Lights on ok in Phnom Penh?

Jul 24, 2005
Im cruising around in Phnom Penh on my Honda XR which always have the lights turned on. However, it has been alot of people comenting it and saying it is not legal during the days. Ive so far not been caught by the police by sticking to the lane furthest from them at checkpoints a la Bangkok style. Anyone know what the rules are?
Aug 18, 2004
The law in Phnom Penh is that you CANNOT drive around with your headlight on in the daytime. The local police will most definitely ask you for a couple thousand riel if you do not comply.

For more information about Phnom Penh's traffic laws, check in at Sharkey Bar. See

Jul 24, 2005
Hmm, so they are right then. Guess I have to figure out the best way (fusebox or remove lamp?) to turn the lights off since they are always on on my Honda 250 XR or I have to pay the riels.
Mar 15, 2003
Swedish Rider-

I was thinking about this problem also and had planned on putting a switch into the headlight hot lead on my Suzuki. I was advised by our local mechanics that it MAY affect the charging rate and the regulator output as it is designed to run with this load. It could be checked with a meter or someone out there may already have the answer.

I think the next best and easiest way is I may just make a quick and easy cover I can put over the headlight in the day time. Hell, something as easy as a taped on paper plate would work.

Suggestions anyone?

Dave Early

Ever notice that "What the Heck!" is usually the right answer?


Jan 20, 2003

The Sharkey's Bar website does not list any info about the Cambodian traffic laws, nor does it have links to any. Here are the only categories they list: Home, Sharky's World Events, Food & Drink, Gallery, Merchandise, Gossips & Goings On, Location Map, Cool Links

I am not sure why you list a bar website as a source for traffic law information. A government site might be a bit more believable.

If you have any direct links to actual law listings, please post them.

Before you post police fines as fact, have you had any first hand experience with the police stopping bikes for having lights on and demanding money, or do you have any first hand reports about it? Anybody else?

BTW, the law in Laos is the same - no lights on during the day. When I have been there with bikes that had full time headlights, I had no real problems. Even at the occasional traffic stop, just turning the bike off and on showed the police that the lights were full on, and they just wave you past. You do get a lot of the locals signalling you and pointing at your lights.


"The true secret of giving advice is, after you have honestly given it, to be perfectly indifferent whether it is taken or not and never persist in trying to set people right."
Aug 18, 2004
Hi Bob. During my time in Phnom Penh, beginning in early 1992, I never paid any of the local policemen for driving my motorcycle around with my headlight on in the daytime, but an ex girlfriend once did when the policeman on the corner up the street from my apartment followed me home one day. I used to simply drive away and wave at them, but this ex girlfriend freaked out when one of Phnom Penh's finest knocked on my door one day to ask about my headlight.

What a hoot. This story about it being illegal to drive with your headlight on in the daytime is an old scam in Phnom Penh, where the police make a dollar a day. A foreigner with a headlight on is the same as cash in the pocket to those friendly guys. Don't forget to carry a couple thousand riel in your shirt pocket. This is less than one dollar. And yes, it is NOT illegal to drive around in Phnom Penh all night with no headlight. Everyone does it. Enjoy.

About Sharky Bar, JimCA2's California 2 Guest House and Cafe on Quai Sisowath is a good place for new motorcycle riders in Phnom Penh, but where to go at night for information about motorcycles? Sharky Bar is my recommendation for too many reasons, one of the best being that the owner of the place is another motorcycle guy. Also, many of the guys who run tour operations on motorcycles in Cambodia hang around there, above all the guys who run the site on

Have you seen the news about their upcoming 8th Annual Extreme Rally Raid?

What else are Phnom Penh's finest looking for? Enjoy.

Trouser crackdown snares tourist

In Phnom Penh you can buy military-style clothing in the markets; you
can shoot machine guns at the army firing range; you can buy an
authentic police ID badge in the street for $10; at Siem Reap a
policeman may even offer to sell you his whole uniform for $100.

But according to a visitor named Robert from Newcastle, civilians can
be fined for wearing camouflage trousers in the street.

He was walking near the train station wearing the said trousers when
he was stopped by a cop and told he was dressed inappropriately, that
only military personnel could wear them.

