Saturday, June 24th, 2017

Phnom Penh: I Shouldn’t Like You. But I Do.


I shouldn’t like Phnom Penh. There are so many reasons not to.

There is trash everywhere.  The smells are horrific at times.  Naked children run around in the streets, begging.  And I couldn’t walk two steps without men jumping on me, yelling, “Tuk-tuk?  Tuk-tuk, lady?  Motorbike?”

But I can’t help it – I really, really like Phnom Penh.

I’m noticing a pattern as I continue to travel.  I have so much love for the places that drive me crazy – like Bangkok.  As I mentioned once to a friend, I’d rather be complaining in a wild and exotic place than treading water in a nice but boring one.

I need excitement.  I need a level of chaos.  I need a place that challenges me.

And Phnom Penh?  It’s a hell of a challenge.

It’s walking through a market and seeing whole pig heads pushing into your path.

It’s a tuk-tuk driver turning straight into oncoming traffic.

It’s holding a checked scarf to your mouth as the city’s dust kicks up all over the place.

Strangely, I begin to look at things that would drive me crazy – for example, the fact that there are far too few crosswalks, making you walk far distances to just cross the street – and begin to see them as adorable quirks.

Phnom Penh is a place that you have to get to know beneath the surface. It’s easy for someone to judge the Khmer people based on the overzealous tuk-tuk drivers.  But take the time to chat with someone – maybe the vendor who sells you hippie pants at the market, or a waitress in a restaurant with the amazing lok lak – and you’ll learn that Khmers are kind, inquisitive, cheerful, and so glad that you’re visiting their country.

It’s the spirit of Phnom Penh that I love.  This city feels great to me.

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25 Responses to “Phnom Penh: I Shouldn’t Like You. But I Do.”
  1. I know exactly what you mean with this.

    Even here in England, as much as I hate having to fight my way through people and busy city centers, I am still drawn to them exactly because of the mayhem and constant activity, it’s as appealing as it is annoying!

    Haven’t been to Cambodia yet but I have spent time in Bangkok… and I just love that place, so it’s good to know what i’m in for… Perfect mayhem!

  2. There were cities I approached having some sort of prejudices from hearing stories from other travelers, thinking ‘Doesn’t sound like my kind of place…’, then little things happen and they just grow on you. I think the key is to stay there for a bit and learn the things not obvious from first impressions.

  3. It’s the way I feel about La Paz, in Bolivia. On paper there is very little to like about that city. But some of my fondest travel memories include sitting in a market with a fruit salad, a jugo de platano sin asugar, delighting in the company of a Bolivian stall owner in her bowler hat.

  4. ayngelina says:

    I felt the opposite way, that I should like it but I didn’t.

    But I had a couple of contributing factors. I listened to the stupid LP guide and stayed at #5 Guesthouse, which I’m pretty sure is a whorehouse, got some ‘magic’ pizza and totally tripped out so I went to bed and was attacked by bed bugs.

    I stayed a couple more days but my back was so itchy I couldn’t deal with the city anymore and made my way to Siem Reap.

    I will say it’s totally worth the hype.

  5. Bethany says:

    Great post Kate! I can’t wait to visit that city. I have a thing for places like that too. For instance, I actually hanging out in Tijuana – which is by far one of the scariest cities in the world. Sometimes you see the most beauty where is seems to be the most hidden.

  6. Amanda says:

    I think I have discovered why I enjoy reading your posts so much, Kate. It’s because of your enthusiasm for travel. I feel like I’m discovering things with you when I visit your blog, which is great!

    I also love that you always seem to find the good things in destinations. I think that’s probably why you’re falling on love with just about everywhere you’re visiting!

    That, and it seems like SEA is THE place to be right now.

  7. That’s how I felt about Guatemala City. You hear so many terrible things about it, but it also had that level of chaos you describe. Funny, I wasn’t wild about the rest of Guat, but GC was OK in my book.

    • Really! I haven’t yet heard one positive thing about Guatemala City — so interesting that you liked it!

      • I should add that I didn’t LOVE it–and I would never go back just to go there–but the chaos sort of appealed to me, similar to Phnom Penh for you. The driving was just so batshit insane, you couldn’t help but marvel that there aren’t dead bodies strewn about the landscape!

  8. It’s like falling for the bad boys. You can’t even help it.

  9. Joe says:

    Haha – I hated PP but was only there for a few days. Have you read the book ‘Off the Rails in PP’?

    I love Bangkok though but as I live there I’ve gotten to know it.

    I do prefer cities though but PP was just too skanky and down on its luck.

  10. Andi says:

    I 2nd Caroline’s comment! 🙂

  11. Nomadic Matt says:

    I see you are staying lake side. Guesthouse #9?

    I loved phnom penh too. I ended up staying there for 2 weeks.

  12. I agree with you so much, having just come back from there, it’s a wonderful place. My partner is writing a travel book on Cambodia to come out in Australia in 2012.

  13. Phnom Penh is unique and charming. It lacks the modern day sky scraper but the Government are currently working with international companies to improve and expand Phnom Penh.
    I want to visit the little Phnom Penh city before all the changes take place

  14. Theodora says:

    Aw! I loved PP. There’s an infectious spirit to the place. And it’s amazing, after watching the Killing Fields, seeing the desert of death that the place was, to feel all that life and traffic and enthusiasm flooding through…

  15. Alex says:

    I love love love Phnom Penh. Just saying it makes me happy! My favorite city from SEA.

  16. what was the restaurant with the amazing lok lak Kate? I’m in PP in april…

  17. Hi Kate –

    I just found your blog but I already love every post! You sound like you would be so much fun to travel with. I was in PP last summer and I thought it was so great. I agree with what you said about enjoying places that are more challenging….and it doesn’t hurt that you can get a $3 foot rub in pp 🙂


  18. Owww….yep!!!In Phnom Penh is quite difficult to travel.I get..But now it started to change…In our country has alot of natural resources….I hope u will come to cambodia again.

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