Carmageddon in Cambodia

Posted on by Dermot Sheehan


A lot of people here in Cambodia judge others by their cars and vehicles. Many do this going by checking the model and year, and I guess it colors my thinking too, but I go more by behavior, and the value of the car rarely has a direct relation to the quality of the driving.

Whether a person is a sophisticated young urbanite who just got thrown the keys to a slick, black Range Rover, or a provincial hick on a jalopy who has never seen more than rutted one-lane tracks, one or other is likely to be a useless driver. Of course it’s possible that they are both as sketchy and as useless as each other.

There are a whole lot of drivers in Phnom Penh who park at least a meter from the curb, and while I feel sorry for them with for their obvious lack of any awareness of space, or anything outside their own tiny brains, for they irritate me a lot.

They are seemingly oblivious to the huge blockages they cause, especially when they stall their goddamn motors on a busy junction at a market, just so they can buy coffee or cakes or some nonsense. What the hell is wrong with them? Are they so seriously selfish or stupid not to realize what a huge pain in the backside they are being? I guess many of them also belong to the next bunch: the no- idea- what- size- anything- is crew.

These are people you feel sorry for mocking, as they must completely lack the awareness of an average three- year- old infant. When anything driving or stationary gets to be less than a meter away, they will slow to a standstill, and perhaps negotiate the “rough” patch by driving at a snail’s pace while still veering all over the place and freaking out other drivers.

Furthermore, the same drivers will invariably slow to a stop at other places with no obstructions too. On coming to a turn, oblivious to whether they are cruising down an empty country lane or the busy city thoroughfare they are actually on, they again slow down to a stop, blocking lanes off behind them, while they figure out if it’s the correct turn. When they’re all sure they’ll start taking that corner, but slow as hell; they don’t want to scratch anything. It’s the same mentality that leads people to stop at the bottom of a busy escalator to have a conversation.

Moving into any driveway or pavement parking slot is a major undertaking which often causes major blockages. This menace is often aided by half-witted parking attendants, who rather than waiting for a break in the traffic, will usher the vehicle straight out with their baton as soon as they feel like so it blocks a few lanes. Never having learnt the techniques of three-point-turns, the drivers then proceed to jerk back and forth for long enough to cause a huge jam.

Lunacy such as driving down one-way streets or driving diagonally for 500 meters across an opposing lane doesn’t even cause an eye-lid to be batted in Phnom Penh, and while most drivers try to keep the flow going, these dolts just choke it all up.

There are also drivers who like to drive fast as hell around town, shoving their way through red lights either for fun or because they feel they are so important they can just barge around. I’m talking here about private individuals rather than officials on state, palace or emergency duties. Obviously some traffic deserves a certain amount of privilege while on official business, but this shouldn’t extend to the VIP’s private hours. It often does though, and often it appears that there are more very important people here than in Phnom Penh than in London, New York and Paris put together.

Dermot Sheehan

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10 Responses to Carmageddon in Cambodia

  1. Jay says:

    Exactly my observations too. I attribute it to lack of education, immaturity, and sometimes plain stupidity. The way Cambodians drive makes abundantly clear the level of development they have reached in the past 22 years. The term logic is completely unknown to 99% of all Cambodians.

  2. Ray Christl THC Ministry Asia says:

    Look, this is a common disrespectful behavior that is global. When growing up in the late 60’s in a Chicago Jewish neighborhood,and coming back with my other goyim friend Danny Kolb,we’d watch the “Jew canoes” line up without parking at the famous kosher deli. The new Cadillacs would let the fat wife off and double park while smokin’ a cigar–traffic in back be damned. These were college educated & fairly wealthy men of the local synagogue that preached justice in all things to my Hebrew class mates in the Aristocrats Club.

    I’ve seen this all around the world with varying degrees of malicious hubris. Cambodia is still rather innocent, and the kleptocracy is only at its midway point…things will get worse,and western faces will eventually be scorned/superfluous.

    • Dermot Sheehan says:

      Thanks for your comments, but I haven’t seen bad driving on such a scale in any other country.

      • Travis says:

        What about India?

      • Soi Dog says:

        Egypt and Puerto Rico are as bad or worse.

      • Ray Christl THC Ministry Asia says:

        Let me mention a little story from Sumatra. Coming over from Penang and travelling up to see Lake Toba in the minivans were small children going home after school. They’re allowed to get on the roof,but there isn’t enough space,so the older boys lay down and grab the arms of a kid dangling along side the speeding van.

        I’m literally looking into the eyes of an eight year old smiling and joking with his buddies who are holding on for DEAR LIFE…2 kids on either side at 50 kph on the flexuous mountain highway. The voice of my father telling me “life is cheap in those tropical paradises you love to hide in”,is churning in both my brain & body.

        Indo-India-so many worse than Cambodia–the death toll from moto accidents in Vietnam is a 747 plane crash every month ?

  3. Fred says:

    This article is too flattering toward Khmer drivers.

  4. Dermot Sheehan says:

    Egypt is pretty bad, I haven’t been there in 20 years but I remember how freaked out I was racing through Cairo traffic, with the horn honking constantly. I can only imagine it’s a lot worse now.

  5. tipsymimi says:

    Cambodian motorists are easy to describe: Arrogant, ignorant and bone stupid! I have to drive every day a 25 km stretch of the route 4 on a 250cc – where the wedding party of 22 last year died in a crash; I was 15minutes after the crash happened on the scene. Ever since I have a pretty realistic looking toy gun in my belt and every time one of these brainless creatures tries to run me off my side of the road,I pull the gun, wave it and point it in their direction. Works so far 100%!

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