Crossing Cambodia

Sunday, April 29, 2007

From the Agence France Presse and republished on France 24, a depressing (?) article on Phnom Penh' cyclo's.
Cambodia's cyclo drivers pedalling towards extinction

Phnom Penh's crowded streets have become the loneliest of places for the city's cyclo drivers as peddle-power is making way for a faster pace of life in the Cambodian capital.

Increasingly lost amid a sea of cars and scooters known as motor-taxi's, these symbols of perhaps a more genteel era are struggling to remain relevant as Phnom Penh leaps towards modernity.

But that struggle appears to be a losing one, as cyclos -- pedal-driven rickshaws that were ubiquitous across what was once French Indochina -- fall out of favour and their drivers turn in greater numbers to more lucrative work.

"Modern things are coming, so out-of-date things like the cyclo will be gone," complains Khat Soeun, a wiry 43-year-old, as he squats next to his cyclo, bolting a leafspring to his broken vehicle.

On the best days Khat Soeun can make two US dollars -- half what he says he took home only a few years ago.

More often, though, he comes home with less after hours of grinding through the city's streets for just a few cents a ride.

"I cannot make as much money now as I did in the past because there are so many motorcycles and tuk-tuks," he says, referring to the large motor-driven carts that first appeared a few years ago and have begun to dominate public transport.

"We can't compete with them -- they are machines and go faster," he adds.

"Many drivers have changed from pedalling cyclos to driving motor-taxi's instead."

Roughly 2,500 cyclos plied the streets of Phnom Penh in 2004, according to a survey conducted by the Cyclo Centre, which opened in 1999 to help drivers cope with their changing world by providing English lessons, healthcare information, free haircuts and laundry facilities.

That figure was down from 10,000 reported more than a decade ago.

"But nowadays there are only some 800 to 900 cyclo drivers pedalling the streets," says Im Sambath, the centre's project director.

"We are really worried about the future of cyclos," he tells AFP.

First introduced to Cambodia in 1936, the cyclo soon became a iconic part of Phnom Penh's city-scape. They still have a small, loyal following of mostly elderly customers who are put off by the sometimes hair-raising driving of motor-taxi drivers, known locally as "motodops".

Cyclos also remain popular with foreigners seeking a slow turn around the capital's tourist spots, but the drivers remain among the poorest city residents.
"It's my family's rice bowl, what I can make allows us to survive, but just day-to-day," Khat Soeun says.

In recent years the Cyclo Centre has tried to re-ignite the love affair with cyclos, advertising them to tourists as cheap, environmentally-friendly transport and organising fund-raising "rallies" from Phnom Penh to distant provincial capitals.

"Our main target is to help the poor drivers to make a better living -- give them better information about health, urge them to quit smoking or inform them about issues like domestic violence," Im Sambath says.

The centre also offers drivers a rent-to-own plan that allows them to acquire their own second-hand cyclo for roughly 50 dollars after leasing it for about six months.

Drivers are otherwise forced to pay 50 cents a day to rent their cyclos from other operators, or borrow the 120 dollars it costs to buy a new one.

Cyclos "help poor and illiterate people feed their families," Im Sambath says, adding: "The cyclo is very important to us -- it's part of our culture."

But the number of cyclos on the road is still "decreasing every day," says 41-year-old driver Va Thorn, a regular at the centre for three years who frequently uses his welding talents to fix broken cyclos for other drivers at discounted prices.

"The cyclo is really under threat, I'm afraid they'll disappear from Cambodia," he warns.

But better roads and a middle-class preference for motor vehicles has perhaps made their disappearance inevitable, says Chuch Phoeurn, a secretary of state with the Ministry of Culture.

"Cyclos are disappearing because society is changing," he says, adding: "When people have easier ways to get around, they'll abandon cyclos."
So, those are the trends? Possibly reversing the trends can be possible if the cyclo's are (re-) discovered for tourism. For instance, Khmer Architecture Tours regularly have tours of architectural sites of Phnom Penh by cyclo:
Central Phnom Penh by cyclo

This tour explores central Phnom Penh and includes Colonial buildings as well as modern, post-independence architecture. Meant to be a brief introduction to the city, the tour includes a selection of well-known buildings as well as some less obvious examples.

