Read more stories about Cambodia here:

Meaningful Journeys – Cambodia (1-1)

Meaningful Journeys – Cambodia (1-2)

 

“I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one” – Captain Willard, in Apocalypse Now, 1979

 

April 3rd 2016, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Later that day, I am in short white shorts with blue print, white top and my green bag, trying a fish amok at Riverhouse Asian Bistro, by the river as you can guess. Yes, it’s expensive – for Cambodia – but I like expensive places. I am alone and quite awkward to see. Cocktails are good and it’s happy hour. Well in Cambodia is happy hour all day long.

Interesting discussion at a nearby table about entering some market in Asian countries – China/ Philippines/ Hong Kong, transactions.

Busy Sisowath Quay is just in front with the noisy tuk tuks and a few cars. The Mekong River is peacefully waving around the islands.

Tomorrow at 11:30 I’m off to Siem Reap. The plan is to wake up at 8 or 9, have breakfast at the hotel, sit by the rooftop pool and have cocktails and then go to the bus. Or at least that’s what I thought…

Hmm…I should book a hotel for Siem Reap, right?

Yes, they’re American. American lawyers. I bought her two bags, probably the wife. Now let’s go get two a***s. I’m truly impressed.

D. joins me for cocktails and tempura shrimp and later we take a tuk-tuk to Eclipse Sky Bar. This is a quite nice place, great cocktails (a bit more expensive than the average, around $5-$6) and view.

You might probably wonder why there are not many pictures to this post. Oh well, all the picture went away with my purse hanging from a motor biker’s hand when me and D., an Australian traveler (for three years) around the world, were walking around the Sky Bar in Phnom Penh.

 

April 4th, Phnom Penh, traveling to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Didn’t think much about it, went by the Mekong where I saw the sun rise. On the way to the hotel a lady tries to sell some drugs she says are from Laos. Others are exercising on the quay at 6AM. I’m still leaving to Siem Reap at 11:30 and I still have no hotel booked.

Before getting some hours of sleep I ask the hotel for a wake-up call which they never dial and I wake up at 11 AM. I could have had time to make it for the bus, but I don’t want to rush – I pack, check out and walk to the agency which arranges for a bus at 14:30 and eat breakfast looking at the river  at around 1:30 PM.

The bus ticket costs $10 for a 5-6 hour drive, it’s brand new and has AC. There’s a temple around 30 min away from Phnom Penh that’s beautiful.

When do you think more about what you have seen and truly visualize it? When your photos are gone. It’s the only think I regret after being snatched by a group of four motorbikes.

Camera’s gone, phone’s gone, I’m safe. Oh well, this had to happen at some point and I’m grateful to the ones just taking the purse off my hand and riding with it. Somehow I had let the stuff go once I arrived here. Maybe is premonition or maybe I attracted it. Either way I’m here with an Angkor beer, I booked an amazing hotel in Siem Reap, where I will focus more on the feeling of the place rather than on clicking photos.

Concentrating on what I can do to feel better works out more than whining about it. I believe in the relationship we have with things. That you either deserve it or not. That they come and go.

Another gorgeous Cambodian with an old fatty American – probably.

Do souls recognize each other? Sure they do.

A negative event might draw your attention to what’s right in your life or what you’re doing wrong. I mean I’ve just lost worth of 2000 $, but I’m safe and I’m in Cambodia and I’m going to the temples in Siem Reap, so really…no big deal. And here happy hour is from 12 to 10 PM.

Photo 05-04-16 13 55 51

Not long ago I was writing: “From Bali to Beirut to Ho Chi Min to Osaka to Kyoto to Perth. Back home in Doha in the desert where … it is raining. Life is so beautiful and full of surprises. Traveling is living, but don’t think it is easy.“

Accepting that things might happen makes you get over it easily and I have said it so many times before – traveling is not easy, traveling is supposed to teach us something, traveling is growing, evolving, knowing, traveling is about being positive and controlling emotions (well, I’m struggling here a bit), traveling is educational and supposed to get us up not take us down.

I look out the window. Cambodia is rural and we are somewhere in the provinces almost at dusk after stopping for a midway break.

