Over the years we’ve visited a lot of cities; some beautiful, some sedate, some exotic.
It’s an absolute mad house!!
We had a pretty quick and easy drive from Battambang (receiving a phone call on the way letting me know that I’d accidently taken our room key with us!!), but that was until we reached the outskirts of Phnom Penh!
The road approaches from the north, hugging the west bank of the Tonle Sap river. With only one lane each way it was heavy going over the last 20km or so. Dust swirling constantly through the air, sand drifts blanketing the road verge, horns blaring and exhaust fumes belching into the sky. No the prettiest welcome we’ve ever had to a capital city!
And then we entered the city proper!! It was chaos on wheels! Cars, motorbikes, trucks, bicycles (why?!), pedestrians, bullock-drawn carts, cyclos. You name it, it was there, muscling its way through congested intersections, flying towards you on the wrong side of the road, darting dangerously from one side of the street to the other in a blur of rubber and chrome!
It was interesting though how quickly you started to notice an insane, twisted and totally foreign kind of logic start to unfold in front of you. In Australia there are many who claim that speed limits simply breed inattention and laziness behind the wheel, and after spending some time in Phnom Penh I now have some sympathy with that side of the argument! While I wouldn’t advocate for anarchy on our roads, it’s pretty clear to me that the false sense of entitlement that seemingly exists in the minds of Australian pedestrians would very quickly disappear after a matter of minutes spent trying to cross just one of Phnom Penh’s streets of madness!
“Don’t wait for a gap in the traffic, because it won’t come. Just step out and keep walking!”
I’d heard it said many times before, but never had I had the chance to put it into practice! It goes against everything you’ve ever learnt and experienced, but it’s the truth! While there were times when swarms of swiftly moving 4WDs or trucks put paid to any such notions, most of the time it held true, and it was a thing of profound beauty (and just a tiny hint of pride!) when completed successfully!
Over the four days we had in Phnom Penh we spent an inordinate amount of time walking the streets. Tuk tuks are dirt cheap, but we find that walking can reveal parts of foreign cities that might easily go overlooked when screaming past at ungodly speeds! One thing in particular stood out to me in our journeys by foot, and that was the numerous markets that seemed to appear at random between buildings or down alley ways.
The smells are unavoidable, and the sights are a combination of the familiar, the shocking, the sad and the bizarre! So much variety, so much passion and such a web of human interaction. The chatter, the buzz, the barter, the greetings, the smiles. It’s so alien to our western experience, yet it still feels like an old friend once lost, but now regained.
Pictures simply can’t do these experiences any justice, but they’re all I’ve got.