The first thing I noticed this morning and looking out the window was that wind was blowing through the palm trees. The breeze got stronger as I walk to the river. What a pleasure! I felt that I could finally explore the town on foot which, after Bangkok, I didn’t think I was going to be able to do.
I immediately decided that I would stay on an extra day in Phnom Penh and take the bus directly to Siem Reap on Tuesday.
First stop was the tourist office on the river. The gentleman couldn’t be more cheerful and helpful, like all Cambodians I have met so far. The city map was extremely well done and he was well-versed in events around town. I learned that the Kings Coronation Day, although important, did not mean that museums & sites would be closed. Good news! He also advised me to be down at the riverfront at 7 p.m. to see the fireworks.
Work before pleasure though. I needed to arrange my bus ticket to Siem Reap and the ticket office was a couple of kilometres away near the river port.
By the River
The Riverside Promenade was busy with people engaged in various projects. There was fishing, repairing the fishing boats, dragging branches out of the river.
That last one perplexed me. Ladies were gathering all of these branches piling them up and stripping them of their leaves. I made a questioning gesture and a young boy mimed drinking from the branches. I don’t know. There was also a pumping operation going on and I don’t know what that was about either.
I picked up the bus ticket, had a very mediocre fish Amok along the waterfront and made my way back along the Promenade stopping to shop and look around before getting to the National Musem.
I was going to look for an English bookshop to read more about Cambodia. It seemed incomprehensible that people so sweet, charming and adorable could set about killing each other with such ferocity. I mean Germans okay. The word sweet and adorable don’t leap to the lips. But here? I just don’t get it.
Fortunately I ran across a bookseller who was selling what appears to be a wonderful book called Cambodia’s Curse by Joel Brinkley. The subtitle is “the modern history of a troubled land.”
The national museum is in a wonderful traditionally styled building built by the French.
I wanted an overview of the Khmer civilization in preparation for Angkor Wat and that’s what I got. There were excellent explanations in English that outlined the history of the Khmer Empire and it added a great deal to appreciating the sculptures. I felt good looking at the beatific Smiles of all of the Buddhas. They reminded me of the Mona Lisa. They also greatly resembled the Cambodians that I saw around me who are exceptionally attractive people.
By now it was about three in the afternoon which is about the time I become undone by heat and humidity. I headed back to the hotel for a shower and a rest. I resolved to do less walking and more riding in tuk-tuks.
My original plan was to eat in a restaurant called Fat Passion, recommended by an expat newspaper. I walked round and round but couldn’t find it so I went back down to the riverfront and waited for the fireworks to start.
They were spectacular! I was impressed that they went on for a full 20 minutes which must have cost a fortune but it’s certainly pleased the throngs of people milling around the waterfront. The atmosphere was even more festive than it was last night. It was great to be part of such a happy occasion.
But hunger was setting in. I walked along the back roads, not too far from the river while dodging motorcycles tuk-tuks and cars. Like all third world countries the streets or rugged and unpaved. You really have to watch your step.
Finally I found my happy place. David’s! Pulled noodles! À Chinese guy was working the dough, pushing and pulling to make the noodles.
It was crowded and obviously very popular with locals and expats alike. My dish of fried noodles with vegetables tofu and an egg was absolutely divine.
I put out all thoughts of even trying any other restaurant as long as I’m in Phnom Penh.
I finished up the evening in the FCC Club which was as atmospheric and evocative as everyone says. It’s kind of like Rick’s Cafe but in Phnom Penh.
I gazed out over the river and then examined the framed photographs taken by photojournalists who were covering Cambodia during its most turbulent years.