-Travelling Cambodia – Phnom Penh City Tour

Six hours after leaving Vietnam, we docked at Phnom Penh. Excited; anticipating our first experience of Cambodia.

Disembarking from our ferry into a hot sticky day onto a very steep and crowded bridge, chaos reigned. Where was our stowed luggage? Where do we go from here to find a ride to our hotel?

Surrounded by “foreignness”, anyone thinking we looked like a couple of bewildered tourists wrestling with feelings of no-idea-what-to-do-next; was right!

With no obvious taxi or other form of transport available we deposited ourselves, (along with our now retrieved luggage), at a table in a nearby dockside restaurant.

The tables were set on wooden decks across the (Mekong) river. It was time to just sit, enjoy the start of our new destination, breath, take in the views and atmosphere.

A couple of hours passed when a man we now know as Non, a tour guide, offered his car to “taxi” us. We accepted his offer with relief and renewed enthusiasm. We were finally transported to our hotel.

Once settled in our hotel room we wandered over the road to a little bar serving cold beer and cocktails. While sipping our very welcome drinks we chatted about what to do and see for the next 4 days in this interesting and somehow puzzling city.

A Walk and a Tuk Tuk ride

With the view from our hotel window clearly stating the boulevards of Phnom Penh are decidedly walkable, the next morning we set off to explore.

The hotel also overlooks the famous Royal Palace. Enriched with golden spires, pure white and the grey wedding-cake-icing, “Stupas” (Buddhist Shrines), golden pointed roofs, and pristine green lawns. The vast compound is surrounded by beautifully tended boulevards, greenery, and people strolling the flat well kept pathways.

It is an impressively iconic outlook. And having this bird’s eye view increased the appeal of a walk on our first day.

The weather was warm and calm. Around every corner, we caught a vista of saffron-garbed Theravada Buddhist monks, “Kasaya” (clothing) wafting in the breeze, colourful umbrellas over their shaven heads protecting them from the sun. It was a reassuring, serene and, (what was to become), familiar sight.

Walking back, around mid-morning, we were hailed by a man in a Tuk Tuk who asked if he could take us for a ride. We happily clambered into his beautifully maintained carriage, (silver filagree, maroon leather seats and multi-coloured fringed canopy), and asked him to take us back to our hotel.

As we were riding along the calm roads we chatted to him as best we could in our respective languages and we were struck by his deep sincerity and love for his native city. So much so we asked him to take us around the city the next evening for an insiders view. His name is Sorya.

A City Tour

Early the next evening, aboard Sorya’s Tuk Tuk, we suggested he show us the places that meant the most to him.

We set off into the most beautiful softly hazy sunset, along one of the four rivers in Phnom Penh. Lying just west of the four-river intersection called the Chattomukh (“Four Faces”). Phnom Penh is separated into little islands by these waterways.

Dropped off to spend a while promenading along the riverside boardwalk, we had unwittingly arrived amongst hundreds of Buddhist worshippers enjoying Buddha Day celebrations.

We smiled at the wonderment of Peony flower sellers sitting on the street surrounded by buckets of fresh blooms, little birds chirping in cages being sold so they could be freed, pigeons en masse perched amongst tiles of the Buddha pagodas. As families gathered, we enjoyed the balmy, golden evening and reveled in the magical atmosphere.

All this loveliness experienced while waiting for Sorya to fill up his Tuk Tuk’s gasoline tank!

The City Tour continues, visiting a famous temple

Next stop on our city tour was the Wat Phnom Temple. Dusk had fallen and now the city sparkled with early darkness lights and offered the supernatural view of many bats preparing for their nightly flights from their trees.

The glorious temple was bathed in soft evening lights and provided a wonderfully elegant stairway from the street to its entrance, inviting us in to visit. The sense of peace and natural beauty of shadows cast by candle light and soft under plant lighting brought a sense of serenity and peace.

Peonies and little gifts of food were placed at the doorways and inside the temple, lending to the sense of community amongst the coming and going worshippers.

Leaving this tranquility and Zen atmosphere behind we entered the nightlife streets of Phnom Penh. Narrow alleyways lit alive by neon flashing signs and glittering lamps – we saw men and women hanging out on street corners, as well as lots of bars and brothels. Vibrancy comes in all hues.

4 – The City Tour’s final attraction , being shown another side to this famous city

We circled the city through residential streets of grand homes and then around the corners there were little huts and life happening front and centre on the streets.

Sorya completed our tour by taking us to an area of the city that once housed a beautiful natural lake. He told us about this lake. His once-upon-a-time “Happy Place.”

He had owned a little wooden boat, and he took it out onto the lake’s water to fish – not only as a form of rest and recreation but also as a crucial source of food for his family. The lake is no longer. It was filled in to provide luxury holiday condominiums’ and recreational attractions for wealthy people from other lands. Today all we could see, darkness lending a certain grimness, was a lot of incomplete desolate construction.

I felt incredibly sad for Sorya and his fellow compatriots who have lost a treasured way of life so hard fought for, for so many terrible years.

As Sorya dropped us off he suggested a day trip to Silk Island. We arranged for him to pick us up the next morning.

We stayed atGlow Park Hotel

If you would like to know more about Phnom Penh please contact janeco@mytravelroom.co.nz

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