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Johanna Read | January 14, 2020
What not to do if you’re pursued by police in Phnom Penh.
As our car weaves through taxis, tuk tuks, pedestrians and bicycles piled with three or four kids balanced atop the rickety frames, a motorcycle-mounted police officer is in hot pursuit behind us. I can’t believe I’m in this situation and I don’t know how I’m getting out of it.
Flashback to Asia, 2006.
I landed in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, the day before but sans luggage due to a bad connection. That morning, the airport calls to say the bags have arrived, but that they don’t deliver and we need to return to the airport to pick them up. Our hotel offers to drive us for what seems like a reasonable price. Already overwhelmed by a country vastly different from my Canadian home, I delay learning how to negotiate taxis, let alone confirm if I can pronounce “tuk tuk” correctly.
Once our luggage is successfully reclaimed, I’m able to relax in the air-conditioned car and marvel at one of the many unique aspects of Cambodia. Generally, Cambodians drive on the right-hand side of the road. However, every road—regardless of width—has an additional mini-lane along the curb for vehicles traveling against the rest of traffic. It’s most often used by motorbikes, bicycles, and tuk tuks, however, full-size cars take advantage of the extra lane.
To the untrained eye, it looks like traffic chaos but to local drivers, it’s an easier way to make left-hand turns. Traffic in Cambodia is highly congested; vehicles weave around each other to occupy any available road space. At the time, I only see two traffic lights in the entire capital city. (Today in Phnom Penh there are more than two traffic lights.) Lanes are only suggestions and intersections are mostly a free-for-all. Police officers are dispatched at major crossroads but they seem to stay out of the fray in the shade.
So, we’re surprised to see an officer step into the thick of it all, just a few cars ahead of us. Traffic is stop-and-go and he’s delaying the traffic even more by talking to a driver. Additionally, school has just let out. Children dressed in crisp uniforms mount their bikes and also wait in traffic—they almost outnumber the regular traffic.
Though the vehicles around us are barely moving, our driver honks with annoyance at the delay. Not to have his authority questioned, the officer strides toward us. Instead of rolling down his window or even giving an apologetic wave, our driver pretends not to see the police officer. When space opens up in the next lane, we dart into it and drive on. The bang of the officer’s fist on our trunk echoes in our ears.
A few minutes and intersections later, a police motorcycle pulls up next to us and then accelerates in front of us. While the traffic inches along, the officer repeatedly accelerates quickly and then stops even more suddenly. I’m impressed by our driver’s talent in anticipating when to brake. It slowly dawns on me that this is a ploy, confirmed when the cop stops so quickly that our driver can’t help but hit him. It’s just a tap, but the satisfied look on the officer’s face as he dismounts makes his purpose obvious. Money is expected to change hands.
Read on: https://www.fodors.com/news/travel-tips ... -the-bribe
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