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Phnom Penh

OCTOBER 30

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our flight from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia .

The flight was delayed by 40 minutes which gave us plenty of time to get in a few games of Skip-Bo (all of which were won by Terry).

We were met at the Phnom Penh airport by Trails of Indochina's guide, Tayda (pronounced Tea-Da). Driving from the airport into Phnom Penh she explained what we would be doing for the balance of the day and how the lateness of our plane affected those plans. She said that she would take us directly to the hotel, where we could check into our room with a river view. She also gave us some safety tips on being in Phnom Penh. The most earnest was to be back near our hotel by 8:00pm and not to walk backstreets after dark.

 

She asked us not to be too long so that we might beat some of the closing times for the sights we were to see.  

We checked into Star Royal Hotel and followed a fellow up to our room which was tucked into a corner. He manoeuvred our two backpacks around the maid's trolley and opened the door. With some difficulty he got the air conditioner to work and left us to settle in. The room wasn't that great but adequate and having a river view would be great. We pulled back the closed drapes and faced a stucco wall two meters away.  We had to hurry so didn't inspect the room further.

When we reached the lobby, we told Tayda of the view from our room thinking perhaps there had been a mix-up. She spoke to the front desk and reported back that they were unable to move us.  

The Royal Palace has been (and still is) the residence of Cambodia's king since 1866 except for the period of time the country was ruled by the Khmer Rouge.  [Before the mid 1800s the royal capital was in Oudong.]

It is a complex of beautifully appointed buildings and gardens.
Many national treasures are displayed ... solid gold soup bowls, solid gold Buddhas, solid gold headdresses worn by the princess when she was young, solid gold plates and bowls, even a solid gold spittoon.
One building (in large photo far right) was built to allow the king to mount his elephant.

Wat Preah Keo, is better known to westerners as "The Silver Pagoda", so named by tourists who remember it because of its floor made of 5,000 sterling silver tiles.  
Tayda whisked us off to Wat Phnom and the very pink National Museum where we were passed off to a museum guide who was very nice and very knowledgeable but, was repeating at a very slow pace, so much of what we had learned in Vietnam's museums and temples.   
 
What affected us most was the sights we saw at the entrances and exits of each of these landmarks. The human ravages of war were evident as we encountered so many dismembered persons begging for help in a country so poor.
So many of Cambodia's citizens have had harsh lives.  In recent history there have been several upheavals each with tragic consequences.

In 1953 independence was declared from the French colonization of Indochina . In 1969 the war in neighbouring Vietnam spilled over into Cambodia as American and South Vietnamese troops invaded to attack Vietnamese forces that were operating in Cambodia .
In 1975 a Cambodian resistance group, the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, took over the capitol and implemented a campaign to create a peasant-led agrarian social order.  Cities were forcibly emptied and people were resettled in rural labour camps. Anyone with foreign ties or education was liable to be executed.
By the time Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978 and overthrew the Khmer Rouge, approximately one in five Cambodians were dead and many of those who lived were maimed, while still others were dismembered by hidden and forgotten land mines. Not only have the land mines had (and continue to have) horrific effect on mankind, but they have also had devastating impact on elephant and tiger populations as well as other animal life.  
We returned to the hotel, manoeuvred around the maid's cart and some bags of towels and then changed from the heat of the day by the one light in the room that worked (one didn't even have a light bulb) and took a walk to a recommended restaurant two blocks away. We shared what would be equivalent at a Chinese restaurant (Cambodian food is very similar), egg foo yung, beef stir-fry with vegetables and steamed rice, aided by some Heineken beer while being hovered over by, at any one time, three to five young waiters. 

Leaving the restaurant, we got a quick Cambodian language lesson from some twenty-something year old tuk-tuk drivers (a rickshaw type "taxi" powered by a motorcycle). We explained we were going to walk the short distance to our hotel. We made it half way and decided to visit the Foreigners' Club Lounge.  Climbing four flights of stairs found an open deck overlooking the street and the wide grassed boulevard that lay between the street and the also wide walkway which ran along the river's edge (like a straight Stanley Park seawall). Some back packers from Australia recommended we try the Angkor Beer on tap. Terry did and liked it. Sherrie had her favourite ... a 1.5 litre bottle of water.

The sights below were fascinating. Families, adults, teens and young children on their own. The vehicle traffic on the road was constant and included numerous food wagons which stopped every so often in hopes of getting some business from the crowds gathered in the coolness by the river. 

The crowds were larger than normal for a Sunday because this Monday was a holiday in celebration of the king's coronation one year ago. Fireworks were expected and we had great view seats on the balcony high above the river and close to the palace, but, the fireworks had been cancelled; perhaps because the king was visiting his ailing father in Beijing . Our high perch, however, did let us view a new record (our personal sighting count) of six people on a scooter - a father, mother and four little ones of varying ages.

Back at the hotel we had time to view our room at a more relaxed pace and we concluded that we were happy to only be staying one night. 

As we prepared for bed a rather loud sound, like an electric drill starting and stopping, began emanating from either the next room or the room above. We expected that if they were doing any work it would end by 10:00pm. WRONG!! The sound continued through the night -- starting and stopping every six ... sometimes seven ... sometimes eight seconds. The two seconds between the times of six and eight only served to give hope that it had ended; only for that thought to be dashed when it would grind and whir again. There would be no use to complain; if they were too full to move us earlier they would be unable to do anything now. A sleepless night.


OCTOBER 31
We had an early flight out and were glad the night was over. The on again off again sound turned into a constant one around 6am. Tired, we made our way passed the maid's trolley and up to the floor above for the breakfast buffet. 

At the top of the stairs we saw the buffet tables covered with white sheets and were told to make an egg selection from a sheet of paper and pointed towards a table where we could make our own toast and pour some watered-down tang-like concoction.

One guest arrived and asked "Where's the buffet? It was magnificent yesterday morning."
We could only assume that the empty tables and the draped buffet were because they had so few guests ... which in turn begged the question why we had to deal with a room without a view, a doorway shared by cleaning equipment, one light, ripped sheets, torturous on again off again sounds all night and a cleanliness level that would not land them even one star (they claim three) in Canada. One would think in a society where so many people are begging for work at poverty wages, meeting minimal 3 star hotel standards  would not be an issue.
 

Tayda and driver picked us up and took us to the airport. On the way there, we asked about the uniformed men spaced the roadway. "Somebody important must be coming into town," she said.

We purchased some water at the coffee counter and sat at a table next to the glass walkway which guided people to and from the aircraft. During our second game of SkipBo, some big brass army types passed by. The one with the most medals on his chest looked down at the cards with a spark of interest. Shortly afterwards coming from the opposite direction was a rather large and impressive entourage which worked it's way passed us.

"There's the king," Terry said recognizing the gentleman in the middle of the line. 

 

A moment later an announcement came for the boarding of our plane. We walked down some stairs and stood in front of large glass doors which lead to the tarmac. Again the king passed by and as soon as he did, the doors opened and we almost fell in step with his group ten metres in front but they turned to some gates where his cavalcade of cars waited and we turned towards the plane for our flight to Siem Reap.  

 

click here to continue October 31 and to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat ...
                  

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