Getting Lost in Phnom Penh

Wat Langka

There’s no such thing as the Knowledge in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh.

Unlike in London, where taxi drivers spend hours on end learning every back street of the city off by heart before being licensed, tuk tuk drivers here really don’t have a clue.

Endless hours have been wasted trawling the sprawling city’s dusty streets in the back of a tuk tuk, whose driver, fighting to secure a ride amongst the thousands of others who scream “tuk tuk” at every step you take, has assured me before hopping in that he knew where he was going.

Frustrated, desperate and lost in a foreign city that I’m only just getting to know, there have been more than a few times when, under the blanket of a more menacing dark, I’ve secretly panicked, gripped by fear that I’m never going to get home.

What should be a short five minute journey suddenly turns into 10, then 20, then 30, with the driver stopping off at every street corner to ask one of the many men that gather on their motorbikes where the hell he’s going.

Too proud to admit they don’t know, we’ll be sent on a wild goose chase to every corner of Phnom Penh but where I want to be until eventually I’ll spot a familiar shop or site that will lead me home.

In a city that makes no sense to strangers, I decided producing a map and pointing out my final destination might help. Things got so desperate that I’d even plan the route for the driver, slowly drawing an invisible line with my fingers along the roads that we needed to go until he assured me he understood.

He’d nod his head, flash his finest smile and set off with confidence but it wouldn’t take long to realise that he too doesn’t have a clue.

Exasperated, I relayed my frustrations to an expat who’s been living in the city for 18 months. “Yeah, most of them don’t know street names,” he said. “But they’ll never let you know that.”

It turns out they go by landmarks – especially wats – and it turns out that luck is on my side because I live right next to Wat Langka, one of the city’s oldest temples and a place where pretty much everyone in the country is familiar with.

So thanks to Austin and his tip, and thanks to there being a wat on pretty much every street in the city, getting lost is now a thing of the past.

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