Between our hotel in Street 240 and the Independence Monument on Sihanouk Boulevard sits a small battalion of food carts serving cooked-on-the-spot fried noodles, vegetables, dried fish and squid, steamed corn and various fish balls, sausage, preserved pork and drinks. We didn’t sample the offerings, having just feasted on the chicken curry and fresh baguettes that I described last time, but I thought the colours and arrangement of the carts was worth a few photos.
There was one sight I encountered in Phnom Penh that I didn’t have the heart to photograph. On my last day, I wanted to see the large lake that, according to all the maps I saw, sits in the middle of the city and is said to be beautiful. After a long walk, I discovered that the lake no longer exists, having been reclaimed for a huge development project of shops and luxury apartments. The project has been heavily criticised by many citizen rights groups and journalists for essentially confiscating land from residents without due process or compensation, although the government has now been pressured into recognising the ownership of land plots by some of the former residents. There was nothing left of the lake that I had any desire to photograph, but another traveller has before and after photographs that show the change.
What really hit me, worse than the ruined landscape, was the hundreds of families living nearby in shanty homes constructed along an apparently abandoned rail line. I’m always shy about photographing people in public, especially when the interesting thing about them is their poverty – it makes me feel like I’m exploiting their plight – but now I regret my reluctance because it means that I can’t show you an important reality of Phnom Penh. Perhaps showing you the children kicking a deflated soccer ball around the dust would have inspired you to make a donation to UNICEF, which would be a good thing, but I somehow think that next time I’m confronted by someone in deplorable conditions, I’ll be just as reluctant to point my camera at them.