Friday, September 16, 2011

Phnom Penh

I was told by several people that one only needs a day and a night in Phnom Pehn (henceforth PP).  I am so glad I didn't listen.  I really enjoyed PP.  I spent one night there before heading up to Siem Reap for two nights.  Then back to PP for the last night with Danielle.  I then had three more nights there on my own.  i found a lot of similarities between PP and Ha Noi.  They are both smaller cities in population, and water plays a part in the city flow.  It was esy to meet people and just hang out, moving at a slower pace.  The eats were good aside from the traditional Cambodian food which was generally lifeless. Tuk-tuks are a must for in PP and Siem Reap.  It wasn't like our Indonesian Bajaj which is what I was expecting.
The Mekong river runs along one side of town and there's a big, beautifully paved waterfront walking area. At night the area comes alive with walkers, impromptu exercise/dance groups and food hawkers. In the morning its an easy place to find a cheap breakfast on a restaurant patio just across the street.  The view and breeze are worth the extra dollar the meal might cost.

The hostel I stayed at was one of the best and the worst.  The staff were amazingly helpful in giving information and booking buses, etc.  There was a nice little patio area where I spent hours chatting with other travelers.  The down side was the mattresses which were U-shaped and despite six electric fans running, the room was hot. I slept more poorly here than anywhere. They were understaffed and our room was cleaned only about every third day despite all eight bed being occupied.

In Cambodia it's impossible to throw a rock and not hit a temple.  Wat Thom or Hill Temple was a mere two minutes walk from my hostel and very pretty. The Royal Palace was the only one I saw on this trip.  It was worth the effort as entry times are very specific as is the dress code. The Silvere Pagoda, attached to the palace, was also interesting.
Wat Thom, Hill Temple
Creepy statue at Wat Thom
The eats were cheap, a bowl of noodles with meat and veg for a dollar, beers for fifty and seventy five cents. I found a shop selling handicrafts made by the handicapped.  The sales were good and the products great.  I stocked up on gifts and goodies for myself.
There is nightlife to be found if you want it, both bars and clubs.  One night Danielle and I made friend with four guys from the hostel who because "Ricky, Micky, Martin and Ze German!" Rick and Maarten are Dutch, Miki Chinese and Ze German was, well, German.  I didn't find out his name until after we got back from Siem Reap.  Lars. As a band of heros, we ventured into a dance club after finding four Danes to drag along.  It was an epic night.

My favorite sexy beast, Neil and his other half Nikki, make another appearance in our story here in PP.  The first night Danielle and I were sitting having a beer and talking tattoos when they walked by on the opposite side of the street.  We hadn't seen them since Hoi An.  I literally leapt up and tackled Neil (he's a big guy too). I'm still hoping to hear from them. 

Last big stops were S-21, Security Prison 21 from the reign of the Khmer Rouge and the central market.  It was a harrowing reminder of the cruelty of a regime that was hell bent on remaking Cambodia in it's ideal image, despite the fact it meant killing hundreds of thousands of their own people. It was so silent you could hear a pin drop even though there were several dozen visitors that day. I toured it and Tuol Seng (the Killing Field) with a Welsh couple I met in Ha Noi and saw again at my PP hostel.  We were wide-eyed at the silent reminders of Cambodia's lost generation.

The central market was a fun visit though my shopping was nearly done by then.  Very cool architecture on this building.

The last note on PP adventure.  I met Niall, the British owner of a bar called The Empire (a must go for good grub and chill atmosphere). He and his friends swept me along in their birthday (his) celebrations to a ladyboy/drag show in PP.  How could I say no to that on my last night? So I didn't. 

I was gutted to miss out on their trip to the Kingdom brewery the next day, but I'll know where to go back to.  I skipped Kampot in favor of extra, unrushed days in PP and am very happy for having stayed.

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