Marissa Carruthers is a freelance journalist who left behind life in the UK for the sun and smiles of Cambodia. In her column, she shares the ups and downs of settling into life in Phnom Penh as a new expat.
I toyed with the idea of caving into my fear and getting a moto the other day.
It felt like I was pretty much the only person in Phnom Penh who doesn’t have one and I was getting tired of relying on tuk tuks who, unless you stick to the same few, are constantly trying to rip you off.
I’d mastered crossing the road and I’d kind of come to understand the flow of traffic in that, well, it just flows. Despite the heavy buzz of vehicles at every junction and crossroad, motos, cars, tuk tuks and people weave in and out of each other calmly and it works seamlessly – most of the time.
It seemed to be simple: scrap all the road rules my driving instructor had patiently taught me over several gruelling months many years ago back home, drive slowly at junctions, beep a bit, be confident and learn to weave those wheels.
So during a trip to sleepy Kampot I decided to test drive the much-quieter roads on a pushbike. Cycling along the river front was a breeze – okay, so only one moto went by but I was feeling good – and then I hit the first junction and froze. The traffic wasn’t stopping and as trucks roared along covering me in dust I didn’t feel confident pushing forward the flimsy frame of my bike.
I eventually managed to cross and beefed up my battered confidence along another stretch of quiet road. Settling into the saddle, I started to enjoy myself and then suddenly out of nowhere I heard the screeching of tyres and saw a man on a moped hurtling straight for me from a side road.
I panicked and swung my bike out just as a car was about to pass me. Thankfully, it swerved in time and there was nothing coming the other way, but as the man on the moped came to a halt just inches from me and started apologising profusely, I knew there was no way I was ready to take on the mean streets of Phnom Penh.
Call me a wimp but to be quite frank, the roads here petrify me. Unlike the UK’s orderly traffic that’s controlled by stringent signs, traffic lights, road markings, roundabouts and, at times too many, rules, here anything – and I mean anything – seems to go.
And any small part of me that still yearned for a moto was dashed the other night when my tuk tuk was driving along Sihanouk Boulevard and we came across a crowd of people huddled around the still body of a man lying next to a crumpled moto; his head surrounded in a pool of blood – a stark reminder of how dangerous and deadly they can be.
My mind is made up. I’m definitely steering clear of motos.