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Things to Know before you Go to Phnom Penh

Things to Know before you Go to Phnom Penh

Things to Know before you Go to Phnom Penh

As a tourist and traveler, I find it occasionally frustrating to view the inner antics and life of city  from a bus or tuk-tuk enroute to another destination. I may see something culturally peculiar or fascinating, but only get a fly-by record of it.

But before I can raise my camera, the event is gone… Before I can sniff the scent of it’s natural air, I’m inhaling exhaust.

I believe you need to be in the streets in order to truly get a better sense of a place or culture.

The streets are the veins, which make up the body of a city and a place can look very different, when you’re walking through it. The streets tell you that there’s a richer story to be told about its people and it’s more than just Angkor Wat landmarksTuol Sleng and Tonle Sap Lake floating villages ..

In my last post, I uncovered a lot of cool places that weren’t listed in my guidebook, simply because I decided to see the city by foot.

Here’s a few more things about Khmer folk you’re gonna love


Things to Know before you Go to Phnom Penh

Local Street  jobs

Cambodia can feel part modern and part street 1950s.  There’s a large part of Khmer life and street jobs which feel a bit old school and antiquated. There’s still a handful of jobs and businesses which take place on the streets.   While malls do exist, street culture is a big part of the Phnom Penh culture.

Khmer people bike washers

bike washers                                                                                                                                                                                    .    Moto parking attendant for the  mall … motorbike valet service?                                                         .barber                                                           Street barbers                                                                                                                                                                                    .                                                           food market  Market sellers                                                                                                                                                                                          .         phnom penh Khmer craftspeople, making and selling items for religious purposes.                                                                                                                                                                                   .              Girl offers service to seal protective covers over iPhone & mobile phones (a popular service for the youth with technology)

Car Status

As you may have guessed, the majority of the population gets around by way of motorbikes, so much of the lifestyle revolves around motorbike culture.  Only the wealthy own cars and ironically, SUV’s are the vehicles with seemingly the highest status in Phnom Penh.

But they’re not just any SUV; their names are emblazoned on the side of the doors to show their brand.

Khmer people bike washers

… & bike washes!   customers wait for their bikes


suvs in cambodia

Street Food and Seeing your Food

If you’ve read my post on Fear Factor Foods in Cambodia, you’ll get an ample eyeful of things I’ve collected from walking the streets of Phnom Penh. It’s enough of a culture shock to make you question Cambodian food. Rest assured, Cambodia has many restaurants and foreigner-friendly food too. By why take pictures of that?


Poultry sellers  (Not quite ‘free range’, but not caged either)                                                                                                                                                                                              .                                                                                                                                                         .  Khmer craftspeople and sellers Produce sellers                                                                                                                                                                                    .  crabs Preparing and cleaning crabs on the street near my guesthouse                                                                                                                                                                                    .  bananas  Bananas anyone?                                                                                                                                                                                  .  street food cafes   Street food cafes



 Medical Facilities & Services

Medical facilities in Phnom Penh seemed basic for locals walking in off the streets. From hospital care centers to dentists, if you don’t have to get sick in Phnom Penh, then I wouldn’t.  Pharmacies are your best bet to catch your medical needs early on. I can’t promise anything after that.

hospital khmer

(Above) Khmer Doctor/Medical Service   ;                                                                                                                                .                                                                                                                                                                                                                (Below) Dentist   
Pharmacy store
pharmacy southeast asia


Transporting Goods

They certainly aren’t as creative as the Vietnamese, with stackable items all perfectly balanced on a motorbike. Phnom Penhers are much more chilled out. Still, here’s a couple of interesting means of moving things around.

Transporting goods                                                                                                                                                                  .        street 240 phnom penh


Fashion & Style

cambodian clothes

Cambodian traditional clothes

clothes in cambodia

(Above) Clothes shopping   (Below)  Men’s fashion cambodia       men's fashion cambodia


Leisure: Hanging out in Phnom Penh

Bike shop boys                                                                                                                                                             .  guys   Hanging out on the street                                                                                                                                                           .khmer guys  Hanging at bars                                                                                                                                                          .guys at event  Hanging out at events

Living spaces and apartments

phnom penh city

Phnom Penh apartment buildings                                                                                                                   . Khmer lifestyle in city  Apartment lifestyle                                                                                                                                               .                 squat toilets                                                  squat toilets



khmer religion





Back  << Photo Essay: A walking tour exploring Phnom Penh (Pt 1) 



  1. Corinne says:

    Love the poultry seller! Well, all the food, really….

  2. Carol says:

    Nice post! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great pictures! Captures the essence of the Penh, especially the squat toilette’s.

  4. This reminds me a lot of Mexico. People waiting at the car wash, the similar-looking shops, food sold in the streets, religious items sold in the street, etc etc 🙂

    I find it kinda funny the way they show off their cars with the logos!

    • @Laura: Yes, I thought the car logo thing very humorous. I suppose most cultures have ways of showcasing their status but this was undisguised, the most obvious I’ve seen yet.

  5. Tim from New Zealand says:

    very cool image essay…remidns me of the time when I was in PP this time last year. One thing that I saw which I didn’t have time to capture I will try and describe below:

    A 4 lane highway in downtown PP with tuk tuks, cars, bikes, buses etc going down it. There’s two guys laying a new overhead cable. In most western countries they would either dig up the ground, or divert the traffic lanes to achieve this and it would take a crew of workers – but not in Cambodia.

    All they had was a big reel of power cable being pushed in front of oncoming traffic, and behind it, a guy with a big stick to hold the cable above so that vehicles could drive under it. The whole process took about 30 seconds.

    • @Tim: ha ha… It’s too bad you didn’t get a snap of it. No honking from the cars or irritation? Those moments are like golden nuggets. I once took a snap of an Indian man setting up lights for a festival in India and he was on a high ladder mounted on a wheeled cart that another man was pushing through the city. I love seeing a country’s resourcefulness and that’s what your experience sounds like.

  6. Natty says:

    Great pictures of Pnom Penh’s street life, grrltraveler, especially the coal seller.

    What’s the fowl next to the white geese (swans?) that look like wild turkeys or gamecocks? They seem to be dead. What’s at the bottom of that picture that seem to be ducks or baby geese? Are their feet tied: how’re they kept in an enclosure?

    • @Natty: Thanks. The coal seller is my favorite too.

      I just thought it was peculiar cause none of them were running away or making noise. All of them were alive (even those wild chickens or hens?) and just sitting sedately. I guess they must’ve had their feet tied to keep them there. They were all quiet.

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