"At first, I said this was ridiculous, or words to that affect, and
kept walking. He said 'Don't you walk away from me.' Then I asked
whether there was a law against it and could not get a straight
answer. I offered to go home and change immediately. But he wanted to
fine me $10, or he'd take me to the police station and have me
arrested. Eventually I gave in and he accepted $5," Robert said.

Phnom Penh Post, Issue 13/21, October 8 - 21, 2004
© Michael Hayes, 2004. All rights revert to authors and artists on
For permission to publish any part of this publication, contact
Michael Hayes, Editor-in-Chief - Any comments on the website to

Below is an old story that I wrote for a pal long ago about a traffic ticket that I once got in a small village to the north of Kratie. Sambor is seriously a two street village. Enjoy your visit to #1 Cambodia.

A Traffic Ticket

Sambor, Cambodia
April, 1995

The bleat of a policeman’s whistle followed my moto taxi into Sambor,
a small Mekong river town about 50 km north of Kratie. Population a
couple thousand maybe. A revered stupa there was being restored
pending a visit by Cambodia’s King Sihanouk.

The road north out of Kratie was not bad for 20km or so, but it soon
turned into a single lane track. All the old bridges were still down.
Visited the monastery at Phnom Sambok and the Prek Patang Rapids.
Along the riverbank are log dumps serviced by the "road warriors", the
local logging trucks. One of these trucks is a real sight, especially
when the crews are armed. They always have the right-of-way. Don't
take pictures.

I surveyed Sambor’s two street main square as we pulled to a stop. No
other traffic in sight, not even a bicycle. What could this policeman
want? He waived us over to the desk he had set up under a large tree
and announced that we had gone the wrong way down a one way street! He
would have to impound the Honda!

The owner of the moto, a 20 year old student from Kratie who had
jumped at my offer of a dollar per hour to tour the region, got ashen
faced and immediately began to plead his case. How was he to know this
was a one way street? It was much too early in the discussion to offer
to pay a fine, so I left him with the policeman and headed out to tour
Sambor. Still no other traffic in sight.

In front of the town’s CPP office I was greeted by a proud Veteran of
the war against the KR. He wore a huge arm band signifying this over
his khaki shirt. Welcome to Sambor!, he said. OK! He appointed
himself my tour guide. No English or French, and my Khmer is not
great, but he and I hit it off superbly. Sign language or something.
Let’s go!

First up was a visit to the cool shade under a tree on the riverbank
where some fully armed soldiers were playing cards and sampling the
local brew. They got a laugh at my funny looking red hair. Crazy
foreigner, what are you doing here? Do you play cards? Two officers
had clearly been going at it for some time (it was only 11am...), but
they insisted on posing for some pictures nonetheless The local kids
got in on this angle too. We must have our pictures taken!

Next up was the main attraction, the newly whitewashed Sambor stupa.
It is a pleasant sight. The grounds had been cleared and some
platforms erected. The King of Cambodia was scheduled to visit in two
days. My guide pointed to a distant field. KR mass grave, he said. His
mother was there.

On the walk back, we stopped to talk with four beefy looking guys
sitting around a table under a tree. They joked with the Veteran and
laughed when he lifted their shirts to show me their guns. One wore a
45 under his arm. The others had .38s on their belts. "Security
service", they said. Advance guard for the King’s upcoming visit. A
light moment for some serious guys.

As we left that place, the owner of the Honda came up to ask if I had
any money. Ah, so the discussions were making progress! I had some
change, having been through this routine before. In Cambodia, everyone
must carry change in a shirt pocket. So it is. My guy took heart at
the sight of the Veteran. We invited him to come talk with our
policeman for a minute. Maybe it would help.

By now a small group of locals had gathered around the impounded
Honda. Word was already out that something was going down on the main
square, and that a foreigner was involved. Need I mention the heat?

The Veteran said something which made the policeman flush, at which
point I offered 2,000 riels as immediate settlement for this traffic
ticket. No need for a receipt. The policeman nodded and we cleared
out. The owner of the Honda cursed me silently all the way back to
Kratie. He swore he would never return to Sambor. Tough traffic cop
there! I can however recommend a visit to the local CPP office.


