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Driving in Cambodia

By: John Weeks and Sao Channa Posted: September-07-2009 in
Graphics - Sao Channa
John Weeks and Sao Channa

Simply navigating around makes one yearn for a GPS tracking unit. Street names and numbers may be unlabelled; house numbers obey no rhyme or reason..

If you are pulled over, remember: traffic police are civil servants who don't have a terribly huge salary, faced with some pretty anarchic situations. Civility on your part can go a long way - especially if there is a language barrier. Keep it light, and you may be invited for a coffee, beer or kuy tiew (noodle soup) by your new friends

Traffic police are expected to carry a book of road law with them, so you can ask them to point out which rule you broke. (Yes, to the surprise of many foreigners, turning right during a red light is illegal.)

Let's face it, many people (local and foreign) DO break the law on Cambodia's streets. Look around and you'll see numerous motos and cars without licenses, and way too many drivers without helmets.

For motos, the fine for minor traffic infractions tends to be (at maximum) about 5,000 riel. For cars, it's around 10,000. (Elephants, cyclos and bikes generally don't attract much official attention.) If you believe that the fine isn't quite kosher, you can ask to see the regulation - or a receipt for payment of said fine.

No license? The police have the right to impound the vehicle, which means it's time for some hasty discussion about how you were just on your way to get your registration sorted. If you do have a license, it can occasionally lead to some bureaucratic zeal in finding extra infractions. That enthusiasm wanes if a bodyguard steps out of the car (the bigger the better) to have a word. Once your fine is sorted, you should end up with a receipt that states the infraction and the officer's badge number. But in reality? Pragmatism rules the road.

Beyond these anecdotal and irreverent observations, Road Safety Cambodia is where you can find the official traffic law.

Sao Channa is a full-time graphic designer for 'Our Books' and has assisted its ongoing comic archiving project as well as publications Life's Choices and Flower of Battambang. Thanks also to Sim Sisavuthara and 'Vuth' for incidental translation and drawing. Channa sc [dot] designer [dot] kh [at] gmail [dot] com


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