Red-eyes suck the life out of you. Even though I sleep most of the 4 hour flight from Islamabad to Bangkok, I wake up older. At least a month of my life was lost tonight.
You don’t feel it right away though. At 6am in Bangkok, I feel pretty good, though they make me walk from one end of the airport and back again.
I grab a cappuchino and sit in the waiting area of my flight to Phnom Penh where my family will be. I like Pakistan, but Cambodia is a new country for me and I’m excited.
The new old capital.
As we’ll see late this week, Cambodia is the greatest ancient civilization in the world. But it’s capital is relatively new. Phnom Penh was briefly the capital in the 14th century, but was essentially unused until the French established it as a the capital of the Cambodia protectorate under French Indochina around 1870.
By 1920, Phnom Penh was called the ‘Pearl of Asia’ and was a preferred destination for foreign colonists and Khmer elite. Until 1960, Phnom Penh was a rapidly growing city. But the Vietnam War, Cambodian Civil war, Khmer Rouge and the cold-war politics of the 80’s left Phnom Pehn a shadow of it’s colonial glory.
Cambodia has a $20 entry visa but requires a photo. You can buy it there for $2, but it confuses a lot of people and the lines at the Visa station can get long. I was first and had a photo all ready, but it still took a while. A line of 7 burocrat-administrators move my passport and $20 bill down the line, each inspecting it and doing some kind of activity.
Outside the heat isn’t too bad, compared with Pakistan and China. I grab some money from the ATM and get dollars, which surprises me. I expected the local currency – riel. At the money exchange window, my 2 one hundred dollar bills becomes 50 notes. The 20,000 Cambodian Riel is worth about 4$.
The first guy to see me is a tuk-tuk driver. it’s always nice to see the streets of a city in the open cab (although it’s probably not healthy.) Inside the Tuk Tuk, I’m first surprised at the sign for shooting range.
Anyway you want it
You’re welcome for that ear worm.
Cambodia is, unfortunately, one of those places that you can do just about anything. It’s not completely lawless, but for enough green, they will find you the drug, sexual perversion or violent activity of your choice. I’ve read that it’s a lot better than it used to be, but it’s still not good.
I read about these gun ranges here (and Laos) where you can shoot an AK-47 for $1 a bullet, or shoot an RPG for $300. I’ve also read that you can kill cows or chickens with hand grenades for an unquoted sum, which adds an evil twist to an already moronic tourist activity.
There are enough people in the world that have to use weapons for really bad reasons. I can’t find a good one to spend $300 to see how it they feel.
Traffic is a killer, literally
The traffic and driving here is horrendous. China had really aggressive driving, but they seemed to be pretty good at it. Although motorists all wear helmets, (drivers anyway) there are spinouts and screeching stops by vehicles around me. And I’ve only been on the road for 10 minutes.
Some research I did later indicates that Cambodia is probably the worst country for driving in Asia. A combination of rapid growth in the number of vehicles with very little training or law enforcement has lead to traffic deaths being the number one killer in the country, over HIV/Aids. Some NGO’s create health programs for driving safety.
252 street, next to 245 street.
My driver can’t find the hotel. The streets are numbered, but not entirely in order. Some trial land error gets him there. Outside the hotel are about 10 tuk-tuk drivers, most of whom ask me if I need a tuk tuk, even though I’m getting out of one with baggage. I guess it doens’t hurt to ask?
The hotel has a thick heavy door that they keep closed (to keep out tuk tuk drivers, I figure out later). Inside is an oasis in the city. You can hear the construction going on next door and the motorbikes that race by, but you can’t see them. All I see are plants and a small pool around which are little private spots for eating. A restaurant is serving breakfast to families who appear to be European.
Reunited and if feels so good!
Another gratuitous ear-worm.
I’m here! They are going to be so glad to see me. As I open the door and look forward to Lily’s excited hugs and kisses, I get silence. It’s cool and dark inside. It’s nearly 10am and my girls are all still asleep. I guess without me there, my family sleeps all day.
