24 February 2023

A whole week in Phnom Penh has passed. It’s Friday afternoon and I’m writing this at a café I discovered last Saturday. Whenever I visit a new café, the first things my eyes seek are electrical sockets. Last Saturday, I noticed that this café has plenty, which is why I’m back here today to continue writing down my observations of Phnom Penh:

  • Toyota Prius is a thing here. I thought I was lucky when the Grab car I booked from the airport turned out to be a Prius (it’s one of my favourite cars), but as soon as we came out onto the main road I realised luck played no part in it. The streets are drowning in Prius. Look left, it’s a silver Prius. Look right, it’s a blond Prius. Behind you is a Prius. Prius everywhere. I’m very pleased to see, but no less baffled as to why this is. Also of note is that it’s a model you don’t see in Thailand. I wonder which country it’s imported from.
  • The same way helmets here are real and not make-believe like in Vietnam, Phnom Penh also has legit petrol stations. Not the ramshackle operations you see in Vietnam where you half-expect to get fake petrol. Petrol stations here are sturdily built and come with a convenience store, like in Thailand.
  • In certain parts of the city, there are pedestrian crossing lights. This is a luxury even in Thailand, and I was surprised to see they had been installed here.
  • The toilets are clean. Everywhere. I have yet to enter an establishment with a dirty toilet. I don’t know if I have cleaners to thank, if it’s the type of places I’m frequenting, or if people are genuinely cleaner here than in Vietnam.
  • The riverside is the most extraordinary place. I’ve been warned it’s sleazy, and it is—rows of shops that wouldn’t look out of place on Khao San Road, sleaze-central in Thailand. But it’s also majestic and wonderful. I don’t have any photos—I’ve been warned not to take my phone out on the streets. But I felt like I was in Los Angeles. Wide boulevard along the river, tall palm trees swaying in the wind. And I might have just been lucky, but there was no beggar in sight.
  • Free water everywhere! In every restaurant and café, I’ve been offered free water, sometimes a whole bottle of it. I’m a water guzzler, and this free water phenomenon was a very pleasant surprise. I didn’t realise this could be a thing in a South East Asian country where tap water isn’t drinkable. I’m not sure if the water I’m being generously provided is purified tap water, but on at least one occasion I saw it being poured out of a bottle that looked like it had been bought from a store.
  • Credit cards aren’t as widely accepted here as in Bangkok, which is to be expected. Probably also not as much as in Ho Chi Minh City, though I don’t often attempt to use my card there so I can’t say for sure. Most of the places I’ve been to only accept cash or mobile QR payment. Transactions here seem to have skipped the credit card stage and gone straight from cash to mobile banking! Which, interestingly, I’ve been told some years back by a friend who used to work for a major bank in Malaysia.
  • You’d be surprised how difficult it is to navigate a new city without a mobile phone. I’ve been earnestly warned of phone snatchers, so when I’ve been out exploring, I’ve done so with the aid of a piece of note paper with street numbers scribbled on it. Each time I reach my destination sans phone feels like a genuine achievement. But even though I do my best to orient myself before setting off, I’ve gotten lost three times and had to discreetly take my phone out to consult Google Maps. Luckily, no snatching has befallen me.

Positive impressions of Phnom Penh continue. I have fallen in love with the city, as much as I could given I’m still wary of its bag/phone snatchers and pickpockets. I’ve got one full day left. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my vigilance continues to pay off and I board that plane to Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday with all the belongings I came with.

Wish me luck,



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