidents. During a relaxation in enforcing the decree a tourist died and since this weekend the enforcement is being pursued again. From the Khmer 440 forum site this posting:
'...On the way back my friend who has a new moto and papers (whilst awaiting his rego [=registration] plates) is pulled over. His bike is confiscated as he did not have a Cambo [=Cambodian] licence and he needs to go and get it back in 3 days time (and of course pay) . He said over 60 bikes were loaded onto a truck and taken away whilst he was there.
Apparently all Barangs [=foreigners in Cambodia] without a Cambo licence had their bikes (mostly rental) confiscated ...'
The forum contributer then questions why would foreigners need a license while nearly all Cambodians drive their motorcycles without any license? Unfortunately the question is not answered.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Advisory sites: Cambodia Travel Guides from Canby Publications

An expatriate (and thus a nuanced?) view on traffic in Canby Publication guides on Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. In their Safety and Security section:
'Traffic accidents are not uncommon in the chaotic traffic of Cambodia, particularly Phnom Penh. The most common form of public transportation is the motorcycle taxi. Unless you buy your own, there are no helmets and the moto drivers are usually not licensed. Car taxi is the safest way to move around the city. ...
In Phnom Penh, moto-romauks ('tuk-tuks') and cyclos (bicycle rickshaws) offer somewhat safer (though not as safe as a car) alternative to mototaxis. If you insist on using motorcycle taxis, try to select your driver carefully. If he appears drunk, reckless or drives too fast do not hesitate to get off (pay him a bit) and get another moto. There are plenty to choose from.
For those who choose to rent a motorcycle and drive themselves, be forewarned that traffic in Phnom Penh is chaotic in the extreme. Between cities, road conditions can be poor and taxi and truck drivers are reckless, taking little heed of motorcycles. Only very experienced riders should attempt driving in Cambodia'.

Chaotic mentioned twice.

In their printed version(s):
'... Phnom Penh is a fairly easy city to get around. Though traffic is congested by the day, you can stilll ...'
And on moto's:
'... They are more prone to accidents and robberies than cars...'
No chaos in the printed version.

Advisory sites: Trip Advisor

Trip Advisory proudly claims to be the best site for information; with over 10 million views per month, it certainly is a busy web-site. But relevant? It's mostly for looking for hotels. They do however have a good forum:
'The traffic in PP is insane and road traffic accidents are common. I met a guy who had his ankle smashed when someone crashed into the back of the moto he was on - so tuk tuks would be a safer form of transport'.
However most forum postings are on Siem Reap and good tuk-tuk drivers (are there any?).

Advisory sites: Virtual Tourist

Together with Trip Advisor, Virtual Tourist is at the pinnacle of sites that provide tourists with advice, both work with tourists doing the reports themselves. So little unbiased general information.
Despite the acclaimed 5 million monthly web-site visitors, there is little relevant information on traffic in Cambodia. There are currently 24 pages of transportation tips, however mostly are outdated (2003), complaining about the general transportation situation (hardly any paved roads then, at least the Siem Reap - Phnom Penh was non-existent).
Additionally, they have 13 pages of warnings and danger 'tips', mostly refer to the crooked steps going up the Angkor Wat monuments! One contributer however does describes this:
'Traffic signs are for ornamentation only. Because of the chaotic nature of the main towns eg. Phnom Penh, the traffic can be quite bad and unfortunately I saw several motorcycle accidents including one fatal. The where not pretty. Most people don't wear helmets making them very vulnerable'.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Traffic law possibly may crack down on ....

Driving with the kitchen sink (and cook)?

Advisory: Dos and don'ts

The next advisory is the book 'Dos and don’ts in Cambodia'. Published in 2005 and written by Dr. David Hill, this Thai publishing company provides a different sort of guide with lots of advice with what to do or what not. It's less well known than for instance the Lonely Planet. Considering that Crossing Cambodia is looking into the uniqueness of traffic in Cambodia and what this says of it's culture,possible valuable insights might be available.
A whole chapter is dedicated to 'Traffic – Especially in Phnom Penh.' Some excerpts from this chapter:
'… The traffic in Phnom Penh is a major daily wonder and conversation topic'

'Can the traffic be described best as chaos or anarchy? – you judge…'

'Do remember your breathing and expect chaos and to be challenged by vehicles, pedestrians, cows and other animals coming at you from every direction on all sides of the road at all speeds – although luckily usually slow.'

