Penom Penh – The City With Two Faces

I’m on a quick – very quick in fact – visit to the Cambodian capital. But even in just a short time I can see that Penom Penh is a city with two faces. There’s the part along the river that most westerners see, with the Grand Palace, hotels and restaurants. Then there’s the crowsded, dusty streets away from the river.

In the “other” Penom Penh, the narrow streets are choked with motor-bikes. In many places, they’re desperately trying to widen the streets and add sidewalks – although as in much of Southeast Asia, the motorcylce riders seem to the sidewalks are made for them. In this area, especially around the brooding Byzintine presence of the French market, there are a lot of seedy two star hotels, most of which seem to have tiny casinos in them. It’s not sold as such to western tourists, but Cambodia is one of the few places in Southeast Asia where gambling is not only legal, but encouraged as a source of revenue. The casinos are supposed to off limits to locals, but nobody seems to care. They cater mostly to Chinese tourists, from Taiwan, Hong Kong or the mainland.

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