Last Updated on June 30, 2012 by Christine Kaaloa
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. 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 hold you stories about its people, culture and lifestyle. Cambodia is more than Angkor Wat, Tuol Sleng, Tonle Sap Lake floating villages and a list of things to do in a Khmer city.
Things to Know before you Go to Phnom Penh
Street jobs of the past are present in Phnom Penh
Walking in Cambodia can you might feel torn between feeling like you’re in a modern city and yet not. While malls exist, street culture is a big part of the Phnom Penh culture. Street life in Phnom Penh can occasionally feel like it’s from the 1950s. There’s still a handful of jobs and businesses which take place on the streets and they can feel a little old school.
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.
Like most places, Cambodia has it’s social classes of rich and poor. A common vehicle for affluent Khmer folk to drive is symbolic of wealthy status and prestige; and thus, are big and bulky SUV’s.
But these aren’t just any SUV’s. Cambodian SUVs come with its dealers’ logo prominently branded for all to see. Lexus, Mercedes, Landcruiser.
What is the most popular brand on the market? Lexus.
10. Motorbikes are for everyone else!
If you’re not rich enough to afford a big chariot like an SUV, then you probably drive what the rest of the population drives… a motorbike. Cambodians aren’t as die-hard bikers as the Vietnamese however, so you won’t see them converting their motorbikes into beds, packing mountainous crates and household appliances nor drive long distances on them .
But they do treat them like precious horses.
You can see what you eat
If you’ve read my post on Fear Factor Foods in Cambodia, you’ll get an ample eyeful of things I’ve photographed from 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 Produce sellers Preparing and cleaning crabs on the street near my guesthouse . Bananas anyone?
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.
Cambodians certainly aren’t as creative as the Vietnamese, with stackable items all perfectly balanced on a motorbike. Phnom Penhers love their motorbikes, but are much more relaxed about transporting things in normal means. Still, here’s a couple of interesting ways of moving things around.
Khmer Fashion & Style
In Cambodia, there’s a contemporary western look worn in daily lifestyle. The style is modern, simple and semi conservative, despite the warm weather. For formal or traditional celebrations, Khmer dress customs are fancier and Khmer.
Leisure: Hanging out in Phnom Penh
Cambodians love to lounge and hang out, especially the men who tend to hang out in buddies or groups. Often you’ll see them on their motorbikes relaxing or outdoor cafes.
Cambodia’s religion is similar to many of their Southeast Asian neighbors, Theravada Buddhism. 95% of the population is Buddhist.
What are things to know before you go to Phnom Penh?
Back << Things to Do in Phnom Penh: A walking tour (Pt 1)
[…] takes a bit to understand Khmer folk.Around 1975-1979, during the the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia underwent a food shortage. A-ping […]
Love the poultry seller! Well, all the food, really….
Nice post! Thanks for sharing.
[…] Photo Essay: What does a street say about its people?… A lot! (Phnom Penh) […]
Great pictures! Captures the essence of the Penh, especially the squat toilette’s.
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.
What does a street say about its people?… A lot! (Phnom Penh Photo Essay) | Grrrl Traveler http://t.co/5GfLrM1M #travel
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.
Photo Essay: What does a street say about its people?… A lot! (Phnom Penh) http://t.co/k9gIx3Zb via @grrrltraveler
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.