Phnom Penh

March 2014

Over the several days I spent in Phnom Penh I was able to get out an about enough to both visit some of the most emblematic spots as well as just walk down nameless streets until I got a general feel for the place. I loved it. Amongst other things I was visited were the Silver Pagoda, where the floor is made of (you guessed it!) silver tiles, the water-front with its bars and massage parlours, and of course the Russian and other markets. It’s definitely a city where you can enjoy a mix of foods from around the world. During the time I spent there I was able to try Chinese, Japanese, Western, as well as both Cambodian upmarket and street-food. I was all delicious. And if after all the eating you still want to relax, the massage parlours are the place to go. Although many in down-town cater to tourists  it is possible to find the real thing by just walking down any of the streets in the other districts. In several of these the masseuses are blind. This is thanks to several associations that train blind Cambodians so they can make a living by using their hands. Definately a thumbs up! Going into one of these I was given a robe and was soon enjoying the agony of a traditional japanese-style massage. As the girl drilled her skinny elbow into my back I had to bite back a whimper. The next morning I could hardly move, but the day after was bliss; for the first time in years I couldn’t feel any knotted muscles.

On the third day I decided to rent a small scooter to travel around town. B. accompanied me to the garage before leaving for work. This being the first time I’d ridden a motorbike in my life it was quite an ordeal to remember which street to follow and not crash in the chaotic traffic. Soon after leaving the rental place I was heading home, concentrating on finding my way home. No sooner had I stopped at a traffic light I was waved over by a policeman. Having been forewarned I had my higher value bank notes tucked away in as side pocket. Playing dumb I just nodded as the officer tried to make me understand the fictional offence I had just made. Hoping to make things better I pulled a wad of riels, and promptly dropped them in front of him. The hundred riel notes, worth less than 4 cents each fluttered everywhere. Picking up a fistful I offered them as sacrifice, but by this point, due to my lack of collaboration and probably the scene I was contributing to make, it was the policeman’s turn to get flustered. Realising he wasn’t going to get anything he shooed me away. I was of course happy to comply. From then on I would just speed up or change direction when I saw a uniform. Easy.

That afternoon having finally found out how to drive in the sea of cars and bikes (you just point the way you want to go and everyone just flows around you) I decided to head out of town to Koh Dach island. Following the directions I had written on a piece of paper and some indications from the guide book I soon left the main streets behind. Speeding along the highway lined with every sort of shop imaginable I was able to enjoy the ride. I had to squint against the red dust covering me as I overtook tuk-tuks pilled high with merchandise and families heading out into the countryside. After several attempts I found the small lane that was to take me off the main road down to the river crossing. Paying the toll for the ferry I talked with the other passengers as we waited for the boat to take us across the Mekong. Trying not to slip down the steep path with the bike we all piled into the open-topped vessel. The schoolchildren going home sat on the edge and chattered. Getting across, and after a few moments of panic when my bike didn’t start, I followed one of the locals up from the riverbank and along the dirt paths. I spent the next few hours driving in the jungle past the farms and houses, many of which were on stilts. Stopping to admire the women making the silk scarves and garments on huge wooden looms I finally headed back, not wanting to drive in Phnom Penh in the dark.

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