Crossing Cambodia

Friday, October 26, 2007

Synopsis of more than a year of postings

After more than a year of putting up posts on the subject of traffic and Cambodia, it’s time to look into more depth into the intentions which formed part of the reason for starting up this blog. The exact idea was as follows. It’s is an exact copy of the sub-head, which came with this site for the past year:
Crossing Cambodia is an exploration of the various methods the Cambodian population uses to get to their destination, be it on a regular basis or irregular such as travelling upcountry. With this exploration Crossing Cambodia hopes to provide more insight in the relation between transport and society. Crossing Cambodia believes that the difference between cultures/traffic habits in various countries is an important aspect in the development process.
Mostly the above has been answered, but fear not, Crossing Cambodia will remain in part to provide visitors with up to date information on Cambodia’s travel infrastructure, the way it’s being used and the most recent developments concerning legality of moving around Cambodia.

During this year long trek along various Cambodian traffic aspects, the following are the most significant:

• current traffic habits and the lack of law enforcement.

• the haphazard method of implementing traffic rules and regulations by both police and government officials.

• the lack of foresight in solving traffic problems.

• the way Cambodia lets the playing field (policies on traffic issues) be dictated by foreign institutes.

These aspects are very much at the forefront of the general overall development process, at least those as perceived by western donor nations: lawless land grabbing, corruption everywhere and the lack of targeting the unprivileged (rural) poor. So, naturally the conclusion must be that traffic situations are very much related to society.

In Crossing Cambodia’s first blog (posted on the sixth of June 2006, we’re at posting no. 275 by now, 24 October 2007), it’s mentioned that the nature of traffic in Cambodia is
‘Chaotic, anarchic, odd’.
Is this true?

  • Chaotic? Yes, not only this site has given ample space to this aspect, it’s backed up by many other opinions ventilated on other websites, so it must be true. In total 10 postings refer to Cambodian traffic being chaotic.
  • Anarchic? Yes, same explanation as for chaotic. But as anarchic refers to a certain political aspect (or lack of it), just the three postings mentioning anarchic.
  • Odd? Hmmm, more peculiar wouldn’t you think? But still the word odd has popped up in 8 postings.

Other distinctions from the very first posting mentioned were: forward looking (in the sense of no looking back), class distinctive (shiny happy people first), risky. All have been proven to be true, more or less.

But would you use these terms to describe Cambodian culture in general? Crossing Cambodia believes so. Especially the on-going saga of traffic law and enforcement (or the failure to enforce) proves the above mentioned points. Everybody agrees with the chaotic and anarchic attitude. Most of this is brought about by the need to attain short term gain over any long term gain. This lack of long term thinking permeates the whole society, Crossing Cambodia can’t explain why, it’s just the way it is. If a new traffic law could ensure a more structured way in which traffic moves in Cambodia, everybody stands to win. However law enforcers are heavily influenced by the need to take class into the equation when apprehending an offender. The offender though counts on this, so the more expensive a car looks, the less he will need to go by the rulebook. Society in Cambodia is very much the same. The more money one has or the higher their function, the less they tend to stay within the limits of the law or, even better, use the law to justify their actions. Who will apprehend them? No one, they are the law or at least the main source of funding of the law. It’s more or less the same.

To anyone who disagrees with this, Crossing Cambodia would like to point to neighbouring countries, where traffic situations are different, partially due to development (Thailand, Malaysia), but more due to culture. Why is law abiding practiced in Lao, but not in Cambodia. Why can Vietnam pursue compulsory helmet use, but Cambodia not?

Probably, relating traffic to culture / society is an easy task, however moving one up, by say how can things get better, is something more complex. It takes some guts to try to improve things. Possibly, that what’s missing in Cambodian culture, guts to take decisions not knowing whether you can get away with them. Plenty of guts are shown by those in command whose sole purpose is to hang on there. Gutsy are also the local breed of businessman in the safe knowledge that political backing ensures success and buying oneself out of trouble is commonplace.

