Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The ABC's Of Driving In Cambodia

Angles are everything.  When another driver is turning toward you at a 5-degree angle, don’t worry, everything will turn out alright.  A 15-degree angle, you’re still fine, just make sure you keep your front bumper a few inches ahead of their front bumper so as to force them to merge behind you.  A 45-degree angle, at this point things are getting a little dicey.  Several long blasts on the horn are in order.  Warning: You should only call their bluff in direct proportion to how nice the other car is.  In other words, do you love your car more than he loves his, or does he love his car more than you love yours?  A 90-degree angle, hope your brakes work well!

Big cars rule!  Learn the laws of the asphalt jungle.  Know where you fit in the food chain.

Create your own space.  Yellow lines, white lines, double lines, dotted lines, crosswalks, concrete barriers, and sidewalks are there simply to get your creative juices flowing.  When it comes to getting from point A to point B, learn to think outside the box. 

Dogs.  Stop for them, or don’t.  It’s up to you.

Energy drinks.  You made need one (or 3 or 4) to make it across Phnom Penh at 5:00 pm.

Fast.  If you are driving a Camry, Lexus, or Land Cruiser, you may go as fast as you like.  There are no limits whatsoever.

Flashing Lights.  If a driver coming towards you flashes his headlights, that does not mean that your lights are on.  It means that regardless of how close you are to him and regardless of how fast you are going, he is turning in front of you.  Is he bluffing?  No.

Go!  The key is never stop going!  If your lane stops, move either to the shoulder or across the double yellow line (it matters not which one you choose) and make your own lane.  Of course, that can only go on for so long, but that’s beside the point.

Honk!  You must honk at least once every 7 seconds.  If your car horn breaks, you should just park your car and walk ‘til you get it fixed and fit for driving again.  When to honk:  If someone is in YOUR way, if you are in someone ELSE’S way, if you want to get IN someone’s way, etc.
Inches.  Suppose you are driving down a narrow road and come face to face with another vehicle.  If there is 48 inches of clearance, and your car is 47 inches or less in width, you’re fine.

Jump.  If you want to ride a bike or moto, learn the art of jumping off your vehicle quickly.  If you are a pedestrian, you should also know how to jump quickly and far, kind of like that old video game of the 80’s, Frogger.  If you only drive a car, you don’t need to know how to jump.

How did that license plate from Kansas get here?

Lights (as in, headlights).  Illegal in the day, optional at night.

Ladders.  In case you were wondering, it is perfectly fine to transport a 10 foot stepladder on your moto, so long as you carry it parallel to the traffic and not perpendicular to the traffic, or so long as you hold it straight up into the air (and don’t go under any low hanging power lines).

Moto (as in, motor scooter). The family car.  

Nighttime driving.  At 5:00 pm the traffic police all clock out, thus all rules are disregarded until morning.

One-way streets.  One-way streets are more of a suggestion than anything else.  If you have important business, if you are an important person, if you have one of those cool military VIP cards on your dash, if the police on the corner are sitting down eating fried noodles from a street vendor, or if you just feel like taking the shortcut, you can go the wrong way, just so long as you do it real fast.

Power lines.  If you put all the power lines in Phnom Penh end to end, they would go around the world 14.3 million times, and some of those lines hang a bit low.  If you are just driving regular, you should be fine.  On the other hand, if you are transporting 3 or 4 tons of bicycles and furniture on the roof, you probably should hire a guy to sit on top with a long stick to lift the power lines out of the way.

Quit.  If you want to drive in Cambodia, there are a few things you need to quit.  1.  Quit thinking everybody is going to follow the rules.  2.  Quit letting every driver in the city go first (unless you still want to be sitting in the same place 4 and ½ hours later.  3.  Quit whining and drive!

Red is a pretty color, and that’s about all it is.

Stoplights are optional. Adherence depends entirely upon one’s mood.

Seatbelts.  Seatbelts?  What are those?

Sidewalks.  I’ve heard that some countries use their sidewalks for pedestrians.  What a waste!

Traffic.  Traffic isn’t always bad.  Just the first 7 days of each week.

Unicycles.  This is the only (and I mean ONLY) type of vehicle that you will not see in Cambodia.  Although last week while driving to Kompong Speu, I saw a lone car wheel bouncing along the shoulder at a pretty good rate of speed.  Would that count as a unicycle?  Never did figure out whose wheel it was.  No one seemed to be missing one, and I don’t think it was mine.

Vicious.  Give it some time.  You’ll learn.

Weddings.  If the road ahead of you is blocked by a large tent with an even larger set of speakers blaring away, that’s a wedding.  Don’t get mad.  Don’t get frustrated.  Don’t fight it.  Just back up and find another way to your destination.

