On New Realms Travel Blog

Phnom Penh, Cambodia and its shocking cultural contrast


The biggest cultural contrast we really faced until now was definitely in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. After one month in Vietnam and 2 weeks in Thailand we decided to travel to Cambodia. We didn’t know a lot about this country but we definitely wanted to get the visa here to explore Angkor Wat.


The cheapest and fastest way to reach Cambodia was to get a plane from Bangkok, Thailand to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. We chose Air Asia and we paid $80/ 2 people. The flight was about one hour and 15 minutes.


Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the huge contrast between poverty, misery and wealth

Great, so, a fast and smooth flight, an easy passport and visa check, nice and helpful people in the airport and a super good looking, clean and air conditioned train that was on time. First impression about Cambodia: positive.

We grabbed the train from the airport ($2.5/ person) and headed to Phnom Penh city center. And then everything started to change. Looking thru the window from this comfortable and cushioned chair I faced the real poverty. Unpaved streets, muddy or dusty roads, houses with no windows, simply walls built on the road and a roof on top. There was no wood, stone or tiles on the floor, just sand or gravel. And unfortunately garbage everywhere. I was expecting poverty but this was more than I had imagined.

But do you know what was really shocking me? The kids that were playing, running and having fun there. In that dirty place, next to the railway, with few clothes or even naked, and still, they were laughing and having fun. That was the moment when I simply asked myself: do I really appreciate what I have?

After half and hour we arrived in the center. Big boulevards, expensive cars, nice buildings and paved sidewalks. Are we in the same country? What a huge discrepancy!


And then, the bad smell hits us. The piles of garbage, food thrown away on the street, it smells horrible. What is this?!?!

Phnom Penh contrast

Few streets away we faced The Royal Palace. It is spectacular and no, you’re not in Cambodia anymore, that’s clear. Riches, gold, opulence and history, beautiful.


Phnom Penh and the story of always being in danger

Phnom Penh it is well known for the frequent robberies that happen there. In the hotel the receptionist advised us to take care of our belongings, not to wear jewelries, and to keep our mobiles in the pocket. While walking on the street the first feeling is to be always alert and that was something that I didn’t enjoy at all. But after a while we just took the normal precautions to stay safe but nothing more than that.


I think this is something that is too much highlighted especially to the tourists. If you search online about Cambodia, one of the most asked questions is: Is Cambodia safe? And I will answer: yes, it is.

How people describe it and how it really is… it is a huge difference. I am not saying that you are gonna be safe if you expose all your valuables or walk alone during the night. Not at all! But take safety measures and you will be ok.

We didn’t face any robbery, nothing bad happened to us, everything was within normal limits. 🙂

Super expensive products in a super poor country

It is good to know that Cambodia has 2 currencies, US dollars and Cambodian Riel. In supermarket, the prices are sometimes bigger than in some European countries (Romania). Not to mention that it is for sure the most expensive country from the ones we had visited in South East Asia.

I can understand that some prices are created especially for tourists, but even in some local places the prices are not small at all. And when we asked at the reception what are the prices that locals pay for some products, I was impressed to find out that it was almost the same.

It is hard for me to understand that a place that faces so much penury can have these high prices.

It is more about us than about Phnom Penh

Ups and downs, amazed and shocked, the biggest contrast we ever faced. The words cannot describe my feelings: a mix of sadness, frustration, disagreement and mercy towards them. And then I reflected on my feelings and realised: Who am I to judge the way they live? Do I have the right to say what is good or bad for them? I came to their country, met friendly people so it is on me now to accept how things are and enjoy my stay.

Cambodian people have suffered greatly over time. They were conquered by the French, then the communists, the Khmer Rouge came and destroyed everything through the bloodiest genocide in the human history. Perhaps they haven’t entirely recovered after this and need more time to do it.

But do you know what? They are so nice and friendly. Poor but happy, smiling and greeting you. And I think this made the best of our experience. ❤️☮️

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