the thing about Phnom Penh, CAMBODIA

The first thing i noticed about Phnom Penh: the traffic. It’s basically an art form, if you can cross the road in the penh, you can cross it anywhere. Cars, bicycles, tuk tuks, buses, mopeds with four passengers and a chicken travelling in various directions with minimal road rules.

The thing about the colours: a haze of grey sits over the city, the pollution making sunrises look foggy and boogers black. But the vapour is offset by colourful prayer flags and market stalls and the occasional buddhist monk buying tropical fruits on the side of the road.

The thing about the locals: there’s a lot of them and they’re squished in a very tiny area but they’re awfully cheery despite it. A lot of them they survive off tourists, so many tuk tuk drivers can be quite the charmers.

The thing about the food: it’s cheap and mighty delicious. One of the best meals we stumbled on was whole fish stuffed with chilli and herbs cooked fresh on the side of the road. Fried rice is always a fall back, but have a go at closing your eyes and using the magic finger to chose a mystery meal.

The thing about power lines: new ones seem to be added without old ones being taken down, so they look like chunky bundles of supersized liquorice tangled up on every street corner. I always wondered what would happen if it rained and how their surprisingly adequate Wi-Fi system was even possible with them.

The thing about the markets: bartering is a skill that takes practice and keep note that no merchant will sell for less than cost price. But they’re making a living off their stall and haggling $1usd might do better in their pocket than yours.

The thing about the history: Phnom Penh is home to S21 and the Killing Fields, two sites that honour the thousands lost in Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime. It’s a graphic and morbid day but a tour that must be done so that you can really appreciate how far Cambodia has come from terror that struck only 40 years ago.

The thing that surprised me: despite all the confusion of language barriers and money customs, everything seemed to fall into place. Tours were booked and tickets were bought without drastic misunderstandings. It was baffling how so many people could collaborate to create order in a world full of chaos.

The thing i fell in love with: people watching. I gazed outside my window for fifteen minutes in the mornings, hearing the traffic and beeping horns, watching men in suits, bare feet riding mopeds and children walking to school dressed half in uniform, half in yesterday’s clothes. The old woman on the street corner from whom I bought an (overpriced) 50 cent mango laughed as her children stole her fruit and brought her breakfast.

 

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