'Some important survival tips:
Do drive on the right – if you can …remember Khmer never walk so pedestrians are no problem.'

'Do remember the main road rule – might is right … Here’s another rule to see you over an intersection: whoever is in front goes first.

'Don’t think too much.'
What do they mean? In this 'Cambodia for Dummies'?

'Don’t use the pedestrian crossing. …. The Khmer have no idea about them and they are worthless [the crossing, Crossing Cambodia presumes] at best – usually downright dangerous.'

'Don’t drive with your lights on in the daytime as this is only for high officials. Remarkably this is the one rule the police really enforce.'

'Do note that a helmet is advisable. Remember, the traffic is chaos and … lady passengers - side saddle please and do avoid burns – OUCH.'

'Do follow police directions for motorcades. … The these times the traffic police will stop playing cards in the shade of trees or extorting bribes from helpless victims and jump to stop the traffic.'

'Do watch out for the Dream Boys – ‘no brains, no license, no idea, no problem’. Although most people drive slowly – too slowly – there are the young lads on fast motorbikes, like … They love to fly (i.e. drive on the back wheel only down the road) or zigzag in and out of traffic at high speed.'

'Do note that motorbikes are not permitted on Norodom Boulevard in working hours.'

This is not true

'Do know that the police are there for donations. As mentioned earlier, corruption is endemic in Cambodia.'

'Driving licenses are not required to drive motorbikes.'

On being stopped by the police:
'Usually the best advice if driving a motorbike is to power on through and not stop in daytime as the police are just after a bribe and not armed.'

'However at nighttime do stop at police checkpoints and roadblocks'.

The overall impression of this kind of advice is certainly not one of peaceful passiveness. Yes, both 'chaos' and 'anarchy' are used, but 'you judge'? Surely, the above does give the novice the impression that the traffic may be a bit overwhelming in Phnom Penh certainly ...

If you want this publication, it's not easily available outside Cambodia. It's ISBN number is 974-9823-10-9

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Ferry crossing Piphot river

Traffic Police Flee Mob Revisited

From the Khmer440 site, yesterday's monthly Stan Kahn contribution entitled 'Cambodian Traffic Police Flee Mob'. The inspiration for this article stems from an incident back in February, reported in two articles in Crossing Cambodia, here and here. The full contribution can be had on the Khmer 440 site, but here are some sound bytes:
' .... For the police, they must feel overwhelmed by a situation in which obeying traffic rules is voluntary and where they feel so little respect that drivers routinely snub their noses at them. ... In this case I feel police ineptitude is preferable to police abuse, which is common in many places today, including the US. I’ve seen Khmers react with local police in a way that would’ve gotten them busted skulls in a second in America. However, lack of traffic enforcement still leads to frequent traffic jams and the region’s worst traffic accident rate'.

Worst traffic accident rate? Hmmm, the jury is still deliberating on this.

'... But do they [Cambodian road users] also understand that it’s not okay for a dozen vehicles to go through the intersection after the light has turned red? This practice [ignoring traffic lights] is becoming a recipe for gridlock since they will often go through the light even when the way ahead is blocked and then get stuck in the middle of the intersection; sometimes totally blocking traffic in the other direction for the entire time of the green light....

Nevertheless, education and enforcement would definitely reduce the numbers of speeders.

Cambodia has its own rules of right-of-way, actually it’s only one rule: whoever gets there first has priority, and it helps to have a hefty vehicle. This worked well enough in the past when vehicle counts were low, but progressively is breaking down as vehicle density rises.