Traveling by cyclo is a special way of experiencing the streets and buildings of the city; we aim to enter some buildings and see others from the pavement or the cyclo. We explore the district around the old Post Office, then go south to the area south-east of the Central Market.
We start at 8.30am and aim to return after around 2.5 - 3hrs including a short drinks stop;15 adult places. Cost is $10 per person including the cyclo hire and English speaking guides. Children are free if they share a cyclo with an adult.

Newspaper boys

A recent phenomenon in Phnom Penh: boys selling newspapers at busy intersections

Friday, April 27, 2007

Building roads ...

Yesterday's mention that Cambodia is lagging behind it's neighbours in the amount of paved roads as reported in the Cambodia Weekly has met with an instant reaction. That is, if we are to believe this report by Xinhua on the KI Media site.
Cambodia to invest 2.5 bln USD to develop road system

The Cambodian government will invest 2.5 billion U.S. dollars to develop the kingdom's road system from now to 2025, an official said on Tuesday.

"Developing road system is a main factor for helping reduce poverty in this country, because people can transport their products to sell in markets. Roads will make them feel easy to travel and communicate between city and rural areas," said Sun Chan Thol, Minister of Public Works and Transportation.

The budget will also help improve transportation safety in the country, he said, while addressing his ministry's annual work review.

"We are considering to find aid and loan from the Asian Bank of Development, the World Bank and the Australian government of about 42 million U.S. dollars to facilitate the plan," he added.

During last week's Khmer New Year, some 50 people died and over 300 were injured in road accidents, which have become the third largest killer for the Cambodians after AIDS and mines, according to statistics released along the meeting.
Well, if someone has got 2.5 billion on the side ...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Cambodian weekly II

Elsewhere in issue no. 12, the Cambodian Weekly focuses on the Cambodian cycling team who are participating in a 14-stage race held currently in Vietnam and Cambodia. They are setting their sights high. The secretary general of Cambodian Cycling Federation, Van Than, mentions:
"My biggest wish is not that the team will win [unlikely?], however that would be nice, but that they finish the race on their bikes, not in support vehicle".
Team Cambodia: on yer bikes!

The section business news briefs has the following caption:
Vietnam has road deaths epidemic: WHO
Some report has been studying 'human loss in traffic accidents, which has become national epidemic'. Crossing Cambodia does not precisely know what the WHO understands under an epidemic (more than person dies of bird flu?), but it seems a bit over the top. And as if the human tragedy is not enough, the 'Asian Development Bank estimate that US$885 million is lost from Vietnam's economy every year because of traffic accidents'. That's a lot of money, even to the ADB (who really only care about the money) and let's thank ADB for putting this into numbers. How much did the report cost? Will the ADB now refrain from funding roads? Doctor thinks not, lip service was what was demanded.

Furthermore in the business section of the Cambodia Weekly, the 'table of the week'! Exciting! The Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) has supplied two(!) tables (from their Cambodia Investment Guide Book (can't be that voluminous)) concerning Cambodia's standing, internationally, on road density (paved) which is 0.011 (apples?). Thailand has 8 times more paved roads, Vietnam six times more. this despite the three countries having roughly the same amount of dirt tracks. Relevance to readers?
The second table reports on modes of transport. Without Crossing Cambodia mentioning CDC are off their rockers, how can they claim that 20% of all passengers (are persons) use the railways! Maybe they haven't be let in on the secret, that the railway system is defunct. ADB to the rescue!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Cambodia Weekly

A new-ish publication in Cambodia is the Cambodia Weekly, which is no relative of the Cambodia Daily. In it's already 12th issue, it delves up quite a few stories on transport in Cambodia. Unfortunately their web-site is under construction which means that Crossing Cambodia has to blatantly copy the articles.

Let's look at the editorial. Someone by the name of Hang 'Sunny' Sunleng writes a 'personal dispatch':

'The rules of the road have changed, let's follow them

I have three rules of driving in Cambodia. The first is compromise. I let people overtaking me in speeding land cruisers or dangerously weaving through the traffic on their motorbikes endangering their lives and others pass me by. The second is to be aggressive. When intersections are clogged with motobikes and big trucks [in general there are no big trucks in Phnom Penh], I have to be aggresssive, otherwise I will never cross. The third is it's anarchy. I figure if I can't beat them, I'll have to join the anarchistic game that passes for driving here'.
So his ingredients: as a traffic participant be a compromising aggressive anarchist!
'This year I celebrate my 10th year of driving in Cambodia.

