Cambodian traffic practices
If you intend to drive a car, a motorbike, a bicycle or just take walks on Cambodian roads or streets, please take in account the following practices. Yes, officially, the international traffic law is in force in Cambodia and there are campaigns to educate people in how to follow the traffic rules, but… one thing is on paper, another is on the streets… so for your safety and the one of others, follow this recommendations:
- Cambodian drivers do not use driving license. It means that anybody with the possibility to move a vehicle, can drive, no matter if that person is 10 years old, has vision problems or never have been in a driving school. Technically there are several driving schools in each Cambodian province, but it does not mean that 100% of Cambodian drivers attend them. In theory yes, but few follow the driving lessons and the final exam is arranged by a dollar note. Police enforcement never requests driving license – at least it is about a foreigner to whom they would like to get some extra incomes. In particular, there is not driving license condition for motorbike drivers, so you can see children of 8 to 15 driving motorbikes on the roads, without any care for traffic rules – just because they never have been in a driving school.
Foreigners can take a Cambodian driving license that would help you as a souvenir. When I go to my country and I show my Cambodian driving license, everybody is amazed of it. I have used it also to state that I am a Cambodian resident in some hotels.
Note: Foreigners can take a Cambodian driving license. You can present your country driving license, otherwise, take driving lessons in any driving school…
- Pedestrians are nothing… According to the real Cambodian traffic practices, pedestrians are not included. It means that any person walking on the street, should not do such a thing. How is it possible that having thousands of Lexus, billions of motorbikes… a guy takes the crazy idea to WALK ON THE STREET???? It includes also those running on the street. The pedestrian areas such as walking paths, etc, are not for pedestrians in Cambodia, but it is for vehicles, parking areas and even for business settings.
Do not get surprise if you cross the street and a car plays the horn for you.
For Cambodians, a zebra pedestrian crossing does not mean a facility for pedestrians to cross the street… NO! It is just a beautiful design to make the street more beautiful for the car drivers to be more relax.
- Do not stop at the STOP sign: Cambodian drivers do not stop at the STOP sign. It is very impolite to do so. If you are going to enter into a road and you see the STOP sign at the corner, just ignore it. The real meaning is: GO AHEAD, even if you will crush with the cars going their way or produce a chaos.
It means, actually, GO AHEAD… and try to avoid collision.
- Bigger vehicles are always guilty: If you drive a car, under any circumstance get to touch another vehicle, specially if it is a motorbike. The real practice is that the bigger is the guilty. There is not need to discuss: if someone comes in front to you, coming from nowhere, with his motorbike, doing zig-zag to show up how good he is and falling in front to you… well… no matter how many witnesses you have in your favor, you have to pay for his clinic and the repair of his motorbike, just because your vehicles is bigger.
- Motorbikes are nothing: The opposite way… Cambodians who drive cars, feel that motorbikes are not real vehicles. Many of them even cannot see them. If you drive a motorbike, avoid big cars, specially Lexus… get out of its way…
If from the Cambodian Lexus drivers motorbikes are nothing… bicycles and pedestrians are fantasy…
- Right side of the road? Are you kidding me? Yes, Thailand is left side of the road… Vietnam is right side of the road… But Cambodian is more practical: both sides of the road…. It means, that you can drive for the side of the road that would be more convenient to you…
- Traffic lights are Christmas lights: The traffic lights are another way to make the street beautiful. You can give your own explanation to each color:
- Red: If you have time, stop for a while and relax.
- Yellow: What are you waiting for?
- Green: Hope to see you soon.
- Traffic police… who cares? It depends… one thing you must know, as it happens everywhere in the world: some persons are honest and loyal to their duty. There will be traffic policemen ready to proceed… something like this video. With the last campaigns to improve education in the Cambodian roads, many traffic policemen are really doing their work. But you will find many irregularities too.
Driving in Cambodia
Using the public transport can become annoying when you have to pay overpriced for poor services just because you are a foreigner. Fighting everyday to get a fair price from a tuk-tuk, motorbike, taxi and even buses can be stressful and a leak to your own economy. Then getting a new or second-hand car in Cambodia is not too expensive, as well as to rent a vehicle for your tours around.
The advantage to own a car in Cambodia – bought or rented – is that you can explore the country yourselves without losing plenty of time waiting for the always late schedules of buses, the abusive fees of taxis and many other little dramas that can make your travel from a province to another into a tiresome activity.
A car will give you freedom to move everywhere and explore far distance regions. However, you need to know some facts before getting your own vehicle and driving license in Cambodia to avoid difficult situations and accidents.
Types of driver’s licenses
You will need to convert your own international driving license into a Cambodian one. There are different types of non-professional driver’s licenses in Cambodia:
- A1 which applies to 49-125cc motorcycles and scooters: This license was abolished in January 2016. Therefore, you don’t need a license to drive a motorbike under 125cc.
- A2 which applies to more than 125cc motorcycles:
- The transfer has a cost of $10 USD if you go directly to the Department of Public Works and Transport (DPWT), but it is between $30 and $60 if you contract the services of an agency.
- If you want to make a new license, it has a cost of $22 with DPWT and between $180 and $250 through an agency.
- The renewal is $8 with DPWT and between $35 and $45 through agency.
- B for passenger vehicles: For vehicles than can transport less than 9 passengers. It will also allow you to ride less than 125 cc motorcycles:
- The transfer has a cost of $10 USD if you go directly to the DPWT, but it is between $40 and $65 if you contract the services of an agency.
