Phnom Penh: Still a pearl of Asia

Phnom Penh: Still a pearl of Asia

But even if tarantula isn't your thing, there are the golden spires of the Royal Palace or the distinctive saffron robes of the monks - often with saffron umbrellas to match, as they go on their early morning rounds.

Or, there are the dilapidated art deco style French colonial-era buildings lining the streets of the old city and the tree-lined promenade along the banks of the mighty Mekong.

Phnom Penh is also a city of extremes: chaos and calm, poverty and glitz, an ancient past and a young capital on the move.

The city is not just another Asian metropolis, but represents an older, slower Asia that still retains many of the characteristics that gave it the title of "Pearl of Asia" in former decades.

As a resident of Jakarta, Phnom Penh seems like a veritable oasis in comparison. It has much to offer visitors: first, with a population of just over 2 million, Phnom Penh is a much more manageable city that the likes of Jakarta or Bangkok.

It is easy to get around, has superb restaurants and bars, including a good selection of French as well as Khmer restaurants, and is one of the cheapest cities in Asia.

One of the special attractions that go with the French and Italian cuisine is that wine comes at a fraction of the price in Jakarta. There is no tax on alcohol yet!

Almost everything of interest can be reached with a short ride by tuk-tuk. These are ubiquitous, comfortable - unlike Jakarta's smoky and noisy bajaj (three-wheeled taxi) - and also cheap. It's like riding around town in your own little chariot.

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