How I survived a strange tuk-tuk accident in Siem Reap

  • Asia & Oceania
  • Thursday, 08 Nov 2018

Bayon Temple in Siem Reap. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/David Sim

The first time I ... got in an accident while on holiday overseas.

When I visited Siem Reap, Cambodia in 2015, all my friends told me to go and see Angkor Wat. They told me I would have an unforgettable time – and they were right.

Because meeting an inexperienced tuk-tuk driver there ensured my visit literally ended with a bang.

The day started out in a normal fashion. My friend (a fellow traveller from Belgium I met at my accomodation) and I had decided to visit Angkor Wat at sunrise. Our hostel arranged for a tuk-tuk driver to take us there. He was a youngish Cambodian man who was very friendly.

The trip there was uneventful, although some of the roads in Siem Reap were not in the best condition. It was a bit worrying but as it later turned out, it was not the roads we had to worry about here, it was the drivers!

We stayed in Angkor Wat for a few hours and had a wonderful time. We then went back to see our tuk-tuk driver, who had been having breakfast at a local cafe. We stepped back into what we thought was our tuk-tuk and he started the engine. That was where things took a bizarre turn. The tuk-tuk suddenly lurched forward violently, and started moving very fast. Our tuk-tuk driver began yelling, and it became very obvious something was wrong.

Our tuk-tuk turned sharply into the main road (mercifully, it being sunrise, there weren’t that many other vehicles there) and continued accelerating rather quickly. Our driver swerved hard and with a loud crash, we collided into a pillar. I recall there being a stream nearby ... thankfully the pillar was quite strong or we might have knocked it down and ended up in the water!

Siem Reap
A tuk tuk is one of the best ways to get around Siem Reap ... if you are brave enough to ride in it.

Fortunately, everyone was alright. My friend suffered a cut to her face and I ended up with some minor injuries to my right leg, but we were shaken more than anything. I recall being rather scared at the time, not just for my safety, but I also wondered if this was some sort of scam, that I was going to be asked to pay for the vehicle’s damages or something.

That said, though, it all seemed a very extreme length to go just to cheat tourists.

A small crowd had gathered around the vehicle, which had also suffered some damage. Our driver went to check that everything was okay, and then started talking to few of the people there.

They were speaking in Khmer, so I don’t know what they said exactly but it seemed there had been some sort of mistake. Our driver had taken the wrong tuk-tuk out of the many that were parked outside of Angkor Wat at the time. Somehow, he had managed to start it, but then realised he had no idea how to drive it, which led to the accident! This all seemed very crazy to me. I mean, I’m a driver too, and I think I would notice almost immediately if I had taken someone else’s car by mistake. I wanted to argue with the driver, but I couldn’t speak Khmer and his English was poor, so that went nowhere. Besides, he seemed genuinely apologetic about the whole matter. Perhaps he was new on the job.

Our driver then went off and returned with another tuk-tuk, which he drove perfectly. I am happy to report he got us back in one piece. And the rest of my stay in Cambodia, while just as exciting, was fortunately not as dramatic as this trip.

That accident was a scary experience at the time, but now, I can look back at it and laugh. After all, it could have been a lot worse. And it gave me a unique Cambodian souvenir – a long scar across my knee, which stayed there for several years!

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