Surprisingly the other morning an article on the KI Media site (originally from UPI) Crossing Cambodia came upon, compares (legal systems) Cambodia with India:
'Why do ordinary people resort to extraordinary means to protect their personal safety? The answer is simple - their perception of the security and safety provided by the government is low. On this count Indians and Cambodians probably share the same feeling. To find out more one need not conduct a yearlong survey or read a few dozen books. One need only observe what is going on in the street.


These acts by law enforcement officers are not just a simple form of corruption. This is how the government portrays itself to ordinary people. Such acts speak volumes about governance to the onlooker. In Cambodia and in India corruption is prohibited by law. But the law does not function.

Yet Cambodia is far different from India. In India a person can at least protest against the government, which a Cambodian cannot, given the total prohibition on public protests there.

The government of Cambodia can suppress its citizens' rights to any extent. This has not been challenged, as there is no space to do so within the legal framework and the way law is practiced in Cambodia as of today'.
So, hardly a high note to end on. While in Cambodia the government is in election gear, not much can be expected from any safety measures implementation, no pain no gain. And if you want a vote inflicting the pain part of the equation is not called for. The crossroads on Sihanouk and Street 63 are a good example. Despite all the hot air about how the traffic police would change, we see the police hanging around on their mopeds, looking to cash in on any hapless soul driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Behind their backs countless mopeds and cars ignore the red lights leading to standstill and danger. Not their concern!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New look?

Phnom Penh's second (?) biggest roundabout, the Independence monument is partially unveiled to reveal it's new 'Waterfestival of 2007' or 'Elections 2008' look.They've added a lot of fountains.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Chasing Cars Cambodian style, 22-20-2007

  • Cargo plane on it's way from Phnom Penh to Singapore crashes after being hit by lightning. Manages to crash land in dark and escape mostly unscathed. Main problem in the aftermath is protecting the plane (and cargo) from being dismantled by the locals.
  • More accidents waiting to happen, but this time on rails. The state of Cambodian railroads is such that:
    'the RCC [= RRC, Royal Railroad of Cambodia] has two new Chinese carriages, but it doesn't want to use them because they're afraid they'll derail and be ruined, ... '.
    That's a quote from an ADB consultant who hopes some hapless soul will want to throw money at the railroad. Any potential investor needs 30-40 million plus whatever extra required to grease the wheels.'
  • And tallying the accidents that happened. The P'chum Ben holidays were not so bad apparently: 36 deaths, a couple of hundred wounded. A decline (in averages) in comparison to last year. Now how's that explained?
  • Advice from the Soria Moria:
    'Be aware that traffic accidents are not uncommon in the somewhat chaotic traffic of Cambodia, and car taxi is the safest way of moving around. As an alternative, a tuk-tuk is safer than riding with a mototaxi. For those who choose to rent a motorcycle and drive yourselves (not possible in Siem Reap), be forewarned about the traffic, and be cautious! Always use a helmet. As in any country accidents do happen, but there is no need to worry unnecessarily'.
  • A road from Angkor Wat to Prear Vihear? What about the roads to both?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chasing Cars Cambodian style, 17-10-2007

  • How many people are allowed on a motorbike? Quite a lot. Khmer news reports of a motorcycle crashing at night into a parked lorry: 3 dead, 1 injured.
  • River transport mishap: ferry catches fire and consequently the captain gets praise from Khmer police.
  • Lacking proper police enforcing agents apparently, does not rule out society taking the law into the own hands. The new weapon: scouts! As witnessed and in this article, traffic on Norodom Avenue (the most elegant throughfare in Phnom Penh) scouts now flag when the light is red and ensure traffic keeps the zebra's free.
    'The students said most of the drivers respected the traffic law, but some high ranking officials and public servants - and foreigners - were difficult to deal with."The cars that drove fast and crossed the line mostly had RCAF [army] plates," said Lim Tek Hour. "The foreigners driving embassy cars were even worse," he said'.
    Despite these ordinary observations, they were also confronted with this:
    "When I asked a man to fasten his seatbelt, he took off his pants belt and said 'yes, this is my seatbelt'," said Ny Vy Sona, an 11th grade student from Sisowath High School who ...'.
    The article ends with the note that the students get paid to do this, $2 per day, nearly better than the traffic police themselves!
  • Last week was P'chum Ben an official excuse to vacate the city leading to traffic jams in and out the city. The Cambodia Daily (16-10-2007) quotes the Cambodian Tourism Minister:
    ' "I have never heard of someone waiting for six hours" '.
    after being asked to comment on the situation on the main road from Saigon to Phnom Penh where a ferry is needed to catch and the waiting time was six hours.
  • Getting away was also a pain. Cambodia Daily (october 11, 2007) reported that prices went up by 50%. taxi drivers make a killing apparently, up to five time their normal takings.
  • Finally the sad news: killer cow gets butchered by its owner!

