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December 23, 2014

I got to my room in Phnom Penh at about midnight last night, after many many hours of travel. But despite a bit of fitful airline seat sleep, I couldn’t click into the time zone.  By 5am, I gave up on sleep, watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations: Cambodia on iTunes and by 7 I was out on the town.

The Central Market was just steps from my hotel (that’s why I chose it. That and the fact that it was $15/night). I love the bustle of a Southeast Asian street. Mopeds and tuk tuks alongside expensive sedans speed in all directions with no clear regulations. Each intersection is a game of chicken, but, against all odds, I’ve never seen an accident.

The Market itself is a central room of vendors with rays of shops off it’s center. The stalls are filled with fish and meats and vegetables. The smells range from slightly sickening to fabulously delicious.  Flowers, pots and pans, and shoes were sold in other alleys of shops.  After wondering in wonderment for a while I sought out sustenance.  First coffee.  The strong brew was paired with sweet condensed milk.  Then I headed off to find something for breakfast. A bowl of spicy, limey noodles with pork spring rolls did the trick.  I was thrilled with my day and it wasn’t even 9am.

First though I had to cross the street. The motorcycles and tuk tuks whizzed by as waited for my opportunity to dash.  As I looked lifted, someone grabbed my right hand and pulled.  I looked over at a woman who’s decaying teeth and weather beaten face made her seem much older than I suspect she was. She pulled me across the street saying you mustn’t be scared.  When we got to the other side, she squeezed my hand and said “welcome to cambodia. merry christmas.” and disappeared into the crowds.

I popped back to the hotel, grabbed a tuk tuk and asked the driver to show me the town. He suggested the Royal Palace and off we went. My driver left me on the corner and pointed toward an entrance. I walked off to find my way in, but at each door the guard pointed me on. The large street on which the palace sat was closed to traffic but lined with students groups and finely dressed men and women holding bright yellow and red silk flowers.  It seems the president of Vietnam was in Phnom Pehn to meet with the Cambodian king.  I waited with the crowd for about an hour.  The students flashed me peace signs and posed with their arms around each other and big smiles as only teenagers  can.  The crowd seemed to be mostly made up of Vietnamese living in Cambodia.  Whenever there was a flicker of activity from behind the palace gates a cheer went up and the student band began to play.  I stayed until a caravan of black suvs disappeared behind the gate, waved good by to the band and headed back to my tuk tuk.

We made our way along the Mekong River and around town to Phnom Wat – a temple high on a hill in the center of town.  A man leaning on a branch to support his single leg waved souvenirs at me.  I climbed the steep staircase to the temple – pausing to selfie with the marble Buddhas that lined the stairs. The sweeping views from the top were almost as fabulous as the neon alter where people made offerings and prayer.  Lit with red and green tubes of light with a flashing sign, worships knelt before the Buddha and waved lotus flowers over their heads.

Back on the street, my driver spun me around the city for another half hour or so before we headed back to the hotel. In the balmy Cambodian weather, a tuk tuk offers nice breezes and great views. When I leaned out to take a photo, a driver of an adjacent tuk tuk warned me to hold my phone tight, there were thieves about.  That on top of the warning sign in the hotel to keep my eyes peeled for child sex abuse, tainted my rosy view of the city a bit, but not much (I was keeping my eyes peeled though. No child would be hurt on my watch!)

And with that, my morning in Phnom Pehn came to an end and I headed to the airport for a quick flight to Siem Reap  – home of Angkor Wat and a Waukeela reunion!


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