Return to Phnom Penh

Return to Phnom Penh

Nobody likes change. It throws you right off wack. Like with mars bars and snickers – once they were snack size and now they’re no more than a measly mouthful but they cost more?! Then again, nobody could finish a whole Mars bar back in the day.

When I first came to Phnom Penh four years ago it was a huge polluted, dusty city. There were a lot of expats living there and a bustling traveller scene so there were some westernised restaurants and bars, but there were no big shops, just one supermarket and one big book/stationary shop.

The majority of people there wore pyjamas all day long, they piled whole families on to bicycles and scooters , and the only cars around were massive SUV things that don’t stop for anyone.

Today Phnom Penh has everything from Mango (the clothes shop) to Apple (the computer people). They have a huge range of very good opticians and you can buy all your western brands. There are plenty more cars including Toyota and Nissan. The SUVs are still there and they still don’t stop.

Phnom Penh has come on in leaps. And it is full of bakeries.

Not all of the changes in Phnom Penh are positive though. Many of the slums have been evicted and the people moved outside the city where they can’t find work. The lake, which was home to some of the poorest slums… as well as backpacker hostels and restaurants, has been filled in ready for development.

I didn’t recognise any of it. I stayed on the same street and even my favourite restaurant Mama’s has moved over the road. Although they’re still serving the same great value dishes – my favourite is the veg curry with rice for just 5000 riel, that’s 1$ and 25cents.

Despite all the change though, Phnom Penh still made me feel happy. The city is growing in size and in wealth. The majority of people there now have proper clothes. But they haven’t changed a bit. The people of Phnom Penh are still just as welcoming, just as friendly and just as infuriatingly unapologetic when they run you over. A tuc tuc drove into Tim and knocked his glasses off his face and they just laughed. Exactly the same as they’d laughed at me four years previously when a man with a fan knocked me off my bike.

Like with Mars and Snickers, change brings about a conundrum. I love Phnom Penh and its people but it’s got me worried. Is the cities growth for the benefit of the people or is all the development designed to hide poverty, brushed under the carpet outside of the city?

I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on Phnom Penh, modernisation and Mars bars…

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