Chaotic Choreography, Phnom Penh
Warm, beaming grins and beckoning calls – "Tuk-Tuk? Where you go?" – blend with the buzz of traffic. On the main streets, a river of steel flows endlessly – motorbikes, Tuk-tuks, and cars weave together in chaotic choreography. Like leaves, upon the river's surface, we drift cautiously and make our way across and into the relative calm of the side streets.
The breeze from the river's edge brings passing relief from the blistering heat and pushes us gently through the city. Wading through the boutiques and postage stamp cafés – sidewalks littered with stone Buddha statues – I am struck by the contrasts of Phnom Penh. The dusty French colonial architecture and rough, haphazard curbsides set against the shimmering gold backdrop of the Royal Palace. The luxury hotels and high-end restaurants amidst the makeshift sidewalk eateries and backpacker hostels. The spotless Range Rovers and Mercedes Benz sedans parked next to the rusty, sun-scorched motorbikes.
And perhaps the biggest contrast is the difference between reality and our expectations. Many years ago we avoided Phnom Penh due to reports that it was a dangerous city – armed robbery, drive-by bag snatching, and other annoyances. Although these kinds of things undoubtedly still occur (as in most big cities), in the few days we are here we find a vibrant, gritty city with some of the warmest, welcoming and genuinely friendly people we've met in our travels.