I remember very well when I heard about Phnom Penh for the first time.
It was a couple of days before I left to Siem Reap. My former director told me how much nicer Siem Reap would be. Siem Reap is so green and the people are friendly there. Also its not so busy as Phnom Penh.
Of course I took that for cash. I haven’t been in any of those places yet. How could I figure out anything? I had a lot of time to read and write until I reached Siem Reap. And it surprised me a a bit. Siem Reap was probably the second worst place I’ve ever been (the worst place was Poi Pet).
You can’t walk a hundred meters without being asked if you want a Tuk-Tuk (Motortaxi), a useless souvenir, a prostitute or giving someone some money. There are hardly more than three real streets in the city. Most ways are just sandy routes to get to more remote markets or houses.
They have a river and on some places beneath the river there are trees. This is the only „green“ you find in Siem Reap…
I thought by myself… how much worse mus Phnom Penh be!!
But I gained some hope as I red Phnom Penh used to be the best place to live in Asia before the Cambodian Civil War (which was in the 70s) and now the municipality tries to get the feelings from then back. So it was worth a try to go there.
As always in Cambodia the bus station you arrive at was located anywhere in the nowhere. I guess this is mostly to keep people employed. According to Khmer-Logic all foreigners are rich, so if they are far away enough from the city they will pay some Tuk-Tuks to get back to the city. I hate to play that game but it was too far to walk, so I shared a Tuk-Tuk with some friends and we went from one part of the city to the other one.
Before our driver started his motorcycle he warned us: Be careful with your belongings! There might be some theft during the ride!
Good start so far!
Nothing happened. But I was impressed by the buildings of Phnom Penh. It occurred to me this was a very nice place. MUCH cleaner than Siem Reap. We crossed on our way different sights like the Independence Monument and it was great the city surprised me in such a good way.
We stayed at a hotel close to the King’s Palace and the Silver Pagoda.
Those places were full of people. Not tourists – the beloved King Norodom Sihanouk died just a couple of days ago. He was the one who tried to lead his country through such difficult times as the Vietnam-War/Secret War of the Americans, Khmer Rouge Regime and the following civil war. An impressive person in any perspective. I wish I had known him…
More and more this city reminded me of Israel. Maybe… not Israel in this universe. Maybe like Israel in a Parallel Universe where things went a bit different. Where Israel were built up by the French and was inhabited by Asians.
I liked Phnom Penh.
„Phnom“ means „Hill“ in Khmer. Penh was the name of an elderly lady who found some Buddha-Statues floating in the river. She got them out, built a Pagoda on a hill for them and the people started to worship them. This is how „Penh’s Hill“ was founded. The Padoda is still there and I took a walk into it.
I expected more… especially more tourists. But Phnom Penh isn’t a very tourist place… Behind the Pagoda I found the first park in Cambodia I’ve seen since I’m here. Some people slept on the benches, some other played with their children and one of the grannies here sold some home-made sweets to me.
Even though Phnom Penh is more busy than Siem Reap you don’t really feel it. Especially not in the parks.
People are more friendly here. Or… maybe just less commercial than in Siem Reap. Siem Reap has (except Angkor) nothing really interesting, so that’s probably the reason why foreigners are getting ripped off as good as possible during they’re in the city.
Phnom Penh was very different to that. You can walk on the streets without being bothered by vendors who want to sell you something. You can walk on the streets with just enjoying you’re here and try to understand people and culture.
I liked the city at night. This doesn’t mean I’m partying always… It means I love to walk around during the night and try to discover everything. Cities here in Asia have more than just one face.
A friend of mine asked me how cats part their territory when there’s too little space. The answer is fascinating and simple: Two cats can share an area and separate it by day and nighttime. So basically Asians are cats. On one and the same place you can see different things during the day and during the night…
I prefer these cities during the dark. Sometimes you see things you might not see when everybody could come and have a look… Sometimes its just „little“ things like food: