Monday, 7 October 2013

Country number 5...we reach Cambodia

So where we left off, we were in Chau Doc ready to depart for the long voyage to Cambodia. Two cyclos (like rickshaws but with the bike at the front) somehow managed to transport us and our luggage to the port, where the fast boat was departing at the lovely time of 7am. 

The boat was ridiculously hot and uncomfortable and we sat there for what felt like days, but was actually only about 3 hours before reaching the border of Cambodia. The border was essentially a shack on the side of the river where we had to disembark and hand our passports over to verify that we were leaving Vietnam. We then got back on the boat, went 100m up river and repeated the process (this time handing over $24) to enter Cambodia. After another 3 uncomfortable hours we arrived into the port at Phnom Penh and seeing the city ahead was a huge relief...

We were greeted by multiple tuk tuk drivers who seemed to outnumber the passengers onboard. We chose a driver called Lucky who seemed to speak very good English and we negotiated the fare to our hotel and to hire him to take us around the city for the next couple of days.

We arrived at our guesthouse which was nice (Pra Tna guesthouse). The staff were lovely including one man who had the softest and highest voice we have ever heard. He was even nice enough to carry our ridiculously heavy rucksacks up the three flights of stairs to our room while we were given free coffee downstairs. We went to check out the local sights and sounds around Phnom Penh and were surprised at how different it is to Vietnam- it is much more under developed and less touristy than Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. 

We stumbled upon the Central Market so went for a look around. This was absolutely huge and sold everything from fresh meat and fish to jewellery to household goods and was filled with a blend of locals and tourists. 

We headed out for dinner and found a place called David's Handmade Noodles where we could watch the fresh noodles being made on the street before being fried and boiled over an open flame and mixed with delicious ingredients. Safe to say our first tastes of Khmer cuisine didn't disappoint. 

Our hostel offers $2 jugs of beer so we indulged ourselves before heading to bed. As agreed Lucky came to pick us up after breakfast and took us on a city tour. First stop was Wat Phnom which is a small, local temple with various sculptures and artefacts inside the temple and within the grounds. Some of the things we saw include:

Murals on the ceilings and the walls

Offerings to the Buddha on display

A giant snake statue made out of straw with its tail surrounding a giant clock

Along with small kids with birds in cages selling them for a dollar each and a lovely green garden surrounding the temple. The next stop on the tour was the Russian Market which was similar to the central market in that it sold anything and everything, although this was further from the city centre. It sold more food than souvenirs and was a good insight into local life.

Upon leaving the Russian Market, we were planning on visiting the Royal Palace. However, Lucky informed me that I wasn't dressed appropriately (I was wearing a knee length dress but needed long trousers and to have my shoulders covered) so he took us back to the hotel so I could change. We planned on having a bit of a relax before heading out and thought an hour would suffice, but Lucky looked most perplexed at this enquiring why anyone would need one hour to change. 

When we headed out, we went for some traditional Khmer cuisine from a restaurant recommended by Lucky, and tried beef lok lac which was excellent. 

After this, we were dropped off at the Royal Palace but planned on walking back so said goodbye to Lucky for the day. Before going here however, we called in at a non-profit organisation that I had read about online called Daughters of Cambodia. This NGO helps women who have been victims of sex trafficking. They run a small gift shop and cafe near to the royal palace so we went and I bought a couple of handmade Christmas decorations and then went for a refreshing drink in the cafe.

On the way to the royal palace, we visited another sight which was a large pagoda and temple next door. It was very authentic and we were the only tourists there which was cool. The temple was stunning and there were many monks worshipping which was interesting to see.the pagoda on the sight was tucked away in the garden but it still towered above the wall perimeter.

We finally made it to the royal palace (although we almost missed it as a tuk tuk driver insisted it was closed for the day and we'd be better off going somewhere with him, a lie of course) and now appropriately dressed we entered through the gardens at the front to walk about the courtyard and admire the numerous buildings within its grounds.

We walked around the buildings and the pictures probably do it more justice than I can write, but needless to say it was absolutely gorgeous and very quintessentially Cambodian. It stood out as one of the more picturesque sights which we have visited so far.

We then walked into a separate area where there was an adjoining garden and saw the three silver pagodas and the array of colourful flowers and plants surrounding them. We walked around the area...

...and would have stayed longer had the rain not started to beat down. Our plans to walk failed and we ended up getting another tuk tuk back along the river bank to our hotel. We spent the night drinking more beer and using the free wifi to book some exciting things over the next few weeks. After some more delicious Cambodian food, satay chicken and beef with tamarind sauce, we headed to bed ready for a more sombre experience the following day as we explored Cambodias tragic history.

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