Crossing the street has replaced motorbiking as my daily adrenaline rush.
I’m currently in Phnom Penh, the busy capital of Cambodia, rapidly rebuilding itself after getting utterly destroyed under Pol Pot in the late ‘70’s. It now has about 2.3 million people and after 4 days here I’ve seen two stoplights (red means slow down, maybe - if you feel like it), and today just started to notice that stop signs exist - no one acknowledges those even slightly.
When I first started taking moto taxis in Cambodia I was frustrated that they weren’t speeding. I like moving fast and am used to reckless Asian driving, but even where there was little traffic they’d drive cautiously. The longer I’m here though the more sense it makes. It’s rare when there are even markings on the road, busy four way intersections means just be really careful. Cars and motorbikes will cautiously move forward across the lanes, trusting the traffic coming directly at them to slow or wait (which they do!). Drivers here are just used to driving carefully and being hyper-aware of their surroundings, as you won’t last a day if you don’t, so they’re not really used to speeding. Even on the highway with no one around you need to be careful, as the road conditions can be unbelievably bad.
As a pedestrian, navigating the streets is all about taking on each car approaching you individually. When crossing a street I may have to pass over 8 or 12 fast moving “lanes” of traffic, and waiting for any sort of major break in traffic is an exercise in futility. Instead my strategy is to stare down each oncoming vehicle and move purposely forward, pausing in between oncoming cars and buses as necessary. I’ve gotten to the point where I can walk across busy thoroughfares with barely breaking my stride from the sidewalk, even at night. Not going to lie, it’s kind of a rush and something I probably get an inappropriate amount of pride from.
After Cambodia I’m heading to Vietnam, where I hear the traffic is the worst in all of Southeast Asia. It’s hard to imagine the driving being crazier than it is in Indonesia, or the roads being less hospitable than they are in Cambodia, but I’m up for the challenge. Bring it on, ‘nam.