1 November 2014

Cambodia - A day in Phnom Penh

When my friend jio-ed me to go Cambodia, the princess in me responded, "huh?". But after that, the adventurer cum tomb raider wannabe in me responded, "ok!".

It turned out to one of the best trips I ever had. And it dawned on me the beauty of South East Asia and how blessed I am to live so near to these gems.

First-time backpacking

As we would fly into Phnom Penh, capital city of Cambodia, in the morning and not staying in Phnom Penh for the night, we decided to go with a backpack instead of trolley luggage. This is the first time that I backpack you know.  With a Nike backpack proudly sponsored by my baby brother, I started my Backpacking 101 crash course.

What went in:
Clothes, toiletries, raincoat, chargers and adaptors.My first aid cum medicine collection (Antacid for tummy discomfort, iron tablets, multivitamins, masks, charcoal tablet, panadol, lozenges for throat, flu tablets, inflammation tablet, salon pas, mosquito repellent patch, handyplast). This nike bag has a separate compartment for shoes and water bottle cooler. Awesome.

That's all. I am starting to love backpacking. It forces me to bring only things that I really need instead of trying to bring unnecessary things.

Yes the medicine collection was necessary.

My first tuk tuk ride - treat to the five senses!

We took a 7am Tiger Airways flight to Phnom Penh because it was the cheapest and the timing works best. But the flight delayed by 1 hour. $&^@)*#

I would highly recommend taking the tuk tuk into the city. It's an open air motorcycle modified to have covered passenger seats at the back. You would be treated to a 45-minutes five senses experience.

  • Look:  open view of the streets. We were astonished by how they can squeeze 3 or 4 people on a motorbike. 
  • Smell: aromas from the open stall roadside vendors, "aromas" from roadside garbage that's uncleared, diesel oil, incense from the temples 
  • Hear: the incessant horns by impatient drivers in this fast paced traffic game which the most gung-ho sets the rules. 
  • Taste: taste of the dust from the roads
  • Touch: It's quite bumpy and you can feel the motor beating at your bum
Transport efficiency level: 1
Transport efficiency level: 99
Going to market with big colourful weaved baskets

Blue skies covered with cables
Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda

We went to the royal palace which was the home to King of Cambodia (though he no longer lives there). The silver pagoda houses several Buddhism relics. I had to change to long pants because shorts were not allowed. 

I love the intricate details in their roofs' designs. It has an Indian and Thai flavour and at the same time Buddhist. 

Lunch at Romdeng - The best meal we had in Cambodia
As it was going to pour, we quickly headed for lunch. This place smells of lemongrass. One of its speciality is the exotic tarantula (giant spiders). Nope I didn't order it. Yes I am not adventurous. 

Romdeng is actually part of a network which helps Cambodian youths and street children by giving them a place to train and become part of hospitality industry. Part of the money you spend on the food or their souvenirs will be catered for that. It certainly beats giving street children money as you can give a man a fish, and he eats for a day.. But teach him how to fish, and he can eat for a lifetime.

Duck spring rolls which were very nice, served piping hot and the fillings were fresh and the duck meat was tender.

Red tea- it's quite lemon-heavy and sour sweet.

Coffee - Hmmm it tasted quite strong.

And presenting to you, the best dish I ate this whole trip- Romdeng's Amok! It's heavenly nice. Amok is a Cambodian specialty and made by steaming curry coconut milk, lemongrass, and fish ( tender soft mud fish). It is like otah.

I love everything about this dish- it's mild spiciness, the coconut cream paste, the soft fish meat, and it's cute elegant presentation in the folded banana leaf boat. Lovely Asian dish.

Romdeng's Amok set the bar high for future Amok dishes that we would eat. 

We also had a pomelo and prawn salad which the flavours and the cold prawns did not come together for me. The salad dressing tasted a bit weird which was like peanut taste. 

Total bill was only $19 for 2 persons... So cheap given that this is a nice restaurant setting.

Central market - get your overpriced souvenirs here

Central market is where the Cambodians do their grocery cum accessories cum electronics cum fashion cum everything shopping. We bought a magnet at $1. There wasn't much to shop about so we decided to head to the bus terminal for our bus to Siem Reap- home of Angkor Wat.

6 hour bus ride to Siem Reap - Encountering the real Cambodia

The road itself and the countryside scenery

When friends heard that we were going to take the bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, they were like, "huh you serious?", "please don't go", "bring a mask".

When you get reactions like this, you should be wondering why. 

After extending our research, we found out from google that the road is bumpy, full of potholes, very dusty. And the driver drives very fast. 

Nevertheless, we did lived to tell the tale. And it was one of the most memorable parts of the trip for me.

So we took this mini van bus called Golden Bayon. Not the best based on online reviews. But because we were heading in on a major holiday in Cambodia, the Phchum Ben festival which is a three day holiday to honour ancestors and pray to the dead, all the buses with better reviews were fully booked because the Cambodians were going back to their villages.

The highway
Transport efficiency level: 1000

The bus brought us through real Cambodia countryside. Attap Houses built on stilts. Padi fields.. Roaming goats.. I saw possibly the most number of goats on this trip than all my trips to the Singapore zoo combined. Hammock stations where people can sleep in the open lined occasionally along the dusty bumpy, and unmarked two way expressway. And there were no street lights at all... Zero. But because of that, I was able to admire the most beautiful starry sky I've ever seen.

Meeting friendly and trusting Cambodians

And during this trip, I find Cambodians to be really friendly people. We were waiting for bus at the bus station and two Cambodians actually helped to ensure we board the right bus. One Cambodian whose bus was also delayed like us helped us to search for other bus companies. And I was not sure if Cambodians were overly trusting or simple minded. Another Cambodian just left his bag on the seats while he went to the toilet. I'm like aren't you afraid people will take it? And our tuk tuk driver was also very trusting. We agreed with him upfront that he will take us to 3 places for a fee. When we reached the first place and left him to wait for us while we tour the royal palace ourselves, he didn't ask for a partial payment. I mean we could have left the royal palace without looking for him and pay him for bringing us to royal palace. I think if he had met other less nice people like us, he would be on the losing end.

Dinner - I am falling in love with Cambodian cooking

We stopped over for dinner. Our $4.50 dinner shared between me and my friend. The lemongrass chicken was awesome, except chicken was a bit hard.

Home is where the heart is

Out of the bus of 14 passengers, 11 are local Khmers returning home to celebrate Phchum Ben festival. My friend, I and another Caucasian are the only foreigners. The road was still unlit. But some of the passengers requested driver to drop them off along the highway. One mother was waiting for her daughter along the highway. So sweet. We were wondering how the passengers could make out that they have reached home as it was really dark.

What can I say? Home is where the heart is.. As long as the heart is with the home, one will be able to find his way home.

After 6 hours of bus ride, we finally reached Siem Reap, home to Angkor Wat.

To be continued...


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