Jan 20, 2003
Hi Rectravel

Sounds like this is what you are saying:

1. It is NOT against the law to drive with your light on, but the local police will claim that it is, and will try for a bribe.

2. The local bikers at the bars might have more info about what other "violations" the local police are using for money scams.

Your own experience seems to be all from the early 1990s. Is there anyone else with more current info? Things do change over the years.

And, does anyone else have actual info about the real traffic laws?


"The true secret of giving advice is, after you have honestly given it, to be perfectly indifferent whether it is taken or not and never persist in trying to set people right."


Jan 3, 2004
watch out for improper left turns at big intersections. no licence plates, the more cops on the scene the bigger the pay out. carry small bills away from your big ones just for this.
I have been lucky that I only drive at nite in town so havent been hassled as some of my friends. taped cardboard is a solution to your light problem. land cruisers are free to hit and run killing anything in their path. there is no real traffic infrastructure and I have seen shootings at the scene of an accident. best to err on the extreme careful side and try to avoid any type of traffic situation.
Aug 18, 2004
Agreed with everything that Jim has said about the chaotic traffic in Phnom Penh, including his warning about VIP Land Cruisers. Watch out for them and stay out of their way. They will run you off the road and simply drive away. They are driven by the body guards of some of Cambodia's top officials, which is why they can get away with it. Phnom Penh is not the same as the Cambodian countryside. Traffic conditions in Phnom Penh are total chaos. Anything goes. I can't wait to read SwedishRider's description about how to make a left turn in Phnom Penh, headlight on or not.

Speaking of which, Gordon Sharpless is an American guy who owns and runs a guest house in Siem Reap. He too has been all over Cambodia on a motorcycle, and he maintains a web page full of tips about how to deal with the police. NOTE IN PARTICULAR his story about immediately taking your key out of your ignition switch if you ever get pulled over. See his page about it on ... policestop


Q: What if I'm riding a motorcycle (or driving a car) and the police stop me?

A: If you drive in Cambodia - car or motorcycle, sooner or later, probably sooner, you're going to be stopped by the police for some infraction which you may or may not have committed.

If you can avoid running over the police officer and there's no one sitting on a motorbike that's as big or bigger than yours and ready to give chase, then there's no reason to stop for the police. However, if you do have to stop, it works like this:

In Cambodia you do not hand over your license, registration, and insurance proof because hardly anybody has all three let alone even one. But the very first thing you do is remove the keys from the ignition and put them in your pocket. If you don't, the police might do it themselves and you do not want to be in this situation. What you then find out is what your infraction is and then see what amount of money is requested. As a foreigner the initial request is usually somewhere between $5 and $20. $5 is silly, $20 is simply hilarious and if you are moronic enough to pay $20, well, you deserved it, then.

Traffic infractions in Cambodia cost from between 2000 and 5000 riels (that's 50 cents to a $1.25). There is absolutely no reason whatsoever you should ever pay more than this.

In most cases, you stand around with the police for a few minutes chatting and smoking cigarettes. In a majority of instances, the whole affair is very friendly and there is no reason for you to become indignant. This is a game not a duel.

In some cases the police already have preprinted receipts for the infractions and you can try asking for one by saying "sombot". This means receipt. Of course you can't read Khmer but you can read numbers, right? Look for something that looks like a number, 3,000 is a likely figure. No, not 3,000 dollars but 3,000 riels - about 75 cents US. And pay it.

But receipt or no receipt, the most important things to remember are:

1.) Immediately remove the keys from the ignition and put them in your pocket.
2.) Be friendly.
3.) Pay no more than 5000 riels.

If by any chance you are the passenger on a motorcycle taxi and the driver is pulled over, don't be the least bit surprised if they turn to you to pay the fine. You are under no legal obligation to pay your driver's fine and both the police and your driver know this. So don't pay it!

One strange law that gets foreigners nailed a lot is that in Cambodia it's illegal to have headlights on during the day. Click here to read my firsthand experience with a traffic stop in Phnom Penh in July 2003 over such an infraction.


