Aug 21 2012

Walking in Phnom Penh

Published by at 3:09 am under Health & safety


It’s the reply no tuk tuk driver wants to hear: “I’m walking, thanks.” Often, the most sensible thing would be to sit in his comfy carriage, be transported around the streets and let him worry about the traffic. But for getting-lost-exploring in Phnom Penh and answering the question, “I wonder what’s down there?”, you can’t beat shanks’ pony.

Detour again

Detour again.

Footpaths are not just for walking
They are not so much sidewalks as side-vends, side-parks, side-washes, side-eats. Anything goes on a Cambodian pavement. Including walking, if you’re lucky. Nevertheless, you’ll likely find yourself stepping off at regular intervals to make your way around a coconut water stall, a parked SUV or a metalwork shop and you may find it easier to walk on the road. That’s fine, just please remember …

There’s nothing wrong with single file
Maybe you are having a great conversation, and you probably do feel safer in a group, but there is really no need to stroll down the street Reservoir Dogs-style (complete with sunglasses) blocking the road and oblivious to the rest of the traffic.

Listen for horns
If someone beeps, they are letting you know they are there. Get out of their way. Especially if you’re doing the sunglasses walk.

Look left, look right, look left .... dive in!

Look left, look right, look left …. dive in!

Don’t cross at the intersection
Watching newbies attempting to traverse a junction is a little bit like an impromptu hokey pokey. Left foot out. Left foot in. Right foot out. Ooh no, back in. Let’s use some logic — at the intersection there are four directions of traffic, while 50 metres down the road there are only two directions of traffic. It’s always going to be easier to negotiate one road at a time.

Look both ways, twice
Coming from the UK which drives on the left, I used to find it difficult to adjust to road traffic in most other countries, where the right is, well, right. The happy solution was moving to Cambodia, where drivers seem to stick to whichever side of the road is more convenient. After all, if he’s turning left in a few hundred metres, what’s the point in cutting across the road to travel on the right, only to have to cross back again shortly? It’s important to know, when you’re navigating the road, that you need to expect traffic from all possible directions and you should look both ways for each lane.

Traffic signs are suggestions
Take traffic lights and one-way street signs with a heavily-laden pinch of salt. The tongue-in-cheek Kampot Survival Guide calls pedestrian crossings “merely a suggested place to get run over” — it’s more surprising if someone actually does stop for you to traverse the street.

With that many Buddhas, you shouldn't get run over round here

With that many Buddhas, you shouldn’t get run over round here.

Cross with confidence
It’s pointless waiting for a clear stretch of road before you cross — you could be standing there all day. When you do see the beginning of a gap that is just big enough to fit through, walk slowly and with confidence. Don’t change your mind halfway through crossing and do try to make eye contact with drivers and riders. So long as the riders are looking, motorbikes will go around you. Take more care with cars and SUVs, especially if you can’t see the driver through blacked-out windows. They may be finishing a text message and not have spotted you.

Don’t be shy
You might be given four different sets of directions, but asking for help from locals is an interaction you wouldn’t have had otherwise. That said, best to remember that maps are not always very useful, as even tuk tuk drivers tend not to use them. If you are going to do it your way, make sure that when you stop to consult the map, you are close to the pavement, and not in the middle of the road.

Further reading
Take a Phnom Penh walking tour around the work of Cambodia’s best-known architect
Heading to Kuala Lumpur? We’ve got walking in the Malaysia capital covered too.

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One Response to “Walking in Phnom Penh”

  1. […] want to encourage you to walk around Phnom Penh with your eyes wide open — perhaps one on the pavement ahead of you is wise, but please raise your […]

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