After traveling on the treacherous roads during Khmer New Year I am still appalled and shocked by the amount of irresponsible drivers.

There were 270 accidents during Khmer New Year - slightly more than last year- 54 people died and another 259 were severely injured, according to the Ministry of Interior figures.

The main cause of these accidents was human error including illegal speeding [is there no legal speeding? CC], drunk driving and dangerous passing, according to Meas Chandy, road safety project officer of the Road Traffic and Victim Information System.

Until last year, no license was even required to drive a motorbike.

On Dec. 20 [2006] the president of the National Assembly H.E. Heng Samrin signed the new traffic law, which contains 12 chapters and 95 articles. Now according to the law, the minimum age to drive a motorbike is 16 years.

While this new traffic law is an important step forward, there is a long way to go to put it into practice.

For instance, article 43 of the Traffic Law determines that a driver loses his licence after receiving 12 demerit points. One point is deducted for a light infraction and eight points for more severe infractions. It sounds great, but like any other law, without strict implementation and enforcement, it is rendered ineffective'.
This surely can not be true. If anything non-bookkeeping and / or book cooking are national past-times. Everyone in the position will ( or already does) rewrite his or her history. And when you lose your license you just buy a new one!
'Every day I hear the radio and newspaper [read the newspaper?] reports on traffic accidents that result in casualties and property damage. Clearly, these high tolls remain unchanged.

But what is most unfortunate is that the majority of casualties are farmers, students and workers [that covers most of Cambodia's citizens, the only exceptions are politicians and business persons] and that the major causes of these accidents are speeding and alcohol, both of which are preventable'.
He then goes on about the difficulties he had in obtaining a driving licence in Canada where he has apparently lived for twenty years, despite already possessing a Cambodian license when entering Canada.
'I think if we followed some basic principles of traffic safety like following the speed limit, not driving under the influence, using turn signals, wearing helmets on motobikes, crossing the street in the crosswalk and limiting the number of passengers in vans, it would be a huge step forward toward safer roadways for everyone'.
Could it really be this simple? Speed limits are non-existent. Driving under the influence: no breath analysis testers. Using turn signals: lights often not work and if they do, this is certainly the last thing a Cambodian Driver would use. Wearing helmets: yeah; simple to control, a large contribution to ensuring safety during accidents. Crosswalks: as mentioned previously in this blog it is perceived by Cambodians a crazy thing to do, walk that is; no need for cross walks, just places for (legal) u-turns. Vans overloaded? What about taxi's? Moto's? Remorques? Tuk=tuks?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ignorance: Re: Creativity III

Back in February Crossing Cambodia reported on a new toll road in Mondulkiri. So new in fact that high provincial officials were unaware of it ('not officially informed') and only realized that they had to pay as well.

Well, as Crossing Cambodia was in Mondulkiri last week, it was decided to look into this matter. The road is a 15 km section of the road between the main provincial capital of Sen Monorom and Bou Sra, arguably the site of Cambodia's highest waterfall. The terrain of the road is hilly with some flatter area'sand some steep descents / ascents. The company has done a good job, the road is wide and though still being graveled it is very passable. The tariff looks quite high especially in view of the charges for the nearly 200 km stretch of national highway between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. But the previous situation was deplorable, only passable with motorcycles apparently and big 4 wheel drives. The poster which the company had hung up at the toll booth goes a certain way to justifying their need for toll as a reward for improving the road.

Despite this it must be said that most roads in the province were in good, even excellent condition; with the exception of the main link road to Snoul (and thus the rest of the country) which was need of rejuvenation. That said it could be worse, but maybe a potential investor might want to invest in a new road?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Road to Mondulkiri

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Balancing the Khmer New year Celebrations

With Khmer New Year finally behind us, there is a flurry of reports on how well the New Year went, or not as it happens, accident wise that is. Friday's (20-04-2007) Cambodia Daily reported that the preliminary data report one less death than last year, 54 in total. However these data, are based on police reports; apparently there are additional non-police reported deaths which are added to above data compiled from hospital records. This does however reflect poorly on the traffic police's work; if they can not even be entrusted to compile reports on accidents whereby death results, what is their use?

In spite of the mention made in the Cambodia Daily of 14 April 2007, whereby 'even' the municipal traffic police chief spent time directing traffic out of town (Phnom Penh is deserted during Khmer New Year), during the festive period traffic police were largely absent, so how do this reflect on the Road Safety Week? Well, as stated two weeks back here in Crossing Cambodia the Road Safety Week was the week before Khmer New Year, not including the celebration days. The police need a day or two/three off.

