Tuesday Travels #7 Getting Around in Phnom Penh

I cannot say enough about the traffic in this city. It is a constant source of wonder (and fear) and is almost like entertainment when we are out and about the city.

The first, most obvious thing that I notice is that more people travel by moto than anything else. They are everywhere. Since they are little (compared to a car) you find them by the dozen parked on sidewalks, driven inside buildings, pulling huge loads of goods, and carrying anywhere from one to five or more people. In the stream of traffic I see them winding their way around cars, totally disregarding any semblance of being in a lane. They act more like extensions of the rider’s body, making small twists and turns, squeezing into spaces you would not think possible.

Our two tuk tuks in the stream of traffic
Our two tuk tuks in the stream of traffic

The second and truly amazing thing is that at most intersections there are no traffic lights. None. Vehicles of all sizes and shapes simply edge out to make their turns and move across multiple lines of cross traffic. Have you ever seen the Shriners motorcycle riders in a parade? Those X formations where they weave one line of riders through another line? That’s a little bit like how traffic works at intersections only on a much larger scale. Most of the time the speed is quite slow, allowing for things to go wrong without being disastrous. That is not to say that there are never accidents.

Since many moto riders don’t wear helmets they are at risk. They are also the under dog when it comes to size. Everything except a pedestrian is bigger, heavier and more powerful than they are. Trucks are particularly dangerous and most of them are the large, road construction, type of vehicle. I rarely see a pick up truck. I think that’s because the average farmer in Cambodia is not a wealthy person, not even close.

Cars and vans are the next most common things on the roads. Every other vehicle is a Lexus or similar brand of car, and most of them have government connection. The late model SUV is definitely an “in” thing. Vans are used mostly as practical choices for carrying lots of people. And then there are large buses that can be chartered at a very reasonable cost.

5 adults and 20 + children manage to travel happily in this van (that is not to say they couldn't use a little more room...)
5 adults and 20 + children manage to travel happily in this van (that is not to say they couldn’t use a little more room…)

Perhaps some of you have no idea what a tuk tuk is – I didn’t before I came to Cambodia the first time. They are probably as equally prevalent as cars on the streets of Phnom Penh, and more prevalent the farther you get from the city. They are little motorcycle pulled carts that seat four to six people and serve as the common taxi. Outside hotels and shopping places tuk tuks are lined up along the streets waiting to be hired. Their drivers have territories and defend them. They are quite efficient at getting people around in the city at a reasonable cost. The wagons are decked out in various ways, some show a lot of imagination. They often have advertisements posted on the back.

And that is how we traveled today, Tuesday, in a tuk tuk.

Tuk tuk or what we would call a taxi, waiting outside our guest house for hire
Tuk tuk or what we would call a taxi, waiting outside our guest house for hire

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