24.08.2013 - 24.08.2013 35 °C
Since we have been in Phnom Penh for more than a day and not seen anything we thought we would have a look around the city today. There are some main sights such as the Grand Palace, the democracy monument and the National Museum but we are a little fed up with a constant stream of pagodas and palaces so decided on some alternatives. The first stop was brunch and we went to a cheap local place that we have noticed has been busy everyday. We had pork ribs and rice served with broth and beef curry served with bread with two iced coffees for $5 and it was really tasty. It was raining when we had finished so we walked round the the riverside and had a drink until the rain eased up. Whilst sat we heard a girl upset and a man shouting and everyone came out of their restaurants to see if everything was ok. A lady had her bag snatched as she walked along the row of places that line the riverfront and she was obviously very upset. The criminals were on a bike and she had tried to hold on so had been dragged into the road. It was a horrible but apparently all too common event and all the staff in our cafe looked wholly disappointed. Phnom Penh has some major problems, there is a lot of poverty, a lot of children sent out to beg and mothers and babies. There is also a LOT of sex tourism and protitutes line the streets and bars. Many of these bars are not subtle and one has the selling point of 'no loneliness only fun'. It's not all bad though, there are some budget local eateries, a lot of choice with regards to bars and cafes and all the tuk-tuks are motorbikes with cute wooden carriages on the back.
We then set off to Central Market, politely declining twenty to thirty tuk-tuks drivers on the way. It started to rain about half way there but it did not take long to get there. It is definitely in walking distance to the riverside. The central market is a big domed building. The centre is mainly jewellery stalls and then branching off are stalls selling anything you could possibly want.
Around the outside of the building stalls set up under umbrellas and sell everything from crockery, clothing, electrical goods and fresh produce. We walked around, browsing all the stalls and were very surprised to find that it was really pleasant. No one heckled for us to buy anything and we were left to look around at our own pace. Liam got some new headphones and Chelsea got a bracelet.
After our shopping we decided to walk to Boeng Kak lake. We had read that it was lined with cheap places to stay and quirky cafes over the water but we were not sure if it was still there as our guidebook talked about the possibility of it being bulldozed for redevelopment. It took us a while to walk and we walked through some poor intimidating areas as well as some very upmarket places with skyscrapers and posh hotels. When we got near the area we needed the streets were particularly bad. It was a very poor Muslim area which meant that not just men but also women stared at Chelsea as her legs were not covered. People literally stopped talking and stared and it is one of a handful of times in our many months in Southeast Asia where we have not felt safe (bear in mind we worked hands on with tigers, leopards and lions for five months). We decided to turn back and headed to a temple we had seen on the way.
Wat Phnom is a short walk from the riverside and it set in a shady public park. We climbed the old stone steps and there are a few stupas and the main temple. It is picturesque and costs $1 for foreigners if you want to go inside. After a look around we realised we had gone up the back steps and walked around to the front which were much grander steps framed either side with snake sculptures. Also in the park is a giant wicker king cobra sculpture. We had read that there were little monekys in the park but we didn't see any.... It didn't stop Liam worrying about monkey bites and rabies shots though.
We headed to the riverside and walked down the river, calling in a place for a cheeky happy hour drink and we ended up coming back for 50 cent beers and frozen margaritas for dinner. The riverfront is not very picturesque. It is a row of eateries and bars on a wide, busy main road . The river is very polluted and lined with a lot of buildings still under construction. At night there is a night market which we browsed around and mainly sold the usual tourist fare, t-shirs, souvenirs, scarves and brick-a-brack. We are glad we have seen Phnom Penh but we are eager for clean air and open spaces. We have booked onto the local bus for the next leg of our journey. We are heading South in search for a beach paradise for a few days before we tackle Angkor Wat.