Street Signs

In the United States, at major intersections there are often signs above the lanes giving the name of the street in large letters, larger than the lettering on the small street signs that stand on the corner. These signs are very helpful in letting people know they have arrived at a street they are looking for.

It’s different in Phnom Penh. The municipality has started placing some signs above the lanes of the street, but they don’t give the name of the intersecting street. Rather they give the name of the neighborhood or a nearby landmark.

That is because Cambodian people don’t navigate by street names but by landmarks. They don’t know the names of streets. I have talked to people who don’t know the name of the street they live on. Instead they say “Go to Central Market and turn when you see the big hotel.”

Here are some samples of the signs over Phnom Penh streets.

This sign announces that you are close to the Old Market, which is great if you are looking for the Old Market but not so helpful if you want to know the name of the street where you are.
This intersection is designated as Santhormok because the Santhormok School is nearby.
This sign lets you know you have arrived at Depo Market. Markets are spread throughout the city and everyone uses them daily for food so they are natural and obvious landmarks.
The intersection near the Tuol Tumpoung Market.
Overpasses are still a new notion–there are only three of them in the country–so they give them names. This sign tells you that you’re sitting underneath the 5 Makara overpass but doesn’t tell you what street you’re on.