Things to Know before you Go to Phnom Penh

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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.  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 WatTuol 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.


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.

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.

lexus in cambodia


 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.

motorcycle parking

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?

ducks 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


Transporting Goods

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.

cambodian clothes

clothes in cambodia

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) 


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