Anyway yesterday in Mondulkiri Crossing Cambodia witnessed the traffic police back in business: manning a corner at the entrance to the province's only one-way street and lecturing the unfortunate who stop and accepting their contribution to their (traffic polices') good cause. A military motorcyclist in uniform and with machine gun slung on his back (was Vietnam immenently going to invade?) simply ignored the traffic police. There is a hierarchy in Cambodia.

Over in Lao the same celebrations have resulted in less deaths, 17 deaths versus 32 in 2006. How come?
' “The reduction in this year's accident rate is because the police force in all provinces has been inspecting all major routes, checking speeding, drink driving and the wearing of helmets. So this year, the accidents have mostly occurred on urban roads,” Captain Bounthan (Deputy Head of the Office of the Traffic Police Department) said.

"The police worked 24 hours throughout the weekend", he added.

"The cause of accidents was mainly drivers drinking and not obeying traffic regulations", he said'.
Thanx to the Vientiane Times for their good tidings. Can Cambodia learn from Lao? Clearly there is something to be said for having more police during the days rather than less.

The same (more police police required to ensure road safety) seems to have been on the cards in Thailand. Despite the six days of Thai New Year leaving 318 dead and 4,100 injured, the police were out in force:
'In the six days (April 11-16), 2.4 million vehicles were stopped at checkpoints nation-wide and 41,696 motorists found to have breached traffic laws. Most failed to present driver's licences, wear helmets or seatbelts'.
Do the same in Cambodia, 99.9% will not have a license, 99.9 will not have helmets (compulsory in Thailand) and 99.9% will not be wearing seatbelts. In spite of all the trouble the Thai went to, it only resulted in slightly less deaths (-10%) and a few more injured. Worth it?

Chhlong, Kratie province

Friday, April 13, 2007

Warning: New Year

Phnom Penh
"City Hall would like to urge people, especially teenagers and students to keep a good attitude .... and not to beat or hit pedestrians and motorcycle drivers which could cause traffic accidents and could result in the loss of lives".
Phnom Penh Municipality statement dated April 4. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Australian Celebrates Road Safety Week in Style

Two articles in the Cambodia Daily of 10 April, 2007 placed under each other (coincidence?) draw attention to a campaign to limit Khmer New Year celebration traffic accidents and exposing the drunken (?) deeds of an Australian.
'Cambodia's first-ever Road Safety Week, ... was launched Saturday in an effort to curb the high [er?] rate of traffic accidents during the upcoming Khmer New Year and in general nationwide'.
'Over the three day stretch of Khmer New Year in 2006 nearly four times as many people died daily ...'.
'"Road casualties increase by 15 percent every year" he [Chum Iek, secretary for state for the Transport Ministry] said'.
Then the article sums up the new traffic law offenses and implications:
'The new law requires all motorbike drivers to wear a helmet as well as possess a driver's license. It also clearly lists penalties for drunk driving that range from fines of about $1.50 to $250 or six months in jail'.
It's here were the relevance of the other article kicks in. The Cambodia Daily goes out of it's way to report on a case of minor damage but caused by an Australian, identified as a mining company employee, which adds to the glee as it's not a development expat nor an English teacher, the major sections of Cambodia's Daily readers.
The offense:
'... allegedly plowed a late-model Lexus into three cars, two motorcycles and a building ... before slamming into a tree ... in the early hours of Saturday morning'.
And then the police: The report was brought by a
'municipal traffic police official who helps broker disputes stemming from car crashes'.
An official car crash broker?
'Although the driver appeared to be drunk at the wheel, no charges will be laid against him because he voluntarily reported the incident to the police'.
'One of the three cars that were damaged belonged to Phnom Penh's Deputy Police Chief Pol Phietthey'.
' ... "we [Khampuchea Shipping Agency and Brokers] want the person who made the damage to pay", adding that around $100 worth of damage was done to the building'.
Was that all? Why then does this article concerning the crash warrant more words than the Road Safety Week?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Vrom Vietnam: helmet status

The shiny star, that's Vietnam ,seems to be leading Cambodia in more than just economic terms (but not in democrazy). A seminar in Saigon, ten days back has kicked off a number of press clippings on helmet safety. Here the Vietnam News:
Helmets could be mandatory under new law in HCM City

'... "All of the 997 people killed in HCM City motorbike accidents last year were not wearing helmets," said head of the city’s Road Traffic Police Department Phan Van Thinh.