On the right and left of the asphalted road dusty sidewalks lead to schools, fields, houses and huts, palm trees.

What I find interesting is the houses, built on poles with ground floor only for half of the house, looking quite stylish and functional. Some they use the shelter under the house as a summer kitchen and others keep the kettle there. Probably in the wet season it gets quite flooded. Most of the houses are wooden, but there are some made if bricks and paint.

Many black palm tree trunks lie on the ground in a picture in tones of brown and caramel. Gates are just different size heights ad shape poles planted in the land and perpendicular – or relatively perpendicular – other poles or trunks or sticks. You can throw a calf through the holes of the so-called fence, but probably they use it for delimitation purposes only. Although I slept more than two hours, I don’t regret taking the bus instead of the plane because I get to see. How the villages are, how people live. Kids and youngsters are gathered by a few bikes by the road.

2016-04-07 17.38.04.jpg

The night brings some cool wind although there are still 30 degrees plus. I spot a Yellow Matiz.

Why do people meet? I think I met someone I knew in a previous life, there, at the second floor of the Mekong Riverside Bar.

I think about what happened – the bag snatching – every now and then, but it does not affect me much. Even with this mishappening, I am traveling in Cambodia alone. I am quite brave and feel strong being here at the end of the world alone.

A shallow mirror like water gathers the eyes of the men and women lying on the reed huts. A cow crosses the street and the motorbike needs to stop as the cow decides to accelerate. A few meters ahead a teenager boy follows around 30 cows to their hut. Which reminds me that by the time I started to perfect the photo taking skills, I lost the pictures just as that cow that by the time got used to not eating, died.

This is a great area to explore. The road is much better than I expected and outside Phnom Penh there aren’t too many cars. The orange sun is getting closer.

This is really wow! The most beautiful half-sun, totally red, almost smashing the ground, getting bigger and bigger as we drive fast towards it. Done! It’s huge and round, red and surreal.

18:03 PMsunset in Cambodia, in the middle of nowhere. Just me and my thoughts and great views.

In a small plastic bag I have a can – measurement unit – of fried insects and a huge insect, as big as a finger, anyway a flying bug.

We ride at over 120 km per hour on the wrong lane while the driver talks on the phone, but it’s fine. I’m in my own world, playing my own imaginary music depending of the stages I go through.

13-16 April is Khmer New Year Festival.

I was curious how it is by night in the Cambodian villages. Dark. There is no public lighting and only few houses have electricity – mainly businesses and the Cambodian People’s Party. The others burn a fire by the road. I can’t believe how laid back life is here. No hustle. No bustle. Yes, they’re poor, but I think they can get something to eat at the end of the day and for sure they are happier than the ones trying to impress in fancy cars and flashy clothes.

Latest events made me think about past years, am I running away from life? And if I am, what’s the lesson? What do I need to learn? What do I need to work on?

This trip is for sure cleansing. Giving me new wings. Educational. Personally speaking. On a different level, where money and so called valuables are nothing.

I just spotted a truck full, overloaded with bicycles. It’s quite something as they stack them so well that there’s barely any space between them. Not to mention that the bicycles are double the size of the truck. We should be close to Siem Reap.

Did you know? In Khmer, you say chah if you want to say yes as a female and baht as male.

Between the road and the houses a tailor’s shack if functioning at this time of the night (almost 8 pm). I see it’s normal to ride a truck seated on the top of the box or standing in the box – in some trucks more than 30 or even 40 people.

Two dressed up ladies ride besides the biker of a motorbike. Lights start increasing, and I see more touristy shops, restaurants and hotels. Same rural look, but a bit fancier. We are in Siem Reap and Da – a tuk tuk driver – offers to take me to the hotel and to give me a ride tomorrow around the temples. Sure, arkoun!

Photo 05-04-16 12 20 32

Read more stories about Cambodia here:

Meaningful Journeys – Cambodia (1-1)

Meaningful Journeys – Cabodia (1-3)

Cambodia is one of those crazy Asian countries where, as an European, you cannot get enough of the new-effect, same as in Vietnam. Hundreds of motorbikes, 30-40 people in a van, minimum 4 people on a motorbike, crazy traffic, weird things to buy and eat, busy markets, it’s all part of the incredible charm of Phnom Penh.

Every street in the main area of Phnom Penh – by the river, is full of life, restaurants, cafes, girly bars, diverse cuisine – from Khmer (Cambodian) to Indian to Halal to Italian, Thai, Burmese, French, name it, travel agencies offering visa services for Vietnam, crossing the border to Laos, flights and minivan trips to Siem Reap.  Photo 05-04-16 12 29 34

After I get a good impression of the capital city I sit down at the second floor of a riverside restaurant, on the corner of the street. From here I can see the river  and the traffic on the Sisowath Quay as I eat and check my map, trying to make an itinerary for tomorrow’s sightseeing. Here I meet D., who happened to sit right next to me, actually I sat right next to him. D. is around 40 and the ones who have known me for a while know that it’s exactly the age of people I like to hang out with. One of the advantages of traveling alone is making amazing friendships as it happened in Zanzibar, Beirut, Athens just to name a few of them. Well, I ended up meeting D. every day of my Cambodian trip and of course he’s not someone who has a normal 9-to-5 life with one holiday a year. Actually he quit his job 3 years ago to travel the world. How cool is that?

 

April 3rd, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I walk the block that separates Street 148 to Wat Ounalom, the most important wat of Phnom Penh and the center of Cambodian Buddhism, established in 1443.

What is a wat? A Buddhist monastery or temple.

On the short way, parallel to the river, I see a cute girl, not more than 7 or 8, at a stand selling books. When I see books, I stop. Let me tell you, she impressed me. First of all, her English was impeccable and she literally sold me the book. She has talent, I did not want that book and I did not want to buy it in the morning and carry it around the whole day. But I did and that’s what a skilled seller does. I don’t know her story or her family’s, the bookstand had a picture with three kids – her and two younger brothers with school backpacks – asking to buy from the stand of the mother to help the kids to go to school. I gave the girl $100 dollars and she said she has change – no problem, she warned me about thieves and told me to take care of the green bag with an elephant keychain. She was doing all the work. The book was cheap – $6 – although the standard price of Lonely Planet is around $30, I did not wonder why. Well, guess what? The covers look exactly the same, but the content is photocopied. After all, it serves the purpose. Her parents were both sleeping at the cool and shadow of the buildings by the street, opposite the river. She woke her mom up and sent her to change the dollars. Then she asked me my plans for the trip, woke up her dad to open the car and took a contact card and said her father could drive me to the airport. I did not call them ever, but I think about the girl every now and then – she’s going to go far, that’s for sure, she’s smart and has a great merchant spirit. I actually think I envy her.

Wat Ounalom is considered to display an eyebrow hair of Buddha. Some guide tries to follow me, but I need my silence and alone time. This place is so quiet, so peaceful, not intrusive. I might have spent almost 3 hours here and it is a very small place. I walk outside and inside that temple a few times. Behind the temple, some orange monk cloths hang on a rope waiting to dry.

Did you ever wonder why the monks wear orange? Well, apparently that was the available color.

I leave the temple from the back exit, where there’s another market, restaurants frying a whole veal turning on a pole, improvised – maybe only in my opinion – hairdressers having everything they need by the street, giving haircuts next to the carwash, which is next to the restaurant, in the dust left behind by motorbikes. Here I find David, a tuk-tuk driver who speaks French only – and Khmer, of course – who asks for $5 to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21), but is happy to take $3. The museum is on Street 113 and the entrance fee is $6 including audio guide.

The Museum is a confession of a cruel regime that most former communist countries have had at some point. Non-humanity at its highest level.

A little bit of recent Cambodian history. The Khmer Rouge

Khmer Rouge was the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), ruling Cambodia between April 17th, 1975 and 1979, an era of political execution, forced labor and death – around 2 million people. Because of this the era is called the Cambodian Genocide and there are trials currently undergoing to identify and punish the ones responsible for the years of terror and torture.

CPK’s aim was to erase class differences, a common goal of communist regimes around the world. They marched in Phnom Penh in April 1975 under Pol Pot and Son Sen and ruled the country for the following 4 years, expelling the population from urban center to countryside, killing the ones who refused and later moving the population again to other areas in a huge population migration.

