We flew into Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, on Christmas Eve. We got through customs pretty easily, within probably 10-15 minutes, and the hotel picked us up, so everything was pretty seamless. Phnom Penh is steeped in very rich and tragic history. During a period of civil war in the 1970's, around the time the US was fighting our war in Vietnam, countless families were forced out of their homes and into squalor. Anyone having to do with the old government or anyone suspected of any sort of treason was murdered. Genocide, fear, and starvation became a very real part of these peoples everyday lives.There are many museums in the city which tell a very vivid story of these times, and there is even a very popular tourist attraction in the area called the 'killing fields'. So I am sure you are wondering why anyone would choose to spend Christmas in such a place. The truth is, despite the holiday, I did want to see and experience the city. But, considering the holiday, I chose not to visit the museums and killing fields, which seemed too depressing. Instead I walked the streets, visited the markets, and enjoyed the city for the cultural expose it is today. And yes, there is poverty abound, and it is in many ways what Americans may call '3rd world', but for a country rebuilding itself from shambles they are doing just fine.
We spent Christmas Eve on the rooftop of our hotel, which was lovely and only about $33/night. We enjoyed a simple western dinner and drank gin and tonics and enjoyed the view. The next morning we visited the Russian Market which ended up being pretty close to the hotel, even though we walked far out of our way and had to circle back because of some shotty directions from the hotel staff. The market was really nice, and the preferred currency is US dollars, which makes shopping here much easier. We bought a few things each and then made our way back to the hotel to lounge by the pool. The temperature was every bit of in the 90's so it was our plan to spend a good part of the day in the pool. While we were at the pool we met a British guy I'll call J. He was very friendly and tended to cling on to us for the remainder of the afternoon, which was fine because he seemed like a nice enough guy and he was buying drinks for us, always a plus. In the evening we met up with J again to go to the river front for dinner and drinks.
The night was interesting from the start. We took a tuktuk from our hotel, which seemed fine at first until 30 minutes later we were stuck in the most horrific city traffic I have ever seen, breathing in fumes that were making me dizzy and nauseous. When our driver got stuck at an intersection for at least 10 minutes we decided it would be better to risk our lives and walk the rest of the way. I say risk our lives because much like any city in SE Asia there are absolutely no traffic rules. I mean, there may be a traffic light here or there, but the driver takes it upon himself to follow the light or not, and same goes with the general direction of traffic, or the division of street and sidewalk. The fact is, as a pedestrian you are as likely to get hit walking on the sidewalk as you are walking in the middle of the street. But still after walking a few blocks we were able to find a clear road and then get a second tuktuk who took us the rest of the way safely to our destination. We went to a restaurant called Cantina and had a lovely Mexican Christmas meal in Cambodia. After dinner, the 3 of us went to a rooftop bar we had been hearing good things about. A few drinks in J's hand seemed to find its way to my thigh, and it stayed there for the rest of the night. Cheeky fellow. Again though, at the end of the night, the conversation was nice, and he paid for all of our drinks, so I will see it was a positive trade off. J was a very nice guy, and I enjoyed hanging out with him, I just had a hard time getting over the fact that he was much closer to my parents age than mine.
The next morning we boarded a very comfortable mini-bus for our 4 hour ride to Sihanoukville, on the coast, but I will pick up on that story in a second post because this one is already getting much too long. Below are a few pics from Phnom Penh.