The problem here is that lack of clear rules of right-of-way result in accidents in the middle of the night as well as rush hour. Let’s say two vehicles are going in opposite directions, with one wanting to make a left turn. If the left turner doesn’t understand that he or she is supposed to yield the right-of-way to the other driver, confusion results. Just that situation happened to a friend, and a crash and a broken arm was the outcome; and that was at 4 am. The first priority is established rules that are widely taught, including public service campaigns in the media and especially in the schools. These kinds of social changes don’t happen overnight.

A few years back in Thailand, I think it was Chaing Mai, I saw large signboards placed at crosswalks warning drivers they were supposed to stop for pedestrians. Crosswalks mean nothing if the rules are not explicit and consistently enforced.

While in Vietnam in 1994, I saw police standing at the curb turning back drivers going against the flow of traffic. Needless to say, Vietnamese police get a lot more respect from their citizenry than their Cambodian counterparts'. ...

So, the lack of law enforcement on Cambodian roads and/or the lack of respect for traffic police are quintessential Cambodian traits? At least that's the conclusion; the richer Thai have learnt more about being courteous in traffic, the Vietnamese have more respect for authoritarianism.
What about the assumption that ineptitude shown by officials in ensuring continuum on Phnom Penh's roads and simultaneously protecting their own from themselves is also a pure Cambodian trait? In the numerous blogs on Crossing Cambodian much reference has been made to how neighbouring national and local authorities cope with the same issues: increasing traffic, safety and enforcement. Is it too soon (nine months after Crossing Cambodia's inception) to start drawing (these) conclusions?

'This [drivers would get the message that there actually was a rule and it was being applied to everyone] would also result in increased respect for the police, the lack of which is a large part of the problem today; scoffing at the rules goes hand to hand with disrespect for the police. The Prime Minister has recently placed the high rate of traffic accidents as one of Cambodia’s biggest challenges. We’ll have to wait and see if that translates into real action to tackle the problem'.
The fact of the matter is that law enforcement needs more than a willing PM. The current PM 'cult' simply implies that if the PM does not take action personally then the situation has the official PM seal. Sound bytes? These are for election purposes or for craving goodwill with financial donors. If the PM really cared, measures would have been enacted long ago. But making sure that the complete law enforcement apparatus works only for him, means simultaneously that they do not work for the common good. Not working for the common good means little or no respect.

On the respect issue, Crossing Cambodia thinks fondly of it's sojourn in Nepal. Respect for police? No worries, just in front of every stop line at the traffic lights was a khaki klad policeman with a big stick, say 1,5m long. This was of course used heavily as a contraption to assist the law officer in standing asleep, but it was also to ensure everybody stopped behind the white line; those ignorant of real intention of the stick soon got the idea if they just inched over the line: the result was no light dodging.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Robin Hood?

For a change the usual source of this story is not Cambodia Daily but the Khmer language Koh Santepheap Newspaper ( March 6, 2007). Apparently, in a reversal of the usual role for traffic police, a traffic policeman was robbed of his motorcycle:
A traffic cop from Phnom Penh city was robbed at gunpoint by 4 thieves who took away his motorcycle. The robbery took place in the middle of traffic when the cop was getting out of work, and he was about to return home. The daring robbery took place in front of the Than pagoda located along the Norodom Boulevard, in Sangkat Boeng Keng Kang 1, Khan Chamcar Mon. The incident occurred at 4:15 AM of 04 March 2007.

According to an anonymous source, the name of the robbed cop is Chan Dara, he is 40-year-old and lives in Takhmao district, Kandal province. The motorcycle robbed was a silver C90 model, bearing the license plate 1986 PP 1. The cop was returning home, he was traveling on the Norodom Boulevard. When he arrived in front of the Than pagoda, two men on a black motorcycle forced him to stop and they pulled a gun to point at him, demanding to take his motorcycle. At the same time, another group of 2 thieves on another black motorcycle threatened the cop and told him not to yell.

