Thursday, March 11, 2010

Phnom Penh Reprise

On the road back to Phnom Penh

After another $40 taxi ride, in yet another Camry of roughly 1993 vintage (like my own back home), and we’re back at the Superstar in Phnom Penh again. Albert had a couple of things to do here so rather than going directly to Koh Chang, in Thailand and our next destination, we returned here for a couple of days. I must confess to feeling a certain fondness for Phnom Penh because at this point, I’ve spent more time here than in any other place in SE Asia. And the Superstar Hotel feels like home. A very nice family runs it (mom and dad, brother, parents, children are all on the scene practically 24/7) and they cater to your every need it seems. Hot water for my tea is delivered to my door each morning, my motorbike gets parked indoors when I’m finished with it for the day, it’s clean, the aircon works very well, there’s a huge selection of satellite TV channels, and at $15/day, it’s fairly cheap too. The moto belongs to the hotel and I’m renting it for $4/day. In the photo below my little Honda moto is the red one out front.

Albie just called to suggest we go have breakfast at Happy # 9 Guesthouse over on Boeung Kak Lake. They have a great breakfast and lovely little grass covered eating areas on pilings over the water. It’s a very comfy scene and they have good wi-fi as well. Here again we see urban renewal in acton--the government is slowly filling in the lake because the it will create land where there was none, land that can presumably be developed. But in the process they’re willing to obliterate forever a scenic and historic lake. Makes no sense to me.

Our first night back, Tuesday, we had our usual table at Happy Phnom Penh Pizza and Albie got this picture of a young lotus seller. Because there was no breeze it consequently felt uncharacteristically muggy. We decided to take a ride to see the hugely overloaded trucks at the Central Market. Because it is after hours for the police there is nobody to prevent the massive overloading common in this country. I thought I felt a couple of rain drops as we drove but dismissed the idea of rain at first. Then all of a sudden a big squall hit that lashed the streets, and us, with rain. We headed for the first shelter we saw and drove the bikes right up on the sidewalk to wait it out under an awning. This was the first rain we’ve seen since Udon the night before we left on our motorcycle trip. It was actually refreshing and cooled things off a bit--probably cleared the air some too. It was soon over and we drove back here. I guess the reason I was so uncomfortable at Happy Phnom Penh is because it was fixing to rain and the RH was probably near 100%.

Before we left Albert spotted a vendor selling a weird looking fruit that he said I should try -- he called it a rambutan. Weird looking but very tasty. Below you see the (mostly) healthy collection of food I snack on as I write. Tiny bananas, the rambutans, a mango, and Beer Lao. My tea fixins are in the background. Also shown is a rambutan partially peeled. The inside is slightly sweet and is both mild and pleasant tasting. The texture of the fruit itself is somewhat reminiscent of a concord grape. Bizarre but good.

I visited the Genocide Museum yesterday. This was the infamous Toul Sleng prison used in the days of Pol Pot. Many Cambodians were tortured horribly and put to death on this spot. I need to do some more reading about the Khmer Rouge era. Most of you have probably seen the movie "The killing fields" by now. It shows some of what was going on here in the late 70s. The ruthlessness of the Pol Pot regime has been compared with Hitler's genocide aimed at the Jews during WWII but I am not familiar with the politics of Pol Pot and the revolution. This was not a joyful place to visit as there were instruments of torture in evidence everywhere along with photographs of many of the victims. The cells in this prison were tiny, about 3 feet wide by perhaps 8 feet long. Men, women, even babies, were killed here by this bloodthirsty regime. Looking around now at these friendly and handsome Cambodian people one wonders again just how it comes to pass that a Hitler or a Pol Pot can rise to power and can hold an entire nation in thrall. Scary thoughts.

Breakfast is over and I want to get moving so I'll end this post with a photo of a steer on a spit and a video I shot of a chaotic intersection near my hotel. Below is a scene I remembered seeing the first time I entered the city. This restaurant is only a few blocks from our hotel but we haven't eaten there, yet. But I did want to get a photo of the main course.

Here's a video I shot of standard operating procedure at an intersection near the Superstar Hotel. I had to negotiate this crossing almost every time I left the hotel. However, I did get used to it and, I must admit, came to enjoy the challenge. In the end I liked the fact that there are no rules and that I could do whatever I could get away with to advance my position. I often wished I'd had a helmet mount for my camera during my time in Phnom Penh. Capturing and sharing a video of the "ordered chaos" one must deal with in order to drive a moto on the streets of Phnom Penh would have been great fun. Maybe next time ....