Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cambodia Trip '08 – Day 02: Traffic Scenes in Phnom Penh

Several shots of the traffic conditions during the early mornings in Phnom Penh.

(Calm before the traffic storm)

We started our days in Phnom Penh quite early with breakfast around 7 am. Thanks to the early sunrise there, Phnom Penh was already quite busy by the time we sat down for breakfast. Soon enough the road in front of our hotel was a chaotic mess of cars, tuk tuks, motorcycles and bicycles. It was a wonder looking at how anyone can negotiate safely in that mess.

(Chaos commence. Four lanes of traffic at a crossroad without a traffic light)

As I stood there looking at the traffic, I was trying to figure out what traffic etiquette was in play in this busy crossroad. As far as I can figure it out, it was a free for all out there but surprisingly no accidents happens while I was observing them. I eventually noticed that while it seems that “who has the bigger balls” rule the right of way on Phnom Penh streets, they give each other a wide berth to react to the other road users in front of them. Since the traffic moved at a much slower pace than I’ve seen in KL when they are not idle in traffic, the drivers here have more time to respond to any traffic obstructions in front of them. KL motorcycle users would definitely be well served to learn from their Cambodian counterparts who do not weave in and out between cars.

(Carefully crossing the road)

With the lack of traffic lights and pedestrian crossing, I would not say that Phnom Penh is the easiest city to walk around in. That being said, I do think that it is better than Manila where one would be trying to avoid being crushed by jeepneys when crossing the road. Thanks to the slower traffic here, crossing the road involves making sure that you are clearly seen by the incoming traffic and that you make most of the gaps between cars when you cross the road. Awareness of the traffic flow was definitely key to crossing the streets safety there. When in doubt, always best to follow the lead of a local crossing the road since they have been doing it for much longer than any tourist could hope. It would also be best not to dilly dally when crossing the road since while the incoming traffic will slow down when they see you crossing, they will not stop for you. Streets in Phnom Penh would definitely be the last place you want to perfect your catwalk strut when crossing the road.

(Cross road at one of the bigger boulevards)

Most of the traffic in Phnom Penh were bicycles or motorcycles. While I didn’t notice any differences in the bicycles that they used, I noticed that a lot of the motorcycle there have been modified to have a bigger seat that could fit 3 people at once which they would use to the fullest way possible. The same motorcycles are also used to pull the tuk tuks that would fit anywhere between 4 to 8 people at once. An interesting item of note was that almost all female I’ve seen riding the motorcycle as a passenger would sit side saddle style regardless if they wore a skirt or long pants. It was definitely a sight rarely seen in KL.

Cars were mostly a luxury for the average Cambodian. Most cars that they have on the roads there were Japanese recondition cars brought in from outside of Cambodia. At an average of 4000 riel (Cambodian currency equivalent to 1 US Dollar) per liter, petrol was definitely expensive for an average office worker who earns an average of USD 80 – USD 100 per month.

(Traffic scenes outside of Phnom Penh)

As we traveled further out from the Phnom Penh city center, it was apparent that the roads were less well maintained. Thanks to the recently passed rainy seasons, the roads outside of Phnom Penh were muddy and riddled with pot holes. The number of heavy vehicles that seems to increased outside of Phnom Penh definitely have made their mark on the bumpy road. One would need to have both patience and a well padded backside to travel long distance via land on these roads.

(Award winner for the biggest pot hole I have ever seen. It spanned across the road)

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