musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Khmer Traffic Chaos

You think traffic in Bangkok is bad? Compared to the total insanity on any street in Siem Reap or Phnom Penh, I’ll take Bangkok’s gridlock any day of the week. The thing that drives me most crazy about Cambodia drivers is their lack of predictability. You never know when they are going to turn, where they are going to turn, or more shockingly, which side of the road on which they are going to drive. It’s common to see cars and motorcycles veer to the opposite side of the road a full block before they even have to make a turn. Cutting corners indeed! I have yet to canvass the planet, but Cambodians rank as the scariest drivers I have even seen.


Siem Reap used to a relatively sedate and sleepy little town, but in the past decade tourism to Angkor has boomed and the town has grown quickly —I’d say TOO quickly. What passes for “progress” and growth is not necessarily a good thing. Look around and you still see lots of abject poverty amidst the shiny new hotels and billboards advertising cell phone companies. It’s not a cliche to say the rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer. Another result of all this new “development” is a surge in traffic. Venture down any street in Siem Reap and you’ll see vivid examples of driving incompetence. Predictably, intersections are the worst scenes of vehicular madness, as the stew of motorcycles, Toyotas, bicycles, trucks, carts, and SUVs (those obnoxiously large boxes are invariably driven by disgustingly rich Khmers wearing gaudy gold jewelry, or disgustingly pampered NGO workers who apparently can’t function without air conditioning) converge simultaneously amidst clouds of dust, jockeying for position on the asphalt. If that’s not bad enough, roughly half the drivers are chatting on their cell phones and not paying much attention to the obstacles around them. It’s sheer bedlam and it’s damn scary. Welcome to Cambodia!

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