... According to a representative of the Asian Injury Prevention Foundation, Mirjam Sidik, the number of casualties in motorbike accidents ranks third among health risks around the world, far above the 10th-placed HIV/AIDS pandemic'.
Mindboggling, is there a top ten? What about car accidents?
'... There are currently only 18 city roads on which helmets are required, but the new plan may be implemented by the end of the year, though city authorities say they are waiting for a "suitable time".

Phuong told the seminar that current regulations requiring helmets on a certain number of streets in the city had not been enforced properly due the large number of offenders and the lack of traffic enforcement personnel.

"There are too many offenders for traffic wardens to handle," said Thinh from the Road Traffic Police Department.

"The fines levied on violators, ranging from VND20,000-40,000 (US$1.25-2.5), are too light," Phuong said. "And the fact that we have lifted laws requiring violators’ vehicles to be detained for 10 days has not helped the problem."

He said the city would work to impose higher fines on those not wearing helmets on the current mandatory routes to VND80,000-100,000 ($5-6.25)'.
So poor laws result in poor law enforcement. Better a half cooked plan than none? Legislators looking for excuses, sounds familiar. What more can we learn?Indeed, many residents give questionable excuses for not wearing helmets, such as: the rules are not enforced, the helmets look ugly, they are uncomfortable or mess up their hair'.
'... Lawyer Nguyen Van Hau from the city’s Bar Association said that many helmets are weak and poorly designed and suggested that many residents don’t wear helmets because finding a place for it when not riding is a hassle.
Crossing Cambodia would think that after an accident their hair might be messed up.

Thahn Nien News reports this:
' ... The "Wear A Helmet - No Excuses" campaign, launched by Asia Injury Prevention Foundation and Vietnam's National Traffic Safety Committee, aims to increase people's awareness on the importance of wearing helmets.

Last year, 14,000 Vietnamese people died and 30,000 were injured from road crashes in Vietnam.

... According to the National Traffic Safety Committee, 76 percent of brain trauma cases are caused by traffic accidents, and up to 98 percent of the accident victims hospitalized were not wearing helmets.

... Vietnam now requires helmets to be worn on national highways, but not in cities or on country roads. A proposed nationwide helmet law in 2001 met with popular opposition'.
Despite immediate attention required, authorities prefer to sit back. Now why would an NGO need to set up such campaigns? Why isn't the same happening here in Cambodia?

Well, in other news, there were other problems in Saigon to be dealt with. Power shortages lead to load shedding, lead to traffic lights not working, lead to traffic jams which the police could not control
' Major Phan Van Xi, head of the traffic police squad No 4, said even with prior information about the cuts, regulating traffic would be difficult because of the skyrocketing vehicle numbers'.
Are Vietnamese vehicles skyrocketing? Now that would solve a problem: from two-dimensional to three dimensional.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Traffic Crime

In the fortnightly update on crime and traffic as reported in Cambodian newspapers Koh Santepheap and Rasmei Kampuchea and translated and (re-) published by the Phnom Penh Post just the two mentions.

A hit, kill, and steal reported on March 28 at 5.30 in the morning on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Furthermore a student
... was shot and wounded while driving his motorbike ...
At 3.30 in the morning on same date as above. Added to this information was:
... shot in the bottom [Ouch! Was he not sitting on the motorcycle?] with a K-54 handgun by an unknown man who escaped in his car. He [the victims friend] said the man [culprit] was probably angry after Theara [the victim] tried to overtake his car.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Cambodia, ahead of the times

In spite of the many Crossing Cambodia postings, shall we say deploring the traffic situation in Cambodia, could it just possibly be that in fact Cambodia is setting a new trend and from becoming a laggard in aspects of enforcing traffic rules (let alone in enforcing the traffic law) to becoming a trendsetter?

German magazine 'der Spiegel' in it's English language section published an article last November under the header of
'Controlled Chaos. European Cities do away with Traffic Signs'.
The Europeans are (they think) wading into unchartered territories:

'We reject every form of legislation ...'
This revolutionary idea is brought up in the first paragraph. But little do the Europeans know that the idea already exists, in ... Cambodia.
'European traffic planners are dreaming of streets free of rules and directives'.
No need to dream, come to Cambodia! But:
'They [European traffic planners] want drivers and pedestrians to interact in a free and humane way, as brethren -- by means of friendly gestures, nods of the head and eye contact, without the harassment of prohibitions, restrictions and warning signs'.
This is where reality kicks in; bye, bye dream. Can Cambodians' interaction in road traffic be called 'humane'? How many friendly gestures, nods and eye contact do you get?
But what is meant by controlled chaos in reality?