Putting law into practice: a first?

Finally the new traffic law seems to be kicking in, that is if you believe the Associated Press original article. Not only that, it's turned out to be world news:

UK's The Sun:
'Cow in custody for killing six'
Japan's Mainichi:
'Cambodian cow in police custody for killing motorists'
The same caption from US AOL:
'Cambodian cow in police custody for killing motorists'
So how now, brown cow? Sorry it was a 'white' cow. The referred to incident:
'A Cambodian cow was taken into police custody for causing traffic accidents that resulted in the deaths of at least six people this year, a police official said Tuesday. The cow's owner could also face a six-month prison term under a new traffic law that holds people responsible for accidents caused by their animals, said Pin Doman, a police chief on the outskirts of Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh'.
Well, well, indeed. The trouble is that the law is not being enforced, partially because the politicians who cobbled it together and gave their blessing to it, had no idea what was in it! Unfortunately, this unique fact (new traffic law being enforced finally) is a non-fact; cows can not be arrested under the new law. There's no provision for that.

As the accident(s) happened at night:
'The white, 1.5-meter (5-foot) tall cow was standing in the middle of a main road Monday night when a 66-year-old motorcyclist crashed into the animal and died. Most Cambodian roads are dark at night [most roads anywhere are dark at night full stop!].'
The law would have required the following (Art. 34, no 2):
'At night or daytime, if cannot see well, animal herders have to hold white light in front and red light in the back'.
It is unclear if this applies to the herder or to the cow. And what the penalty could be. But either way it seems the cow was in violation of the new traffic law. Welcome to the team, Crossing Cambodia says, as every single person in Cambodia is in violation of this law: it's simply not enforceable.

Well, if this feat (killing one motorcyclist) seems incredulous the article adds:
'Earlier this year, the same cow was responsible for another traffic accident that resulted in the death of five people and several injuries, when a truck veered off the road and crashed as its driver tried to avoid the animal.'
There are actually so many angles on this story, let's start by a anonymous comment over on KI Media:
'Other domesticated animals to watch out for on the roads include dog, chicken, buffalo, pig, duck, and cat. I have a friend whose car ran over a small pig crossing the road some time ago. He was stopped by the police and forced to pay $50 compensation to the pig owner. Had it been a big pig his car would have overturned and he may have been killed or injured. However, that was not their understanding on what the public roads are used for'.
That was probably before the new traffic law , ....

James Sok on applauds the efforts of Cambodia's finest:
'This is an evidence of good law enforcement in Cambodia. This proves the critics of Cambodian police wrong. Cambodian police does its job very properly according to the law and regulation.

It is not an easy task to arrest a cow like this. Imagine, Cambodian police officers do not have special equipment to handle such arrest. However, police department under effective command of His Excellency Commissioner General of the National Police does a very good job.

Quite right, but as said the police are not enforcing the law just bringing their own view of things into practice.

The original article was from October the ninth. Cambodia Daily (12-10-2007) got into this piece of World Breaking News. They use the caption:
'Detained Cow Is a Repeat Traffic-Law Offender'.
The Cambodia Daily adds, that the driver who crashed was
'a drunk motorcyclist'.
The police chiefs name is
Doman, not Pin. The prior accident resulted in
'three deaths'
not five. The first time around the owner's were let off. The cow only
'suffered minor injuries [that's good news!]'.

