There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe what driving in Cambodia is like. Imagine a huge rally race of motorcycles with swirls of dust clouding your vision. You are surrounded on all sides by hundreds of motorbikes with numerous cars thrown in for good measure. Blaring horns are a constant in the background and don’t expect many people to stop for traffic lights.
Driving on the right side of the road seems optional, especially in the smaller cities, and even I often find myself cruising up the street the wrong way.
Well, because sometimes it’s just easier. The mere thought of trying to cross the path of hundreds of motorbikes and cars trying to run me down and then, adding to the insanity, trying to pull a u-turn and cut back across the same death trap they call a road seems ludicrous at best. Far easier to just make a quick left and cruise up the street the wrong way, or on the sidewalk if need be. Nobody will think anything of it and I may have just saved my life. Twice!
Watching as a 10-year-old zooms by me on motos, followed by a family of five stuffed onto the back of one motorbike, I wonder to myself how necessary it truly is to obtain a valid driver’s license in the Kingdom of Cambodia. Certainly that 10-year-old doesn’t have one.
Driving on Your Native Country’s License or an International Driver’s License
Unfortunately, this doesn’t fly here in Cambodia. You will have no problem renting a car or motorbike while you are here without one, but if stopped by the cops, just presenting you driver’s license from your home country won’t do. The same holds true for an International Driver’s License. Despite listing Cambodia as one of the countries that has agreed to participate, it will do you no good trying to flash this at a cop.
I actually had that argument once with a Cambodian police officer while showing him where it listed Cambodia as a valid country. His actual response “ Yes. I see. Because I am big police. I know English. Many other police they don’t know.” This stupidly led me to believe that because he can read it, he will accept it. Wrong. Out came the wallet anyways. Paying off the cops is a common occurrence when driving in Cambodia.
Obtaining a Cambodian Driver’s License
Obtaining a valid Cambodian driver’s license is actually quite easy. Most foreigners living in Cambodia who have Cambodian licenses purchase a one year license. This is because it requires no driving test and you personally don’t have to deal with any ministries. You can go to any car rental place or many travel agencies and have them take care of everything for you. Just bring along a valid driver’s license from your home country, your passport with at least a six month visa, three or four passport photos, and $60 – $70. They will photocopy everything and voila, within in three weeks you will be the proud new owner of a Cambodian driver’s license. It’s as easy as 1-2-3.
Do I Need to Bother with a Cambodian Driver’s License
In all actuality, not really. Unless you live in Sihanoukville, which has a nasty reputation for some of the country’s worst cops, you will rarely ever be pulled over while driving in Cambodia. Even if you have a Cambodian driver’s license, if you’re anything like me you are probably doing something else illegal, like driving an unregistered bike or accidentally forgetting that you left your headlights on during the day. This means you will most likely still wind up paying a bit. The difference is that with a Cambodian license you will probably pay a buck and without you’ll wind up paying $2 or $3.
So let’s do the math shall we? If you were to pay $60 for your Cambodian license, valid for one year, you would have to get pulled over roughly 25 times for the cost to be greater than obtaining the license. Basically, getting a Cambodian driver’s license is a poor fiscal decision.
So unless you are like me, and just enjoy having a Cambodian license for the fun of it, there really is no reason to bother with one. Besides, being able to have a basic conversation in Khmer will get you much further with the cops here than any official documents.
Author’s Favorite Travel Gear
Buck Knives Flashpoint – I like to be prepared for whatever comes my way. I guess it’s the boy scout left in me. This handy knife is small enough that I can keep it clipped in my pocket and rarely notice it is there throughout the day. It has a serrated portion and a smooth portion, and a carabiner clip on the handle that doubles as a bottle opener.
Reef Men’s Fanning Speed Logo Sandals – I am a sandals fanatic. I probably wear them at least 6 days a week when traveling around Southeast Asia. Not only are these comfortable, but they even have a hidden bottle opener. Drink up and travel on!