Capital Senses

Using five senses when experiencing something new: the best way to dive into Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh.

It’s hard to miss the stark contrast, PP is 3rd world with obvious touches of development gone wrong. Malls and coffee shops stand empty, no customers to keep them from going bankrupt. Markets, on the other hand, thrive. 1.5 million people, more than half of whom are under the age of 21; young people dominate the streets with their motos. Traffic insanity, colorful houses with shabby paint, decline and new construction projects are neighbors wherever you look.

Driving through the grid of streets, savory scents of countless food stands hit you as you zoom past. Turn a corner and you get the unpleasant stench of a black river of sewer water for blocks. Market stands of pungent dried fish, grilled squid, durian fruit and exotic spices simultaneously compete for olfactory attention.

Khmer cuisine uses fresh, tasty ingredients that combine into easy meals. Green mango salads, caramel-mango sticky rice, taro root spring rolls, “lake of fire fish”…every single taste bud activated and craving more…

Sticky, humid skin, a small burn from the hot moto pipe, refreshing blasts of aircon, the pressure of a blind woman’s shiatsu massage. Folding palm leaves to hold amok, hands pressed together in prayer position to thank someone. Dust from a minor sandstorm irritating your eyes. Rain.

Friendly voices: You need moto, madam? Tuktuk? A woman collecting plastic bottles incessantly squeezing  a squeaky rubber horn. Water pounding on roofs, trickling down to spatter pavement. Prerecorded sounds played by food vendors to entice your patronage. A chorus of Hello! Hello!…Small children practicing the only word they know with the blonde barang walking by. Market chatter and moto horns, more rain.


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