As we approached the city we saw yet another means of transportation--motorbikes pulling flatbed wagons on which 10 or 12 people rode. When we finally pulled up to the Phnom Penh bus station we were met by the usual crowd of tuk-tuks. One enterprising guy made eye contact with us from outside the bus while we were still on it, offering us a ride, and we silently negotiated the price through the windows. He wanted $4--we ended up paying $3, though the going rate is more like $2. He didn't really know where our hotel (Villa Paradiso) was located, but he asked a driver friend for help and we worked together to eventually find it. Kind of an Amazing Race moment! (We've had a lot of those on this trip.)
We had 2 full days in Phnom Penh, which was enough to see the tourist highlights and get a sense of the modernized section of the city. It's quite large but not nearly as frenetic as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. There are plenty of motorbikes, but they haven't yet overwhelmed the place--both tourists and locals catch rides in the many tuk-tuks that ply the streets. We saw only a tiny part of the city; it spreads out for a long way from the edge of the Mekong.
|Part of the Royal Palace|
|A fashion shoot with the Royal Palace mural as a backdrop|
|Lots of monks in Phnom Penh|
We rounded out our city visit with a sunset cruise on the Mekong (quite a contrast between the built-up city side of the river and the still rural country side) where we met some of the only Americans we've seen in Cambodia--a family of Cambodian Americans who fled to Houston in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took over and have been returning for biannual visits for the past several years. They love coming back but are also very happy to be living in the U.S. We also hit the bar at the Foreign Correspondents Club--another place much-visited by Westerners, with nice views of the waterfront from an iconic building overlooking the Mekong.
|The Mekong from the FCC bar|
Then it was out of town again (by car this time) for a trip south to seaside Kep and its neighboring town upriver, Kampot. In Kep-sur-mer, as it was formerly called, dozens of French-built villas from the colonial period used to line the shore. They were destroyed in the Khmer Rouge years and are just abandoned hulks now, but all the land has been snapped up by investors and there's been some attempt recently at rebuilding a few of the big houses. For now, though, Kep is a sleepy town with not much going on except a lively crab market with rustic cafes hanging over the bay where you can get delicious fresh blue crabs, squid, and prawns cooked in green peppercorn sauce, lemon grass, chili, or whatever way you want. We ate at the Sunset Restaurant--well, you could call it a restaurant; it's more like a large shack--which sits on stilts over the water and watched one of the longest-lasting sunsets we've seen in a while. We stayed for the night at Vanna Bungalows, rustic yet modern cabins on the hillside overlooking the sea.
|Damn. Another sunset.|
|An offering at Bokor|
|Kampot rice ready to harvest|
|This beer doesn't exist yet, but it's advertised all over Cambodia|
Next stop: Palau, a diver's dream island in the Pacific