When Chan Dara was robbed, he was still wearing his police uniform, however, he was wearing a civilian shirt on top of the uniform shirt. It was probably because of this that the robbers did not know they were robbing a cop.
Now what was the policeman doing at this time of morning (night) and why was security poor on one of the most important stretches of tarmac in Phnom Penh?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Advisory sites: Lonely Planet Trip

One way to gain insight into the culture is to look at what other’s (outsiders) comment. In this respect it might be interesting to view what guidebooks and advisory sites mention. Their expressions tend to more censored, mainstream even. Today Lonely Planet. From their 6th edition published in January 2006:

Road rules

If there are road rules in Cambodia it is doubtful that anyone is following them. Size matters and the biggest vehicle wins by default. The best advice if you drive a car or ride a motorcycle in Cambodia is to take nothing for granted and assume that your fellow motorists are visually challenged psychopaths. Seriously though, in Cambodia traffic drives on the right. There are few traffic lights at junctions in Phnom Penh so most traffic turns left into the oncoming traffic, edging along the left-hand side of the road until a gap becomes apparent. For the uninitiated it looks like disaster waiting to happen, but Cambodians are quite used to the system. Foreigners should stop at crossings and develop a habit of constant vigilance.
Phnom Penh is the one place where, amid all the chaos, traffic police take issue with Westerners breaking even the most trivial road rules. Make sure you don’t turn left on a ‘no left turn’ sign or travel with your headlights on during the day (although strangely, it doesn’t seem to be illegal for Cambodians to travel without headlights at night).
Key words: ‘win by default’, ‘visually challenged psychopaths’ and ‘disaster waiting to happen’.

Elsewhere in the printed version:
The cyclo is fast loosing ground to the moto ....
Warning: Moto drivers and cyclo drivers with little or no English may not understand where you want them to go even though they nod vigorously. This is a particular headache in a big city like Phnom Penh.
From the Lonely Planet internet site:

Road travel is safer than it's been for years, and most of the main roads are now in pretty good shape thanks to international assistance. Train travel is just about possible if you negotiate a space on a cargo service - but the journey will take much longer than by bus. With some 1900km of navigable waterways to utilise, boats play a major role in getting around. The most popular services operate between the capital and Siem Reap - the express service cuts the journey time down to a mere five hours. An effective local bus network makes travel to sights around Phnom Penh much easier than driving, particularly as cars can only be hired with a driver - and when you look at some of the country's highways from hell, perhaps that's all for the best. Taxis are more common in the cities these days, and cyclos and motos (small motorcycles) can be flagged down for short hops.
Clearly the abridged internet version is culturally adapted. But what surprises Crossing Cambodia most is that the no. 1 advantage of internet over a real book is it’s up-to-date-ness. Lonely Planet lags.

Traffic law will crack down on ....


Monday, March 05, 2007

Koh Kong Road

Upgrading with new bridges, here at Totai

An example to others

Despite the previous blog article highlighting how neighbouring countries could provide an example for Cambodia to follow, in this article Phnom Penh is mentioned as the example of how the authorities should act! Well, the country in question is Burma, apparently worse off in economic terms and ruled by highly superstitious and power hungry (some would say despotic) leaders. This article is from a Reuters:
Dash for gas gives Myanmar the bus stop blues

To cut down on costly imports of petroleum, of which Myanmar does not have much, its ruling generals want every vehicle in the country to run on natural gas, of which it has plenty.

However, early signs suggest the scheme is every bit as ill-conceived as Ne Win's whimsical stand against former colonial master Britain, which drives on the left.

Since 2005, the junta has managed to get around 11,000 taxis and buses in Yangon -- most of them decades-old jalopies held together by bits of wire and the ingenuity of their owners -- to convert to compressed natural gas (CNG).

Unfortunately, during this time it has installed only 20 filling stations for a city of five million people.

More unfortunately, the CNG pumps they have installed are so archaic they can take 30 minutes to fill up one vehicle. Even more unfortunately, every time a power blackout strikes -- which is at least once a day -- the pumps grind to a halt.

The result? Buses and taxis are spending longer queuing for fuel than ferrying around passengers. Waits of up to 10 hours are not uncommon, leaving the city's public transport system in disarray. "If you queue late in the afternoon, you get your gas the next morning. If you queue in the morning, you get it late in the afternoon or early in the evening but you can't run during the peak hours," bus owner Ko Kyaw Lin said. "I'm lucky enough to have two brothers who help me taking turns queuing at night and driving the next day," he said while playing checkers with his friends beside the road.


