travel Cambodia

#WritingCambodia – First Impressions of Phnom Penh

This is where the man scavenged on the ground for food.

This is where the man scavenged on the ground for food.

My first day in Phnom Penh… 

A street kid with a feather duster trying to clean my shoes in a tuk tuk, a dinner of snails & chicken’s spurs, fantails dancing in the vines, a kitten with a squealing mouse in its mouth trying to also catch a gecko, debris-lined roads, a driver with a trailer filled with pigs racing us, and a man so hungry he was eating dirty crusts of bread off the litter-filled floor, spitting them out if they were too inedible but not bothering to check beforehandAt night, the air fills with the perfume of flowers and an unidentifiable screeching and lunging from overhead in the palms. I find the people are as warm and friendly as everyone says, and sleep is peaceful in this small oasis of a guesthouse.

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One of the the three ferry crossings – be warned, sit on the side & you get wet. I found out the hard way 🙂


Phnom Penh, Day 2…

Feet swollen with mosquito bites and a 25KM bike tour of the Mekong islands. Death-defying single file ride through the city streets: tuk tuks and trucks take no notice of the traffic direction, especially on roundabouts. To survive, just keep going. There is constant motion and the drivers are used to dodging and weaving. Stop and you screw the whole system. We enjoy ferry crossings, bumpy mud track rides – around farms, past rice fields, in temples, through cattle. We visit a family home silkworm farm (they don’t try to sell you anything) and a local temple. Included: lots of fresh coconut water and a local lunch so plentiful, there was food left behind – anyone who knows me knows that doesn’t happen when I’m around. At night, I find incredible seafood street food, and a young girl abandons her family to join me to eat and speak English. The weird screeching continues overhead and the mosquitos are out in force.



Phnom Penh, Day 3…

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My patient and helpful instructor for coconut carving, Sok Chea

A motorbike ride with a student called Kim Sroung to a crafts workshop where I cut, file, sand and polish a piece of coconut shell into the shape of an elephant (‘dom rey’) under the guiding hand of Sok Chea. Warm greetings from stall owners as I return for more snails, and I eat as much fresh jackfruit as I can stomach. Exploring random streets on foot, stepping in potholes, dodging traffic, confusing the locals with my presence. Later, discovering a menu at the seafood street vendor opens up a world of over fifty dishes!

My final day in Phnom Penh…

An ad hoc invite which turns out to be church (not what I unexpected!), where I get to see some outreach work by a charity, and meet an American girl called Tori who speaks Khmer – she takes me to buy my food for the countryside from the local market, greeting her usual vendors and getting me a pile of food at a great price. At night, a food tour not for the faint hearted – including (optional) grasshoppers, water beetles, snake, grubs (the snake & water beetles were my favourite) – but also rooftop cocktails, tropical fruits and an amazing BBQ.

street food Cambodia

Tastes like fish jerky. Really, really good.

Tomorrow, I head to the countryside to help at Singing Kites. I already love this country but it clear that there is a lot of pain hidden behind the smiles. Imagine being so hungry, you don’t even care whether your food is clean. Already lots to think about. 


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