Before coming here, the impression I had of Phnom Penh was generally that it’s not worth staying too long and that Siem Reap is better. It might be, I don’t know yet. But I do know that Phnom Penh has been delightful.
Phnom Penh has all the markings of a typical Southeast Asia capital. It’s bustling yet chill. As soon as I arrived and saw the tuk tuks and motorbikes weaving through traffic, I felt a kind of happy warmth. Getting into the more central part of the city, the vibe is even more welcoming and interesting. Tiny hidden away restaurants line little alleys with no sidewalk where you just peacefully share the road with the motorized traffic. There are great restaurants and cafes to sit and have a drink and even where people are working on computers. There’s also a wonderful mix of cheap dive bars and classy cocktail places so your nightlife can be a shitshow or… a classier shitshow.
I found getting around Phnom Penh much safer and easier to manage than anywhere in Thailand
, which I adored in its own right. Not only is the city walkable, tuk tuks are everywhere offering you a lift. At first I was a bit overwhelmed by the attention and was wondering if we would spend the rest of our time getting harassed and trying to turn rides down. But by the second night after dinner, I was kind of disappointed when there wasn’t a tuk tuk already waiting for us outside the restaurant, as I had come to expect. They’re also dirt cheap, $2-4, to get you almost anywhere in the city. And if you don’t need one, a simple no usually suffices.
Being Hispanic, I always forget that you can be poor and (gasp) honest! The people here are so incredibly kind. They’ll run you down to give you change on one dollar you didn’t realize you were owed. You can safely hand a tuk tuk driver your iPhone to show him where you need to go and know without any doubt that they won’t speed off with it. When my friend fell and sprained her ankle, everyone from the hotel to people on the street all stopped what they were doing to do what they could to help. I would feel safe and taken care of living around people like this.
God the food here is incredible. I haven’t had one bad meal, though I do feel like I’m already sick of lemongrass. Nonetheless the amok, the lok lak, curries and other Cambodian delicacies are to die for. I thought I would be more enamored with the street food, but I have the fear of God about getting sick like I did in Peru, and nothing in particular called out to me to make it worth taking the chance. It’s a lot of noodles and what looks like dried fish.
Though Phnom Penh doesn’t suffer from nerve wracking monsoons that affect more coastal areas, the weather is unbearable. I can’t deal with humid weather in the 90s on a regular basis. More importantly neither can my hair. It also rains torrentially at random. This alone is enough to knock Phnom Penh out of the running to be truly livable, even though I love everything else about it.
Total livability score: 6/10
If I hadn’t discovered the row of cute themed bars on Bassac Lane, this would be a 4. The weather sucks that bad. But ultimately, I think the city has a lot to offer.