Sunday, November 23, 2014

Two days and nights in Phnom Penh

1.  It is hot, day and night, with occasional respite from breezes off the river

2.  The river is mesmerizing, constantly flowing, boats of all kinds and sizes going upstream and down, flags of all nations flying brightly along Sisowath Quay, full of walkers, tourists, local
folks, vendors with water and soft drinks in ice chests, fishermen and women, whole families with children playing, lovers, old folks, tut-tuk drivers wanting to take you to all the sights, and unfortunately far too many beggars, some missing limbs, some badly deformed.  Cambodia is a poor country, probably the poorest we have visited.

3.  Staying right on the Quay at the historic FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) was fun, with two floors of an open air bar and restaurant filled with a lively international crowd of people of all ages in the evening.  Barstools along the balustrades were prime spots for watching the river at sunset during the two-for-one three-hour happy hour.  Unfortunately, after two or three two-for-one specials and a light dinner, these two old travelers were ready for bed about the time things really got into full swing around 8 p.m.  Who knows what tales we would have to tell had we been able to stay awake (and keep drinking?) longer.

4.  We couldn't walk out the door without being hailed by half a dozen tuk-tuk drivers, many treating us as though we were old friends, all wanting our business.  It was hard to disappoint them, and in retrospect we should have taken a tour around the central part of town, because pretty much all we saw was the waterfront and the Royal Palace, whose magnificence rivaled that of Bangkok, although on a smaller, less lavish scale.

5. On our first evening we encountered some kind of religious event at a small temple by the water.  Crowds queued to enter with offerings of lotus buds and blossoms arranged in coconut shells, and traditional musicians played nearby.  A platform, also covered with offerings of flowers provided additional space for people to kneel and pray.  The location was in front of the Royal Palace, which was fronted by a huge billboard with a portrait of the king, celebrating 10 years of his reign.  "Sixty-one years old, and no children," we were told by the well-educated, very talkative tuk-tuk driver we met the next day.  

6.  The FCC was also famous for its food.  Among the delicious things I ate there were prawn shooters in a lemon and chili sauce, a Caesar salad, a Portuguese salad with yogurt dressing and piriperi chicken, and a floating island dessert.  Kent stuck with the marguerita pizza, which he loved, and for breakfast there were warm croissants and Eggs Benedict!

7.  There is a picture book I loved, but can't remember author or illustrator, with lovely watercolor illustrations, called "The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh" about a little girl who saves her money to free the birds. I paid $1 to free two birds which I held in my hand for a minute, and made a quick prayer for peace and freedom for all creatures, but the tiny birds were weak.  I suspect they were easily caught again, or lured back to cages with food.  I need to find that story again.

8.  Bathrooms, napkins, and temperature.  This doesn't fit in anywhere, but while there were public toilets everywhere in China, they almost never had toilet paper or any way to wipe your hands.  Vietnam and Cambodia, despite being poorer countries, tend to have clean toilets with toilet paper, Muslim showers, and even paper towels!  I think I used only one public toilet in Myanmar, a hole in the ground with in a wooden shed with a dipper of water --less said about that one the better.  China also had toilets at bus stops (on tourist routes and connected to restaurants) that had a series of squat toilets all in a row, open doors, and separated one from the other by perhaps a 3-foot wall, an open trench, really, with water flowing through it.  A bush to squat behind would have been better and less odiferous, had there been any bushes.  Also, in all but the fanciest, most expensive Chinese restaurants, forget about paper napkins.  If you could get something, it would be a thin sheet of paper from a toilet paper holder set on the table, or sometimes they would pass a Kleenex packet.  My bandana has come in very handy, and come to think of it it is due for another wash, as I've been mopping a lot of sweat lately, and I don't think there is any relief in sight.  The weather forecast for Siem Reap is mid thirties, which translates to mid 90s, with a "feels like" rating in mid-afternoon of 103!  I don't know how much trekking amidst the ruins, or bicycling to them we'll be able to take. Stay tuned.

All I could think of was Maurice Sendak when I saw this image in the decaying murals of the Royal Palace.

9.  We could have done more in Phnom Penh, but I spent most of one morning arranging most of the rest of our trip, which as of now goes:

November 23. depart for Siem Reap, 12:40 pm Cambodia Angkor Air K6109, arr, 1:20 pm.  Pick up by Alliance Boutique Villas  Bus 8 hrs. $15 ea., flight 45 min. $100 plus each.  We chose to fly, based on recommendations from people who had done both.  I know we are wimps, and while sitting in this clean, pleasant air-conditioned airport, at which we arrived by a rather exciting half-hour tuk-tuk ride, I've had time to write these notes.

November 23-24-25-26, Siem Reap.  Alliance Villas.  Breakfast included.  Angkor Wat, buy three day ticket

November 27 small river boat to Battambang, Cambodia, 7-10 hours

November 27-30 Battambang.  Seng Hout Hotel, near Psar Market.
Call ahead to reconfirm Lazy Beach.

November 30.  bus, taxi or mini van to Sihanoukville.
Need to book room for one night.

December 1-5 Cambodian island Koh Rong Samloem near Sihanoukville, 2 hours by boat.  May have to swim to shore.  Bungalow on island.  No electricity,  no internet 4 days.

December 5. Return to Phnom Penh by bus.  Need to reserve room for one night.

 December 6. Air Asia AK 537, 8:35 a.m., to Kuala Lumpur ($80 each) 

KL and around. Nothing booked yet Dec. 6 to 10

December 11.  Singapore. L Residence 

December 12 evening to San Francisco

December 14 afternoon to Albuquerque

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