Crossing Cambodia

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Road Tips

Adding to the informative amount of ways of coping with Phnom Penh traffic, the following text is lifted from the Phnom Penh Out and About Cambodia Pocket Guide:
'Road Tips 202
Beware fat cat road hogs and pop-star-wannabe “Dream” pilots. Their survivability rivals that of even the hardiest of cockroaches.

The advent of paved roads and traffic lights has brought a veneer of order to Phnom Penh streets. But underlying this windshield-transparent facade are the same behaviours shared by local drivers since the internal combustion engine first appeared along the boulevards. At first glance, the neophyte sees nothing but chaos. However, there is a system in place that belies first impressions. Understanding it will go a long way toward one’s continued well being behind the wheel or handlebars. Here are a few pointers.

Tip #1: Don’t hit anything.
Okay, this may seem obvious. But even a simple fender-bender will be more time consuming than you think. As a foreigner, chances are you are white and immediately subject to the principle of “skin tax”. Simply put, you are in the wrong no matter what (Khmer logic: you're a foreigner, and if you weren't here, the accident wouldn't have happened) and therefore subject to the extraction of as much money as the other party can manage. The easiest way to avoid this is not get into an accident, period.

Tip #2: Crossing busy intersections.
It’s acceptable to creep into the flow of traffic to make space for yourself. Make yourself visible and use your skin colour to your advantage; a Lexus driver understands that it will be much more of a hassle if he damages a foreigner than if he merely flattens a local. Think of yourself as a Ming Dynasty vase in a moving creek. Keep your inner calm and allow the traffic to flow around you. Better still, ally yourself with a few other vehicles, a car or two will come in handy here, and edge into the flow with your impromptu school of other small fish.

Tip #3: Speed.
This is controversial. There’s a school of thought that implies if you go fast enough, you don’t have to worry about half of the traffic, the half behind you that is. There’s some validity to this, but while technically, if you’re hit by someone behind you it’s their fault, it may not do you much good if you’re mashed into a fleshy pulp. And even if you aren’t, see Tip #1. The other and probably safer opinion is to go slow. Motos in close proximity usually have a surprisingly keen perception of their situational awareness and will make a space, albeit small, for you and your movements. You can inform the more oblivious ones of your presence with a chirp from your horn or a rev of your engine.

Tip #4: Turning left.
This manoeuvre is a bit more advanced and will test your 360 degree peripheral vision. Immediately turn left sticking as close to the curb as possible, swerving around any mobile vendors as necessary. Oncoming traffic will give you right of way but beware cops who will attempt to ticket you. To cross over, scan the oncoming traffic for a hole, which you can use to scoot across their lane(s), while simultaneously scanning the right-lane traffic behind you for a gap there. Scoot with authority.

Tip #5: On that note, sound.
This may appear a bit rude, but can save paint, glass and skin. Drivers are getting used to horns and therefore their value is on the decline. Consider a pipe for your bike that if not loud, at least has a distinguishing tone. Locals love novelty and anything different including the tone of your bike; it will alert others to your presence. Of course, you can choose to wear a helmet, but that kind of takes the sport out of it doesn’t it?'
Fair or not? Well, despite the racial undertones (whites vs Khmer) Crossing Cambodia believes this a fair reflection of the on-road situation. But it is just a starter, the reality requires much more information, which if you care to look through some of the postings on this site, you would gain much more information. .
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