Before arriving in Phnom Penh, I had so many preconceptions I was almost scared to visit. I had heard by fellow travellers that it was really dangerous, not to go out alone, not to go out after Sun down and to watch myself as crime is really rife here. I found none of this to be true. Phnom Penh seems to me, no more dangerous than any other large Asian city. Keep your wits about you, use your common sense and you’ll be more than fine.
In order to get my Thai visa sorted, I had to stay in Phnom Penh for 9 days ‘That is far too long’ everyone told me, ‘You’ll be bored, there’s nothing to do’. In actual fact I’ve loved my stay here and the days have flown by. Today was my last day in this compelling city and I must admit, I’m a little sad to be waving goodbye to it and one of my favourite countries-Cambodia.
Phnom Penh is a real up and coming city; area BK1 in particular is a great place to spend your days. Hipster chic coffee shops and French bakeries take pride of place on every street corner, boutique hotels are hidden in secret alleyways and kitsch vintage shops lure you in from the pavement. Many people visit this captivating city to learn the horrors committed by the Khymer Rouge in the Killing Fields or S21. These sights are definitely worth experiencing, but it’s such a shame that tourists don’t stay here long enough to see past the atrocities and realise that modern Phnom Penh actually has a lot going for it.
Quite possibly the best shopping destination in South East Asia, Phnom Penh is flooded with factory stores and export shops bursting with designer or luxury high end seconds (this usually means the logo was printed in the wrong place, or a seam wasn’t sewn evenly) and end of lines. If you want to grab a bargain whilst here, head towards the Russian Market. The market itself doesn’t really offer anything exciting or unique, but its neighbouring shops are absolutely amazing- if of course you don’t mind spending a few hours digging through rubbish to find a diamond (Cambodians are in desperate need for a few lessons in visual merchandising). The central market is your typical Asian, tourist hot spot- think elephant pants and slogan vests. Head to Orussey market if you’re after a completely local experience, there’s a couple of great vegetarian food stalls too where you can get delicious noodle soup for $1.
Although nobody does it, Phnom Penh is a great walking city. The paths are generally in a good condition for Asia and there are so many landmarks, street art, temples and monuments to see along the way. So turn down the endless offers of tuk tuk rides and give your legs a stretch and see what you can discover.
The one thing that I found most intriguing and quite shocking about the capital of Cambodia is the very present, stark contrast between those who have money, and those who have very little. Cambodia is a very poor country, except, it seems for Phnom Penh where everybody is really rich… and those who simply, aren’t. Shiny, freshly waxed Range Rovers are the bullies of the roads, private houses-often much larger than some embassies tower the streets and I have seen more Ferrari’s here than I ever have in my life. As yet another $100k sports car zooms past you, you’re trying not to disturb the family sleeping on cardboard sheets by the side of the road. You see children rummaging through rotting rubbish that covers every street like snow for items they can sell, you see pregnant beggar women everywhere and squatters living in crumbling, decaying building sites. The divide between the rich and the poor is astoundingly apparent here and honestly, it’s quite disturbing.