A taste of the capital..
16.03.2007 - 18.03.2007
We've been trying to fit as much travelling into our last 2 weeks here so it's been very busy. I'd initially wanted to squeeze in trips to Cambodia, Lao and Northern Thailand but we realised we just didn't have enough time and decided to leave Lao for another trip.
As time-pressed as we were we even treated ourselves to a flight instead of a bus to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. We headed out on the 16th of March, the day after Matt finished work. Our first day in Phnom Penh wasn't as productive as we'd planned: we took a nap, walked down to the Royal Palace only to find that it was closed, wandered around a little more and then had a few drinks and a bite to drink a lovely bar/restaurant called the Foreign Correspondents Club. As the name suggests, it's where journalists used to hang out in Phnom Penh (still do in fact). It has a very colonial feel to it, and has great views of both the river on one side and the beautiful National Museum on the other (being on the 3rd floor) and it was the perfect place to relax and reflect on the day.
Although we'd planned to do more that day, it was actually a good idea just to wander around and get a feel for the city before doing some serious sightseeing the next day. Phnom Penh, and indeed Cambodia in general, has a very different vibe from Thailand. Although there is a lot of begging and drink/food/souvenir vendors who are very insistent/agressive, the people seem a lot less jaded than Thais. I guess Thailand has had its fair share of tourism and social-economic stability for a while now whereas both of these are relatively new in Cambodia. The people are warm and welcoming in a very genuine way, much more so than Thais (despite the infamous Thai smile). Phnom Penh also has a lot of funky little shops and places to eat and drink (a few of which support NGOs that work in the area) which makes the centre of the city to explore.
The next day we found ourselves a tuk-tuk driver to show us around. Other than being cheaper than getting individual rides to where we wanted to go, hiring a tuk-tuk for the day meant we benefitted from the local knowledge of our lovely driver, Sal. By the way, a Cambodian tuk-tuk is quite different from a Thai one: it is basically a little carriage pulled by a motorbike!
We started with the Royal Palace. It is similar in style to Bangkok's Grand Palace but is much less glitzy and infinitely quieter.We wandered around the grounds and into the Silver Pagoda (thus named because of the silver tiles that cover the floor) and took in the beautiful architecture and grounds with only a handful of other tourists around.
Afterwards, Sal suggested that it was a good time to go to the Genocide Museum and Killing Fields, both testament to atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge's reign. Visiting them was a truly harrowing experience, and Matt and I feel that an account of it deserves an entry of its own.
Later that day we also visited the Russian Market - not Russian at all but just where Russians shopped for souvenirs and local specialities in the 80s. To be honest, after some of the Thai markets of the same sort, this one wasn't that impressive and in any case after the Killing Fields we were in no mood for serious shopping.
We then went to the National Museum - a truly beautiful building that houses many statues, carvings and artefacts from the Angkor period - a good taster prior to heading off the Siem Reap the next day to explore Angkor itself!