Three days was enough for me to see the full city of Phnom Penh. I walked the city top to bottom and did all the major highlights that are sold to every westerner on a laminated sales card. Cambodia is a country that has just recently been “stabilized politically” and is rebuilding its cities and industries. Cambodians are friendly people and recognize that tourism is the number one revenue stream. No matter where I walked I was asked if I wanted a “Tuk Tuk” (open air taxi). The art of negotiation is critical for every tourist to master inside ten minutes of being on the ground. There are deals to be had everywhere and there is no reason that you should be paying full price for anything, like this beer, its seventy-five cents because its happy hour. I enjoyed haggling at the Central Market to get a green Hawaiian shirt and “Dr. Dre Beats” music player (it’s a knockoff) all for under ten dollars though I was unable to break down one shop keeper to purchase two scarfs for three dollars. I typically can walk away from poor quality merchandise but at the moment I can’t help but drive the price down to a point where most would say “Why not?”
When traveling the world we all encounter somethings that are different from home. For me the traffic system in Cambodia is far from anything that I have ever experienced. In Canada, road signs and imminent traffic tickets are enough of a deterrent to stop motorist from committing a U-turn in broad daylight or running a red light in the middle of the night when no one else is around. Cambodians read road signs in a different way. When you see a no U-turn sign, it actually means “someone is likely to make a turn here”, red lights are a suggestion, and most of all the sides of the road-lanes-sidewalks- are all up grabs for either direction of traffic. Picture this, you are headed East, the lane closest to the centre belongs to cars, next lane to the right belongs to two wheeled vehicles, and the outside lane belongs to the East bound traffic attempting to complete an eventual left turn while going against the traffic flow for many miles at a time. Now trying being a pedestrian in rush hour while watching four different lanes of traffic while attempting to cross the road. With a few attempts this task becomes quite simple the traffic system is comparable to a living hive. The operators of each vehicle type all seem to be a part of the same collective mind as there wasn’t a single traffic collision that I witnessed. Cars, scooters, and pedestrians all work together to move traffic along and road rage would appear to not exist through this whole process. I did tell a driver to grow a pair at one point because I thought they weren’t driving risky enough and were holding up the rest of the collective.
This country is rich with history and stories of kingdoms gone by. I did my best to absorb all the information possible while touring many of the highlights. I enlisted the help of english speaking guides where available to help enrich the experience. Notably over the last fifty years, there was a genocide killing almost half of the population at the time, an occupied state for fifteen years, and now a “new” democratic regime that claims to be fairly and elected by the people. Many current residents lived through these dark times and are happy to see the country on its way back to being in a healthy state while trying to forget the past.
Cambodia is a relatively inexpensive place to visit and you will need to adjust your lifestyle to match the speed and standard of life. The country is currently lacking in many areas such as sustainable urban planning, public funding, a political system that listens to the people and their needs, and the list goes on. As it is with everything in life it’s how you view the situation and the attitude you bring to the table because at the end of the day there is so much growth potential for this nation. All in all I would recommend that you visit Phnom Penh.