After four decades of military rule and economic mismanagement that have seen the former Burma slide from one of southeast Asia's richest nations to an international basket case, Yangon's residents are used to taking it on the chin. "I spend at least three hours every day at bus stops and on the buses," Internet cafe worker Ma Thein Thein said of her 10 km (6 mile) journey to work.

The long delays are also causing fearful women to stop work or cancel evening classes to avoid being out late at night."We can't stand the looks we get at the bus stop in the evening. Some people look at us as if we're prostitutes," her friend Moe Moe said.The truth is that people have few other travel options. In most other low-income parts of southeast Asia, motorbikes are what keep populations moving, with drivers in cities such as Phnom Penh able to carry a family of four on two wheels.
Can you believe it? Traffic in Phnom Penh referred to as the holy grail? But, is it so good to promote the fact that in Phnom Penh carrying four on a motorbike is possible? Even in Lao it's not allowed ...

In Yangon, however, motorbikes have been banned since 2001. No explanation was given, although the main theories were the junta trying to reduce motorbike traffic accidents or make life difficult for two-wheeled gunmen or students agitators.

New cars are also impossible to find, due to a virtual ban on private citizens importing cars. Only a few hundred import permits are issued each year and go to the military or their business associates.

As result, one of the poorest nations in Asia has some of the most expensive second-hand cars in the world -- a 1980s Nissan Sunny that would hardly be sold for scrap in Bangkok fetches more than $20,000 in the second-hand car bazaars of Yangon.

Myanmar ranks as one of the world's least motorized nations, with two cars for every 1,000 people, according to figures for 2000 from the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington research institute. By contrast, Rwanda had four and Cambodia 47.

According to government data for 2006, there were only 196,000 registered cars, 54,000 trucks and 18,000 buses in the entire country of 52 million.


Not everybody, however, is complaining about Yangon's faltering "dash for gas."

The long queues of bored, hungry and thirsty drivers are a captive market for snack vendors -- and the bigger the queue, the richer the pickings.

They have also created a unique job opportunity for insomniacs.

"I wait in line for people who don't want to stay up all night," said professional queuer Ko Min Aung, who says he can make 2,500 kyat -- around $2 at black market rates -- a night.

"My only sacrifice is a good night's sleep. Right now, I'm queuing for a neighbor who needs to get enough sleep to drive his bus tomorrow morning."

Things can only get better?

Lately in Lao II

Following on the previous story on the announcement that Lao authorities solution to traffic congestion is to opt for imposing one-way traffic flow, the government controlled Vientiane Times comes (for Lao) with a frank and critical article of how after a few days, the system is not working:

One-way system fails to materialize

The Vientiane authority is yet to implement the notice it issued on February 8, initiating a one-way system along the narrow streets running between Fangum Road and Setthathirath Road , set to begin on March 1.

It was clear yesterday that no one using the roads was actually aware of this notice, as traffic continued to run in both directions, and there were no signs in place or police on duty, as the notice indicated there would be, to direct traffic.

Vientiane Times spoke with people using the roads in this part of the city, asking them what they knew of the one-way system. Some said they had heard such a system was to start, but they didn't know when exactly it would be introduced.

“If the one-way system is supposed to begin today, why aren't there any signs or police around to guide people?” one woman said.

Critics said the notice issued by the Vientiane Urban Development Administration Authority (VUDAA) was meaningless, and queried the point of issuing a notice without putting it into practice.

This reporter called a senior VUDAA official several times to ask for clarification, but received the response that the office was busy with a meeting and would address the question at a later time.

As stated in the notice issued on February 8, the streets to become one-way roads begin at the western end of Fangum Road , starting with Chao Anou Road . Traffic will flow from the Mekong banks into town along this road, and on the street running parallel, Francois Ngin Road , traffic will run from the town towards the river.

