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Day One in Phnom Penh

I got into Phnom Penh just after darkness had fallen. Going into a new city at night always feels like walking into a mystery since so much is left unrevealed. My eyes were wide as I took in the new sights of all the motor scooters, old cars, and odd lettering on the concrete buildings. As my taxi neared my hotel, a small dog scurried in front of us. Seeing that the speedy little animal was actually a monkey reminded me of just how far away from home I had traveled.

My first impression of Phnom Penh was that it reminded me of Tijuana Mexico, a city which neighbors my hometown of San Diego. Both share in common dusty streets, boxy concrete buildings, smog belching cars and a general run down feel to them. My large suite of a hotel room though was a welcome sight. Its French doors opened to a view of the Tonle Sap River and its meeting with the mighty Mekong River. To the right was a large Buddhist Temple, where cars, dead rats and the homeless all made their home outside its walls

The next morning, I made my way to the nearby National Museum. Built during the French era of colonization, its design mixed a colonial style with traditional Cambodian pagoda details. I love the little pointy things coming off the roof. I think they’re snakes. Whatever they are, I want some on the roof of my house.

Consisting mostly of sculptures taken from the various ancient temples in Cambodia, the museum took about an hour to get through. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed. (Gotta sell those postcards.)

As I walked over to the royal palace (Cambodia being some sort of constitutional monarchy), the relative cool of the morning gave way to the ruthless heat of midday. April is the hot season. Though temperatures rarely make it above the mid 90’s, the high humidity makes mere walking around an exercise in staying alive.

Not that the Cambodians seem to notice. I never failed to marvel each time I’d see a local wearing dark pants and long sleeves, sometimes even a winter parka, strutting around the overheated streets without so much as breaking a minor sweat. Meanwhile, I’ve sought refuge in the shade of a street-side bar, wearing shorts and a fancy thermo-wicking Nike white t-shirt with a fan pointed at me and a cold beer pressed against my forehead. Fortunately, the beers here are cheap; 75 cents will get you an almost cold glass of Tiger beer.

Walking along the bustling tourist corridor in Phnom Penh mean avoiding tuk tuk drivers and their constant pestering for a ride. (A tuk tuk is a small carriage pulled by a motor scooter.) There’s few flies in Cambodia; I think the tuk tuk drivers were too annoying for even them.


I entered the royal palace not long before it closed for lunch. Before long, all the other tourists had left, the outside doors were closed and I had the place to myself. No one kicked me out, so I kept snapping away with my camera. After the din of Singapore and the bustle of the outside streets, I welcomed the solitude and beauty of the palace grounds.








Afterward, I ambled along the friendly bank of the Mekong River until I came across some midday Buddhist temple worshippers. It was the start of the Khmer new year so things were especially festive everywhere I went. Since music doesn’t translate well in a photo, I decided to shoot some video. (The audio is a little rough at the start of this clip though it quickly gets better.)

John

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