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Phnom Penh


How to cope with riverside hassle

It’s an impossible challenge to spend any time in Phnom Penh‘s tourist areas without being approached by hawkers, beggars or tuk tuk drivers. Street commerce is a fact of life here, but for some visitors the constant “Wanna buy book?” and “OK, tuk tuk” get a bit wearing. So how can you deal with the hassle?

How do you score on the tuk tuk challenge?

How do you score on the tuk tuk challenge?

For your own sanity, it’s good to remember that motos and tuk tuk drivers are just doing their job — even if they have heard you say “no” to the last five drivers, maybe you’ve changed your mind. A polite “no thank you” or even better “ortey awkun” will generally be rewarded with a smile and a shrug. A friend of mine tries to beat his personal best each time he walks down the riverside – the record currently stands at over 25 offers of transport between the night market and the FCC.

If you want to walk – and sometimes it feels like an eccentricity – try crossing over to the promenade side of the riverfront, where you only have to dodge energetic locals engaged in dancing or determined strolling. Alternatively, head into the wider city, away from riverside, the Royal Palace and the museums. A mere three blocks from the river, you may actually need to hunt down a tuk tuk, rather than dodge the constant offers.

Riverside can be quiet enough for a snooze

Riverside can be quiet enough for a snooze

If you’re staying in one place, enjoying a cheap beer or a cocktail, it’s likely that your conversation will be interrupted by a steady stream of cute kids selling books, bracelets and scarves. Some visitors enjoy these interactions with the surprisingly good English and sense of humour that accompanies them, but it’s worth understanding the reasons why it may not be a good idea to buy.

Additionally, you’ll meet disabled adults who are proud to be working rather than begging, selling books or playing an instrument in return for a few thousand riel. You’ll also be approached by beggars clutching children or displaying missing limbs with hands outstretched. Some people have a daily budget and give small amounts to everyone who meets their personal charity criteria. Others prefer to make a donation to one of the many NGOs working to help street sleepers and disadvantaged Khmers.

If your patience is wearing thin, try selecting outdoor seating that’s not right at the roadside, or head upstairs to one of the balconies or rooftop bars where you can finish your sentence and your glass in peace. And then hope there’s a tuk tuk driver waiting to offer you a ride when it’s time to move on.

Further reading:
Siem Reap blogger Nicky explains why giving money to street kids is a really terrible idea

About the author:
Abigail has been stoned by villagers in India, become an honorary Kenyan tribeswoman, sweet talked border guards and had close encounters with black mambas. Her motto is: “Live to tell the tale.”
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