Returning to Asia after time in westernised Australia and New Zealand was always likely to be something of a shock but it is always surprising which things stand out.
Like many Asian cities, travelling by transport through Phnom Penh was an assault on the senses with tuk-tuks, motorbikes, cars, people, and in many cases animals competing for space. But having visited comparable places beforehand I was perhaps somewhat prepared for this.
Arising early due to jet lag and heading out for a 5am run the next day I certainly though had not prepared myself for the streets to be quite so active. Cambodia being in the tropics has a sweltering climate and with many rural areas not having electricity the communities therefore much more adapts their habits and behaviours to the climate and the environment.
So, for school students lessons commence daily at 7am – as do many businesses, and so as such their days have to start that much earlier than this in order to get ready. Hitting the park at 5am there were actually lots of people out exercising – many taking part in organised aerobic sessions to music, or completing their own range of stretches before the weather got too hot and the sun broke the horizon.
School students in Cambodia go to school each day from Monday to Saturday and those that I saw in Phnom Penh either got a lift on the back of a motorbike or walked to school in small groups. This included primary aged children who would help each other to cross the busy streets and avoid the traffic, something you would just never see back in the UK.
I spoke to the receptionist at my hotel on young people’s experience of growing up in Phnom Penh,
‘Kids like school here. Public schools are Monday to Saturday; private schools are from Monday to Friday. They are better but they cost. You go to school until you are 18. It’s harder for students out in the provinces as often kids have to help their parents by working.
Phnom Penh can be very busy – and there is lots of rubbish but it is a good place to live. There are lots of things to do and all of the shops are here.’
This was reinforced a few weeks later when working in a regional town, Bunlung. A couple of my colleagues were adamant they did not want to live in Phnom Penh – they felt it far too busy, but loved the chance to visit whenever they could because of the restaurants and shops there.