Size Does Matter: Road Rules (or lack thereof) in Cambodia
Don’t fight it, just go with the flow.
You can paddle a kayak upriver and work hard to make some progress. Or you can turn around and let the flow of the water take you downstream. Traveling the roads of Cambodia is not too far off from being in a kayak in a river (except that there’s no water, paddles or a kayak). Let’s go over the ground rules before you step off the sidewalk.
1.) Bigger is better.
Here’s a quick breakdown in case you’re unclear.
- Cement truck
- Tour bus
- Local bus
- Truck / jeep / converted military vehicle
- Mini van
- Tuk Tuk
- Scooter / moped
Yeah, that #11, that’s probably you. Did you catch the hierarchy? You’re last. Oh wait, let me add one more:
12. Stray dog.You’re above him. That it, if it’s still alive. If it’s dead and on the side of the road, everyone avoids it. Now that you have the pecking order, we can get down to the rules.
2.) See rule #1.
In case you’re ever unsure of any of the rules, see Rule #1.
3.) Right and left are suggestions.
We just left Malaysia where this is reversed (drive on left, British), but Cambodia is drive on right (French). Good to remember.
If you really need to turn into that next driveway or smaller road and it looks like things are pretty busy up ahead, go ahead and drive on the left side of the road. But it’s a little vague about just how far to the left. Here’s a rough guideline from left to right:
Far left: curb (if there is one).
Gutter: if there’s no curb.
You: if you really need to turn left soon.
Pedestrians walking with traffic: they should be near the curb so they can jump onto it quickly.
Bicycles: they need some room to go right if anyone behind them with a horn toots.
Mopeds / Scooters: see above for hierarchy.
4.) Left turn lane at stoplight variations.
If you’re quick and have critical mass, you are allowed (recommended even) to make that left turn before oncoming traffic comes straight. Critical mass has to do with Rule #1 and hierarchy. It comes down to pure volume and mass: if you are, say, 2 bicycles, 3 mopeds and a Tuk Tuk, you have priority over an oncoming car, a pedestrian and a Tuk Tuk.
It requires some quick math (no calculators!), but you’ll figure it out. In fact, it’s more of an art than a science–which blows the whole “math” example out of the water so let’s call it Artistic Math. Maybe it’s like Creative Accounting.
5.) Creative packing has merit.
If your moped has, say, 27 large baskets strapped onto the back of your vehicle and your 3-year old sister is in your lap, you have right of way. Note that you have absolutely zero vision through any rear view mirrors you might have. Note: helmets just add a level of difficultly unnecessary and impedes neck craning to try to see if a tour minivan is about to sideswipe your baby sister’s plastic flip flops off of her feet.
Street crossing is a sport.
NOTE: Sport like kick boxing is a sport, not like cricket is a sport.
But unlike kick boxing, they’re not out to pulverize you–as much as it may seem so. In fact, you don’t have to do much at all–except be predictable. Again at odds with kick boxing, the more predictable your gait, the better off you’ll be. In fact, if you want extra credit, you could, theoretically, close your eyes and walk at a steady pace and you’ll probably be fine. Not really recommended for kick boxing.
There are probably more rules, but they weren’t in my study guide. If you learn of more, please add them here and we’ll file the full document with the Cambodian authorities.