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How to travel safely by bus in Cambodia

Travelling around Cambodia can be… well, an adventure. Traffic laws are lax, drivers are brash (and by brash I mean reckless) and roads are poor. In 2011 there were 41 bus accidents in the country, and it’s looking like 2012 may beat that. In the past few weeks alone, several high-profile bus accidents have left a number of tourists dead.

They look so innocent when they aren't on the road, don't they?

On March 8, a Rith Mony night bus between Poipet and Phnom Penh crashed, injuring seven, including three foreign nationals. On February 28, a Paramount Angkor Express bus (the sister company to Rith Mony) crashed between Sihanoukville and Koh Kong, killing two tourists injuring and injuring 45 more. Two days after that, a Virak Buntham Express bus headed from Phnom Penh to Poipet — and driving on the wrong side of the road — crashed, killing the driving and injuring many others.

The Cambodian government has reacted by calling for all bus companies to install “black boxes” that will monitor the speed of drivers. Since most drivers tend to flee the scene when their buses crash, whether this will help is doubtful.

This is particularly frightening because besides travelling by bus, there aren’t a lot of other options for transport within Cambodia.

Here are a few tips for travelling as safely as possible by bus in Cambodia.

Avoid night buses. Night buses are particularly accident prone, probably because bus drivers still follow the typical Cambodian schedule and wake up early in the morning, which means they tend to fall asleep when working the night shift. There have been many night bus crashes in Cambodia. Personally, I wouldn’t take one if you paid me.

Choose your bus company carefully. In 2011 Mekong Express was the only bus company that did not get in an accident — they’re the best choice for the Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh to HCMC routes. Rith Mony is generally considered the company to avoid — both in terms of service and constant breakdowns. The recent crash indicates that driver negligence is also a problem. Their sister company, Paramount Angkor Express, is little better.

Be brave and exit the vehicle. If you end up in a bus where the driver is driving in a way that makes you nervous, get off the bus. As much as a pain this may be, be aware that traffic accidents are the number one cause of death in Cambodia. If you think your driver is driving badly, get off the bus and find another way to get where you are going. It’s not with risking your life over.

About the author:
Previously, Lina has been based in Oakland, California, New York City, Dublin and London. Lina spends most of her time thinking about food, travel and synthpop. She's currently based in Siem Reap.

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