Phnom Penh


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Asia » Cambodia » South » Phnom Penh
November 19th 2014
Published: November 19th 2014
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My sticky body eventually makes it out of the National Museum. I then decide to make my way towards the Silver Pagoda and the Royal Palace, mainly because they are very large appearing on my tourist map. Unfortunately, things are completely unmarked in PP, and I keep entering a lot of other large temples and monuments, none of which are actually my intended destination. It's unclear to me the criteria for achievement of emboldened map status. And since we all know my comically horrific sense of direction, I just bobble around and ultimately find myself in a throng of young school children all in uniform in a park type setting. After I buy a pineapple shake for sustenance, of course. Best way to spend a dollar. I follow the masses and find I have arrived at the Independence Monument, another map worthy spot, though again not the palace. I ask a group of 11 year old boys what was going on (oh they got quite a kick of this one) and turns out it is a celebration of the 62nd year of independence from France. Who knew. Oh, yeah - everyone but me. My bobbling turned out to be a positive in one case. So I hang out for the ceremony for a bit and listen to the music and watch the procession, though can't understand anything. I ultimately head back to the hotel. Palace can wait for tomorrow.



Phnom Penh is a constant hustle. Tuk tuk propositions every 5 seconds, street vendors and children selling any sort of mass produced handicraft around every corner, and motorbikes hoping to run you down at each crossing. The riverfront is nice, but there are still pockets of trash and grime. But it all works. Traffic ebbs and flows, pedestrians keep their limbs, and the craziness just seems inherent and almost vital to the city. I wonder if the craziness is new, or if PP was a different place 20 years ago.



(Tuk tuk - 2 to 4 person "cabin" attached to the back of a motor bike. Most common means of tourist transportation in Cambodia, like an open air taxi. Cheap and prices are very negotiable.)



My room is tolerable as long as I sit directly in front of the fan or if I'm taking a cold shower. Otherwise, hot. Hot. So I shower up and head out for a beer for happy hour. Happy hour beers range from $0.50 to $1.50 if you want to get real fancy. I get some peanuts and drink an Angkor draft - similar to a Coors Light, but perfect in the heat. I grab dinner at an Indian restaurant on the river, Anjali, which has good reviews. It's excellent, and I indulge in a banana leaf salad, a whiskey and coke and some pampadam. So good. I think I overdid it a bit in the heat, because I am drunk after two drinks. So I saunter back to my hostel and fall asleep in full blown fan action.



I'm really excited for the next day because Sasha, Jason, and Sasha's dad Douglas are coming to meet me in PP. Sasha and Jason are my friends from San Francisco, and fate just had it we were both going to Cambodia around the same time, so we coordinated our trips. We have arranged to meet at their hotel at 10am since they were getting in very late the night before, so I had forced myself to stay awake later since I've been waking up around 6. It was a successful tactic, because I wake up at 8:30. Unfortunately, I have a slew of texts that they were already up and milling about, so I freak out because we have absolutely no means of contacting each other without wifi. I stumble out of the bathroom and bump into someone, and mutter a sleepy "sorry" and turn to my room...and that someone is Sasha! So great to see her face. They give me a minute to compose myself and we buy boat tickets to go to Siem Reap the next day, since most reviews say boat travel is best. It only gives us one day in Phnom Penh, so we get a tuk tuk straight away and plan a full day. I guide them through our local market and then we head to the central market. Sasha's dad is the worst haggler I have ever seen, to an absolutely comical extent. It's almost as if the vendors offer a price and he haggles to pay them 5 dollars more. This becomes a trend through the trip, and he can absolutely not say no to any child vendor, or really any vendor for that matter. He ends up with the most ridiculous shit - like a guitar which doesn't make music, refrigerator magnets, and hand puppets. However, they all have a story, and he can tell you "oh this is from the young girl in Angkor, and this is from the disabled women at the fabric store" and you can tell he loves to help the Cambodian people. He was an English teacher in Indonesia and Laos during the Vietnam war, but never made it to Cambodia because of the violence. He is still very affected by memories of the violence, and he hopes this trip will provide some closure, and he is very interested in the new Cambodian generation. He ends up making friends with all the hotel workers, tuk tuk drivers, vendors, and anyone he can meet. He writes all of their names down and remembers them, and knows about their lives and families and pasts. It's fun to observe. But the haggling...just too funny.





We go to the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda, and after 10 minutes of wandering around with no clue what any of the buildings are, we get a guide and it really makes the experience. We see the main temple used for the king's coronation, the king's current residence, the adjacent monk temples, and the silver pagoda. The Cambodian king is 62 and has never been married. He has no political power. The next king is elected by the government from the royal family, and is not necessarily the first son, so it's okay that the king is childless. The silver pagoda has over 600 Buddha statues within it, some small and plain, and others drenched with crystals. We find that Cambodians have a different color for each day of the week, red for Sundays, light green for Wednesdays, etc. One funny thing is that the cherry blossom trees and some of the flowers around the palace are...fake. I had photographed a few until I realized it.



We drop Sasha's dad off and we head to the memorial at the killing fields. I'll write about this in another blog. After, we pick Douglas back up, and in the hotel lobby I have the most delicious cup of coffee in my life. It is rich and chocolatey (but just black coffee) with notes of clove and cinnamon. Closest I've had before is Jacob's Wonderbar at Philz. I have been searching for a similar java in Cambodia and still have not had one to compare. We go to the Foreign Correspondence Club for drinks, as it comes highly recommended. It has a great view and decent atmosphere, and I could see why it was cool back in the day when reporters would come there to swap stories and smoke cigars, but now it's just a bit of a tourist trap with overpriced, weak drinks. We go back to Anjali for dinner because it was so good the night before, and we all go to sleep exhausted but happy and full. I get Sasha hooked on amok. Next day Siem Reap.


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