On the next road along, Norkeokoumman Road , traffic will run from the Mekong into town, on Mantha-toulath Road the flow will be from the town side to the Mekong, and on Pangkham Road the direction of flow will be from the Mekong towards town.

The notice also stated that cars should park on only one side of the road, in accordance with odd and even dates. For example, on odd-numbered dates, cars can be parked on the right side of the road, whereas on even-numbered dates, parking will be on the left.

The problems caused by cars parking on both sides of the road can be seen all over the capital, and is one of the main causes of accidents. Some people park directly under ‘no parking' signs, deliberately disobeying the authorities who installed them.

These signs are useless unless traffic police enforce them. The problem is that people in general ignore traffic regulations. Although people know the rules, they don't obey them, and ignore the need for safety on our roads.

According to the notice, the roads on which the odd and even date parking restrictions will apply include those in the older part of town. The system will also apply to the downtown stretch of Samsaenthai Road , from the traffic lights near Vat Sisaket temple up as far as the Department of Geology and Mines.

Part of Setthathirath Road is also included in the scheme, from Inpeng temple to the Hor Kham (Presidential Palace).

There seems to be no clear plan as to how to solve parking problems in the long term, but this needs to be addressed urgently, as the number of vehicles is increasing every year. In 2006, the number of vehicles registered in Vientiane rose to 225,472.

So, as is the case with Cambodia, economic growth results in increased traffic and unfortunately poor management of the growth. Many countries in the world have tried to cope with this, so these governments only need to look to them for solutions. Countries such as Malaysia and Singapore and the city of Bangkok have developed public transport, often much better than elsewhere in the world and have made strides in restricting access to public roads (the system in Singapore was working years before the system in London, UK; Bangkok has a scheme where certain motorway lanes can only be accessed by vehicles with more than 1 occupant). The highly irregular, hesitant and often contradictory approach by for instance the Cambodian authorities certainly reflects poorly on their position of being elected public servants. Alternatives?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Traffic law will crack down on ...

Motorbikes transporting tables?

Kokh Kong Road

I spy ...

On Crossing Cambodia's way through the city yesterday morning, on the cross road between Sihanouk Boulevard/ Nehru street (215) and Monireth Boulevard, the following curious incident occurred:
A police officer on motorbike comes along Nehru street wanting to go eastward on the Sihanouk Boulevard. The stoplight is red. Next to the light there's a countdown indicator showing how many seconds it takes before green will come up: not bad, it helps the drivers relax. Apparently it was going to take too long for this gentleman, he took a quasi free right turn, sped up to the end of the lane barrier, made an u-turn, drove back to the light and took another semi-legal right turn and continued on in the direction he wanted to.
Leading by example? Probably not, but these traffic light dodgers are common in situations where the traffic is not heavy; why wait if with a little dodging you can continue your way without hardly any delay?

The culprit (without helmet)

Friday, March 02, 2007

What should happen first?

In the ongoing debate concerning the change to Cambodia's traffic, there seems to a lack of consensus as to what should happen. Politicians believe that a new law is the solution, many people believe ensuring proper law enforcement as the solution and today's (March 1, 2007) Cambodia Daily,, Letter to the Editor considers using the constitution...:
'I have noticed that the municipal traffic police fine people based mainly on their appearances ....'
Discrimination no less. Poorer looking people tend to pay more than richer looking people, depending on the colour of their skin / ability to speak the local dialect:
'Foreigners also tend to be charged higher. I do not feel that this is part of The Constitution. I was told this week about three foreign psychologists who drove in the wrong direction and were made to pay 20$US. This is unfair'.
Now, what were three foreigner psychologists doing driving in the wrong direction? Research? Trying to prove that the Khmer traffic police psyche discriminates against foreigners? Then again how is possible that 3 foreign psychologists be together in 1 car (or was it a moto?), surely the chances of this must be very small in Phnom Penh. And does not this throw a different light on the discrimination or were the three poor looking?
'Without proper invoices, I would say we cannot be assured that the penalty fees are being paid into the national budget'.
A well-known fact? Clearly the situation is unclear and with future promises a revolution is required, not less.

Related Posts with Thumbnails