Crossing Cambodia

Friday, May 30, 2008

Cycle away

Cycle your way to cheaper living

Dear Editor,
As the price of gasoline is skyrocketing, many Cambodians have thought about the ways to cut the cost of travel by using other alternative means of transport.
I have personally decided to cycle to work a few times a week. In so doing, I am able to save some money I would spend on gasoline to cover the rising price of food.
Walking or riding a bicycle is also good for health. Nowadays, we frequently hear news of friends suddenly falling sick or dying from obesity related illnesses like high blood pressure and heart attacks. By riding a bicycle to work, I feel better and I don't need the painful traditional coining Kos Kchol for occasional indispositions like before.
Riding a bicycle is also good for the environment in this increasingly polluted capital of Phnom Penh as it does not produce toxic emission like cars and motorcycles. Meanwhile, using bicycles also helps reduce traffic congestion.
However, cycling in Phnom Penh these days can also have bad consequences. Back in the 1980s, possessing a bicycle was like owning a luxury car for most Cambodians, so the cyclists also received a lot of respect from others. Because of this mutual respect, I was able to ride my bicycle to school without a single accident for nearly ten years.
Now things have changed. Except for foreigners, riding a bicycle in Cambodia today is considered a sign of low social status by many Cambodians. Some car or moto-cycle drivers would wildly honk along a busy street to disperse cyclists and pedestrians as if they were cows blocking their way.
Worse still, pedestrians and cyclists can hardly find a safe road to travel on. More than 15 years ago, Phnom Penh streets were clearly divided into appropriate lanes for cars, motorcycles and bicycles, while pedestrians traveled on the sidewalks. Now, cyclists have to be squashed between cars and motorcycles or even pushed onto the sidewalk with pedestrians who also find it harder to walk. Except for a few boulevards, most sidewalks in Phnom Penh are now used as a parking place or to display goods for sale. Nevertheless, walking or cycling is still a good way to move around the city.
To help reduce expenditure on gasoline and save the environment should encourage people to walk or ride a bicycle in the city instead of driving their cars or motorcycles. They also need to reserve part of the side walks for pedestrians and secure a safe lane for cyclists. Government officials and civil servants can also take the lead by walking or cycling to work, while strictly strengthening the traffic rules.

Moeun Chhean Nariddh
Phnom Penh
From the most recent Phnom Penh Post (May 30 - June 12, 2008). The author brings forward a number of issues related to traffic in Cambodia.

Yes, at a recent meeting on wages, staff were complaining about the costs of living: 'we even have to go by bicycle to work / market'. Hardly an argument to claim a wage increase, but it does show how cycling is frowned upon.

Crossing Cambodia has been cycling Phnom Penh for nearly 3 years and there are not many of us, mostly foreign lunatics. Increasingly, congestion and Cambodian society looking down on those less fortunate, has taken much pleasure out of cycling the city, if one can even consider this a pleasure.

Are there much more bikes now on the street? No, if anything, the roads are getting clogged more and more by increasing amounts of motorized traffic. This clogging thus gives rise to more effectiveness to cyclists: the ultimate traffic jam busters!

One also has to place large question marks towards the future of the city. Besides lacking law enforcement, there is absolute no vision about how to contain the scores of (new) drivers and their vehicles. Many streets are already bursting at their seems and the consequence is that private initiative is leading investors to invest in gated communities far away from the city center. The city center lacks parking spaces, low cost public transport, green spaces and efficient ways of dealing with traffic. And not much is being done about it.

p.s. does anyone know what Kos Kchol is?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Crossing Cambodia, Tuesday 27 May 2008

