Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Fresh, Fabulous and Fun

Well, I arrived in Cambodia from the Mekong on the evening Friday 12 February with my new UK friends, Ben and Sami.  We got settled in at the Sky Park Hotel in Phnom Penh (PP).  I decided to venture out and try to find an ATM machine.  PP appears to have no traffic rules which can make it quite adventurous to try and get anywhere on foot.  Pedestrian safety in PP compares greatly to that in Boston.  Needless to say, I never was able to find an ATM (or cross a busy street for that matter).  We all decided to take a tuk tuk to find a place Ben had read about in "The Book" aka Lonely Planet.
Romance was in the air for the charming couple (and the third wheel wasn't feeling too bad, either)......Until, after assuring us that he knew where we were trying to go, the driver proceeded to drive in circles and stop at least four fellow tuk tuk drivers for assistance.  We did not find Ben's restaurant.  But as has happened through out this journey through Asia, things always seem to work out for the best.  We found a local's place that was BBQing some amazing meats out front and decided that we would give it a shot.  We got what could only be described as a vat of Angkor Beer with a big chunk of ice in the middle and a spout on the side for easy pouring at the low, low price of $4.25 USD.  The BBQ was unbelievable, the waitresses amazingly shy, cute and giggly that three whiteys were in their restaurant.

Awoke the next morning, Saturday, to the quietness and beauty that PP exudes.  For a large Asian city, it is amazingly calm and clean.  Ben, Sami and I headed out on foot to do some sightseeing.  We stopped by a beautiful  oasis of a temple in the middle of PP, amazed at the beauty and serenity hidden safely within the old stone walls.

Fun and frolicking in the streets of PP ensued with Playa Ben and SmileySami stopping to pose for some not-so-candid shots to commemorate the day.

We ventured down to the city's unfortunate looking (Thanks, Aunt Marie for use of the term) river view.  The walk caused us to have a thirst quenching stop along the river where we were entertained by a cute Cambodian girl.  At ten years old, she spoke 4 languages but was hawking books and DVDs to help her family.  Her smile was genuine and beautiful.
(Note the disapproving look from the fellow bookseller)

One thing that I will take a way from this trip is how genuinely happy so many people are despite their lack of  those things that we Westerners seem to feel necessary to happiness.  Most work seven days a week but don't seem to mind.  they go home to (or even work with) their families and the tightknittedness (is that a word?) of their families is amazing.

Anyway, after spending 30 minutes talking and bartering with the cute girl, her co-worker got frustrated and a genuine Cambodian turf war broke out.  Happily for us, cutie prevailed!

Seeing this as a good time to make our gracious exit, we moved on to finish off our sightseeing day with stops at a bookstore, and a few other temples.

After heading back to Sky Park to freshen up, we decided to browse the city for a place to have dinner.  Stumbling upon no-name places has become thing I seem to have perfected on my journey and tonight was no different.  For a quiet, pre-dinner drink, we stopped at a quiet place which unbeknownst to me was a "karaoke" bar.  For those unfamiliar to the phrase, Asian "karaoke" bars are drinking establishments where women provide company to the patrons.  Luckily for me (and Ben, I would imagine), the girls took a greater liking to Sami than to either of us. Go figure!

Peeling the girls away from Sami was harder than you can imagine, requiring the brute strength of Ben and me.  Nevertheless, we ventured down the streets of PP and happened upon Cambodian popstar's mall concert.  Very funny and impromptu.

After the show, we settled into a place, again filled with locals, that proved to be a wonderful find.  Cheap, delicious, Cambodian food and wonderful, welcoming people.  One of the unexpected highlights was a young boy who proceeded to dance through the night while watching the music played overhead.  Ben took most of the photos while Sami and I relished the unexpectedness of this wonderful night.

Alas, it was time to call it a night and rest up for our Sunday in PP.

 Sunday, my last day in PP for now, started out slow for all those involved.  I think we all felt like this guy.

Sami, Ben and I headed to the Royal Cambodian Hotel for some poolside rest.  A beautiful swimming pool was just what all of us needed and this place fulfilled the mission we asked of it.  On the way back from a day poolside, we were driven by a wine bar that seemed to call out to us all.  After getting cleaned up, we headed back and found it to be quite enjoyable.  We shared a bottle of nice red wine while watching evening set upon PP.

Again deciding to just wing it and try and find a place that looked good for dinner, we walked by someone's home on the same street as that of the wine bar.  Out front were about 15 people drinking beer and singing karaoke with their television.  When I asked if I could take a picture, a few of them waved us in.  Not being shy, we walked over only to have cold beers placed in all our hands and engaging in a toast.  What ensued can only be described as unbelievable.  Dancing, karaoke, very little English mixed in with one man showing us his badge and ID card and telling us that he was the PP Chief of Police.  He followed this by pulling up his shirt and displaying a rather large silver handgun, laughing, and cheers-ing us.  Only in Cambodia!  Though surprised, none of us were scared.  After too much beer and participating in a few karaoke songs (in Cambodian, mind you), we knew that we had to get something to eat.  After saying our lengthy goodbyes to each and every one of the people, we were finally able to leave.

Dinner again turned out to be a lucky and delicious choice with wonderful, happy people and incredible food, including frog legs.

Ahhh...my last night in PP, for now but not forever, because the wonder in this City is its beauty, its people and its laid-back atmosphere.  Thank you PP.

Next stop.....Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat!  Be well, my friends.