But how was this possible? Well, during that time Vietnam War was going on (1955-1975) and the Americans war fighting something called The Secret War – bombing Cambodia. More than 100000 bombs fell in Cambodia from the sky and the people were in a state they were welcoming revolution. Khmer Rouge said that many bombs would come, being able to relocate entire urban populations. Of course, the Vietnam War ended by April 30th same year, 1975, but The Khmer Rouge, who had risen on April 17th of same year had gained control already.

Tuol Sleng had been a high school and was renamed S-21 when the Khmer Rouge took over, becoming one of over 200 secret prisons during that era. So was Cambodia, becoming Democratic Kampuchea – name inspired from the ancient Khmer Kingdom of Kambuja, Sanskrit name.

The Khmer Rouge era was known as the Kampuchea Democratic Era, but as the museum shows, it was very far from democratic.

The guide starts by saying: “When you leave you go back to your normal life”. Hiding from the sun under a Frangipani flower tree, it makes me think. What’s my normal life? Will I ever go back to a normal life? What is normal? Do I even want to be normal? Some unrest woke up in me and actually all I wanted was to be alone and process a new world history lesson. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was declared by the UNESCO valuable to humankind as a proof of inhumanity. How ironic, but what is this worldly life other than pure irony?

Nobody knew about the existence of this and the detainees were brought blindfolded, in trucks. Angkor was always right and there are only 12 confirmed survivors. A place where people enter, but never leave. Angkor has eyes like pineapples, detainees were told to convince them they had been wrong, but actually they would kill anyone. One of the staff declared that it was better to exterminate someone by mistake rather than letting the evil spread.

This is how The Hill of Wild Mango, how it used to be called, a place of Frangipani blossom, coconut palms and jack fruit became a hill of horror, interrogation, false accusation, starvation.

Staff were young boys from the countryside who were told they are the right hand and the soul of the country, but ended up being detainees themselves if they would hesitate in torturing or killing. Women? Mainly cooks or medics, although one was a confirmed interrogator.

One of the buildings – Building A – was for important people. New people, city people, lawyers, teachers, children, high officials. The contemptible. Enemies of the regime. Of course, the building had no air flow and was the place of torture three times a day, ammunition boxes was used for human waste and detainees were shackled to iron beds.

“Once we had the answer we killed them all” – said one of the staff. Nowadays, in international law, information obtained under torture is not acceptable. I’m thinking about my month in Hague, as the International Court of Justice, the special tribunals for Lebanon, Sierra Leone, former Yugoslavia.

The chief of S-21 was Dutch Kang Kec, who took notes on confessions and signed executions. Excellent student, mathematics teacher – remembered as gentle by its students, joined the Communist Party, arrested and imprisoned for 2 years and tortured. Established discipline and handpicked youngsters to train them in the art of torture and obtaining confessions. What caught my attention was – a contrast. Dutch would wear two pens in his shirt pocket – sign of craziness in a time when having a pen in your hand, glasses or soft hands – being an intellectual – meant that you were an enemy of the regime and the country.

As I walk through the rooms, a sparrow is flying inside the white, depressing walls of the former prison, by the pictures of responsible and the victims, a symbol of freedom and hope.

“Would I have had strength to refuse to kill if penalty was my own death?” – again in the garden, on a bench looking at the Frangipani and at two of the survivors. An artist and one who repaired typewriters – essential for confession registration, no? They sit there, in front of you, selling their books.

The museums has archives, which can be visited on appointment.

What caught my attention was the two Banyan Trees. I had heard about them mainly because of the super fancy rooftop bar and restaurant in Bangkok, but never gave it much attention. Well, it is said that Banyan trees give shelter to restless spirits. How beautiful! I listened to it over and over again. Where is my Banyan tree then, restless spirit of mine?

David is outside waiting for me. I get another mango shake and he takes me to the Independence Monument. I ask him to drive in the roundabout around it a few times and then continue to the Royal Palace. He speaks in French and I answer in English, but we get along. The ride is both fun and pleasant, the wind is blowing through my hair and David seems to be smiling, although I can’t see his face. Reception dresses stores, barver stores having Leonardo di Caprio as image, French restaurants, Champs Elysee Hotel – a place I would never go to when in Cambodia, but since most of the tourists are French, of well, tiny restaurants. We are around Sothea Ros Serey Street, holding the name of a singer.