He also has a very readable "headlights in Phnom Penh" story on ... htm#police


Meet the police

July 9, Phnom Penh. I'm on a rented 250cc Honda Degree at the intersection of Sihanouk and Monivong headed west on Sihanouk. I'm unaware that the headlight is on and a headlight on in the daytime is an offense in Cambodia (which I do know). Never mind that a light on is safer, this is Cambodia and in Cambodia it is illegal to ride in the daytime with your headlight on, probably because it annoys somebody important or something. I also have a hangover. Not that the hangover is relevant to the story but I suppose it does help frame the setting.

Anyway, there is the usual collection of police officers on the opposite side of the intersection. Light turns green. I accelerate. A police officer jumps in front of the bike. I can either run him over or stop. I decide to stop, instinctively removing the keys from the ignition before the police can.

"What?" I shout out in English.
"Plung (light)," one tells me.
Oops, I think to myself and I look over the handlebars and confirm that I am indeed in violation of the law.

So, the million dollar question is, how much did it cost me and how well did I manage the negotiation?

One officer did most of the talking and did most of that talking in Khmer, speaking to me as if I'm fluent which I am not. So I smiled and nodded my head a lot. He did however also speak more than enough English to sort this out sufficiently and resorted to that language when truly necessary. To be fair, I should also point out that this officer in blue was very polite and friendly with me.

The first couple of times I said "how much?" I was ignored and instead the friendly police officer suggested I join them all for coffee (no doubt my treat). I commented that I didn't see any coffee shops around and I really didn't see the feasibility of having the entire force jump on the back of my motorcycle so I could buy them all coffee. After another minute of friendly banter a second officer cut to the chase and requested five dollars.
"Aut te (no way)," I said.
"Pram (five) dollar," this more serious officer said again.
"Okay, sombot (receipt)," I demanded.
"No problem," he said, making hand motions that he would write one out just for me.
I think to myself, 'That's not how this is supposed to work! Where are your preprinted receipts!' So he's calling my bluff. Do I call his?
Well, there was no need for either one of us to bluff any further as the friendly officer jumped in, "pram bun riel" (5000 riels or $1.25). This I could deal with. After all, I was guilty so I had to pay something. I opened my wallet and sudden worry set in. I had a stack of riels but I wasn't sure if I had 5000 of them and a US dollar and a thousand riels wasn't an option because I had nothing smaller than a US ten! I turned my wallet in such a position that it was impossible for them to see any green in there and I began counting riels, silently praying I would have 5000 of them. 1000, 1500, 2000, 2500, 3000, 3500, 4000, 4200, 4300, 4400, 4500, 4600... 4700... 4800... 4900... 5000! Yes, I had 5000 riels! So I handed them the stack of grubby notes which they got quite a chuckle out of and told, with a smile and friendly good-bye, that I was free to go.

Lessons to be learned. If you're guilty you have to pay. The trick is to make sure it's an amount you feel comfortable with. Had I paid $5 I'd have been none too pleased about the situation and probably would have carried that uncomfortable feeling of having been scammed for a few hours or so, but 5000 riels ($1.25), sure, I could live with that. And the total amount of time out of my day? About five minutes.

I've said it before, I'll say it again. The police here aren't all that bad. And not for the first time, the demeanor of these officers was considerably more friendly than what one often encounters in the west. It's a game. You're guilty you have to pay. If they can get a large fine out of you, well, of course they will try. On the other hand, if you know that a traffic offense is normally in the 2000-5000 riel range, then you can bargain to that. Just do it with a lot of smiles and joking, there's no reason to get all indignant about it. It's just Cambodia police doing their jobs. Remember--- you are guilty.


Take care, in Phnom Penh in particular. Will SwedishRider post news about traffic in Phnom Penh?
Jul 24, 2005

Will SwedishRider post news about traffic in Phnom Penh?

Yes he certainly will: The traffic is chaotic normally but ok to ride in. Rush hour traffic is quite bad though and this week they had some kind of waterfestival and then it was insane. The police blocked off traffic a couple of blocks away from the riverfront.

In "normal" chaotic traffic it is ok to drive and I mainly use two rules:
1. When doing (legal) left turns I usually shield myself with a car so I avoid facing 50 Honda Waves on kamikaze mission.
2. When there is a police checkpoint or at intersections I shield myself from them with the closest available truck or similar which has worked fine to avoid getting stopped.

