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January 11th 2009
Published: January 27th 2009
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Sunday 11th
Up early for the bus back to Phnom Penh where we have to head to arrange our Laos visas. We were up and packed early enough to buy some tangerines and bananas from the market and head back to Fresh Eats for breakfast. Delicious - the bread especially good. As we waited for our tuk-tuk in the hotel reception the lady receptionist surprised and delighted us by giving us a free scarf each as a memento. I'd recommend the hotel anyway ( The Royal ) for value and location but this certainly confirmed it. At the nearby bus stop we found we were the only westerners on board. It was sad to be leaving Battambang - a lovely town. The bus driver was a bit of a fast one. The road was tarmacked but busy and single carriageway but he was not hesitant at overtaking - simply blasted his horn and went through. We made a couple of short stops. Bizarrely a legless beggar sat in the middle of this busy highway with his hand stretched out imploringly. I suppose he didn't care if he lived or died. The scene was of almost unrelenting flat landscape - it reminded me of going down my home countie's Acle Straight - only the occasional water buffalo and stilt houses destroyed this thought. At one point there are some small hills but the landscape flattened again as after 5 hours we reached Phnom Penh passing a flooded area where the houses a bridged out over stilts. The scrum of tuk-tuk drivers was worse than ever - one followed us 100 yards as we tried to escape to find a more peaceful place to arrange transport to our hotel. I gave in and after bartering the price to a reasonable level agreed for him to take us to our hotel. He seemed a bit lost but then stopped outside and I went in to check out the available rooms - however the one offered was dark and windowless. The owner suggested I try their sister hotel - which it turned out was was the one I had meant the tuktuk driver to take us in the first place. Here an excellent bright corner room was available with air-con, TV and hot water for $12 a night (an additional bonus was free - if exceptionally slow - internet). We strolled around the incredibly busy streets to get our bearings. Crossing any road is a nightmare - cars, tuk-tuks and thousands of mopeds come at you from every angle. Traffic lights and lanes are much ignored. You have to stride out at a constant pace and allow the traffic to steer around you. The recommended cafe in the French ciultural centre was shut (we forgot it was Sunday) We found a fairly unatmospheric coffee chain cafe as an unsatisfactory substitute as we were too tired to walk any further.. For simplicity we eat at the hotel and the meal was surprisingly good - washed down with a shared bottle of Angkor.


Monday 12th

We went by tuk-tuk to the Russian Market which sells a huge range of products and is much recommended. Each area specialises - for instance one part of about 30 stalls was dedicated just to bike parts. Another section sells pirated DVD's, CD's and software. We bought a Tin-Tin in Cambodia (Cambodge in French) t-shirt ($1.5) and a fridge magnet for mum ($1) after much bargaining. We then found a wonderful charity café called Yejj. The food was great, staff very friendly and the atmosphere lovely (Also some of the best toilets east of Bangkok). We caught another tuk-tuk to Wat Phnom which is a wat on a small hill. We followed a walk I'd noted from a guide book in the café. The wat itself is unexceptional but gives a view (much obscured by leafy trees over the city). Passing by the heavily fortified US embassy we made our way down the main street called Monivong Boulevard to the Railway Station - crossing the road again a major life threatening exercise. The railway station appeared to be locked shut - presumably no trains today. Next to the bustle of Central Market which an impressive building. I looked at some secondhand camera stalls but the prices seemed excessive. Then to a modern shopping Mall which was a bit sterile (and had no camera shops) - there was however a great view from the top floor out over Phnom Penh to the Tonle Sap and the Mekong rivers. An aside - there are a huge number of mobile phone shops in south east Asia - even the most remote dusty town have several on their main street and even remote villages seem to have at least one. The walk continued - we stopped at a nice café for shakes and then headed past the National Museum to Sisowath Quay. Many homeless live in and around this area. Some are obviously drugged out of their minds - I think I would be if I was in such desperate straits. The waterfront here is a fine scene. Small boats were struggling against the current as the Mekong merges with the Tonle Sap. Heavily laden freighters also head up and down stream. We headed to the elegant old colonial Foreign Correspondents Club for a happy hour sundowner. The place oozes colonial charm and sophistication and has magnificent views on the balcony bar out over the junction of the two rivers. It is a very elegant and refined place for a drink. Another tuk-tuk took us back to our hotel. We only ventured just up the street from our hotels to Mama's but what a charming place. It is run by a lovely family. It might seem like condoning child labour but practically in charge was a nine year old who we learned was Malinda. She was in her school uniform so obviously gets a good education and spoke good English. She is obviously much loved by her family as her doting dad was always just behind her as she took orders and poured us a small plate of peanuts. We drew a picture of ourselves and Malinda drew one of herself which she gave to us. She was intrigued by Jen's red hair. The food was good. At one point her baby brother started crying from a visible upstairs window so she went up and got him and brought him down to see us. She was so cute. Her mum was at work in the kitchen and her dad was obviously so proud of her and rightly so.




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