Cambodia - what road rules?

BY MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 14:26 18/11/2009

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A stint in Cambodia teaches you to appreciate road rules.

Traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, the give-way rule and seat belts reveal themselves as true blessings.

In my time in Cambodia I was honked at, swerved past, almost run over and driven into the path of an oncoming concrete truck by an unrepentant tuk tuk driver.

A six-hour trip from the capital Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was a game of dodge-the oncoming-death-trap. It was no surprise to learn that Cambodia has one of the highest rates of road fatalities in Asia.

Kids play fight on the side of the roads, a mere push or a shove away from certain death.

An endless procession of villagers cycle along the side of the road, aware of the vehicle coming up behind them only by the incessant honking of horns - quite possibly the biggest necessity in a vehicle in Cambodia, and indeed in Thailand and Vietnam also.

Some vehicles are so poorly lit that what appears to be a motorbike coming towards you, can often turn out to be a Khmer tractor hauling a wider load than you're prepared for.

The median strip is a guide more than a rule and drivers, well my driver at least, seemed to prefer to spend as much time on the wrong side of the road as possible.

Children ride on top of loads strapped to the back of utes that would be considered outrageous hazards in New Zealand.

Some passengers, who are left with no choice as the back of the ute is overloaded, as is the roof, are forced to ride nonchalantly on the bonnet of the car hurtling down the motorway.

Marauding cows cross the road at will.

One unlucky milky-white bovine had the misfortune of crossing the road ahead of an oncoming ute. The vehicle struck the cow so hard it completed a 180 before landing on its back. It got up and limped off nursing a presumably smashed leg.

In the cities, there are no such things as pedestrian crossings. You soon learn to walk out and leave it to the drivers to avoid hitting you - this experience becomes even more nerve-wracking when you notice some of the scooter drivers are texting as they hurtle towards you.

Taking a moto - a scooter taxi - is a lesson in daring driving. Every now and then a driver offers you a helmet but more often than not you're forced to risk your marbles every time you set foot, or bum, on the back of one.

It's obvious the fairly recent law making it compulsory to wear helmets has not quite worked.

Drivers merge when and how they feel like it and it's a wonder you don't see constant crashes. Perhaps it's fortunate scooters, and not SUVs, are the most popular vehicle of choice. Hummers are de rigueur among the newly rich, however.

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The only times the roads are quiet are when convoys of VIP vehicles are on the move and their security staff shut the roads down to the public.

You certainly learn to appreciate roads rules for what they are - lifesavers.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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