Traffic conditions

If arriving in Cambodia for the first time, you’ll soon find out what the traffic conditions in Cambodia are like: chaotic and anarchic.

Despite the existence of an extensive traffic law, which would put many developing or developed countries at shame, in reality the ‘laissez faire’ approach rules. This takes on absurd forms and those of you just in, will be shocked at the total disregard to even the most essential road rules (everybody drives on the same side of the road) as well as the total disregard to any other traffic user(s). These distinctively Cambodian characteristics though, are increasingly under fire, as with the increase in traffic during the last few years and the lack of regulation (or enforcement of basic traffic rules), this has lead to many accidents, increased road rage and congestion.

Essentially, you must have a driving license (in theory), in practice no one knows these things exist, at least that’s the impression, in reality a couple of percent of the drivers do have a license, but the overwhelming majority simply have come round to getting one, mostly because they are expensive. When participating as a pedestrian you must be aware of the Cambodian perception that only kids and lunatics walk, even if it is just for 5 minutes. Consequently, all other traffic perceives that they have the right to, all but run you over, this despite the traffic law clearly implying the rights (in the sense of protecting) of pedestrians over all other forms of traffic users. Additionally discouraging those on foot are all kinds of businesses which view side walks as places of storage, a restaurant or a car park. From pedestrian traffic users up, (unofficial) rights gradually get better until at the apex you have a sleek black Hummer with blinded windows and an army license plate: the true class of Cambodian untouchables!

In any case, if you over for just a short while, try to let yourself be chauffeured around, at it’s best it solves the problem of getting frustrated with other drivers, at it’s worst, you’ll never be held responsible for an accident. If renting a vehicle, do be cautious and do try to drive as safe as possible. Beware that in the case of an accident you will have to pay all damages even if not at fault. Involving the police, hardly makes things better as they also need to be paid and will nearly always favor the local plaintiff. And remember that when renting, insurance is never included.

Despite the lack of law enforcement, the most ‘recent fashion of traffic enforcement’ might take place, even if in contradiction to the traffic law. Both, on this site as well as on forums these ‘new’ fashions are published, though the shelf life of these fads is often not more than a few days, in order probably to collect the previously agreed on fines to enable police staff to celebrate upcoming festivals and provide the international press with a laughable quote. Foreigners are, more often than not, requested to ‘donate’ their ‘fair’ share. All fines are negotiable, but so are the offences, for instance driving with your lights on, is compulsory for motorcycles in neighbouring Thailand, in Cambodia this can result in a hefty fine.

Public transport: In Phnom Penh and Siem Reap public transport is ok, though a bit unconventional. Starting with motorcycles (moto's), which take you wherever you may wish or what you can clearly communicate with the driver. Besides inexpensive, they are quite unsafe. Remember to take-your-own, helmet that is! Tuk-tuks are a better choice especially if not alone. Taxi’s are on the increase, but nowhere to be seen apart from the airports where they have a monopoly on the picking up of passengers. There also non-metered. Also take into consideration major changes in local circumstances. For instance sea lovers in Sihanoukville are now actively dissuaded from hiring motorcycles with the reason being simply protecting tourists from (fatal) accidents, it puts on lid on bad international press. The consequence has been a racket by local tuk tuk drivers who have little qualms about double charging you for the sake of economic growth and (their own) prosperity.

Cambodia’s forms of mass urban transport systems are the packing the preceding forms to overloading; no bus system as such within Cambodia'scities.

Long distance travel is also improving. Despite having a railroad track, taking a train is more or less based on luck, what with only two trains per week. The rails are disintegrating. With the improvement of the national road grid, boat services are in decline. Siem Reap-Phnom Penh by boat still exists, as does Phnom Penh-Chau Doc (Vietnam), but other routes (Phnom Penh to the north) are disappearing fast. Most tourists now can take comfortable coaches as an alternative, some without being over packed. Do be careful, to find out whether or not your seat is on the sun side, not much fun in those seats. Another word of caution as buses are not immune to accidents brought on by over speeding. Some still have their steering wheels on the wrong side, which is not much help when taking safety issues into consideration.

Finally, by now you should have realized that Cambodia and it’s traffic is different. Don’t be overawed by this, just try to adapt. And heed all advice you can get you never known when next you might need it! The above is based on Crossing Cambodia’s year long coverage, with many postings per week.

Within Crossing Cambodia more advice in the form of outside publications:

Destination Cambodia: Up to date info on how to get from Phnom Penh to ......

