Phnom Penh. A tough place to love.

24 Feb

Phnom Penh is a bumbling chaos. Motorbikes outnumber cars fifty to one. The only traffic rule seems to be that the largest vehicle has the right of way. The dust and pollution are best appreciated from the back of a tuktuk. Soaked in sweat from the 35 degrees heat, motorbikes and cars whizzing past, and being absolutely mortified and newly appreciative of how useful it would have been if your driver had any mirrors at all.

Lonely Planet should provide a translation service. What the Prozac nation of guidebook authors mean to say with “undiscovered gem of Asia” and “never fails to captivate” is that few people stick around long enough to experience Phnom Penh in all its glory. Most travellers we met said they hurried out after the second day.

This is the capital of one of the world's poorest countries. Cambodia is poorer than Sudan and Nigeria. Of course, there is beauty as well as grime. The temples, pagodas and saffron-robed monks are all there. French colonial-era buildings are found throughout the city. But so are the street children, limb less beggars and brothels. And they make a stronger impression.


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