Architecturally, though, the place could use some work. Temples and palaces aside, many of the buildings are old and tattered, in a state of near-decay. Most of the construction and upgrading seem to be happening along the Tonlé Sap and Mekong Rivers, which frame the city center, but that's a lot like adding a cleft to your chin without lifting the rest of the face.
But enough about the buildings. Chances are if you find yourself in the middle of Phnom Penh, you didn't come to digest the architectural wonders. Phnom Penh is all about the people. Beautiful and fascinating, whether at work, at play, or at rest, they could hold my attention for hours.
After the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, it was probably one tale too may from the crypt, and it threatened to shake my faith in the basic decency of people, though not Cambodians. Just as I wouldn't dream of letting stories from the century before the last one about the horrors of slavery cloud my view of white people in the United States today, I won't associate the genocidal actions of the Khmer Rouge 30 odd years ago with the people before me.
Of all the places I've visited so far on my tour of Southeast Asia, the culture here is perhaps the most distinct. "It's like another world, isn't it?" an Australian woman (from Melbourne!) said to me, gazing out at the surrounding squalor, as the bus made its way into town yesterday. It's the only world most of these people know, I thought to myself. And the pride and dignity with which they inhabit it perhaps will be the most indelible Cambodian image of all.