We were collected at the airport by Mr Huot who dropped us at our hotel “La Rose” where we were met by a party of staff who asked if we would like to be upgraded to their new “Suites hotel”.
Of course we didn’t say NO and were whisked off in their 4wd Lexus to the other property which was very opulent with superb staff. Every time we entered the hotel we were met with a cold towel and greeted profusely with our names (well they probably were our names but the pronunciation was very innovative). The level of English comprehension by the Cambodians in the hotel and on the street
was very limited and we had to explain things in a very simple way.
The city had a very comfortable, open feel to it and although we were advised that traffic would be bad, it didn’t seem too bad travelling in the tuk tuks or Remork as they are known in Cambodia. They are much more spacious than the autorickshaws in India but instead of one vehicle they are a covered trailer pulled by a motorbike. We were recommended to go to “Kabbas” restaurant (one of the 300 odd in the city) and drove around for about 40minutes with our lovely driver who didn’t know where the place was after
being shown the location on the phone. After stopping several times to ask directions which had us going backwards and forwards, I spotted the place virtually in front of us while we were stopped to ask further directions. He wanted no extra money and was most appologetic – a lovely fellow called “Gi Vom”

We opted for a tuk tuk ride around the city the morning after we arrived to get our bearings. The hotel was located in a very central area just down the road from a large park with the statue for their independence at it’s centre and a ten minute walk to the river and Royal Palace which was similar to Bangkok’s Royal Palace in size and opulence. We visited the National museum with similar architecture but was a rich terracotta colour with many beautiful ancient life sized sculptures and an interesting virtual tour of ancient times
around Angkor Wat in the north. Wat Phnom with it’s enormous white stupa was surrounded by a leafy park and a large clock with even a working second hand.
There were only a few high rise buildings with many more under construction. There was much controversy apparently over a very new hotel across the river called the “Sokha” built by a Vietnamese of dubious reputation which now spoils the views from the Royal Palace to the other side of the river. The city was very clean on the whole with people collecting rubbish along the roads. We decided not to do the trip out to the “killing fields” or the genocide museum
as we had lived during that era and the subsequent revelations of the killings after 1979 and what Pol Pot did to the nation was enough for us.

The central markets were dominated by a huge domed hall full of very bling jewellery. Long corridors with stalls either side selling every type of goods ran from the main hall and surrounding these were the fresh food markets and eating stalls. Maurice purchased a new polycarbonate ultra light overnight bag for USD35 which was
way below what they wanted for one in Bali. The ice cutting/making stall was fascinating with a truck laden with dripping enormous ice blocks which were then dropped into a delivery shute to a worker who then stack the ice ready for cutting with a circular saw or dropping into what looked like a leaf crusher to be stored as crushed ice.

We were taken to a “safe” local restaurant near the river for lunch where the fresh vegetable rice paper rolls were delicious. Our driver then drove us to the Russian market(couldn’t find out why it was so named) which was a maze of open stalls selling mainly clothes, textiles (their main industry in Cambodia) and souvenirs.
We had time for a quick rest before being collected by Sonya Duck an Australian living in Phnom Penh who runs “Urban Forage” food tours. We started at Phnom Penh Towers rooftop terrace for cocktails and to see the sunset over the city. From there we ventured into the local food markets and started with tastings of local desserts which we found to be delicious, very unlike a lot of Asian desserts. We progressed to sample delicious pork ribs (not for Maurice the vegetarian or pescatarian really) and then to try the delicacies of fried crickets and water beetles and some kind of grubs. I think if I hadn’t had my cocktail first I wouldn’t have tried these but when in Rome and after a couple of drinks…..
The next stop for our nice group of eight with Mr Smiley (obviously his real name!)and another driver was a local restaurant with an enthusiastic band and circulating beer waitresses from the local Angkor beer company who replenished our drinks with firstly a large chunk of ice dropped in the glass. Later in the evening a group of “marlboro girls” in their red and white uniforms offering samples of cigarettes. We hadn’t seen that for a number of years anywhere else!
The menu apart from crispy fried frogs (which were quite tasty) was relatively tame – squid, morning glory vegetable with oyster sauce, spicy prawns, tofu and mixed vegetables. Mr Smiley and co driver joined us and there was much toasting which is done with one hand touching the other arm and shouting cheers in Cambodian.

I opted to do a cooking course in our hotel and was the only person doing it so had very personalized attention.
We made rice paper rolls with peanut and chilli dipping sauce, Fish Amok (which is not a very hot spiced dish) and banana and sago pudding. There was too much food for one so Maurice was allowed to join me for lunch.
A lot of the Khmer food is coconut based and a lot of emphasis is placed on a balance of flavours – sweet, hot, sour and salty. Cambodians like things very sweet and will even put spoonfuls of sugar into their beer.

We encountered few dour people in Cambodia – they were all very welcoming and smiling and the market sellers were not at all pushy and enjoyed the bargaining. They seemed a gentle, patient people in general with no honking of horns or impatience when driving. Sonya told us that in her three years in Phnom Penh she only saw one
incident of anyone raising their voice and that was to apprehend a thief that a group of people then nearly beat to a pulp. She told us that a lot of young people are not happy with the ruling party but the older generation after what they had been through during the Pol Pot era (1975-1979 where he annihilated more than two million people)
just want to have a peaceful existence. Cambodia has elections coming up in eighteen months so that might see a change.
The King is claimed to be gay by unoffical sources but the reason given by the authorities that he hasn’t married was that he is devoted to his position like a monk. The majority of Cambodians are Buddhists and there are many temples and newly contructed temples around the city and in the countryside.

Before going to dinner we opted for our free one hour massage in our hotel and Maurice had a traditional Khmer massage (no oil) which he said was one of the best he had ever had. Mine (with oil) was good too.
We walked on our last night in Phnom Penh to “Malis” a restaurant located a couple of streets away in a lovely garden setting and ponds filled with koi. They served very interesting Khmer food.

We used two tuk tuks to where we were to take the bus (no station as such)to Siem Riep. It was parked with many others beside the night market. One took our luggage and we took another one. Our motorbike had a flat tyre so we walked the last bit to the bus. The driver was most apologetic. The bus to Siem Riep which can take anywhere from 7-10 hours (because of traffic and/or roadworks) was very comfortable – recliner seats with adjustable leg rests and
plenty of leg room. A nice surprise.

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