Crossing Cambodia

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Phnom Penh: Streetwise

Out since February 2010 is the Streetwise Phnom Penh street directory produced by Cambodia Pocket Guides. On sale at various points in the city (amongst others Monument Books and Lucky's supermarket) it costs are $5. For this price one gets a compact 80+ pages street guide as well as extensive description of how one should navigate Cambodia's capital.

The publishers themselves mention on Expat Advisory Services:
'We believe the guide should prove indispensable for anyone seeking help and advice as to how to navigate Phnom Penh’s increasingly congested streets, especially the newer business and residential areas outside the centre of the city'.
But is it any good? Worth it's value?

What others say
Cambodia Beginnings believe's so:
'this map-nut is excited to have another navigational aid at her disposal; I'll now point with a lot more confidence; and the motodops can just drive'.
Andy B, Phnom Penh's premier expat blogger:
'I'm not sure how often I will look at the directory, but it's a good addition to the 'city map scene' and exceptionally well presented. Though I must take issue with the spellings of Wat Onalom and Wat Botumwatdei - I have never seen those spellings before for two of the city's main pagodas. Well done those Pocket Guide folks'.
But's that about the extent of the online reviews, so let's get this expert to look at this....

The maps
First of all, the format is great; the cheap, free, folding maps of town are quite cumbersome, prone to flying away and come with invitations to visit girlie bars. And yes half of the city is off the map anyway.

But then, how often does one need to travel off these folding maps anyway? And how does Streetwise Phnom Penh help?
For example I play football a lot and sometimes need to find places such as Khemera field (north of town), Mekong field (behind Northbridge) or the 'over the bridge' places. Streetwise Phnom Penh does cover these areas but though it can mention every one of the exponentially expanding number of Phnom Penh's minimarts, these football fields are still out there somewhere, waiting to be found and correctly identified.

Furthermore with the main part of town shifting west, it seems an omission to miss covering the area uptil and beyond the airport.
Possibly another mapping suggestion to improve on, would be to include a wider overview map; apparently a ring road (with toll) is under construction (see bridge construction site north of PP towards Pursat) but this is outside of the coverage of Streetwise.

The degree of detail depicting the center of Phnom Penh city is great and much info is provided. This is certainly a boon to local residents seeking something specific and already comfortable with Phnom Penh's lay out. However tourists (and with them the moto drivers) will probably be overwhelmed with the many details and have failure tracking the right street.
Then the advantage of much detail will also result in the disadvantage as changes in the city are so quick; such that they will quickly render the map out of date, at least if you need to find Phamrmacy Y, Restaurant X.

The layout of side by side maps can be advantageous over folding maps but one needs to beware of the jump between the facing pages, the maps are made to overlap each other, meaning traveling from facing page 1 to another means a slight readjustment is required.

The information
Besides the maps there are another 20 pages of information included, which covers the history of the city, tips for getting around, places of interest, Cambodia's road rules and what the future of Phnom Penh might look like.

Certainly adding to most expats knowledge on town, though the section on street names is only for aficionados.

Getting around
Getting around is certainly in too much detail; as always sites of traffic jams change by the hour, day, season or vintage. And traffic lights are cropping up on the alternatives as fast as a crew can set up a wedding tent.

In depth knowledge
This section mentions amongst others that the British ambassador's residence is 'splendid' (cheers to him/her). Covering no less than 4 pages, this is a waste of money. Who is interested in this?

How to get around
Here though pedestrians get a little coverage, the guidance seems to be steering readers to motorized transport options.
Cyclists are seen as crazy so it seems, requiring
'optional knee and elbow pads'
'vital face masks'.
Having cycled up and town for four and a half years I've yet to have a scratch. And why would you need a face mask?
Funny though if you see how many motocyclists end getting cut up (and that's the real picture I am getting) that they are not advised to use the optional knee / elbow pads ...
And why to cyclists require a sturdy lock and the motorised version not? I can't even count how many of my (temporary) friends who have had their motocycles stolen ...

Law and Order
No less than 2 pages explaining the difficulties of getting by the Cambodian law. Considering what's included on this blog on this subject 2 pages might be a let off. The publisher could have kept it short, i.e. like the traffic jams, the interpretation of the law changes hourly, daily, seasonally , etc., etc.

The future
Two pages on Phnom Penh's new tomorrow no less. It presents a rather rosy picture of the future. And much info on non-transport issues. It even claims that the
'city fathers'
are busy planning the new city layout, which I seriously doubt. Since 2000 not much activity has been seen other than paving the dirt and accepting the odd gift of a bridge here and there.
There is serious talk of a mass transit system? Define serious. Again these are donors giving advice and hoping the government chooses their option using a soft loan to pay-off the donor's host country companies ...
Bicycle lanes? Dream on, if anything the officials are closer to outlawing pedestrians and cyclists. Anything to prevent your Lexus from scratching ...

Overall call
  • I like it, it certainly adds info not yet available.
  • It's shelf life I'm afraid will remain limited and no doubt other publishers will copycat the issue less the 'schmuck' which I'm afraid adds little to the maps.
  • Possibly a bit too expensive ...
  • Then again I'm a map freak...
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