Friday, November 20, 2015

We Visited Phnom Penh – 17 and 18 Oct 2015

There are a number of options for travelling from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh – by air, river and road. We chose to travel by road and take in a little bit more of Cambodia. We hired a SUV through the hotel and departed at 8 am with Mr Rotta the driver and his Lexus. It’s an eight hour journey – with stops in between for coffee and lunch etc.

Rotta’s English was limited and he would simply laugh away all our questions. If we persisted with our interrogation, he would ring up his wife and seek answers. He made a lot of calls J but he was very helpful and the journey was pleasant. The people by and large are extremely warm, polite, helpful and above all cheerful.

Figure 1 – A lovely round about

The country side resembles India a lot, especially Kerala. Green and lush rice fields are everywhere. Surprisingly one does not see any people on the fields. They grow a lot of rice. Rice cooked in the hollow of a bamboo stick is very popular and is called sticky rice. Poverty is visible – under fed children are employed for selling food, artifacts and souvenirs. Children are practically every where – especially near temples and market places. They are so sweet it becomes difficult to say ‘NO’ to them. The roads are reasonably ok, with very little traffic discipline. Their vans and Tempos are overcrowded and can be paralleled only by the ones we find in India. 

Figure 2 – Ssangyong from South Korea – May be 25 people in and on it.

Cows are everywhere; we almost felt at home. 

Due to very heavy rain fall from May to October, the land gets inundated with water. Consequently, almost all the houses are on stilts. Basic Cambodian architecture of sloping red tile roofs dot the country side. There are very few modern buildings and skyscrapers along the way. Village scenes resemble India in many ways. The cities are clean in parts, with patches of filth, garbage and waste lying by the road.

Hammocks are very common and one can see them hanging under trees. Even the ‘tuk tuk’ drivers carry hammocks and spread them whenever the guests depart and catch forty winks.

Tropical fruits such as pineapples, jack fruit, mangoes, oranges, rambutan, bananas, passion fruit, coconuts and water melons are very common.
Enroute, Rotta stopped at a village market to give us a ring side view and taste of Cambodian insect cuisine - fried Tarantulas, crickets, frogs, grasshoppers, silk worms and more. Deep-fried insect snack is very famous in Cambodia and it is favored due to its unique taste as well as the high-protein nutrition. These insects are meticulously mixed with some special spices and then deep fried.  In addition, Cambodians eat a lot of pork, beef and sea food. Dog meat is also popular in Cambodia. Nothing would induce me to try that particular meat!!!

Figure 3 – Rotta enjoying a fried Tarantula. A-Ping, a well-known fried spider dish in Cambodia

Figure 4- A young shopper happy to relish on a Cricket

Figure 5 – Crickets fried in red chili and onions

Figure 6 – Giant water bugs as small eats

Figure 7 - Little maggots of silk worm, deep-fried with chilies and spring onions.

By all standards their food is very tasty and reasonably priced. A good dinner – fresh vegetable and rice noodle soup, roast potatoes, veg spring rolls - their USP, deep fried calamari, stir fried chicken with chili, ginger tiger prawns and a good helping of beer costs around 37$ for four which works out to Rs 600 per head approximately.

We stopped enroute at a nice little restaurant by the river for lunch. We had a traditional Cambodian lunch.

Figure 8 – Jai taking some photos

Figure 9 – A quick back massage at the restaurant – ahhhaha 

After spending considerable time in the ‘Killing Fields’ we reached ‘Hotel Rambutan’ in Phnom Penh. Unlike in Siem Reap, this is a very clean and modern hotel. We enjoyed our stay. We retained Rotta and his Lexus as we found Phnom Penh to be too noisy, dusty and muggy for a Tuk Tuk ride. Phnom Penh is like any other capital city – over crowed, unbearable traffic, cramped for space, struggling to maintain a good façade.

The hotel had a nice little pool, Anoushka and I got in immediately to beat the heat. 17 Oct is Jai’s birthday and I was hoping the mood would cheer up after a very heart rendering visit to the ‘Killing fields’. We were the only guests by the pool and the staff went out of their way to make us comfortable. A trade mark with ‘Rambutan’. 

In no time we were reminiscing about good old days – each recalling an event or an interesting incident. The weather improved and so did the mood. A good, blended whisky or Vodka does add to the ambiance. When you travel with likeminded people – the frame of mind is very light and devoid of any stress or strain. The night, conversation and the bonding progresses naturally.
Whilst each one was busy and dreaming into the night – Anoushka went to the reception very unobtrusively and returned with a beautiful birthday cake for Jai. The rest as they is history. Extremely thoughtful of Sushama and Anoushka to have organized the cake. Big thanks to you both.

Figure 10 – A part of Hotel Rambutan

Figure 11 – Anoushka in the pool – cooling it off

Figure 12 – Anoushka and Sushama by the pool side

Figure 13 – Bonding with the birthday girl

Figure 14 – Birthday girl with all of us

Figure 15 – The creamy price one has to pay

18 Oct – Phnom Penh sightseeing 
The next day was spent in visiting a few important tourist attractions. Rotta in consultation with his newly married wife took us around the town in his very comfortable Lexus SUV. There is not much to see in Phnom Penh and a day is sufficient to visit a few temples, pagodas, museum and the Royal palace.

Our five day visit to Cambodia came to an end. This trip provided us with an insight into some of the oldest Asian civilizations, ancient temple 
architecture, new cuisine and much more. Cambodia has seen many ups and downs in its history. This is a remarkable nation to have weathered so many invasions, wars and genocide which wiped out one out of every four Cambodians, yet it has managed to retain its cultural identity and nationhood. There is a lot to learn from these extraordinarily resilient people, who have forgotten the abuse heaped on them and literally risen from the grave to build a legitimate and respectful life for themselves. They are very polite, courteous and helpful to others – remarkable traits.

Figure 16 – 18th morning visit – photo op

Figure 17 – A typical stupa

Figure 18 – National Museum

Figure 19 – Very well maintained with lots of artifacts

Figure 20 – A lovely folded lotus 

Figure 21 – Ganesh statue in the museum lawns

Figure 22 – A square ling – odd but common

Figure 23 - The Throne Hall is where the king's confidants, generals and royal officials once carried out their duties. It is still in use today as a place for religious and royal ceremonies (such as corporations and royal weddings) as well as a meeting place for guests of the King. The present building was constructed in 1917

Figure 24 - "Moonlight Pavilion", is an open-air pavilion that serves as stage for Khmer traditional dance in the past and present. 

Figure 25 – Another view of the Throne Hall

Figure 26 - Hor Samran Phirun "The pavilion where one sleeps peacefully." Royal rest house and waiting area where the King waits to mount an elephant for Royal processions. Also built to house musical instruments and procession implements. Constructed in 1917. Currently housing a display of gifts from foreign heads of state

Figure 27 – Restoration work in progress. Notice the cloth façade covering the repair site – remarkable

Figure 28 –Silver pagoda - The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, but has received the common name 'Silver Pagoda' after the solid silver floor tiles that adorn the temple building. Unlike most pagodas, no monks live at the pagoda.

Figure 29 – A stunning model of Angkor Wat in front of the pagoda

Figure 30 – TA PROHM TEMPLE - Ruins of an old Buddha Temple.     

Headless Buddha - a priest performing a ritual



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