Monday, August 26, 2013

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh – August 2013 (entry by Chris)
There is something about Emerging Asian cities that Ricky and I really enjoy.  All of that is Phnom Penh.
The Skyline.  A mix of brand new office towers and new posh hotels among the old colonial era shop houses and backpacker hostels.
Tuk Tuking around
The Traffic. An assortment of Tuk Tuks, motorbikes with five people on them, cement trucks and trash lorries, loud intercity busses filled with people and livestock , rickshaws, and the occasional Cadillac Escalade (equivalent) with darkened windows.  All mixing the roads into a swirl of dust and diesel that you can taste and a noise that’s a third world symphony.
Kandall Market
The Markets.  The loud, boisterous wet markets of produce, beef, pork, flowers, chicken, goat, fish, prawns, and the occasional disgusting offering (durian and edible spiders and bees).  The smell of rice vinegar is everywhere as it’s used as a disinfectant – and the occasional whiff of something that is just wrong in any culture.  And the dry markets loaded with local (or passed as local but really Chinese) made
clothes, name brand rejects from the outsourced factories or knockoffs, pirated movies, software, and music.
The History.  Mosques, Wats, Palaces, Tombs… these cities go back.  Way back. To trading times that precede Marco Polo, to feudal agrarian empires, to Monasteries with strong monks and deeply held beliefs with fascinating local variations, and to warlords that built all this magnificent stuff with, well, slaves. 
The Royal Palace
The Foreign Correspondents Club
And, the Scene.  The mix of locals, the native economic bosses, expats looking to make a buck or spend their trusts more slowly.  And the tourists.  Me and Ricky.  PLU (People Like Us) or some with seedier motives. The Scene plays out in all the areas above but congregates around café’s and bars but steps up its game at night (which comes early near the equator) along the tourist strip, at the smoky open air music bars, at the hostess bars filled with girls working for tips, patio restaurants with the smells of curries and stews enticing you in, along the river way, and in the week end night markets.
Staking out a Picnic Spot
at the Night Market
More than a night version of the day markets, these are temporary stalls in public squares, lights strung at levels that have me doing a constant Limbo, local bands, beggars, and drawing families in from the city and the towns who lay out blankets on the concrete, have picnics and hunker down until dawn. ...For the market, for the music, and for the munchies!  the street food is outstanding with all varieties of curries, stir frys and BBQ from tens and tens of hawkers.  wow.
All that is Phnom Penh. 
Solitary Confinement
 on the Mekong Night Cruise
I spent a week there on a solo trip – mostly to see if Singapore would exert quarantine on me for taxes.  (They did not.)  Now, I’m comfortable solo – would certainly prefer Ricky’s company and perspective on all this – but Phnom Penh is a bit different given the variety of tourism.  It attracts the same sort of tourism frequently enjoyed by middle aged, bigger, creepy, solo, Western males.  A sort of tourism that’s become popular in Manila, Bangkok, Taipei.   They far outnumbered me.  No PLU. My longest conversation to non-service people was 15 seconds.   Ah well.  I made the most of the time in solitary.
Ho Chi Minh to Angkor Wat Cruise
The other difference in Phnom Penh is that this is the capital of Cambodia.  Ricky and I have been in other cities like this, but they were not capital cities – at least not current capital cities.  Phnom Penh is flooded with NGO’s (non -Governmental Organizations).  Offices of the World Bank, United Nations, countless philanthropic NGO’s – and their staff and their influence is everywhere.  The most popular restaurants and the priciest retailers are all aligned with A Cause – part of their proceeds benefiting a philanthropic cause.  A good thing – but boy are there a lot of them.
Would I return?  With Ricky, sure.  As a destination – perhaps not.  But, while wandering around the riverfront I saw this elegant old steamer filled with PLU (they looked older, though!).  A port on a trip up the Mekong.  Ho Chi Minh to Angkor Wat.  A new entry for the bucket list.
Sun sets in Phnom Penh

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