Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Day 1: One with the car seat


The time I spent in Asia was short; however, if I counted moments instead of days, it felt like a lifetime. Each day was an adventure filled with surprises, from being greeted by a gang of cackling chickens in a washroom, to stumbling upon a fortune teller, who awakened a spark in me, to witnessing the disheartening inequalities between the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. In essence, we’d experienced it all — the bizarre, the marvellous, the sweat, the tears, the smiles, the laughs.

What’s striking is that I felt most at home when I didn’t have a place called home, and was on the constant move from one place to another. I’ve met strangers along the way who’ve felt like family — family I never knew. Thus I understood that home is where the heart is. In retrospect, I regret not having extended my stay, or better yet, buying a one-way ticket at the beginning. But for what it is, it’s been a beautiful and humbling journey — certainly one of self-discovery, and I’m grateful for the experience.

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Something I really enjoyed during my stay in Phnom Penh was exploring street vendors and food night markets. If you’d like a taste of authenticity, rather than visiting touristic restaurants, opt for local. Eating like a local is not only inexpensive, but the food is delicious and watching the vendors cook live is a neat experience. I also loved trying an array of traditional Khmer desserts, which can cost as little as 500 – 2000 riel (4000 riel is about 1 USD).


The fish section at Orussey Market wasn’t the greatest smelling place to be, but I purposely sought it out; after all, I was on a mission to buy some “trei ngeat!” A staple in the traditional Khmer household, “trei ngeat” is essentially dried, preserved fish (quite salty) that’s often eaten with rice or rice porridge. My favourite type of “trei ngeat” is called “trei ngeat samyong,” and it’s made sweet.

If you’re a true Khmer, you can’t visit Cambodia and not shop for dried fish to bring back home with you. (Not that I was raised in a traditional Khmer household either — far from it — which is why this feat is ironic and comical.) I purchased a few kilos to share with my family; depending on the fish, the price can range anywhere from 10 to 70 USD a kilo. These perishable items are also quite travel-friendly; they just need to be wrapped and sealed well, and vendors will happily help foreign customers with it.

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Markets selling handcrafts, souvenirs, clothes, jewellery, beauty supplies, and home goods abound in Phnom Penh, so another exciting development for me was learning the art of bargaining. Here’s a tip: Give your lowest price and then work your way up. I was particularly fond of all of the paintings and the hand-carved sculptures of Apsara dancers, mythological figures, and temples made out of such bases as wood, stone, and metal.


The Royal Palace. Visiting the scene was heart-warming for me because it’s where my mother used to practice Khmer classical dances when she was young. It was also neat seeing the university where my father studied. He was part of the choir at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh in the years preceding the Genocide, and was nicknamed “kon saw” — literally translated as “white son” — by King Norodom Sihanouk, due to his light skin colour as a Chinese. Needless to say, it would’ve been enriching if my parents were able to accompany me on my trip; I would’ve loved to have been given a glimpse into their past.


While sitting in a tuk tuk in traffic, sometimes we’d be approached by someone selling these traditional handmade Khmer jasmine garlands, and every time I saw a basket of them, I experienced a surge of joy. My mother loved jasmine flowers — we call them “pka malis” in Khmer — and we even grew them in our home when I was a child.

Sometimes I’d buy these garlands and place them under my pillow for a lovely scent; other times I’d buy them and hang them in the tuk tuk for the driver and his clients to enjoy. It was a way for me to support families especially the children selling them.

“Phsar Thmei” market

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Speaking of crossing, an interesting sight in Phnom Penh was the traffic and the driving. Ay Caramba! If you’ve been to Phnom Penh, you’d know what I mean. So if there’s something else I learned, it’s the art of crossing the street, which tends to involve closing both eyes and taking a leap of faith. (Not sure if I’m crazy or if I’ve just reached a heightened state of enlightenment. Pretty sure it’s the former.)

4 thoughts on “Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Day 1: One with the car seat

      • Ah cool. I was just wondering because I know I would be so nervous to try and haggle in a foreign language. Although I know it can be done (for that matter I’d be nervous to try and haggle in any language!)

      • Haha! I understand. I saw many foreigners bargain without even speaking the language. From what I saw, bargaining is normal in these kinds of markets, but I wouldn’t want to be there until the next sunrise either. 😉

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