Surprising Things About Phnom Penh

  • Motorcycle and tuk tuk (motorcycle towing a wooden carriage that acts as a taxi) traffic is busier than in other countries we have visited. Cambodian FuelThis is partially because they use these vehicles to move everything! You would be shocked by what they can haul on a small motorbike: we saw one guy with five family members behind him and another carrying a man holding two giant store-window-sized pieces of glass on his bike.
  • Despite how chaotic traffic looks, it actually moves very efficiently. There may not be formal guidebooks, but there are customs about who has the right of way when. We are convinced that Cambodians are better drivers than Westerners: even very young kids learn how to effectively move through traffic on their bicycles.
  • It’s a huge city, with millions of people, and the whole city only has a few traffic lights and stop signs. This is especially remarkable because there are no city buses, trains, or subways, so almost everyone is on a motorbike, tuk tuk, bicycle, or a small work van/truck.
  • There are people who sit on the side of the road at intersections, with a barrel (like the ones they move toxic waste in) attached to a machine like the ones they use for fluids at the hospital. I initially thought it was some blood donation scheme, but it’s actually oil for motorbikes and cars, since people get their oil changed right on the street. Cambodian WiringThey also have air pumps, etc.
  • There are crazy wires all around town: huge masses of black cords that make you wonder how more people aren’t electrocuted.
  • There are trash heaps all around the city, instead of cans or bins. This makes the city seem quite dirty and the smell less-than-ideal, but the trash gets picked up every day, so it doesn’t fester. It’s an example of how the city seems grosser than it is.
  • There is a wider variety of food to choose from than in Italy, for example. There is ample food from nearby countries (Thailand, China, Vietnam), to say nothing of other types of food. If Italy had been comparable, every fourth restaurant would serve Spanish, French, or German food.Phnom Penh Christmas Tree
  • Servers will often give a couple one menu between the two of them, rather than one each.
  • They also seem to expect that you’ll be ready to order very soon after entering – in even less time than in Italy. [B wonders if they think that Westerners just expect them to stand and wait there, should we need them.]
  • We spotted a few monkeys in the city!
  • There are many Christmas decorations up, but not because locals celebrate the holiday. Our host thinks it’s because they perceive it as a sign of sophistication. So, it’s 90 degrees, and a multitude of restaurants, cafes, and even car parks have (fake) Christmas trees or snowmen.
  • They have come a very long way in 35 years. Imagine a city that is forcibly evacuated and a citizenry stripped of all possessions – if not their lives. Given what we learned of the Khmer Rouge regime, what this city has achieved in our lifetimes is amazing.

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