The first day in Phnom Penh was a busy one. Besides walking around for hours trying to find an ATM (which ONLY dispense American dollars by the way) I made it to and through the Royal Palace and National Museum. Some kind of weird, “I’m in a new country!” energy over took me. That and it was also just a really nice day outside.
I invested a good chunk of cash into a quality rain jacket only to never get rained on once in SE Asia. Thanks for the advice Lonely Planet. To be fair though, I did use it a few times in Japan and Korea.
There is really not all that much to say about the Palace and the Museum other than “WOW”… Look at those pictures. Amazing. I read a lot of history books while in Vietnam and Cambodia so most of my thoughts swirled around the spectacular nature of the old Khmer and Vietnamese empires. The Khmer in particular is interesting because of its relative obscurity in my own American education despite that fact that it once occupied the vast majority of South East Asia.
At this point in time I would rather not try to relate why I found the history of these places so fascinating. If you are interested in such subjects pick up a history text book. In the future I will try to do a better job of bestowing upon the reader a bit more of the importance of such places as I visit them, but as my blog is already languishing over three months behind current happenings I will spare both the reader and myself the time.
Even on my first day I had a hard time finding a decent meal in Cambodia. I definatley could have been in all the wrong places at all the wrong times or my frugality could have gotten the better of me in this paticular country. In every other country I have found the street food to been superior to the much more expensive Western style meals that could be had there. Cambodia was a rare exception. My first meal, and I was starving, were cold noodles with a tomato sauce and gritty fish paste. The flavor was not all that bad, though it had little of it, but the gritty ground fish texture really put me off. I have eat a lot of strange things in my life (my entry about eating dog in Korea is still my most popular to date) but Cambodia took the cake, or rather I would have taken a cake had I been able to find one.
Another thing that stood out in Cambodia vs. Vietnam, besides the more friendly people, was the poverty. While many Vietnamese were indeed “poor” by our standards they still usually had fairly clean clothes, homes that looked like they could withstand a strong wind, and were more often than not working. In Cambodia much of this was different. I quite liked that Cambodians were more relaxed and not as workaholic as their neighbors but the poverty was noticeably worse. Though historically I doubt it could have been any other way with only the very recent departing of the Khmer Rouge. This impression could also have been bolstered by the huge extremes in wealth brought on by corruption on a massive scale in the capital city. Mothers with six naked children on the road side selling cheap crap to tourists while the children of the political elite drive by in their Lexus and Hummer SUVs.
All together I quite liked Phnom Penh and it was a nice change from being in Vietnam. Despite being labeled as one of the most dangerous cities in SE Asia I had no such problems and never felt threatened, even when walking alone at night (not by choice). I was getting quite excited to see what else this country might have to offer the adventurous traveler.