Traffic Rules of Cambodia – Bigger Gets Right of Way

The moment you step on Cambodian roads you will notice the most prevalent traffic rule of all – Bigger Gets Right of Way. Other than this master rule, there are hardly any other rules in effect. If driving anarchy exists, it resides in Cambodia. There are no rules, only something vaguely resembling guidelines that nobody cares about. As a result, driving in Cambodia is as chaotic as education – nobody cares about doing it right, they simply slalom around to get by.

Going for a walk in Cambodia is a life threatening experience. You get used to it quickly, but until such time, you will be shocked over immense rudeness and disrespect shown by the drivers. Nobody will care about a pedestrian being part of traffic. Nobody will attempt to slow down to avoid hitting you. As pedestrian you are simply smaller than a vehicle and bigger gets right of way. Jump out of the way if you can. Your life is in stake so you better, afterall.

It’s still shocking how there is no attempt, no intention of any sort, not even as much as slowing down or trying to steer away – bigger will simply continue going straight regardless of obstacle or who by law has the right of way. That includes automobiles joining traffic from sidelines. They only look in the mirror to make sure nothing bigger than themselves is coming their way, then they will simply continue forcing their way into the lane. Everybody who is there already, including pedestrians on the side of the road better find the way to get out of the vehicle’s path if they wish to live.

There are places with pedestrian crossings (zebras) making it look like this should be the zone for pedestrians to cross the road. I’m not sure what exactly the purpose of it is and why they bothered painting those zebras on the road. Nobody, I mean absolutely no freaking body will bother to even slow down when you are waiting there trying to cross. It’s just tough luck. They are n a car or on a motorcycle – they are bigger then you, they get right of way. Because number of motorcycles on the roads is ridiculous, you will never find a blank spot in traffic so you will have to enter and dodge at your own risk until you have crossed.

But what do you think happens once you have entered the traffic? Do you think anyone on a motorcycle or in a car will try to avoid you to give you a slightest chance to get on the opposite side quickly since you are already on the road? Think again! Not even the slightest attempt to help you cross. They will continue going straight at chosen speed. No slowing down, no steering away – straight no matter what. If you want to live, find they way to dodge. They are bigger, they get right of way.

As if this was not enough, as if insanely rude drivers did not create dangerous enough roads, it gets worse than that. As I had mentioned above – nobody follows any rules. If it’s a one way street, don’t expect there will be no motorcycles coming from the opposite direction. If you are on the right side of the road (they drive on the right in Cambodia), don’t assume there will be no drivers driving in opposite direction (aka driving on the left, opposite all traffic). If you are on traffic lights and there is a green light for pedestrians (which is a cute, animated green figure that walks Michael Jackson style) don’t assume that vehicles on the red will stop or remain stopped. And most of all – don’t assume you are safe walking on a sidewalk. It’s actually even more dangerous because you don’t expect motorcycles come wizz beside you at high speeds.

Remembers, you could be cool, but to be Cambodian cool you need to break all the rules. Real Cambodian don’t stop on the red, real Cambodian doesn’t drive on the right, real Cambodian doesn’t give way. If you want to life, look after yourself. There is little to no law enforcement in Cambodia. This statement doubles for traffic. Everybody does whatever they want on the road and will take pride in showing everyone in a smaller vehicle that they rule more than you.

Cambodian Traffic Rule Hierarchy

  • Pedestrians – you will never get right of way no matter what. You are the only one who can save yourself from getting killed. Watch out!
  • Bicycles – you can safely endanger all pedestrians as they will have to jump of your way to save themselves from getting hit. You have to give way to motorcycles and car as they will show you with joy that you are smaller and they will not back down.
  • Scooters – most common means of transportation in Cambodia. You can safely ignore pedestrians and cyclists. You have to watch out for motorcycles and all cars, SUVs and trucks.
  • Motorcycles – only vehicles with more wheels than 2 get right of way. Everybody else must get off your way if they want to live
  • Tuk Tuks – even though they are basically scooters with trailer behind them which makes them excessively sluggish, they are four wheelers, hence bigger than two wheelers and get right of way
  • Cars – 80% of traffic participants will back off, because you are bigger. Vast majority of traffic vehicles in Cambodia are scooters and motorcycles. Mostly scooters. Bicycles are second most used, but not popular among those who must use them. Locals think it sucks not having a scooter.
  • SUVs – all cars and motorcycle/scooter based entourages will get out of your way. You are near untouchable on the road.
  • Trucks – among normal traffic, you rule the road. You do whatever the eff you want, you go in any direction, blend into traffic from anywhere and just plain and simple do whatever you want behind the wheel. Near everybody else is smaller, hence you win
  • Semi Trailers and Buses – you don’t watch out for anything, just go. You are the biggest shite on the road, everybody else sucks and can go eff themselves or get killed if they don’t like it. The road belongs to you.

Cambodian roads are extremely dangerous with virtually no traffic laws in effect. Hence the only one rule applies – the rule of the bigger. The bigger a vehicle you control, the more right of way you get. The smaller you are, the more you have to dodge. As a tourist, you will have to dodge.