'Stop signs and direction signs are nowhere to be seen. There are neither parking meters nor stopping restrictions. There aren't even any lines painted on the streets'.
Same, same! Now the amateur psychologist:
"The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate. We're losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior," says Dutch traffic guru Hans Monderman, one of the project's co-founders. "The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people's sense of personal responsibility dwindles."
Um..., has Hans ever been in Cambodia? Is traffic in Cambodia 'socially responsible'?
Should we now not stop improving the traffic flow via law (enforcement)? Because if the social responsibility will 'dwindle', what's next?
But let's let the author explain further:
'Psychologists have long revealed the senselessness of such [German traffic sign postings] exaggerated regulation. About 70 percent of traffic signs are ignored by drivers. What's more, the glut of prohibitions is tantamount to treating the driver like a child and it also forments resentment. He may stop in front of the crosswalk, but that only makes him feel justified in preventing pedestrians from crossing the street on every other occasion. Every traffic light baits him with the promise of making it over the crossing while the light is still yellow'.
Interesting. So, if you put up a sign you are actually teasing the traffic user. Com'on, I dare you to take a u-turn! In Germany there might be good law enforcement meaning that everybody complies, but in Cambodia putting up a signboard literally means an invitation to go up the wrong way on a 1-way street. That's why. Now Crossing Cambodia undertstands!
But this being Germany there must be someone willing to uphold humanity's faith in the German ideals:

'They [guru Hans and his followers] demand streets like those during the Middle Ages, when horse-drawn chariots, handcarts and people scurried about in a completely unregulated fashion. ...
If clear directives are abandoned, domestic rush-hour will turn into an Oriental-style bazaar, he [Michael Schreckenberg of Duisburg University] warns'.
It may sound like chaos, it may resemble the Middle Ages, let's call it Cambodia? And what's wrong with Oriental-style bazaar's? We at Crossing Cambodia luv' them!

Well, the Americans, ever trying to be hip were on to this earlier. At least according to Wired magazine: Roads gone wild!

Here Hans Monderman is no traffic guru, but a traffic engineer. The article dates December 2004, so maybe he became a guru in the two years.
'Monderman and I [the author] stand in silence by the side of the road a few minutes, watching the stream of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians make their way through the circle, a giant concrete mixing bowl of transport. Somehow it all works'.
Yes, it does work, why not? But on West Palm Beach, USA, the article looks at :
The old ways of traffic engineering - build it bigger, wider, faster - aren't going to disappear overnight.
But, but that's exactly what the Cambodia government is striving for. Can they be wrong? We'll find out, somewhere down the track, 10, 20 years?

Now Wired gives the exact recipe:

How to Build a Better Intersection: Chaos = Cooperation
1. Remove signs: The architecture of the road - not signs and signals - dictates traffic flow.
2. Install art: The height of the fountain indicates how congested the intersection is.
Does an Independence Monument count? An age old fake bridge on Norodom? An ancient temple complex?
3. Share the spotlight: Lights illuminate not only the roadbed, but also the pedestrian areas.
No can do, we need the electricity to illuminate the tv and crank the karaoke machine. Bad idea.
4. Do it in the road: Cafe's extend to the edge of the street, further emphasizing the idea of shared space.
In Cambodia everybody does it on the road, ... oh not that. But extending to the edge of street, yes, beyond the edge, yes, and if you don't have the space for a party, simply annex the street.
5. See eye to eye: Right-of-way is negotiated by human interaction, rather than commonly ignored signs.
A big no-no, you see eye to eye, you lose. No in Cambodia we get by, by ignoring all the rest of us.
6. Eliminate curbs: Instead of a raised curb, sidewalks are denoted by texture and color.
What about eliminating streets? Or eliminating sidewalks all together? There's no merit in them.

