Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh (known as the “Soul of Asia”) is an interesting city. It has touches of French colonialism, both old and modern buildings, Asian-style temples, a mix of paved streets and dirt roads, and a blend of cheap food carts and fancy restaurants. One of the most interesting things about Phnom Penh is the completely modern waterfront, Sisowath Quay on the Mekong River.
The development of Sisowath Quay was paid for by the Japanese government to help improve Phnom Penh’s drainage system. Now the area stands out as one of Phnom Penh’s most modern areas—the streets along the river are packed with trendy bars, restaurants, and plenty of accommodation. In a way, it’s a little sad. There’s little to be seen of Cambodian culture along the waterfront. The hip establishments that dot the river banks attract tourists more than locals, and if you look too closely at the river, you’ll see that things aren’t quite as squeaky clean as the banks of the river suggest. However, Cambodia needs tourists to survive, and there’s no doubt the sleek Sisowath Quay is a means to this end.
Despite its slightly sanitized feeling, I loved the areas around the quay. The traffic in Phnom Penh is unbelievable—cars, motorcycles, mopeds, tuk tuks and tourist vans bob and weave amongst one another on the crowded streets, making crossing the road more like a game of chicken. Tuk tuk drivers aggressively tout their services to everyone who walks by, and locals sell food and trinkets along the streets. These things give Phnom Penh a bit of grit, a hint of how life along the river used to be. I don’t mind the modern architecture and sleek landscaping—to me, it was a sign of Cambodia’s acceptance of progress.
Have you been to Phnom Penh? What did you think of Sisowath Quay?