Indochina with Selective Asia - Chapter 6: Phnom Penh
Foreign Correspondents and Buddha Bellies
Our boat ride
along the Bassac river delivered us to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia
since 1430 when Angkor was abandoned (that’s the year 1430, not half past two,
just saying). Here we would be staying at the VMansion Boutique Hotel. We loved
its uniquely styled rooms and tranquil ambience right in the heart of the city.
Read my full review of this hotel.
We were expertly
guided by Sarik, whose personal insights into the area were invaluable,
including The Killing Fields where he had lost siblings during the atrocities. Whilst
the visit to Choeung Ek, one of over 300 mass grave sites in Cambodia, and the
Genocide Museum (Tuoi Sleng) was informative it was also depressing. It was an
emotional insight into another dark chapter in human history that Pol Pot and
his Khmer Rouge added to so many others. A stark reminder that we are part of a
species that is capable of many great achievements and acts of compassion, but
also a darker barbaric side still lurks.
The Foreign Correspondent Club provides a link to these events and the UK's efforts, spearheaded by Lady Diana, to clear up the huge amount of land mines left over from Cambodia's troubled times. A cocktail or two (well it was happy hour), at sunset overlooking the Tonle Sap river was a gentle way to reflect on this part of history.
Palace's delightful architecture (with classic Khmer roofs) is somewhere
between a mansion and a pagoda. This brightly coloured estate of buildings
still serves as the residence of the current king, has state rooms for visiting
dignitaries and was built in 1866 by King Norodom. Of all the blooms and bushes
that adorn the manicured grounds, the flower from the Sala tree is the top
delight, but it only lasts for a day before dropping to the ground. The grounds
(the site of the former citadel) also contains the Silver Pagoda, so named
because of the 5,000 silver tiles (each believed to contain 1.25kg of silver)
that adorn the floor. There is a definite affection here for the king, similar
to the way most Brits love the queen.
exploration of Indochina continued with lunch at Friends, a ‘kindness
restaurant’ where ex street children are trained in hospitality and restaurant
skills. Helping them break away from life on the streets has never been so
tasty and my Burmese curry and Linda's stir fried chicken with cashews and mango
was mouth-wateringly good. Surprise, surprise and jump up and down for joy, red
berry and apple crumble with coconut ice cream was for desert, oh I'm so
developing a Budda belly (as they call it out here).
A walk up the 80
steps that lead to Wat Phnom, the founding site of the city, helps to walk off
some of lunch and from here I can see the fruit bats hanging in a nearby tree,
ready to take to the wing at dusk. Legend has it that a lady named Penh found 4
Buddha statues floating on the Mekong and this hill temple was built to house
them in 1373.
Museum of Cambodia also provided the opportunity to burn a few more calories,
exploring the artefacts from Khmer history. The world’s finest collection of
Khmer sculptures were roughly broken into 3 periods, pre, during and post
Angkor. Four display pavilions are set around a lovely garden courtyard with
water features. A word of caution: No
matter how lovely your guide is it’s impossible for them to resist the ‘horns
out of the head’ comedy shot outside the museum (see picture).
After dark it was
time for our private version of I'm a celebrity get me out of here. An exploration of street food, leaping from
course to course by tuk-tuk, began at the stalls selling deep fried insects. We
applied the same rule to stalls as we do to restaurants, always go to the stall that is really busy
with locals, to sample what many predict as the food of the future. With
populations expected to continue to grow exponentially, this largely untapped
source of food is high in protein and may be the answer to the inevitable food
shortage. Sarik recommended we start our entomophagy (big word of the day) with
KFC (Khmer Fried Crickets), widely used over here as a substitute for popcorn
to munch through whilst watching a film. Follow that with tarantula, frogs and
silk worms, all of which were amazingly good. Crunchy because of the deep
frying, except for the silkworms that were still soft inside. It wasn't all
about insects though and our tour around the Russian Market and other stalls
and vendors took in beef and liver skewers, bean sprouts omelette, local fish
and crab curry, washed down with a modest helping of the local Angkor beer. The
Budda belly progressed to another level.
mentioning that the traffic etiquette in Phnom Penh is much the same as in
Vietnam, see earlier chapters for details.
Time to head for
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Selective Asia
- Indochina with Selective Asia - Chapter 1: Hanoi
- Indochina with Selective Asia - Chapter 2: Halong Bay and Hue
- Indochina with Selective Asia - Chapter 3: Hue and Hoi An
- Indochina with Selective Asia - Chapter 4: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
- Indochina with Selective Asia - Chapter 5: Mekong Delta
- Indochina with Selective Asia - Chapter 7: Siem Reap
- Indochina with Selective Asia - Chapter 8: Luang Prebang