Not much has passed the last few days, still a recap is called for.
  • What about the helmet count? Apparently Crossing Cambodia will have to wait until the elections have passed for more positive news on that. From Khmer 440 forum:
    'This reminds me I was talking to police who say that in Cambodia the police are actually fearful of motodups and the motodups have no fear of police. In the lead up to elections, the police try to press less on people and not hassle motodups because they dont want to stir up any public disorder'.
  • The same forum comments on the open / not open situation of the bridges on the road to Koh Kong:
    'you do change bus once or twice, depending on the status of the bridges to KK (despite what the papers say, they are still a work in progress recently)'.
  • The Bangkok Post weighs in on the same route, i.e. the road Koh Kong - rest of Cambodia:
    'Tourism between Thailand and Cambodia is expected to flourish now that road transport has been improved. ... Work was completed last month on the route'.
    So is it complete or not?
  • Today's (27 May, 2008) Cambodian Daily reports on a not so complete bridge in the district of Lumphat, Rattanakiri province which collapsed due to 'torrential downpours':
    'the bridge is irreparable'.
  • Also in the same newspaper: Ferry accident plunges 3 passengers into Mekong.
    'The ferry ramp they were standing on collapsed because of a loose screw. ... crew had paid ample attention to ferry maintenance. "It is the first time that our ferry has a problem, but it is small," he [ferry service director] said'.
  • In certain aspects, Cambodia does resemble a fully developed country: Price of gasoline soaring again. Then again what's the newsworthy-ness of this?
    'Price of gasoline in Cambodia has increased again after remaining stable for a short while'.
  • Talking bull:
    'A runaway water buffalo rampaged through Cambodia's capital, injuring 15 people and damaging several cars and motorbikes, police said Saturday. The female buffalo ran through the crowded streets early Friday morning, causing chaos before it was harnessed with ropes, local police chief Vy Sokhon said. "The buffalo looked very surprised and hit people along the streets," he said.'
    What about the people she hit? Were they not surprised?
  • Stan's experience of taking a taxi:
    '... whereas the typical long distance taxi here [Cambodia] will carry seven people in addition to the driver – think of four people scrunched in a back seat meant for three, two in the front bucket seat and one passenger between the driver and the driver’s door. Almost all taxis are fifteen to twenty year old Toyota Camrys'.
    Then driving yourself:
    'On the other hand, driving here [Cambodia] is no picnic; it’s a bit like floating in a sea of motorbikes more than 80% of vehicles here are two-wheelers. While you try to remain placid and calm, there are always hotdogs on two wheels speeding around you; often cutting you off, forcing you to brake to avoid hitting them. Moreover, they come at you from all directions – this is literal: when motorbike drivers want to make a left turn in the face of cross traffic they merely drive in the wrong direction near the curb until they can find an opening to wiggle over to the proper side of the street.

    Think about driving in a place where red lights and virtually all rules are voluntary. Actually, to be fair, it’s getting to be where more than 90% of drivers are obeying traffic lights: this is a significant accomplishment. There are quite a few stop signs scattered around town but I’'ve never seen anyone actually stop for one. Most motorbike drivers go through them without even looking to see if they might be getting into other people’s' way'.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

This afternoon ...

'I will be in Siem Reap for 5 days at the end of May (basically next week) and was wondering how the weather is right now? Is it rainy? I'm a bit worried because I read the monsoon season starts in June. thanks!'

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Chasing Cars in mid May downpours

Before launching into another non-descript overview of Cambodia's traffic related news, an apology from Crossing Cambodia: wearing helmets is out of fashion this week, we're now back to where we were a month ago, a helmet wearing rate of (just?) 20-30%.