Well, what an interesting article(s); so is Cambodia really ahead of time? Are traffic signs useful? Is law enforcement needed?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Advisory sites: Tourists Impressions II

On the urbanlowdown site ('the travel guide on the inside' (of what?)) a bit of advice on Cambodia, for instance a traffic primer on Phnom Penh:
I am alternately bemused and terrified when I see newcomers to Cambodia tooling around on their rented motos [Honda Dream?] or dirt bikes. At best, they'll wind up breaking some of the bizarre traffic rules that are actually enforced and be conned out of too much money. At worse, they'll have an accident, which unfortunately are common and increasing all the time. It may be too hot and too sweaty, but please wear a helmet.
What a great piece of advice: wear a helmet while on a motorcycle. Are not all traffic rules bizarre? Are Cambodian traffic police con-artists?
Protect Yourself
It goes without saying that a helmet is a necessity. The pace of traffic may seem slow, but you won't be sitting so smugly for long if after falling at 20 kilometers an hour (painful but do-able) your head is promptly run over by a [Toyota] Camry.
The streets of Phnom Penh are extremely dusty, especially during periods of intermittent rains which wash mud onto the paved roads that, when dried, can wreak havok on your eyes. And your nose and lungs for that matter. Buy some cheap clear sunglasses ($2-$3 just about anywhere) and ride tear-free.
Umm, this is slightly outdated: Phnom Penh's roads are not extremely dusty, only a little bit!
Road Rules
It may seem like no one knows what they're doing on the streets of Phnom Penh, and you're probably right. Traffic is chaotic, and while some swear there is a logic to it, at the end of the day it's really just every man for himself.
'Traffic is chaotic', but 'logic'.
The rule of thumb is to keep your eyes everywhere. At the same time. Always. Turning your head to look left or right when crossing traffic wastes valuable time; during the split second that you eyes are averted, a speeding land cruiser could be barreling down on you before you know it, so keep your head straight and make the most of peripheral vision.
It's common to drive along the wrong side of the street, waiting for a break in traffic in order to swing over and continue. Be especially careful of cars and motos that will turn left from side streets directly into your lane from the opposite direction. This is particularly bad at night, when that vague blur suddenly becomes a Honda Dailem with no brakes and a mound of chickens [isn't it a coop of chickens?] tied to the seat.
I try to stay away from the center lane as much as possible, since it's very common for cars and motos to overtake on busy streets by swerving into oncoming traffic, and during rush hour there's not a lot of room to maneuver, even for motos.

If You Get into an Accident
It's your fault. No matter what happened or how, you are at fault and will be asked to pay. This can be a very tricky situation, and you'll have to play it by ear. Obviously, if you are hurt, there's not much you'll be able to do anyway. If you are at fault, you probably should pay something, though it?s best to do that BEFORE the police arrive, as they'll ask for payment too. You can always do it the a la Khmer, which is to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. This may not be morally ideal, but neither is having to pay for having your leg broken. Or worse.

Traffic Police
The traffic police seem to go hot and cold about stopping people, except when it concerns left turns on to streets where it's not allowed and driving with your headlights on (apparently only government officials and military are allowed to do this). Otherwise, it's best to stay towards the middle of the road wherever you see lot's of police idling on the corner - sometimes they'll 'ticket' you simply for stopping. I mean, if you stopped, you MUST have done something wrong, right?

If You Get Caught
The police will sometimes work in two's or three's to create a cordon to stop drivers. If you really can't avoid them, pull off to the side of the road and remove the keys yourself (before they do) and remain sitting on the moto. Official traffic fees are usually 2500 riel and should come with a receipt, but you may be asked for as much as $20. If you have a little patience (don't get angry) you can bargain your way down. A dollar will usually do it, though if you are prepared to make a fuss, they may just wave you on your way. Then again, they may not.
On tuk-tuks:
Now, I'm all for cruising around Phnom Penh on my hoo-ride (100cc Honda Dailem), not only for the pleasure of the cruising, but also the sincere relief I feel at not having to bother with motodops 500 times a day.
For those of you who are passing through (and who rightly fear attempting to force fate's hand and drive yourselves) you will need to sort out some sort of reliable transportation, and my money is on a tuk tuk.
Tuk tuk's are a comfortable and more leisurely way of getting the city around while you chill out for a few days. Sorting out a tuk tuk is a bit more problematic than the ubiquitous moto. Firstly, they are more expensive - how much so depends on your bargaining skills. A short trip that by moto may cost you 2000 riel (50 cents), will cost at least double that on a tuk tuk. Secondly, sorting out reliable transportation over a couple of days is difficult because, well, you don't know anyone.
On moto's, well actually renting a motorcycle:
Before you try your luck on the streets, there are a few things you should look out for first:
* Make sure your moto has a current traffic tax sticker. If it doesn't, ask them to put one on.
* Be sure to check the brakes - the front ones too.
* Motos don't usually come with mirrors, as they usually get swiped fairly quickly, but if you would feel more comfortable, ask if they have any spares.
* A basket is very convenient to have, and Lucky! Lucky! usually has some extras laying around.

