The burning rays of the tropical sun were now a distant memory and had been replaced by a cool evening breeze, which was a godsend for exploring Phnom Penh. Work had finished for the day and couples and families were unfurling their blankets in the parks or already busy eating from their hampers. It would be like this until the last rays of sun set over the Mekong, and then the exercises would start. Group fitness classes held on the promenade, impromptu dance rehearsals to the sounds of popular Western groups. It is all a lifetime away from Cambodia’s bloody past that was ripping the nation apart little more than a decade ago and a sure sign of development in Phnom Penh.
As I started exploring Phnom Penh I realised the city is on the cusp of a development boom. Lights from new buildings that were absent less than a decade ago flicker on the far bank of the river. The shell of a half finished skyscraper lies silhouetted against the skyline. The design reminiscent of buildings in Dubai. For the moment it is still a nice balance of the old and the new, but how long it will stay that way remains uncertain.
Exploring Phnom Penh I noticed Buddhist monks walking in the shade of their bright orange umbrellas or carrying computer bags as they hurry to and from classes are the human embodiment of this change. It is easy to see the link here with the past, and yet as you watch them chatter away on their mobile phones you realise that nothing stays the same. This will probably be one of the last generations where every Cambodian family considers sending a son into the Buddhist monasteries to be trained as a monk. As the Cambodian economy grows, so do the aspirations of its people.
It is easy to understand why the French fell in love with the city. The evenings are fresh without the dry heat of the South of France. With little standing water there are few mosquitoes and almost no malaria. All the benefits of the tropics without the drawbacks. In fact, while exploring Phnom Penh I started to fall in love with the city and in a day dream imagined what it would be like to live here.
As I walked around exploring Phnom Penh during the day, tourist guides will try and entice you on day trips. They’ll show you a picture board of the killing fields where so many lives were cut short by the regime of Pol Pot, or the Genocide Museum, which sit quite without irony next to advertisements for an army shooting range where you can fire a rocket propelled grenade launcher for $350. Still, there was little more than a few days sightseeing to be done in the city before I decided it was time to move on to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat temple.
While you are in Phnom Penh you should definitely do some shopping, after learning a bit about the secret of bargaining of course. If you do decide to shop, forget about the dilapidated Russian Market with its many stalls selling cheap Chinese imports. Instead head to the newly renovated Central Market. The place is a hive of activity offering everything from fake iphones to factory reject designer goods. The quality of products varies greatly, so take your time. Still, it’s a nice feeling going in with a $100 and leaving with more stuff than you can physically carry, it’s a great way to finish exploring Phnom Penh!