Phnom Penh is a relatively small capital city by Asian standards. There is only one high-rise in the city, a new 18-story building that hasn’t even been completed at the time of writing. It’s a city that is possible to explore on a bicycle, with no real public transportation system to speak of.
It’s also a madhouse. Everywhere where tourists walk, they are harassed and solicited. This seems to be a kind of sport among the tuk-tuk drivers and moto-dops. It’s always hot and there’s virtually no respite from the noise and chaos around you. Traffic is as bad and as disorganized as anywhere in the world. A traveler has to always be aware of where he’s standing so as to avoid getting hit by some idiot on a motorbike. It’s not uncommon to see small children driving miniature scooters through the city.
At least the air pollution situation isn’t as bad as most capital cities in the region, though it’s getting worse.
The riverside is where most of the mid-level bars and nightclubs are. The foreign crowd here is mostly middle-class tourists and backpackers, and there are quite a lot of sex tourists. The restaurants in the area are relatively expensive, though not outrageous. Drugs and sex are sold here, as they are just about everywhere. There are several happy pizza places in the area, where one can eat a pizza covered in marijuana, and occasionally other substances. Many of these are duds, as they don’t put enough on. The “Pink Elephant” seems to do a decent job, but the rest are hit and miss…
Lakeside, “Boeng Kak”
This is the infamous backpackers’ ghetto of Phnom Penh. Rooms rent from as low as $3 a night. Cockroaches, biting rats, and malarial mosquitoes are common, as are drugs, sex, and cheap booze. On the other hand, it’s actually a pretty nice place to hang out. Watching the sunset over the lake is arguably the nicest thing to do in Phnom Penh, and there are always interesting (and often completely psychotic) characters hanging around. It’s as multinational and multicultural as any place in the world, and usually it’s very tranquil, as most people are stoned all day. A lot of expats live here as well, spending their days teaching and their nights drinking and getting laid. It’s not surprising that everyone looks a little under the weather after awhile…
Unfortunately, in the Cambodian government’s efforts to extract as much pocket money as possible out of the country’s available resources, the lake is being filled in by a Korean company that wants to build a shopping complex. By 2010, there will be no more lake. You can thank the bastards in the black Land Rovers and Hummers with RCAF (Royal Cambodian Armed Forces) license plates. It’s clear that there is no bright future for Cambodia…
Toul Kork used to be a ghetto full of $2 brothels, but has recently been “cleaned up” by the government and replaced with upper-class houses and residential complexes. Most of the people who lived here were rounded up and kicked out, their houses bulldozed over in front of their eyes. It’s the “Beverly Hills” of Cambodia.