“Phnom Penh is like Bangkok 20 to 30 years ago,” is a common phrase I’ve heard for the past couple of years when I discuss Cambodia with peers. Like a lot of concepts of life, I choose to actually experience before believing what people tell me. So you can imagine, upon hearing this, why I was intrigued and decided to confirm this phrase myself.

So here I was, bags packed, bus ticket booked and ready to start a new chapter in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I had visited the country of wilderness once already, starting at Siem Reap and finishing my trip in Phnom Penh, which is how I fell in love with the place to begin with.Nervous and somewhat intimidated due to the lack of development in my surroundings, I was positive nonetheless. After spending nine months there, despite its imperfections, Cambodia became perfect through my eyes, in its own unique way. 

Phnom Penh

There’s something magical about this place, virgin in its environment, experienced in its people. It seems that mass murders and wars does something to the people of a country. Imagine a land where the majority of the people are below the age of thirty, almost as if starting over but as a whole country. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as proven by the attitudes of the people living and growing in Phnom Penh. 

You see, people there are hungry. Not for fame or money, some literally starving for food and water, but most desire growth and development. The best part? Within themselves. People in Phnom Penh were less prone judgements when failing, allowing themselves to make mistakes continuously and open to self-improvement. One of the traits that struck me most about Cambodian people was their lack of judgement or seriousness when making a mistake. This may appear like a downfall but, in my opinion, necessary for evolutionary growth.

I will never forget the way people looked at me and smiled when I tripped on the sidewalk, or how people tried to help me when I fell off my motorbike as someone tried to snatch my bag. People care about other people in a humanly way without expectation. I think this is why I loved Phnom Penh so much: people were and still are genuinely human.