Monday, August 6, 2012

Phnom Penh

Visiting Phnom Penh was the second city that I have been to in Cambodia. Last year's trip was to Siem Reap which was incredible. I was really looking forward to visiting Phnom Penh because it is the capital city and I was going to be staying at the Raffles, which turned out to be an amazing hotel with true 5 star service. Every employee refers to you by name and they always remember things that you don't think they would. I have never experienced the kind of service I received at the Raffles any where else ever. I feel like I could go on forever about the hotel but I won't. A few things of note about the hotel though; first of all it is quite famous because of some of the dignitaries that have visited from Jackie Kennedy to Charles de Gaulle and most recently last month by Sec. Hillary Clinton. The spa is wonderful, the food is great from the poolside meals to breakfast and the famous Elephant Bar.

Phnom Penh has a lot of little cafes all over town and they all have amazing coffee. Thank French colonialism for that. On our first day in PP we walked to Wat Phnom which is right down the street from the hotel. It is nothing special but I think it has historic value. Another short walk from there is the riverside. We walked down and found a place called Cafe Metro. This was after looking around in lots of little shops and boutiques. The humidity took over and we needed to get into some a/c. Cafe Metro had free wifi but I didn't have my iPhone or iPad with me, oh well. After a nice fruity drink it was time to head out again. We went to the National Museum which is next to the royal palace that is closed for several hours in the middle of the day. So it was the museum and it was open air which I was not expecting. Pictures are forbidden which is too bad because the relics they have there are really awesome and come from the time period that Angkor Wat was built. The museum is in a square with a nicely manicured garden in the middle.

After the museum we headed to the Central Market, which is a really strange-looking yellow structure. It is all cinder block and cement with a large dome. It was jam packed with stalls of all kinds of stuff from jewelry to automotive parts, toiletries, souvenirs, clothes, and all kinds of other crap. After that we walked down to the park where the Vietnam Friendship monument is, which is a really nice city park with lots of open space. The monument is very cool looking if you like those Soviet-inspired statues. From there we walked down toward the independence monument which looks like the arc de triumphed in Paris. By this point we we sweaty and tired from walking so we took a tuk tuk back to the hotel. Taking these is always an experience somewhere between a treat and near-death. To give you an idea of what it is like, imagine how you would drive a 3 wheel motorbike if there were no rules and you were the only person on the road. You could anywhere, go any direction on any street and it wouldn't matter. Now imagine that everyone else on the road is under the same assumption. That is driving in Phnom Penh. It's crazy and makes absolutely no sense at all. After we got back to the Raffles we went to the Amrita spa for some relaxation time. After that we spent some time at the pool and ate some snacks. Later on, dinner was at a little local restaurant called La Marmite. It was one of the best French meals ever and it was cheap. I had blue pork scallops with blue cheese sauce and ratatouille. It was awesome with a nice glass of merlot.

The next day in PP consisted if the amazing breakfast at Cafe Monivong, a tuk tuk ride to the Royal Palace, the Russian market and back to the hotel. The great thing about the tuk tuk drivers is that they will wait for you wherever you go and then you pay them at the end. I think it cost $10 to have our guy with us for a few hours. By lunch time we headed back to the pool for snacks and drinks. We went to a day spa in town called Bodia spa and I think an hour massage was $24. It was great. Then we walked down the block to the FCC, Foreign Correspondents Club, which is famous for its happy hour. The food wasn't great and the atmosphere was quite strange with old white men and their hookers. It is al fresco dining along the road that borders the river so there is some atmosphere there.

The day we left PP our flight didn't leave until 5:50p, so we had the whole day to do more stuff. We ended up taking a taxi to the Killing Fields called Choeung Ek. It's a sobering experience because there is a monument there with bones collected from all of the genocide victims. It's incredible to see how far Cambodia has come since then, but 3 million of their 8 million people were killed from 1975 to 1979 under the rule of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. It's a disgusting reminder of what humans are capable of. This is just one of over 300 killing fields, but this one is just outside of Phnom Penh and there is an audio tour that is self-guided. I wasn't sure I wanted to go to the Killing Fields at first, but I am now glad that I went because it puts things into perspective. 

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