  • What does the road to Phnom Penh look like from Saigon?
    'The road is quite smooth and comfortable and there is plenty of interesting scenery to look at'.
    If you consider unendless stretches of rice fields interesting! Anyway the write-up is meant for Viet readers.
    And if not interesting enough, when leaving Saigon one can skip the drab that's Phnom Penh all together on yer way to Angkor: it's a
    'new luxury bus service'
    'is expected to prove especially popular with budget travellers, the company predicted'.
    Contradictory? Luxury travel for budget travellers? EAS, whom are mostly long-term citizens of Phnom Penh give the same story more spin:
    'Budget travelers no longer need to endure the bone shuddering roads from the Vietnam border to Phnom Penh, only to have to change buses for another six hour hike to Siem Reap and the Angkor temple complex'.
    But the first link said the road is smooth! Can the two go together?
  • More Viet-Khmer news:
    'An Giang [Vietnamese border province] Province’s Market Management Department estimated some 40,000 to 60,000 liters of fuel were trafficked out of the province daily'.
    At a profit of roughly 0,4 $US / liter, it's a lucrative trade, for sure. On a an annual basis Vietnam is giving about 7 million $US to Cambodia! But some people get greedy:
    'Sometimes they add tra catfish oil into gasoline to export'.
    No wonder so many moto's blast belching black smoke!
  • Vuthasurf gives a couple of examples of a Phnom Pehn taxi station:
    'Sometimes, the arguments broke out between taxi’s owners and clients because of grabbing belongings and losing property'.
  • The previously mentioned highway 48 to Koh Kong has been opened. Koh Kong will now change from a remote, pleasant and relatively undisturbed corner of Cambodia to an industrial and casino boom town! Let's hope not. However with elections nearing, Cambo's PM will not be deterred by asphalting the country and claiming it a success:
    'Hun Sen had “inaugurated some new national roads and bridges of more than 400 kilometers, during the last two weeks,” the prime minister told a crowd gathered for the opening of 152 kilometers of road and four bridges in Koh Kong province. “This is a marvel in the 21st Century, in what the Cambodia government and the people are cooperating with development partners to make for our Cambodians'.
    This marvel is also the root cause of all the traffic deaths? Well, let's admit that not much is been done to avoid traffic fatalities.
  • A pleasantly sounding caption:
    'Cambodian Airways to be cleaned up'.
    Well, considering there are hardly any planes flying on national route's especially after PMT's plane crash of last year, this spring cleaning will be finished in a jiffy!
    'To maintain order and ensure security and safety, aircraft and other flight equipment which are not registered at the SSCA [State Secretariat for Civil Aviation] will be prohibited from operating anywhere in the kingdom, Mao Has Vannal, secretary of state of civil aviation, said in the announcement'.
    Ah, it's just a case of registering and .....
  • This report on the (non-existent?) birth of Cambodia's flag carrier reveals that Cambodia is dubbed the 'New Thailand'. Besides handing Cambodia with an unbeatable tourist attracting slogan, the writer is clearly very positive:
    'A new national carrier is the first step for Cambodia along the road to tourism success'.
    Crossing Cambodia thought that Cambodia was already a success?
  • EAS also report on a cyclo 'rally':
    '10 foreigners and 20 cyclo drivers, who took one hour shifts on 10 cyclos, cycled the 320 km round trip from Phnom Penh through Prey Veng and Kampong Cham to raise awareness for the Cyclo Centre Phnom Penh and to support “world no tobacco day”, 31st May'.
    Let's hope somebody has not forgotten the World Naked Bike Ride on June 7; so far nobody has shown the initiative, despite it's lofty challenges:
    'In March and June 2008, in cities around the world, people will be riding bikes naked to celebrate cycling and the human body. The ride demonstrates the vulnerability of cyclists on the road and is a protest against car culture'.
    Does Crossing Cambodia see any hands? Or is it a case of 'Unseen Cambodia'?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Chasing Cars, Cambodia: bumper cars galore! May 12, 2008