The Independence Monument looks like the central tower of Angkor Wat (in Siem Reap, around 5 hour drive away from Phnom Penh) and was built to celebrate Cambodia’s Independence from France, in 1953.

Phnom Penh is a small city and all the attractions are very close to each other. The Royal Palace is a good place to spend your afternoon in an April afternoon if you can stand the 35 degrees + temperatures that I love. The Palace is closed between 12 and 2PM and the entrance fee is $6, so organize your schedule accordingly. Also, be mindful of what you wear – no tank tops, shorts etc.

The Palace had many compounds and maybe it’s not a bad idea to take a guide – available at the entrance – who will explain every single detail of decoration and what it means, but I was still in lonely mood and I walked around, looking selfishly at only what I wanted to look at. And other tourists are looking at me. I might seem a little odd and a little pretty – alone, with camera, phone, selfie stick (all gone by following day), long flowery skirt, Frangipani huge green hair clam ($1, from an old woman carrying a tray-like basket by the Mekong) in my hair not longer than my shoulders level, inhaling and exhaling some kind of special freedom and a dose of mystery.

Again, there are no many tourists if I compare it to the invasion I’ve seen at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, where the ticket is three times the price of this. Indeed, it’s low season in Cambodia – making me love it – and Phnom Penh is not Bangkok…yet!

As you may easily guess, The Royal Palace is the residence of the King of Cambodia and has been so since 1860, excepting the Khmer Rouge years. As you can see, they tried to destroy pretty much everything valuable, artistic, intellectual, spiritual that Cambodia had.

I will not emphasize much on the edifices themselves, but on the symbols. Symbolism has been a great passion of mine for long. Well, let’s get started, but please have patience and understanding as this (Hinduism, Buddhism symbols) is quite new to me and I’m learning as I go, see and read more about it in Cambodia and different cultures of the world that I get the chance to visit.

Photo 05-04-16 13 52 28

As you enter the Palace’s gardens a huge Couroupita guianensis or Cannonball Tree attracts the eyes of all visitors. The tree is tall and impressive flowers grow from its trunk, but there are some buds and fruits, too. The flowers are called Shivalinga flowers (Hindi). For Hindus this is a sacred tree because the petals of the flower resemble the hood of the Naga, a sacred snake, mostly a cobra because it was Buddha’s protector.

Garuda is a creature looking like a human bird, the vehicle of Vishnu.

The whole ensemble is full of symbols, from the colors of the Palace’s roof to the seven head snakes rising at the stairs of some buildings. The Silver Pagoda or Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha is in the same complex and used to be covered by 5000 tiles of 1kg of silver each, one of the few places kept by the Khmer Rouge, as a symbol of Cambodian civilization.

What is Khmer? Khmer is the Cambodian language and also the people of Cambodia.

I sat by the shade of some trees, by a huge Buddha reading from the Lonley Planey book about Cambodia, while listening to the Bamboo xylophone (Roneat aek) play somewhere not far. I leave the complex looking at the pictures of the life of the King.

All of a sudden I decide I have time to see the National Museum the same day – if I rush. And I do. By now in the nearby park the preparations for the upcoming Khmer New Year (13-16 April) have started – they’re building a stage with the King as a central figure, small merchants gather already. It’s almost sun set and the sun reflects in the peaceful waters of the Mekong. I walk past some American coffee shops, where I would never leave even one dollar when traveling and rush to the museum – two blocks away from my hotel.

The National Museum of Cambodia (Street 13, $5) is another peaceful place, especially before closing time, catching the serendipity of the interior gardens. Probably I was too tired by this time, but I was attracted more to the museum itself than its displays. Moreover, it is a history and archeology museum, not very interactive and a bit boring. A stone museum. What I loved about it is that it’s an opened museum, no walls towards the interior gardens. Makes you feel and think outside the box. Similar to the National Museum in Indonesia, which I visited in January. It should be a trait of the area museums, anyway I love it. Lotus flowers and frogs live together in the four basins of the garden, frangipani flowers look over them and monks spread their calm, hugged by the tall square structure of the museum.

