Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

A fascinating capital

A heaving crossroads of cultures, times, peoples and worlds, Phnom Penh is a city on the edge of everything. With one foot still rooted in the past, which you can find in the temples, markets and buzzing back streets, and another striding boldly into the future, which is pretty much all around you, this thriving, turbulent city brings together Cambodian, Chinese and French influences in a congested, grimy, shiny, vibrant and thrilling mash that somehow seems to work—except when it rains.

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Once known as the “Pearl of Asia”, Phnom Penh used to be one of the better-preserved French colonial towns in Southeast Asia. However, developers—occasionally driven by a need to clean up someone’s cashflow—are working tirelessly to put paid to this sobriquet, and once beautiful parts of town are yielding to the seemingly inexorable rise of some of the most artless lumps of brick and concrete you’ll ever be misfortunate enough to lay eyes on. There is a legion of architects in this city who should be taken out and shot for conspiring in this vandalism, and especially for the bewilderingly unlovely edifices that are being chucked up in place of a beautiful and wholly irreplaceable heritage. Be that as it may, this is the price you pay for being a city so eager to take its place at the table so long occupied by its neighbours to the east and west.

Yes, get up early. Photo by: Stuart McDonald.
Yes, get up early. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Today, once sleepy—indeed once silent—streets run thick with motor scooters, lusty motorbikes, bicycles, tuk tuks, rickshaws, Toyota Camrys, and monster gas-guzzling machines frequently belonging either to those who would profess to be “saving” Cambodia, or those who are quietly asset-stripping an entire state. They move to a rhythm defined by chance opportunities, a reflection of the city’s own vibe, which can can infuse you with wild optimism at the genuine sense of limitless possibilities, or knock you down with crushing cynicism in less than a ... Travelfish members only (Full text is around 3,500 words.)

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3 other destinations in Phnom Penh and surrounds

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Forgotten Khmer ruins