Water.  During the rainy season you will occasionally turn a corner to find that you have magically been transported to the middle of the Gulf of Thailand.  Don’t panic.  Look at the cars in front of you.  Are they still going?  Are they smaller than you?  Then you’re fine.  If you see a Tico starting to float, back up and find a different route.  If you are driving a Tico yourself, you should always carry lifejackets in your car during rainy season.

X-citement.  There’s nothing like driving in Cambodia!  It’s never boring.

X-treme.  This is better than bungee jumping, skydiving, or tobogganing down the face of Mt Fuji, and may be a little safer.  Maybe.

Yellow lights.  Another pretty color.

Yield.  Yield?  No way!

Zzzzzzz stands for sleep, which is something I doubt you will ever be tempted to do while driving in Cambodia

Did I miss any?


  1. I've never even been in Cambodia,and this is still hilarious! Did you write this?

  2. WOW!!! I can not imagine driving there (or driving with someone there)!!! Russia was interesting enough to drive in (well, ride with Ron while he drove). Some (only SOME) of those things sound like similar situations we dealt with there. And you are right....sleeping is something I didn't do as a passanger. When we were on deputation, I would fall asleep so quickly while we traveled. Living in Russian cured me of that!
    We will pray more earnestly for your daily safety (especially while driving).

  3. Wow that sounds even more exciting than TJ! Tizayuca is a little better than TJ, although we pass many accidents when we go out shopping. The wheel thing happened to Ryan on a rout one time-it bounced right past him and smashed the front end of the big truck behind him.

    Are there many VW bugs? They are buzzing around everywhere here. Now I've got a new thing to pray about for your family!

  4. I am trying to figure out how to get this into the bulletin Sunday. Awesome


  5. Yes, I wrote this. I had the basic idea start to form in my mind about a week ago while driving around town (of course!), but I had a few empty letters still. Last night at the dinner table I shared my idea and in mere minutes my wife and kids had given me plenty of ideas to finish it up.

    By the way...I'm cracked up by the comments thus far.
    Girls: (in high, girly voice) Oh wow...we'll pray for you!
    Guys: (in low, manly voice) Hilarous...awesome!

  6. Well, I have grown past the white-knuckles on my armrest, so that's got to count for something. Ryan laughed long and loud when he saw this.

  7. LOLOL!! How right you are, guys love it, girls flinch, lol! I though Fiji was bad, but they're regular law-and-line abiding citizens compared to you. Did I ever think I wanted to come visit?? ;o) I am so blessed by you and your I think it's hilarious and awesome, AND I'm praying for you all!

  8. We have a saying here in Honduras as well. "He who hesitates loses." We have seen our share of accidents but we praise the Lord for his continued safety on the roads.

  9. I have read so many expats trying to describe the experience of driving in Phnom Penh and this is the most creative format and entertaining observations I have encountered. I may have been critical of a past blog but this would make my list of "5 cool blog posts." Cheers

  10. Bro. wilson as iI went to Honduras If you don't move you won't get any where. That why me eye's were closed when we got in close call. At less I glad that the Lord protect us when we can't protect our self's

  11. I love this article! When I had about a year's experience driving in Phnom Penh, I was back in the States briefly. My mom (who taught me to drive) was in the car with me and couldn't understand where I had picked up so many bad habits--following cars too closely, weaving back and forth across lane lines. A few months later, she visited Cambodia, and my bad habits all made sense to her.

    Since reading the article, as I drive around the city and see some of these things, I think of the article and smile and chuckle. Since laughter is good medicine, it helps to reduce the stress of dealing with this insane traffic.

    I would add, "G is for Gridlock." When too many people decide to create their own lanes, every oncoming lane gets blocked until no one, not even the motos, can move. It's a horrible experience!

  12. Hahahahahahahaha!!!!! This is absolutely hilarious, and the most well-written article about driving in a foreign country where rules are merely suggestions, and sometimes not even that! Loved it!

    Will you teach your children how to drive in Phnom Penh? :)

  13. That's a good question, Kari.

    When my wife read your comment, her response was:
    "Hahahahahahahaha!!!!!!! No."

    I consider myself a little more open-minded on the subject though. So I'll give an answer more fitting of a leader:
    "Of course...not, well...maybe. I depends. There are a lot of variables, so we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it...IF the other people on the bridge are following the traffic rules."

    Hope that clears it up. :)

  14. Stephen,
    Another side splitter! Here's an update: Now Seat Belts are the new reason for police pulling you over if they're not fastened. Traffic signs "what are those??". And, also, you NEVER argue with a LEXUS UNLESS you are the same size or bigger. Motos never respect TICOS or Camrys - so A is for Attitude if you have one of those cars. Driving here is always the test of whether I'm going to stay spirit-filled from home to church or to the market or where ever!