A couple takes pictures. Outside the museum a man in his 60s draws on the porch of the building. Huge green bushes are completed by elephant heads and horns, two monks sit by each other on a bench, an orchid flows down a tree trunk in purple, yellow and white and I catch the perfect picture with the monks and the orchids.

It’s late afternoon and the city life seems to take one more strong breath before going to sleep for the day. Agitation and traffic. I go back to the hotel through the market, I buy the green dress I was telling you about, try to bargain, but I realize there’s no point.

Read more stories about Cambodia here:

Meaningful Journeys – Cabodia (1-2)

Meaningful Journeys – Cabodia (1-3)

April 1st, 1AM, almost arriving from Venice, Italy

On the flight I’m thinking “Life is a video game”, but not quite sure what made me think that.

2AM, Doha, Qatar

Talking about Zaha Hadid today in Venice. Landed in Doha, read the news…

April 2nd, a little before 1 AM

Just came from Dubai and it’s raining, I’m freezing here in Doha and it’s windy, so I booked for Cambodia and off I go with my geisha shoes, black turban and elephant key chain.

IMG_4766Yes, this has been the week of visas and paperwork and I’ve been running after them like crazy. As I am running now to my gate, the furthest ever, almost the same that took me to Zanzibar in September last year. But I guess I should run not write…this is only until they start the airport bus that they’re testing now. Because HIA is awesome!

As usual, I get excellent treatment at the airport and get 3 seats for myself. I cover myself in 3 blankets plus my huge wool blue scarf with a story, fasten my seat belt and sleep. I have chills, but I manage to sleep.

9 AM Doha time, 1 PM Saigon time

“Saigon, I’m back in fucking Saigon” – Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, the movie, yes, the old one, 1979 with Marlon Brando. Watched it not long ago when trying to write about my experience in Vietnam and Saigon in order to learn more about the war. Finally, I changed my plans of seeing Petra in the days off to flying to Cambodia.

So, Saigon, but I’m not here to stay more than 60 minutes, as my colleagues announce that transit lasts for. I almost feel excited for them and their stay. On the left, through the oval windows of the airplane I see the buildings of Ho Chi Minh City. Touchdown!

Vodafone welcomes me to Vietnam – these small things make me happy.

Starting to recover with a glass of Chardonnay from the zombie state I was in when leaving Doha.

We have just landed in Tan Son Nhat International Airport – Terminal 2. Well this sounds familiar, I have been here one month ago. The temperature is 33 degrees. Yey! – I love when the thermometer reads over 30 degrees Celsius.

Slept almost the whole time and was lucky enough – or should I call it differently? – to get three seats just for myself, as it happens most of the time.

I spot a Vietnam Airlines plane, blue with the yellow lotus flower on the tail. This reminds me of the most beautiful aircraft design I have ever seen – Batik Airlines, from Jakarta, where I’m returning this April, in a new setting/hotel.

Not sure whether it is snobbish or fine to talk about exotic destinations with this ease.

After all, it is my job. Oh well, passion.

Flying from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh. Again! I remember when I was doing this for the first time (February 27th) and thinking: “Gosh, where am I? Flying from Saigon/Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh, places I can barely pronounce”.

Day 1, 14:55, not one minute less…

And up we go to Phnom Penh passing by many Vietnam Airlines planes. I see the repetition as a pattern of my life. Sao Paolo/ Argentina twice in two consecutive months, Zanzibar same, Madrid same, Beirut same and now Ho Chi Minh City/Phnom Penh. Interesting, though I noticed that once I’m done, I’m done – proof that whatever you have not processed the way you were supposed to, what you did not learn, where you still have work to do, debts to pay (don’t think of money, but that could be the case, too) will follow you over and over until the lesson is learned, may it be positive or less appealing.

Here I am a solo travel girl in Cambodia. Is it safe? Who cares? I’m a Queen of Contrasts. Internet and solo female traveler blogs say yes, but there was an announcement in the flight to be careful with the jewelry and valuables at all times.

We’ll see! By now I’ve been in a lot of so-called dangerous places – alone – and had a great time. Let’s put it this way, if it’s not a bit rare or dangerous, I’m not in.

