Nov 11 2012
In a perfect storm of royal mourning, sewage works and world leaders congregating in Phnom Penh, the usually slightly mad-cap affair that passes for traffic control in the city is being stretched to breaking point. There’s not much you can do except allow extra time to get to your destination, and keep a sense of humour as you wait patiently for Mr Putin to get to that breakfast meeting.
The road in front of the Royal Palace has been mysteriously closed to traffic for several months, and the stretch of riverside opposite was closed following the death of the King Father. The obvious detour routes, including Street 240 and Street 19, have been impeded by further barriers. Those behind the Palace on Street 19 are apparently to allow the King Mother to mourn in peace, as her quarters are close by. More road blocks have been springing up like mushrooms on Street 178 and 172, but seem to disappear as quickly as they flourish. It’s quite possible to go to lunch by one route, only to discover the barricades have gone up while you were happily munching through your salad. So if your tuk tuk driver tells you he can’t go the way you want, it’s probably true.
Ongoing infrastructure works around Russian Market and Street 63 involve digging up roads to put in huge sewage pipes. The pavements are still intact, however, meaning pedestrians and gung-ho motorcyclists can make it through, but tuk tuks and cars definitely cannot. We reckon going off-piste on the back of a motodop dodging trees and street stalls could be the highlight of any adventurous traveller’s trip to Cambodia, putting a big grin on your face even while your knuckles turn white from clutching the sissy-bar.
But the fun doesn’t end there. Phnom Penh has begun welcoming delegates to next week’s ASEAN summit, meaning the main boulevards and routes between big hotels, embassies and conference venues will be temporarily closed whenever a cavalcade needs to pass. Students at schools on Russian Boulevard, which leads to the airport, have been given a few days off to reduce the traffic. And with the worst-kept secret visit of a certain recently-elected world leader on the cards, expect some action around Wat Phnom from white-gloved policemen driving swanky BMW bikes.
While certainly not enough inconvenience to keep you out of Phnom Penh altogether, forewarned is forearmed. Expect occasional delays, and enjoy speculating who was hidden behind the tinted windows of the car that just whooshed past. Swot up on your world flags and play spot the diplomatic plate. If all other forms of transport fail, there’s always your trusty feet to get you around.
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