Sometimes things don’t go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures from the road.
In Phnom Penh people drive – mostly – on the right. A two-lane street is really four, with the curb “lane” going the opposite direction to traffic in the real lane beside it. Vehicles weave in and out, honking their intentions. Intersections are a free-for-all. At major ones, police lounge off to the side, in the shade, detached from the traffic mayhem.
We’re in our hotel’s car. School has just let out, disgorging teenagers doubling (and tripling) younger kids on mopeds and bikes into the already packed streets.
A police officer flags down the van in front of us. Our driver impatiently honks the van forward. Not amused, the officer comes to our window, but our driver ignores him and keeps moving. We scoot past, as the officer’s fist pounds our trunk.
We drive on, and suddenly a police officer on motorcycle appears beside us. He starts a slow game of chicken with our driver. He brakes hard a few times. Our driver deftly echoes.
But then – bump. The motorcycle stops so quickly that we hit the rear tire. Not hard, but we’ve made contact.
There is much shouting. We stare wide-eyed.
The police officer dismounts and stands in front of our car. More shouting. The officer reaches inside his vest and unsnaps a pouch. We fear it is a holster, but he only draws his radio.
Finally we hear a word we understand. Our driver turns back toward us, gulps out a “Sorrrr-eeeee!,” then puts pedal to the metal.
We are thrown back into our seats as the car strikes the police officer square-on. He lands half-way up the hood, rolling into the windshield, slides off the side and lands on his feet. We rocket into traffic, horn honking, tires squealing, palms sweating (ours, we assume the driver’s, too). We whip around corners, dodging the tuk-tuks, mopeds and kids on bikes in our lane and, thanks to the curious Cambodian curb lane, also in two channels streaming toward us. Our driver tries desperately to evade the pursuing police officer (who has remounted his motorcycle), AND avoid hitting anyone, or anything.
Generally in Cambodia, horns are used to get people ahead to move out of the way. But they’re not fast enough for us. We lurch and screech furiously for several blocks. I clutch the door white-knuckled, and uselessly squeeze my eyes shut when I fear impact. More pragmatic, my friend readies himself to pull me over to his side of the car, or jump in my lap, as needed.
We pull up at our hotel and our driver jumps out. The motorcycle arrives and the agitated officer dismounts. Our driver is already at the trunk, extracting our luggage. Then he race walks to the front desk, followed by the police officer. Five minutes later we’re on our balcony, watching the officer calmly depart. Any bribe possibly paid does not appear on our hotel bill.
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