Any changes with last week? Sure it’s a lot wetter on the road. Last week Tuesday, Phnom Penh went gridlock as the roundabout of Wat Phnom went underwater forcing the rest of the traffic to seek alternative routes which surprise, surprise are hardly available. And with the Cambodian penchant to seek a route where there’s none the result was clear.

Has anyone noticed that there are increasing numbers of moto drivers with their helmets on? On Saturday nearly 45%, which is a record of sorts, considering that the normal rate used to be 20-30% for over quite some months. Females are again heading the pack with 50-55% of the women drivers driving helmet clad.

Is it pure coincidence, do you think, that the helmet wearing rate is going up, now the rains are well under way?
The onset of the rains is also the most unsafest period, slippery roads and the lack of good tyres lead to many accidents with just one vehicle involved. Over the weekend a moto driving just behind CC wobbled and fell without any clear cause. The passenger seemed to come off worst, but probably nothing broken.
  • Andy Brouwer in his blog gives us a different example of all too common Cambodian accident:
    'The traffic chaos on the city's streets was brought home to me on Saturday. As we left Phnom Penh on our way to Battambang, the traffic slowed to a crawl as we passed by a tragic scene in the middle of the road. A young woman on her moto had moments before been struck by a petrol tanker and her limp body was being held by a distraught friend who was shrieking loudly, as everyone stood by and stared. No-one lent a hand including the policemen at the roadside who didn't flinch, even though the dead woman's brains were splayed all over the road. The traffic laws, such as they are, are ignored by everyone. It really is every man for himself'.
  • His excellent blog also has a recent example of Cambodian rail travel:
    'Rail travel in Cambodia is slow and incredibly uncomfortable. I'm pretty sure that passenger services have been officially postponed though they still happen but they're 'not official'. Instead, in various spots around the country where you find a railway line, you can find a 'norry' or bamboo train, which as you can see from these photos are a wooden platform on metal wheels that are powered by a small electric motor'.
  • Talking about rail, leads to what’s next? As the overall Cambodian railroads are getting shaped up (possibly?), a Mekong Times article reports on the additional need of $500 million for a railroad to Vietnam.
    'Cambodia is seeking US$500 million in loans or aid to construct a 255 km rail link to Vietnam, though China has already pledged 20 million Yuan (around US$2.8 million) to the project'.
    China surely sees the logic and has correspondingly maxed it’s donation (or is it a loan, time will tell). It’s expected to be finished by 2020, which is an optimistic prediction.
  • More on the shopping list:
    'Cambodia needs at least 2.5 billion U.S. dollars to implement the master plan of national road construction. The budget for national road construction will be increased if the oil price increases, Sun Chan Thol [Minister of Public Works and Transportation] said'.
    This last point is certainly cryptic and defies logic. Lost in translation?
  • In the meantime VOA Khmer reports that
    'about 100 Cambodians, from motorcycle taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, vendors and politicians, met in a public forum Friday, urging the end of graft and the passage of anti-corruption legislation'.
    What’s the significance of this? Oh well, I believe Thaksin of Thailand started off with his downfall when he rubbed the taxi drivers the wrong way up, so who knows?
  • Talking of the tuk-tuk-ers, on the tripadvisor forum there was this entry:
    'Avoid the tuk tuk "mafia" that hang out in front of this hotel [FCC]. They assume that everyone is extremely well off and will do anything to bilk you. There is one guy who has several of these drivers under his charge and he attempts to set the prices as high as possible. If you do use these horrible people make sure you negotiate a price BEFOREHAND regardless of any promises they make about "paying whatever you like later” '.
    Then again the only reply to this goes very much like this:
    'I have been to PP several times and spent weeks there and we have always found tuk-tuk drivers to be honest, nice, and good-natured guys'.
  • Talking of inflation, tour companies in Siem Reap are increasingly being confronted with
    'profit loss on tour package sales for tourist coming to Cambodia as price of goods is steadily growing'.
  • A snap-shot of Phnom Penh’s roads:
    ‘In the days of a pavement-less Phnom Penh, engulfed in roads of dust and mud, the water used to wash most dishes in the city was less than clean’.
    This from 'Streetside Snacks, a guide to eating on the street' from Cambodia Pocket Guide.
  • Another article from the same source but without an i-link, Rolling Thunder:
    'The first thing I recommend is to install ”I am a truck, not a car” air horns. The effect is amazing. Watch the road ahead of motos and general floatsam move over as you pound your Hornmaster 5000. … A horn is your best friend, use it. Your second best friend is your rear-view mirror. … Get your own heavy duty candle power lights … really really big ones'.
    Justin Garnett, the author, then gives his final advise:
    'Drive slowly, use your eyes, stay calm (I struggle with this one), don’t drive at night and you should be fine. Even better don’t drive at all. Stay at home'.
  • Back to the Khmer New Year. The Bayon Pearnik (issue 141, May 2008) besides describing the traffic mayhem that’s Khmer New Year ('New records set' from the Cockroach Corner) also mentions ('on a cheerful note') that the bridges on the road to Koh Kong were thrown open, but only for the holidays. Here’s a link to a recent view of the road to Koh Kong.
  • Fables of the unknown?
    'An Indian company wants to invest in an airport and an electric cable car system in the Preah Vihear Temple region'.
    Will it see the light?
    'Hang Sot [director of the Preah Vihear National Authority] said: “We don’t know as yet when the project will start or how much it will cost'.
  • Another dream up in smoke? Despite it being a Cambodian carrier, Angkor Airways is a Taiwanese company, so it seems. Anyway that’s irrelevant as it’s company
    'has run into financial difficulties after the detention of a top company executive on criminal charges in Taiwan'.
    Another article sheds more light:
    'Lou [the detainee] was responsible for the financial management of the branch, the carrier said, and without him, the branch faced insurmountable cash flow problems'.
    Let’s hope the Indonesian connection works out better for Cambodia’s so called flag carrier, wherever it may be!
  • Well, last years crash in the Cardomons is in serious need of revelations a la 'Aircraft crash Investigation':
    'The investigation of the plane’s flight recorders, or black boxes, was concluded in March but it is still unknown what caused the crash’,
    the Cambodia Daily reports on May 6. The main scandal is that the relatives of the deceased still haven’t received an adequate compensation with the airline (PMT) referring to an unnamed insurer. The State Secretariat for Civil Aviation refuses
    'to provide details about the planes owner, the insurance company or what investigators discovered from examining the black boxes'.
    In this light it’s great news that the Indonesians will be shaking up the civil aviation scene in
    Cambodia. Or not?
  • Did anyone have questions concerning Cambodia Daily’s (May 9, 2008) article headline 'Bridge from S’ville to Snake Island Nearly Done'? Excerpts from the first paragraphs:
    'On June 7, PM is scheduled to officially inaugurate the construction of a bridge connecting Sihanoukville with Snake Island as part of a $300 million project to develop the site, officials said. … Nop Heng, director of Sihanoukville’s Public Works and Transport department said the bridge which is expected to take two years to build,'
    So not so nearly done! It’s also not clear whether or not the bridge is meant for traffic. Concerning the aforementioned Angkor Airways is it not strange that in this case the Snake Island Investment Group’s Executive Director 13-year prison sentence has no influence on the project, while with the detention of Angkor Airway’s owner, the company folds?
Well that’s all from 'Cambodia: worth a wager (?)' Crossing

