The structured traffic chaos

Traffic in Cambodia might slightly differ from what you are used to. It can definitely take you some time to get used to it. There are loads of motorbikes, Tuk Tuk’s and bicycles and comparably only few cars on the roads. All in all, it looks like one big mess, but it works quite fine.


Flat or wobbling tyres are a common sight. I’ve had twice a flat tyre. But thanks God both times a mechanic was not far away. The first time happened after having been here for three weeks. It was along a long, straight road, a bit out of town. Out of the blue came a small boy and pointed to a fixing place. Little angel. I would’ve had no idea where to go without him. Already three times I ran out of fuel – for which, of course, I have to blame my own lazyness or inattentiveness. Once it happened in the middle of the intersection. What a timing. It’s actually funny, how many smiling faces you see, when you push your motorbike back to a gas station… 😉

Similarly common are rust, broken windows, missing doors, dents, … . Nobody cares. There is nothing like a vehicle inspection. A not overloaded truck is not yet ready to go. An empty roof of a minivan is a waste of space. Not to pick up the phone is a waste if time. A family getaway with more than one motorbike is a waste of fuel. One child sits in the front, then comes the driver, then another child and then the wife with a baby – or similar. No big deal. A helmet is most likely only worn by the driver – which is in fact the law, the rest can only hope not to crash.

That a vehicle gets stuck in mud or breaks down, happens every now and then. During rain season the chance is much higher, since the roads aren’t as smooth as in western countries. Actually, there is not many of those. And since material is expensive, they don’t build them on western standard. Usually, they put a lot of gravel, press it together and then tar a thin layer on it. Needless to say, this is not long-lasting. There is not one road which doesn’t have cracks in the tarmac and where the surface isn’t covered by bumps or even big potholes. Other streets, like the one to my room are dirt roads, consisting of red and brown soil, dirt or dust or whatever you would call it. Those have even more and deeper potholes and higher bumps. Sometimes they fill some holes with gravel. Sometimes they even water the street because it would be too dusty without. Sometimes, a part of it would be washed away. In the end of the rain season, the water level is so high – basically only a few centimetres underneath the surface – that it doesn’t need much rain to flood fields and streets. A good and working system for the water to flow away quickly does not really exist.

And yes, there are some traffic rules. Rules like: The stronger wins. Or: Whoever is first or faster, shall drive first. Or: No matter, where you want to turn, those behind you have to pay attention – not you. Overtake, whenever you find a gap – left or right. Drive, wherever you feel comfortable. Turning right is always allowed, even when the traffic light is on red. Basically, you should drive on the right side of the road, if you have difficulties reaching it, just drive on the left side until you can change. Honk, whenever something seems to be wrong – at least in your opinion. Texting is more important than focusing on the street. Wearing a helmet as driver, one-way streets and traffic lights are only controlled during the working hours of the police, during the night, you shouldn’t be bothered too much.

Driver licenses can be bought. No surprise, that nobody follows serious rules nor anybody actually knows essential stuff about traffic. Most annoying are car drivers. Firstly, those drive slow – which is sometimes better for their safety, but not helpful for the flow. Dangerously, even when they went to driving school, they don’t know how to use the mirrors, how to turn, how to drive safely at all. I should also mention, that having a car is a status symbol. There’s loads of people going into debts just to own one and I don’t think that all of them are much concerned about having a license.

Cambodia is also called “Kingdom of wonder” – that also fits the traffic system perfectly. Sometimes, I wonder, why there are not more accidents, more injuries…
Maybe they pay more attention even though it may not seem like they do…? It’s said, that traffic seems to work better when the traffic light is not working (happens every now and then).
That definitely makes us wonder, doesn’t it?!