Why driving in Phnom Penh is not for the faint of heart.

19 Oct

Phnom Penh is dusty. REALLY dusty. So dusty that  I walk around most days feeling like I ate a dirt sandwich. There is grit and grim on everything and there is simply no escaping it.

And then it rains. And when it rains, the street outside our school turns into a river. I know that that is a somewhat overused metaphor but in this case it happens to be true. When there is a visible current in the water running down your street, I call that a river.

I drive a Yamaha Fino. I started driving scooters 13 years ago in Taiwan. I thought that if I could drive safely there (two years and not one fender bender), then I could drive anywhere. I love riding a scooter. In Bangkok, my eldest starting riding around the neighbourhood with by the time he was about 20 months old.

The boy and I on his first day of school this year.

The boy and I on his first day of school this year.

I have not yet done the same with my youngest (nearly 2 years old). A large part of the reason is that he still won’t keep a helmet on his head but that’s not the whole reason. The fact that NO ONE PAYS ANY ATTENTION TO THE COLOUR Of A TRAFFIC LIGHT isn’t even the real reason. It’s not the fact that people do not understand/obey/give a rat’s ass about such things as respect for one’s side of the road. And it’s not even the speed of traffic because that is actually not really a factor here. In the three months we’ve been in Phnom Penh I think I’ve only ever gotten up to 50km/hour on the bike once (no kids on board).

The roads in Cambodia are more dangerous than say…just about anywhere in the western world, but not for the reasons  I mentioned above. It’s the condition of the roads that make them dangerous.

Case in point, it rained a little last night and the road in front of school (the main artery into town) was once again flooded. We’re talking about roughly 2-6 inches of water. And I use the word “water” very loosely. A better term might be “liquid”. It is vile. During the big flooding last week, I was in a tuk-tuk and got splashed by the stuff. Not much, just a little. Any exposed skin that that ‘water’ touched developed a rash before bedtime.  But I digress.

The big crazy intersection.

The big crazy intersection.

Coming back from town this morning, I decided to by-pass the big crazy intersection and cut through the school campus instead. Well, what with the water and all, I didn’t see a rut in the road that nearly knocked us over.

In French there is an expression for pothole, un nid de poule, which translates literally to a ‘hen’s nest’. I would describe what is most commonly seen on the roads here as ‘dinosaur’s nests’. I saw a small delivery truck stuck in one of these potholes last week.  It couldn’t move because it’s rear right tire wasn’t even touching the ground, the nose of the truck pointed at a 45 degree angle into a pothole.

Come to find out, many of the roads around where I live are privately owned – which went a long way to explaining the toll booths. So there is really nowhere for motorists to direct their outrage. No angry letters to write or calls to be placed to a local council. Complain all you want, no one is listening. All folks can do is roll up their pant legs and power on through. Get on with their lives. Work around it.

Now that I think of it, that’s probably a very good allegory for the state of politics in this country.


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