Trish gets up soon and we talk about Phuket and my work week in Islamabad. It’s nice to see her. We both benefited from being away from each other for a few days. It’s hard to be in such close proximity for five weeks.
I get my hugs and kisses when the girls wake up and we all grab breakfast, which is pretty good. The 252 hotel is a great little place that I discovered through trip advisor. (You are using Trip Advisor, right?) It has everything we need for $85 a night including 2 extra beds in a king bed room for the girls. Some hotels won’t do that.
It’s not luxurious, but done nicely enough that you don’t realize the walls are concrete. And there is a lot of noise from the construction next door…
How many sights can Daddy see before he passes out?
One. The answer to that is one. But it is a good one.
The national museum is a small place, un-airconditioned, that’s shaded and breezy. The semi-open space is probably not the best for preservation of antiquities, but makes for a charming experience.
Inside we get our first taste of what is to come later this week at Angkor Wat: Nagas (multi-headed serpents), Apsaras and Devatas (fairies), Asuras and Devas (lesser deities), Makaras (crazy multi-animal being) and other mythical beings depicted in carvings, bas-reliefs and sculpture.
The museum itself has a gorgeous red roof and elements of traditional Khmer architecture. Against the beautiful blue sky it’s a wonderful sight.
The courtyard of the museum has some chairs and tables around which we sit for a drink. It’s very ‘civilized’, a word which when explained to young children, sounds very patronizing. I guess it is patronizing.
Even though this is high season in Cambodia, compared to China, the crowds are light. The place feels empty and we really enjoy the experience.
But I’m fading quickly after my red-eye. Relief hits me when the tuk tuk driver tells us that we are not dressed appropriately for the Royal Palace next door. (Long pants and covered shoulders.) No problem, we’ll come back in the morning.
Massage and style
What day is it? I ask Trish, disorientedly. She doesn’t know. I’ve been sleeping for three hours, and I could go three more. It’s best to get up. No need to turn a simple red-eye into a jet-lag experience. It’s Saturday still. I’ve just been napping.
At the front desk they are all too happy to set the girls up with manicures and Pedicures. Trish and I get a massage in our room. It’s cheaper outside the hotel by a few bucks, but it’s really not worth the hassle of transportation.
Our intent had been to get on the Tonle Sap river for a boat ride down toward the Royal Palace for a sunset cruise. But the Tuk Tuk driver looks skeptically at us. It’s nearly sunset as we embark, and it’s a 15 minute drive north to the riverside. On our way we see an elephant waking, with traffic in the street.
A Summer Saturday Night in Phnom Penh.
Saturday night in Phnom Penh is pretty lively. We opt against the boat. The sun has gone down and I don’t see a lot of individual craft, just larger party boats.
Instead we dine a the restaurant plainly named ‘Fish’ which was recommended in Lonely Planet. It’s not a cheap meal, but it’s really good and eating outside, facing the night market and river is nice, albeit noisy.
The night market is not a great place. There is some kind of gambling or lotto going on that they blare through loudspeakers. Some decent looking food is there if you want to chance it and can deal with the noise.
We get out of there fast and take a short walk down the promenade. Off the water is a huge full moon that illuminates everything, including those party boats floating by every few minutes.
The street side of the promenade is brightly lit with massage parlors, small hotels and bars, many of which seem busy. Trish and I spot a hooker and a European looking customer. She looked at least 20, to our relief.
It’s easy to grab a tuk tuk here. Unlike China, where there were not enough cabs, this place is crawling with them. Short rides in town are 2 or 3 dollars depending on how hard you want to bargain. They have a little trouble finding the hotel, but we get there soon enough for more deep sleep.
Now, that’s what you call a real tour! I’m sure many “classic” tourists will envy you for having experienced the real Cambodia rather than limiting oneself to tourist spots. I’m going to list down the places you visited in my itinerary as I’m planning to backpack around Southeast Asia, starting with Cambodia.
P.S. The dog riding a bike looks cute!
Ha, right! Thanks