Your moto will have exactly 2 drops of gasoline in the tank - the first thing you should do is go to a nearby gas station and fill up. It is best to avoid the roadside gas stands (sold by the liter out of coke bottles), since the gas there is usually diluted with other solvents which won't do your motor any good.
Finally, if you do run into a problem, call them. They are usually very good about sending a mechanic out to see what the problem is. If it can't be fixed very quickly, they will provide you with another moto. BE SURE TO CHECK THE GAS TANK FIRST! The most common call they get for moto trouble is from people (your truly included) who simply ran out of gas.

Life in the slow lane

Despite the obvious attractions in Cambodia, such as being hit by a Ferrari while driving a Honda Dream, other countries are stimulating other directions: Lao seems well positioned for bicycling. Well, at least this article from last week's Bangkok Post mentions the possibility. The article is titled
'Luang Prabang by bike'.
It mentions amongst others being 'flashed' Lao style, with a smile that is. The author though seems to be a bit out of touch with reality, an old-fashioned romantic:
'At one restaurant I saw Laotian males sipping foreign liquor, while teenagers buzzed around on spanking new motorcycles'.

Advisory sites: tourists impressions

Concerning motorcycling renting and driving in Cambodia, Brandon and Amy on Gonomad (travel site with 11,000 (!) visits per day) advise the following:
The Law
No need to be worried, paranoid, or fearful of cops who nap in hammocks.
Let's not exaggerate
Driving Guidelines & Advice
My [CC: I thought there were two authors] best advice for people familiar to Western driving standards is to start your trip by erasing all preconceived notions and habits. Cambodian roads are not for people who fiddle with their cell phones, adjust the air conditioning vents, shuffle through CDs, and need to apply make-up at stoplights.
In Cambodia, common sense, defensive driving, and a healthy sense of adventure will safely guide you to your destination. Speed limits do not have any relevance. What might be a dot in your mirror can instantly turn into a car just four feet off your back tire. No stoplights or stop signs. Choose a path carefully, and stick to it. Everyone else will hopefully go around you. Motorists generally drive on the right, the same as in the United States. When there is a dotted or solid line separating the lanes, disregard it just as everyone else does.
It is advisable to drive hugging the shoulder of the road. Large buses and semi trucks do not slow down, but they do warn with manic [CC: Manic? Clear example of an individual who has never been to Vietnam or South Asia] honking to get out of the way. When there is oncoming traffic, they will pass vehicles in their own lanes.

At first, the honking might scare you like gunshots from hunters firing rounds at deer across a valley. Recognize the sound as a friendly hello, and as soon as you hear the first honk, move quickly to the edge of the road.

Even though I recommend driving on the shoulder, there are exceptions. Always be aware of side roads and driveways that intersect the road on which you are traveling. Drivers will not stop or even look to see what vehicles are already on the road. Traffic will pull out right in front of you, so be ready to slam on your brakes, especially if you hear the honking of a semi truck directly behind you.
In most industrialized countries, motorists only need to be concerned with scared cats, lost dogs or suicidal squirrels. A worst-case scenario is you squash someone’s pet and leave a note of apology. In Cambodia, the roads are a long, winding, petting zoo. A motorist must be prepared to swerve, slow to a crawl, or completely stop for goats, pigs, cows, water buffalo, and elephants.
The authors have rented a Honda Dream (1), so already half of all animals have to break for them! Can't imagine a situation whereby a Honda Dream needs to break for an animal in Cambodia.
Road Conditions
The roads are as unpredictable as the animals. Be prepared for leisurely paved roads, a scattering of large potholes on hard-packed dirt roads, and the front tire wandering along loose sand and gravel roads.
Not really revealing though. Then again the same authors produce a blog on omelets consumed along the way. In Phnom Penh:
'I see a broken egg and no breakfast served'
Ummm, interesting? Waste of cyber space?
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