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.