  • Highway no. 1: Svay Rieng / Vietnam (Saigon) The first stretch from Phnom Penh to the Mekong crossing is over a small dike with quite a lot of traffic. During public holidays the ferry crossing becomes a bottleneck (Khmer new year '09: 5 hour hold ups). After the ferry crossing the road to the border is wide and good. Buses (and mini buses) to border and onwards to Saigon leave Phnom Penh between 6.30 until 13.30. Many different companies, prices vary from 10-12 $US. Taxi's: shared for 5 $US, but only to border.
  • Highway no. 2 : Takeo / Vietnam (Chau Doc). Between Phnom Penh and Takmau traffic is poor, after Takmau traffic disappears gradually. The road is then a narrow country lane. If willing to get to Takeo, take Kampot bound bus. For Chau Doc, various boat companies offer affordable (35 $US) and direct alternatives from Phnom Penh.
  • Highway no. 3: Kampot / Veal Renh (Sihanoukville). Intense traffic is encountered on the first part of a generally small and narrow road with more and more potholes appearing. Please note that the road is under construction. Highway no. 2 is a better alternative unless you like driving through a 150 km dust bowl. Expect it to get better before monsoon 2011(it has, bar one or two short sections and bridges ...). Not many buses ply this route, roughly four per day, two in the morning, two early afternoon (5 $US). Some also travel via Kep. Taxis charge 3-4 $US per person or 20-30 $US for the whole taxi. It takes about 3 hours to get to Kampot. Not much bus service between Kampot and Sihanoukville (2 hours), but there are taxi's: 3-4 $US per person or 20-25 $US for a private taxi. Buses charge about 5 $US for Phnom Penh - Kampot.
  • Highway no. 31/33: From Takeo to Kampong Tranch - Kep - Kampot. This road is generally very good, though speeds have to be kept low, due to large amount of local traffic; some bridges are playing up. Good alternative (though longer) for the road to Kampot. Buses: see highway 3, the same applies for taxi service along this route.
  • Highway no. 4: Sihanoukville. Arguably Cambodia's most important road, it is generally a wide, well maintained and good road with, closer to Phnom Penh, a lot of traffic. This wide road invites the lowdown of Cambodian drivers to do death defying overtaking stunts. Extensive bus options along this route but mostly morning and early afternoon. Travel time is roughly 4 hours. Costs are competitive 4-7 $US. Taxi's cost 5 $US/person, private taxi's are 40-45 $US.
  • Highway no. 48: From Sre Ambel to Koh Kong / Thailand (Trat). The road itself was in excellent condition, it's now becoming potholed. Buses now service Koh Kong to and from Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh. To Sihanoukville the costs are 15$US, flexitime required. Taxis on shared basis are slightly cheaper. To Sihanoukville, the bullet boat which provided an alternative for roughly the same price has been (temporarily?) discontinued. Oddly enough prices by bus to Phnom Penh are cheaper (7-8 $US) and increasingly frequent.
  • Highway no. 5: Battambang / Thailand (Aranyapathet) between Phnom Penh and Battambang the road is good, after that the closer you get to the border the worse the road gets. Though the last few km's are being rehabilitated. Buses just take 5-6 hours to Battambang (5-6 $US) leaving Phnom Penh in the morning (many alternatives); Some (3-4) early buses continue onwards to Poipet (9 $US, this is the Cambodian side of Thai border). Taxis slightly faster (private) but 35-40 $US for a private taxi.
  • Highway no. 57: From Battambang to Pailin. 'Bad Road' or 'jarringly nasty'. Then again there are some who do not have any complaints. Travel time is 4 hours with a choice of taxi's (2-3 $US per seat) and pick ups. Possible delays as bridge has broken (Aug '08). There are two buses daily from Phnom Penh (8 $US).
  • Highway no. 6: Kampong Thom / Siem Reap / Sisophon. After tiresome negotiating the road out of the city, the road is perceived as good. Beware of invisible speed humps from 50 km before Siem Reap. Latest conditions (improved!) on the the section towards Sisophon on this important section of the Siem Reap - Thai border road can be found on Tales of Asia. Many, many (> 20) buses (to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh) between 6.00 and 14.30; prices vary between 5 $US and $11, taking 5-6 hours. A private taxi might slash this journey by an hour but costs 40-55 $US. If possible this can be used for a detour to Sambor Prey Kuk in Kampong Thom province. For up to date info on the Siem Reap - Thai border please click the earlier mentioned link.
  • Highway no. 64: From Kampong Thom to Tbaeng Meanchey (Preah Vihar). Judging from the first 10 km, this road is terrible, but then again it might just have been so during the rainy season. Just the once daily bus (9 $US). Due to border scuffles, don't always count on this service.
  • Highway no. 67: From Siem Reap to Anlong Veng. 'Rough and tumble'. That was the case, now (2011) a nice smooth road.
  • Highway no. 7: Kampong Cham / Kratie / Stung Treng / Lao (Champasak). Once past spider eating capital of Skun, the road is good and improving. Especially once in Kratie province the road is terrific, possibly the best in the country! Not much public transport on this highway, but at least twice daily buses to Stung Treng (7 hours, 10-11 $US). Kratie is just 5 hours away (6-8 $US) from Phnom Penh.
  • Highway no. 76: From Snoul to Mondulkiri. Not really a road and often closed during the rainy season, even for a dirt track there are a lot of potholes. Great scenery though. Ther Chinese are cutting a new road so expect a sudden popularity in the road to Mondulkiri. Buses possibly 1-2 per day from Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri, some days faster than others (6-9 hours or none at all, 12-13$), a recent traveller had to walk some sections; Taxi's also go all the way from Phnom Penh (10 $US per seat).
  • Highway no. 78: From Stung Treng to Ratanakiri. The road is just a poor piece of gravel road. Rainfall can make the better sections full of potholes. Nearer Banlung the road is laterite. Combined with rain makes this section very slippery. Three buses now ply this route from Phnom Penh with an early morning departure. Beware though, on a recent visit (April 09) there were also 3 buses broken down along the road! Costs are about 13 $US.

