Posted by: viaprograms | July 28, 2010

The Sights and Sounds of Phnom Penh

First impressions of a new Cambodia-based volunteer during week one of orientation and cross-cultural training in Phnom Penh.

A half-naked child pokes the dirty sidewalk with a stick along Norodorm Street, as her parents labor nearby to heat steaming pots of cockles they sell to passersby. In the distance behind them looms the towering presence of Nagaworld with its gleaming towers and promise of air conditioned restaurants, hotel and casino.

An elephant stops by the side of the road, and its mahout (trainer) extracts a large plastic bag into which he scoops the impressive deposit the beast had just left on the street. He wraps it up neatly and places it curbside, apparently to be picked up along with the trash collection. The elephant waits patiently, then resumes its lumbering stroll to Wat Phnom when prodded by its handler.

They start early here, taking advantage of the relative cool of the early mornings, and break for an hour or two in the early afternoon to escape the heat of the day.

Meanwhile, countless Lexus SUVs roll by motorbikes and tuk tuks, windows rolled up to retain every bit of air conditioned comfort against another steamy day in the city. The well- dressed children of politicians and business leaders strut outside pool halls and buy expensive clothes and electronics in the air conditioned mall, just steps from where beggars with unspeakable disabilities work the streets in the pursuit of a few Riels.

Such are the contrasts of Phnom Penh, where people walk the streets from dawn to dusk collecting recyclables, street vendors sell everything from animal intestines to fruit drinks, and laborers build, clean and maintain properties while fully clothed, either in defiance of or seeking protection from the relentless sun above.

Entry by Frank Yetter. Photos by his wife Gabi.



  1. […] Impressions of their first days in Cambodia and in training were recorded by her husband, Skip, on the VIA blog in July. Read their first impressions here. […]

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