Friday, January 6, 2012

Sigh, there's Siy again

Phnom Penh is chaotic compared to Hong Kong, but relative to Vietnam we think it's not quite as busy. For example, when crossing the street here you can wait for a break in traffic and make your move, whereas in Hanoi you'd be standing there all day waiting for a break,
We started our day by meeting a fellow named Siy. He'd a tuk tuk driver and he seemed to have claimed the spot outside our hotel. He's definitely a friendly dude but we passed him off in order to make our way to the Grand Palace since it was only a block away.
The Golden Palace of PP [ ] is very ornate by any standard and has lovely grounds filled with flowers and shrubs. But it'll cost you $6.50 and a $3 T-shirt if you're not appropriately covered up. Plus, the place shuts down at 11 (not 10am like Mr. Siy said as we walked past him) so we had to be quick. Fortunately none of us do a lot of research and the significance of most places are lost on us so we could easily breeze through the complex of temples in just over an hour before being asked to leave.  The main building, the Throne Hall, is an impressive structure but the good stuff is off limits and not really visible at all. Probably because the King still uses this as a residence.  One passes through a doorway in the surrounding wall to get to the Silver Pagoda that is nestled in another garden filled with bird baths of lilies, 2 large stupas and a statue of King Norodom on a horse. Strangely there is a large replica of Angkor Wat on the grounds as well - no need for that bus trip tomorrow!
Upon exiting the palace grounds we were immediately spotted by Siy. I'm sure this has nothing to do with the comment made by Blaine & Leah's taxi driver when they were dropped off at the hotel: "wow this place expensive, like 40 or 50 dollars a night". So obviously we're now targetted as the rich tourists. After some debate we decided to let Siy drive us around for the day for $25. First stop was lunch at a Khmer restaurant by the river. We were all taken by surprise how big and wide the Mekong river was here and it's hard to fathom the fact that during rainy season the river fills up and forces the Tonle Sap river backwards. Consider the Red River pushing the Assiniboine river backwards at the Forks in Winipeg.
Allow me to introduce you to my new friend Amok - he's a wonderfully tasty Khmer dish of curried fish smothered in thick coconut milk served in a banana leaf bowl. Variations abound but the one we had at this restaurant was the best we had. Too bad I can't recall the name of the place.

After lunch we took a siesta by the hotel pool to prepare ourselves for the brutality we would learn about at the "killing fields" of Choeung Ek. It was a heckuva tuktuk ride out there (40min?) but it did provide a glimpse of Camobian life - incredibly poor, corrugated metal shacks on stilts beside a garbage-filled ditch interspersed with new multi-story apartments covered in blue-tinted glass. Also the massages get cheaper the further out of town you go, $3 in PP dropping to 9000 Riel ($2.25).

I'm not going to say much about the Killing Fields. It's a tad sickening although I haven't been to Auschwitz and Rwanda might be worse. Just Google it yourself:  But I will mention the jaw bones sticking up out of the ground and the tree where they smashed little ones' heads against to save bullets. Strangely enough I'm not thrown by the commander who said to do that, but wonder about the man whose job it was to do it and how his sleep was tortured by nightmares. We might try to buy the movie at the market once we return to PP.

The ride home was made much more pleasant by grabbing a case of Angkor beer ($11.50 for 24) and using it to wash the road dust out of our mouths.


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