15:10

Captain made the announcement and we’re arriving 10 minutes earlier.

15:20

Plains and big inundated low lands of irregular shapes. Brown – the water and dark green – the vegetation. No roads, no houses, no skyscrapers. As I read this later, I’m thinking how naive I had been before visiting Cambodia, the Land of Wonder. Finally some houses and huge Mekong River, with an island in the middle. Same tones on my oval window as we descend to the best holidays I’ve ever had.

IMG_4773

15:28

Welcome to Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia. Outside – some Bassaka Air airplanes, a Cambodian carrier and some of Bangkok Air.

Most of the people in my flight queue for the visa on arrival for which you only need to pay around $30, fill in a form and have a photo. I had applied online for it – it is true I paid $80, but you can find other websites where it is only $30.

I don’t have any check-in luggage so I’m the first one to leave the airport as the whole queue is staring at me when the officials tell me to proceed. This is easy and much better than I expected, I’m thinking. The airport looks new. First thing I notice if a Japanese Newspaper, free Japanese newspaper. Inevitably I think of the free Japanese newspaper in Yangon and some distorted truths I read there.

As I had read online, you can get a Pink Ticket from the official service of the airport. They provide transportation to the city and it costs $9 for one tuk-tuk ride (a little over 30 minutes depending on traffic), as it is written of the ticket. I chose tuk-tuk over taxi  – I don’t know how much this costs – because you can get a better feel of the city from an early stage. Just be careful with your belongings, put it flat on the ground of the tuk-tuk and your backpack/purse between your legs. Most probably you’ll be using Street 110 – it already started – Russian Federation.

In Phnom Penh I chose Harmony Hotel and for $50 – one of the most expensive around – it’s more than I need. I had taken shampoo and a towel with me just in case, but both the hotels I stayed in offered great amenities and services. I get a welcome drink and I have to deposit $50 dollars as guarantee. In Cambodia there’s free wi-fi everywhere.

My hotel is on Street 148, neighboring a day market and at 2 streets away from the main nightlife area in Phnom Penh, the restaurants and cafes by the Mekong River on the Sisowath Quay, and less than 10 minutes tuk-tuk ride to The National Museum and Silver Pagoda and around 15 minutes by tuk-tuk to Tuol Sleng Museum (S21).

It’s almost getting dark, so after I take some pictures from the 10th floor window of my room and check out the bar by the 2 level rooftop pool of the hotel, I go out to check the surroundings.

Cambodian People’s Party signs are pretty much everywhere and as I got to see during the 10 hours (return) trip to Siem Reap, where the biggest, tallest and most luxurious house/mini palace was, it was for sure the office of the party.

People seem so warm and nice. I’m obviously odd in my short leather pants, green polo shirt and light green bag with an elephant hanging from its handle. I step in the dirty water puddles of the market.

They sell alive hens and chicken, fish which have been in this 35 degrees head all day/days, clothes – I got myself a $7 long green flower print dress, vegetables, fruit, tens of kinds of leaves, fresh juices and shakes (all $1), gifts for gods – mini gold ingots, toy Range Rovers and other such extreme kitsch stuff.

To my surprise, I don’t see any tourists and the reason might be that, as myself, they’re only in transit here, in their way to Siem Reap.  At one table by the river what seems to be an American/British/Australian puts some wet towels on the forehead of what looks like his pregnant Cambodian wife, sited next to their other child.

Now my dream is to have in the bank that much that produces interest 70$ a day, ok, then 100$ and live happily around the world, running away from life.

In case you’re wondering which currency is used in Cambodia, it is the US Dollar, meaning you can pay in $$$ even to but water from the street merchants. $1=4000 Cambodian Riels.  Prices? Small water $0,5/$1, mainly any small thing you buy in the street is $1. Happy hour runs from 10AM to 10PM in some places or the whole day actually. Nice cocktails for $4 (1+1, meaning $2 per cocktail). Beer for $0.5. Cheap, in a word.  My suggestion would be to go with small banknotes of $20 and $10 and as many of $1.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Let the crazy days and weird food festival begin! Where am I?

IMG_4764