- If you want to make a new license, it has a cost of $2 with DPWT and between $180 and $250 through an agency.
- The renewal is $10 with DPWT and between $35 and $45 through agency.
To obtain a Cambodian driver’s license, you can either pass your driver’s examination in the country or convert your original driver’s license. You can take the test for a fee between $180 and $280 in any driving school where the test can be in English. That driver’s license will be valid for three years. Note that foreigners can make the procedures only in Phnom Penh – other provinces are not authorized to proceed driving licenses to foreigners.
If you want to convert your international license to a Cambodian one, apply for it before the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT). The license can be issued within one month after the application and it is valid for one year. The authorities will give you a provisional document.
To apply for the Cambodian driver’s license, the following documents have to be produced to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport:
- Passport copy.
- Valid Cambodian visa (at least one year visa valid for not less than six months more).
- Residence certificate or a proof of it (for example, a work contract, a reference by an organization, a lease agreement, etc.)
- 5 passport-size photos (4cm x 6cm or 3cm x 4cm, white background).
- Your original driver’s license along with a translation if it is not in English or French.
- Administrative fees ($ 10 USD if you do it personally or commissions applied if you contract an authorized agency.)
- Medical certificate if you are more than 65 years old.
Roads & Safety
Make sure you have your international insurance in place if you want to drive in Cambodia.
Cambodian laws are cleared and follow international standards, but they are unknown to locals and not applied on real life. If you, as a foreigner, have a traffic accident where a Cambodian is involved (especially if it is a motorbike), everybody will assume that you are guilty, even if it is evident that the local made the mistake. This fact is even more disturbing when the authorities come and side with the local to the detriment of the foreigner. Although things are improving, you can be a protagonist of such an injustice and it takes a lot of time to resolve the situation that will be always by the foreigners paying for damages they were not guilty of. Calling your own embassy or your Cambodian friends would be a great way to make your own team of defense. Keep the cool: shouting does not resolve it here.
In order to prevent this situation, take this measures:
- Do as much as possible for never touching another vehicle, especially the many motorbikes around you.
- Do not rush, especially in roads with a lot of traffic. A maximum of 80 Km/h = 49 mph is appropriate for the Cambodian roads.
- Even if you see that Cambodian drivers do not follow international driving rules – every driver seems to have his own rules -, be honest with your own driving. The Cambodian authorities will be happy to stop you just because you are a foreigner and show you that you don’t respect rules – in most cases the fines will be paid at the spot.
- If for any reason you hit somebody on rural areas, be aware that you could be killed by local mobs. Do not stop your vehicle. Travel to the nearest police station and report the accident. Make sure to take coordinates of the place and photos within possibilities. If you present yourselves to your authorities in the aftermath of the accident arguing fear of the mobs (and it is real), you cannot be accused of abandoning the site of the accident.
- In any accident, take visual evidences such as photos, video clips and even audios of the people around you. It can make your case in any court.
- Keep cool before traffic road authorities, do not lost your temperament or shout. If you keep calm, authorities can turn in your favor.
- Bring always with you emergency phone numbers, including the ones of Cambodian friends you trust.
- Most Cambodian road signs are in Khmer language, but some of them in Latin scripts. Make sure to memorize the most basic road signs such as Stop and Reduce Velocity.
- It is common to see big groups of children riding bicycle from or to school on big roads. They do it without much care for cars. In any case, reduce velocity when you see them.
- In Cambodia driving is at the right side, but you will find motorbikes and even cars overpassing you by your left. Others will invade your line in the wrong direction.
- Although all these facts, Cambodians do not lost the temperament, all smile, know how to wait and never shout. Even if it can be seen as chaos to your eyes (and it is), the traffic road accidents in your country are much higher than the ones of Cambodia (!) The reason? Most of them drive slowly.
- Phnom Penh is a city under construction. There is improving of roads, construction of bridges and many works of infrastructure to make it modern, but it stills a very busy city with thousands of cars. The busiest hours of traffic jams are 5:30 – 8:00; 11:30 – 13:30 and 17:30 – 19:30.
- Roads leaving Phnom Penh to the provinces cross in front to garment factories with hundreds of workers. They leave at those same hours, increasing traffic jams, since the existence of pedestrian bridges is almost zero in Cambodia.
- Cambodia is a mostly a flat country with straight roads. Therefore, when you see a sign preventing of a dangerous curve, believe it!
- Distances in Cambodia are marked in kilometers. If you come from a country of miles, learn the conversion: 1 mile = 1.60 kilometers.
- Road conditions can be studied like this:
- Main roads between provinces (National Roads = NR) are in a good condition and well maintained, but do not expect to see international highways. Most of them have only two lanes, but there is the construction of 4 lanes roads between main towns.
- If you want to venture to roads out of those NR, make sure to check information (do not trust your GPS), because most of them go to dirty ways and dead-end.
- Four-wheel vehicles will be appropriated for rural areas. During the raining season, dirty roads become muddy and flooded.
- Be careful on night driving. Most local cars use permanent high lights and they will blind you.
- Gas stations are everywhere. There is not a self-service: they are attended by workers. If you are going far, take notice where the next gas station is located. Fuel is cheap in Cambodia.
- Ministry of Public Works and Transport of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Look for the Download of “Require Documents and Service Fee of Transport” and “Driving License Renewal Form” down the right column.
- Cambodian National Police.
- Cambodia Pages – List of Driving Schools.