Now been down to Kampot, Bokor and Sihoukville and am back in Phnom Penh. Went up to the Casino on the Bokor Hill which is 38 km very bad road. Good fun on a dirtbike but I got a bit too relaxed on the way down and fell off twice. Just a few bruises and lost half the break lever but no major problem.

Certainly true that one should stay away from the black land cruisers. For some reason they like to drive in the middle of the road and it seems that they dont enjoy getting left behind when a dirtbike overtakes them ;)

I took road 3 down which had quite a bit of road work going on so it was quite dusty. On the way back I took road 4 which is all good. There is just one lane in each direction though but normally a wide piece of dirt on side of the road which is quite useful when meeting wide traffic. It is fairly normal that you meet three cars side by side coming in your direction and taking the full road and then it feels nice and safe to jump down in the dirt. It is probably mostly my fault though since I probably go 2-3 times faster then the standard Honda Dream with 200 chickens strapped on or the Honda Wave with a pig attached on the back so the oncoming traffic is miscalculating the time they have available to overtake.

The adventure is the cracks in the plan.
Feb 23, 2003
I have been to Phnom Penh many times, and it seems to me you cannot have your headlight on during the day. Will be the first to admit I have not looked at Cambodian traffic laws in a book, but everyone waving and signaling me when the lights are on seems to be strong sign it is not correct. Also had one policeman actually run out in traffic and try to stop me. Of course I simply responded Thai style which is to speed up and veer to the outer lane away from him. He had fast feet and actually got close enough to whack the front of my bike with his night stick as I zoomed by........
Yes, I have been tagged by the left turn scam as well. Was turning off a main street onto a smaller street. Of course a policeman happened to be waiting there and ran directly in my path to stop me. As I felt I had done nothing wrong I actually stopped for him out of curiosity. Turned out there was a tiny no left turn sign hidden behind a tree. Price to bring me to justice?? Yes, 5 $... He was very polite, and I responding in kind I told him very politely I would not pay as I could not see the sign. He decided to up the ante by inviting me to the police station. As I had some time to kill, and wondered what their police stations looked like, I said let's go. He seemed a bit crestfallen but had to follow up. So off we go, he on his step through, and I on a KTM 950 Adventure.
At the run down station the sargeant comes out and again demands the 5 $. Again I tell him to forget it. As I have invested the time to travel to the station I am feeling a bit put out and want to get full value for my time. A couple more policemen come out demanding the standard fiver, and I give them the same treatment. Finally after about an hour they realize that in fact I really am not going to pay them money, and they have not intimidated me in the slightest. So now they just want an out to save face as they really cannot up the ante any more, and they certainly do not want an international incident Finally the last policeman comes out , and all but begs me to pay the new reduced sum of $ 2 which they state will be used for beers.
I laughed, and paid with a smile, left with big waves all around.
And no I do not do this in farang land !!!!!!!!
Aug 18, 2004
Needless to say, the two guys in the Toyota Camry will never be caught. Take care in Phnom Penh's traffic.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

By Prak Chan Thul
The Cambodia Daily

Three people in their early 20s were shot and injured during a dispute
between drivers in Phnom Penh's Chamkar Mon district Sunday evening,
witnesses and police said Tuesday. Koy Kimpheak, who works at a
swimming pool cleaning company on Street 63, said two young men and one
woman who appeared intoxicated stopped their Toyota RAV4 in the middle
of Street 310, which intersects Street 63, to get out and talk. When a
Toyota Camry drove up behind their vehicle and started honking, the
three threw rocks at it, Koy Kimpheak said. Two men in civilian clothes
then emerged from the Camry, and one fired a handgun into the air, Koy
Kimpheak recalled. The man then fired six or seven shots directly at
the other group, Koy Kimpheak said, adding that the three wounded
people ran to Mekong clinic on Street 63. Kim Sotha, a security guard
at the clinic, said three people shot in the back, thigh and shoulder
came to the clinic at about 9 pm and were transferred to Calmette
Hospital. Chamkar Mon district police chief Ouch Sokhon confirmed the
shooting but said he could not discuss the case as it is under
investigation by the municipal police.