There are some long distance boat trips, notably Siem Reap - Phnom Penh (35 $US), Siem Reap - Battambang, Sihanoukville - Koh Kong (cancelled?) and from Phnom Penh to the Vietnamese port of Chau Doc (35 $US). Along the Mekong there are also some possibilities northwards, but the road situation this way has improved considerably. Safety considerations are of course not up to western standard and you may be called upon in some instances to save yourself or assist in keeping the ship floating. Prices are also a feature, for instance by boat to Siem Reap costs 35 $US, more than double the fee for the bus.

There are some internal scheduled flights, only between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, though there are excellent environmentally better balanced alternatives such as by bus, taxi and/or boat. More flights might be in the offering in the future, once the Sihanoukville airport has been opened.

Bus timetable as of Feb. 2011. Use View imgae for full overview. From

Modes of getting around

  • Bicycle: yes it's possible, but increasing traffic in Phnom Penh makes it less of a pleasure. Outside of Phnom Penh, avoid the main road to Sihanoukville: too many busues and trucks. more info can be found at the Cambodia travel guide: cycling in Cambodia section

  • Cyclo: the cyclo is Cambodia's version of the cycle powered cart, some would say riksja, but in Cambodia we refer to the cyclo. The driver (and thus motor) sit behind you and push you through the streets with front view.

  • Motorcycle: not much too say, other than that there are lots of them!

  • Moto-dop: a motorcycle taxi, these guys hang around every nook and crannie and simply do not take no for an answer. They make walking around town a pain in the butt, constantly calling out ('He you!', 'Mister!') even trying to coax you on their back-side by cutting you off. They are cheap and un-safe, have no clue where you are going, but well adapted to take your visiting in-laws along as well on their elongated back seats.

  • Tuk-tuk: a stage higher in the motorcycle evolution, this is a motorcycle with a cart behind it which seats more than the motorcycle can pull. Much safer and the drivers also seem to now where they are heading. A pleasant way of getting around town.

  • Remorque: a tuk-tuk without a covered short carriage, but rather an uncovered huge trailer. They mostly operate out of town for locals. Do not seem safe, nor comfortable.

  • Taxi: most of them hang around the airport. There are persistent rumours that taxi's will be the next big thing, but they simply can not compete with the cheaper tuk-tuks.
    Beware of share taxi's: taxi's for long distance; to cut costs these are often overloaded, with as many as 4 sharing the front seats together with the driver. Can also be privatly rented. Some even permit you to sit in the (opened) boot.

  • Minibus/van: Cambodia's mass transport systemin inter-urban traffic, it's amazng how many people and things you can stuff in these vans. Unfortunately they do not look very comfortable. To accomodate everything the back hatch is open (and secured with a small rope).

  • Bus: Busing around is an increasing phenomena in the past years. Partly because roads are more and more looking like roads. To destinations such as Sihanoukville and Siem Reap there are many buses, even some double decker buses. Besides increasingly reliant, they are also getting safer.

  • Plane: see above
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