How Cambodians Turn Left

What’s the Cambodian Left, you ask? I actually invented the term, and I don’t think anyone has classified it this way in scientific form.

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What’s the Cambodian Left, you ask?

I actually invented the term, and I don’t think anyone has classified it this way in scientific form. But it’s something that I couldn’t help but observe in the streets of Siem Reap on a recent trip out to Cambodia — it’s yet again another interesting example of how travel provides fascinating challenges to the things we take for granted.

While riding a bicycle along the streets of Siem Reap (the largest city to Angkor Wat, one of the country’s premier tourist destinations), I was at first extremely bothered by the presence of other bicycles and mopeds coming straight at me from a perpendicular road, and literally going the other direction on my right-hand side. DMV handbooks at home in California always told me that when making a left turn, you must wait to proceed for the dominant flow of traffic to pass before heading across a perpendicular road in an uncontrolled intersection. This, of course, would be a given for most developed countries and for most of you who are reading this post right now.

Ever attempted a Cambodian left before?

Most Cambodians, though, are extremely familiar with the above type of maneuver when they turn left onto a major road at the same kind of intersection describe above. I’ve noticed how it’s strategically done to allow the driver to merge gradually into the road without having to abruptly turn in at a right angle (after all, there are rarely any traffic lights here).

So then, the next question — if we’re used to turning in our own certain way, why does highlighting such a maneuver even matter to us? Frankly, it’s a great example of unwritten rules of the road—the kinds of rules where instead of the law having to dictate how we do things, we let human habits or customs dictate what feels naturally right. At first when I noticed this odd action, I was of course naturally inclined to say that this was simply the WRONG way of turning, and that people in Cambodia were complete idiots who were simply traveling dangerously. Later on, I realized how, given the environmental circumstances, it was actually a pretty great way for drivers to prevent those crashes we see happen on YouTube all the time — vehicles crashing into each other at right angles because they didn’t see each other at the corner. It’s still one of the most intriguing observations I have of Cambodia, since in the beginning I kept feeling like I was going to crash head-on every time before I understood the concept.

Anyhow, subject matters like these would be completely unnoticeable to someone who has not hopped around the world and observed the variety of rules in which our world is governed by. It is a small reminder of a very large point that we should always keep in our minds: there is still plenty of opportunity for us to design products for human needs that we have not even defined yet — and all it may take to discover this need is to immerse yourself in another world where people are already resorting to intense creativity. So much of our world seems to be capitalizing over ideas that creatively solve problems that we already know exist, yet I think that some of the most brilliant ideas are ones that predict problems that we didn’t even consciously know we had, until we realize we have become addicted to that solution.

It is amazing to think that a simple left turn can have such as a surprising variable.


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