Phnom Penh: food, palace, pagoda

After a three hour bus ride from the Vietnam border along a highway festooned with signs supporting the shamefully corrupt Cambodian People’s Party, we arrived in Phnom Penh. Our expected transportation did not meet us as expected but a call to the hotel set that right. We were soon in a tuk-tuk and on our way. Instead of Uber, Cambodia has its own popular ride-hailing app called PassApp. It works for tuk-tuks and scooters and saves haggling and uncertainty.

We stayed at the Nou’s River Hotel, a new building on the Preah Sisowath Quay near the Japanese Bridge that spans the mighty Mekong River. A very pleasant hotel, clean & cool with wonderful staff and a great breakfast. Highly recommended! (C$45)

I was a bit under the weather but, after a nap, in accord with spousal direction, and jacked up on Imodium, headed to the night market for dinner. It was a nice cool walk along the river. The market has lots of great food, lots of local colour and is an overall good time. There are many reports of scooter-borne bag snatchers so we kept our things close but generally felt quite safe all the time we were in Cambodia. The Khmer are lovely people who have received a rough ride from modern history. We claimed a mat on the night market’s central square, plunked ourselves down and feasted on spring rolls, papaya salad, barbecued meat and other delicacies though we passed on the Chicken Ass. It’s all in the translation, I suppose.

As I mentioned earlier, while Cambodia has its own currency, the Riel, most prices are quoted in US$ at a 4000 to 1 exchange rate. Change is given in Riels at that rate. Everyone is happy to deal in either currency but make sure your US money is pristine or it will be rejected.

Next day, after watching the sun rise over the Mekong and enjoying the rooftop hotel breakfast, we headed out for the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda again along the river and in the direction of the night market. Stunning buildings, exquisite carving and sculpture not unlike that found in Thailand. We hired a guide (US$15) who led us quickly about and seemed quite interested in selling us Cambodian real estate. I could imagine spending the winter months in Cambodia but they have restrictive rules for foreign real estate buyers so think renting might be a safer option.

The floor of the Silver Pagoda is covered in five tons of melted-down silver currency obtained when Cambodia abolished coinage. The floor is mostly covered with matting but a small smidgin is available to be gazed upon. The building houses Cambodia’s Emerald Buddha (actually made of jade) and photography is forbidden though I tried only to incur the righteous ire of a guard. Alas, no pictures to share. We thought we’d follow up with a visit to the National Museum next door but were tuckered from all the walking and the tropical heat so retreated to our hotel for some a/c and then to the night market for another round of eats.

The Palace has an extraordinary mural along the inside of the palace walls. It details traditional and mythical Khmer life and is slowly being restored; we saw one very patient and solitary woman working on the hundreds of meters of mural. Worth a guided tour but nice just to admire and let your imagination run rampant.

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