Phnom Penh

Well Cambodia has already totally kicked Vietnam’s arse in the “how many people can you fit on one motorbike?” competition. On the bus to Phnom Penh we see a new record – 6 (3 adults and 3 children).

As we get off the minibus, we are met with the familiar swarm of people offering us hotel accommodation and transport. In addition to “hello motorbike” and “hello taxi”, Cambodia also offers “hello tuk-tuk”. A tuk-tuk is a motorbike with a trailer attached. They’re quite good fun, and the boat rule seems to apply to them, in that it is obligatory to wave and be waved at by passers by.

Phnom Penh is a lively city and everyone seems to gather along the riverside at dusk to do aerobics or dance classes. Mr Beet has become addicted to pho noodle soup while in Vietnam, and is delighted to find a restaurant serving it in Phnom Penh. I say that he should try the Khmer food, but like every addict he insists on one last hit.

The next day, our first sightseeing destination is the National Museum. This is small but very good, with lots of carvings saved from temples of the Angkor Wat era. We have read that we must watch out for snakes when visiting temples in the jungle, but we are not prepared to see a bright green snake slither out in the middle of the museum in the city centre. Mr Beet and I both jumped up, he retreated while simultaneously telling me to get closer to take a photo. Unfortunately, it slithered behind a 10th century bas-relief without stopping to pose for me.

Courtyard in the National Museum - home to snakes!

Next we wondered round the city (it’s very compact and walkable, but this doesn’t stop you being offered a tuk-tuk every 30 seconds). We checked out the domed market building, where one of the most popular products is pants with a padded bum. We also see the old railway station, the library and Wat Phnom temple, which is on a 30m high knoll, which counts as a substantial hill in Cambodia.  After that we head back along the riverfront to the Royal Palace, where several buildings are open to the public, including the Silver Pagoda.

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The next day we went out of Phnom Penh with our tuk-tuk driver Martin, who we met when he picked us up on our first day in PP. He gave us a little tour of the city and said he could take us on a tour.

“I can take you to see the Killing Fields.”

“No, we don’t want to go there: it’s too sad.”

“The Genocide Museum?”

Jeez, Martin, you really know how to show a girl a good time! We asked him to take us somewhere nice in the countryside that he might go to on a weekend. He took us to Oudong, which was once the capital of Cambodia. At weekends, it’s full of picnicking Phnom Penhers but it’s quiet during the week. There are lots of picnic spots with hammocks and mats and we get a nice lunch, a whole roast chicken, a dish of the chicken’s internal organs fried with water spinach and a soup made from any bits of chicken left over.

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Fuelled up, we set off up the “mountain” (hill – Cambodia is a very flat country) to see the shrines and stupas at the top.

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Teenage boys hang around to act as impromptu tour guides to earn a bit of money from tourists. As it’s a quiet day, we accumulate three, who keep trying to chip in with facts to outdo the others and earn their tip. I get my money’s worth by making them teach me how to count and say hello in Khmer (Sua s’dei!).

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The views from the top of the “mountain” show just how much of the country is currently under water, as it is the end of the rainy season and there is substantial flooding.

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We spent 2 1/2 days in Phnom Penh and Mr Beet was offered drugs approximately thirty times. He looks the type.

More pictures of Phnom Penh are available on Mr Beet’s flickr page.

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