This morning we flew out from Siem Reap to the capital Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh has ~1-2 million people in it, and is based at
the junction of the Mekong River with the Tonle Sap
and Tonle Bassac. The hotel we are staying at is the Raneske Hotel, right
across from the Royal palace. It is owned by a lady who was giver the building
when her lover, the Prince, broke up with her and she threatened to tell
secrets. First off, we walked from the hotel to the river, which is a
restaurant area. We had a drink in the Friends Café, which is a charity that
works with street kids that have a poverty or drug problem, takes them in and
trains them (such as to work in the café) and helps them with their situation.
They have only been open for three years, yet it is already famous for its good
work. There is a problem at the moment, as Phnom Penh is hosting the Asian
Conference soon, so they are attempting to ‘beautify’ the city (such as by
burning down the slums to build the conference centre, killing many residents).
So when Mith Samlanh (Friends Café) goes out to the street kids, the police
follow, arrest the kids and relocate them to the countryside.
After breakfast we walked along the Tonle
Sap to Wat Phnom. The legend is that Ya Preah found four Buddha
statues inside a Koki tree in 1372, and used them to found Wat Phnom (Temple on a Hill).
Although Wat Phnom is an ancient temple built by the same stone as Angkor, it
was ‘restored’ a year ago, by covering it with concrete, painting it paster
blue and filling up the inside with bright paintings and plastic Buddha’s, so
it is now quite tacky. The gardens surrounding the Wat were quite interesting
though. There were several families of long-tailed macaques (several of which
had their tails cut off – it is believed that this cases them to stay) and an
elephant, which I fed a bunch of bananas for 1500 Riel (~30c). They also had cages
of small birds that they were offering for people to set free, for only one
dollar (trained to fly back).
After the temple we went to the central markets (very large
and busy in an ugly building), then back to the hotel for lunch. One funny
thing here is that there are kids that visit the restaurants selling
newspapers, offering to shine your shoes, or carrying scales for you to weigh
yourself on! Just what you need when trying to choose your desert.
After lunch we went to the National
Museum, which was basically just a
building with a central garden displaying statues that had been removed from Angkor. One interesting piece (that was the centrepiece
of the museum) was the original Leper King statue from the Terrace of the Leper
Kind, Angkor Thom. The best part was meeting this Buddhist monk, who pulled us
over and spoke to us for half an hour, before the museum closed and we were
kicked out. We think he was after a free English lesson, as he only started
learning English four months ago (he was pretty impressive at it) and he kept
on saying things like, “and now I want to ask you questions about festivities”
or “and now I want to ask you questions about geographical features” or “and
now I want to ask you questions about your job”. He was very nice though, and
asked for our address at the end,, and gave us his address to write to
(although this address was basically his name and “near the National Museum”).
For dinner we went to a restaurant on the riverfront called
the Globe, and went for drinks at the Foreign Correspondents Club (I’m quite
enjoying Angkor beer), watching the street
life go by from the balcony. It is fantastic to watch as every night is a
street party. Everyone comes out and sets up a blanket and cooks dinner, they
all dress up and people are selling balloons, photographers offer to take
photos of couples in front of lamp posts, little kids run around doing
cartwheel, the “Moto” boys have card games on the street and it all looks so