It’s the evening of our first day in Phnom Penh, and we’re staying at the White Mansion, a building that what was once the US consulate but has been now converted to a beautiful, high ceilinged hotel. We arrived just after 1pm after a 2 hour flight from Singapore, plus 20 minutes flying over the fields outside of the city, delayed by a VIP flight coming into land. Below us the huge flat patchwork of green fields would reveal themselves to be rice paddies when the reflection of the sun flickered over the water. Countless little boxes with red and blue roofs lined the canals and dirt roads.
We’ve eased ourselves this 3 week holiday by staying a night at the Novatel in Auckland, then another night in Singapore at the Crowne Plaza after a 9 hour flight. In Singapore last night, we took a taxi for the half hour drive into the city and visited the Raffles Hotel, where we had a couple of drinks (Carol had 2 Singapore Slings, I had one followed by a beer) and ate peanuts (throwing the shells onto the floor, as is the tradition). A very expensive way to have 4 drinks, but it’s one of those things you have to do I guess!
I had a great sleep and felt very rested this morning. In the taxi heading into Phnom Penh everything felt very familiar. It was only a year ago we were in Hanoi, Vietnam, and the flowing river of motorbikes, the noise, the pollution, the countless little roadside shops, the hordes of people, all felt like coming back to a place where I feel quite comfortable.
After a very friendly welcome by the hotel staff we got settled in, had a shower, and devised a rough plan for our short stay in Phnom Penh. It was about 3.30pm and the nearby Royal Palace was shutting at 5, so we headed out into the streets and walked a few blocks towards the riverfront and the Palace complex. US$10 gave us access to this collection of pavilions, a huge throne room (we could only look through the doorway), an impressive collection of treasures that somehow survived the Khmer Rouge years that featured a green crystal Buddha and another of solid gold covered with diamonds, and a gorgeous, extensive painted mural (original 1900 but being restored) of scenes from the ancient epic the Ramayana.
Back on the streets, we wandered down to the busy waterfront, where people were gathering in a big open park as the afternoon turned to evening. The strip along the river is a slightly sleazy collection of bars and restaurants. We stopped at one for a drink, then found an ATM and withdrew some US dollars (Cambodia uses both US dollars and their own riel).
Then we easily found a restaurant a few blocks away called Friends, where former street kids get training for a start in the hospitality industry, and had a good cheap meal at an outdoor table. Mains were about 4 or 5 dollars. The service was great.
Our feet were sore and we were both hot and sweaty when we got back to the hotel, where we booked a driver for tomorrow.
The new adventures in Cambodia and Laos begin!