Understandingly (at least in Cambodia) the cow is gaining some cult following. As Cambodia's past shows killers can be popular and revered. The owner:
'reveres the cow and believes it to be the cause of good fortune in business'.
Let's hope he means in the long term; the cow is now not under 'arrest' anymore but has been confiscated after
'the family of the victim refused the first offer of $125'.
A second compensation offer is in the pipeline. Finally, the cow is
'somewhat of a celebrity in the village'.
Despite all this nonsense it ultimately points out how utterly incompetent the Cambodian law enforcement is being carried out. Perfectly sensible measures aimed at the entire nation's population's safety are disrespected; but beware if you are an opposition party or an open critic of Cambodia's regime, law enforcement will catch up with you even before you know you are astray of any law.

Well, that's Cambodia

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Chasing Cars Cambodian Style, 5 October 2007

  • For those of you on the look-out, all tire deflating robbers have been busted! DPA via KI Media:
    ' ... the men have admitted to four robberies on well-heeled bank customers who had driven to their branches to withdraw cash, which had netted them a total of 97,500 dollars.

    When we asked them why they pulled so many robberies so quickly, they said they had only been able to obtain a five-day visa and they didn't want to overstay,' [Police lieutenant colonel] Ngy said'.
    Lucky they did not get a two weeks visum or a business visa!

  • Kampong Thom province are also adding up, Khmer News reports:
    '92 Die, 427 Injured in Kampong Thom in Nine Months'
    'They drive motorcycles too fast, drive with drunkenness, or drivers are not tolerant'.
  • In Koh Kong they are also waking to the deal with the new traffic law. A public meeting with the following message:
    'Ly Sareth, Koh Kong public work chief office said that the new traffic regulation consists of 12 chapters and 95 articles which has taken effect and started since 1 September. He added that 95% of offices has no driving license including taxi drivers'.
    Thanx to Khmer News

  • More on the thieves: the AK-47 bandits. The ringleader of this notorious gang has been arrested, his accomplices are still on the run. With their guns they rob motorcyclists of their motor's. What for?
    'After the sale of their loot, they would party, drink, and have pleasure with women, until they depleted their income before restarting the robbery cycle again'.
    Did I mention that the weapons have also not been recovered?

  • In Vietnam a law on wearing helmets is set to be enforced from the 15th of December.
    'Vietnam has one of the world's highest traffic fatality rates, with nearly 13,000 deaths recorded last year alone - the majority involving the ubiquitous motorbike. Few people bother with helmets, saying they are hot, bulky and unfashionable. But as of Dec. 15, everyone will be required to don the so-called 'rice cookers' as the government enforces a new law intended to save lives.'

    The article is much publicized originating from AP. Fines will amount to roughly a dollar.
    'Helmets must also be certified with a stamp verifying they meet Vietnam's safety standard'.

    An eye-opener for the Khmer law enforcers?

  • The cost of enforcing? 57,000 riels or a little more than 14 dollars US.
    'The ministry of public works and transport has set the price for motorcycle driving lessons at all private driving school and departments of public works in all province and municipalities to 57,000 riels (~$14.25) only'.
    The statistics:
    Currently, in Phnom Penh city, there are about ½ million motorcycles, but only about 10,000 motorcycle drivers have legal driver license.
  • Finally, the poor moto drivers ('yes?') get a political treat curiosity of SRP. Sam Rainsy's claims to fame?
    ' ..., if his party were to win the election, and if he were to become the prime minister, he will lower the price of gasoline to about 3,000 riels (~$0.75) per liter. He also recalled that when he was the economy and finance minister, he was able to prevent the rise of the price of the US dollar, and he was able to lower the price of gasoline to 600 riels per liter only'.
    Single handily preventing the rise of the US dollar? On the new traffic law:
    'After criticizing the driver license issue, Sam Rainsy said that in order to let the people know about the traffic law, there is no need for them to attend schools, educational paperwork could be distributed to people so they can learn about the traffic law on their own at home'.
    CPP criticism:
    'The distribution of noodle is an attempt to garner votes for the upcoming 2008 election'.
    The full article from is available at KI Media
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