Monday, May 05, 2008

Chasing Cars, 5 May 2008

  • Combatting beggars is increasingly becoming a major issue in Cambodia so as to create a healthy image for the millions of (potential) tourists. Read this article in the most recent (May 4) Phnom Penh Post (Beggars to get the boot ...).
    Apparently authorities are taking quite a strict line on beggars: police have been told that they are not allowed to beg (or is it issuing fines?). As read on KI Media which ripped it from
    'The city of Phnom Penh asked the city police force to end the arrest of motorcycles that are not equipped with rearview mirrors, or if their drivers do not wear safety helmets, and the end of the fines for these infractions will begin on 30 April 2008. The city said that this measure was not successful because people still continue not to have rearview mirrors, and they still do not wear helmet. Furthermore, the cops who issued fines for these infractions are in fact pocketing the fines for themselves only. Major Tin Prasoeur, director of the Phnom Penh land traffic police, said that the traffic police used to issue fines to those who do not wear helmet, and those whose motorcycles are not equipped with a rearview mirrors, but, they have stopped issuing fines, and, instead, the police is turning to educating people instead because some of them do not understand the new traffic law very well. Furthermore, for vehicles which do not have a license plate, or do not have a permanent license plate, or they are overloaded with merchandises, the police will still continue to issue fines as before. Tin Prasoeur recognized that in the past, some crooked police officers used fines as an excuse to extort money beyond the fine limit, furthermore, some issued fines but did not provide the receipt to the vehicle owners'.
    This is very weird. Authorities asking police not to enforce the law, while the same authorities actively provide lip service to the same law whenever grand functions are held, such as the Road Safety Week.
    But at the same time, has anyone seen police pulling up unsuspecting drivers? At least in the English section of the web on Cambodia no one seems to have noticed. Crossing Cambodia however did notice some increased activity by police but the lack of other responses possibly thought that these were unrelated to any law enforcement. And has it helped? That's strange not at all, a helmet count yesterday afternoon came to 31%, at seven in the evening it was just 10-11%!
  • Cambodian Daily draws attention to the low rate of helmet-cladded moto drivers and possible future beggars (May 1, 2008).
    'Nearly 50 percent of people involved in motorbike accidents in January suffered head trauma, but only 6 % of those in motorbike accidents were wearing a safety helmet'.
  • What's happening to Cambodia's railway? No news, good news? You may remember that Cambodia seeks to privatize their railways, looks like Thailand is following suit. The state run company is pathetic:
    'The move [privatization] follows SRT's [State Railway of Thailand] chronic losses, making it not possible for the state unit to develop its network for modern logistics, even though rail transport per unit is much cheaper than road transport'.
    And in New Zealand the same argument (rail is cheaper and more environmental friendly) is being used to reverse their privatization of their railways, buying back from Toll, who were in Cambodia's rail privatization driving seat. NZ's PM Helen Clark:
    'With rising fuel prices and growing awareness about the challenge of global climate change, many nations are looking to rail as a central part of 21st century economic infrastructure. She said a modern rail system could reduce the emissions of the overall transport network, take pressure off our roads and allow trucking and shipping to operate more efficiently'.
    Crossing Cambodia begs to know, what the ADB thinks?
  • The little incidents section: a bridge in Stung Treng province 'breaks'. This bridge is located on the main highway to Rattanakiri and with the rainy season just under way, one might need to expect some major delays!
    By the way, Crossing Cambodia begs you to look at this photo on Vuthasurf, it's your local transport to Rattanakiri.
  • The report is minor, not the incident:
    'Two female garment workers died when a truck hit them from behind as they were riding bicycle'.
    This begs the question, was the driver blind?
  • More question marks:
    'Witnesses claim that before the accident, they saw the car was driven to hit the road’s concrete chest and the driver lying down in the car and they smashed the car’s glass to help him. He died at the hospital and doctor said that he had incident because of dizziness'.
  • Cambodia Daily (May 1, 2008) adds to the minor incident section:
    'Police have detained the suspected drunken driver of a car who had fled the scene of two separate traffic accidents Tuesday night before crashing near the Russian embassy'.
    The culprit:
    'whose father is a senior government official'.
    The sentence:
    'if both sides cannot agree [victims and culprit], we will send their case to the court'.
    Obviously he will be let off, without needing to beg!

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