Phnom Penh is a mellow scene compared to India. Rahul and I were stunned by the virtual nonexistence of honking, the relative cleanliness, and the efficiency of those who served us. We arrived at the Monument hotel without our bags, caused by having to stay in India an additional night which led to a series of unintended events. We still had airport clothes on including closed toe shoes and socks which, if you know anything about Cambodian weather, really sucks. It is winter in Cambodia but even so it’s something like 87 degrees with about 60% humidity which means, in the sun, it feels like 108 degrees. But we were so happy to have gotten over the ordeal of getting out of India we almost didn’t care. There was a terrific restaurant just a block away and afterwards we walked around a bit, returning to find that our bags had arrived!
After a short swim we explored the riverfront area. We passed by a park where at least 50 young people were dancing to recorded music. Most of them were following a choreographed dance which led me to believe that they do this every weekend and some of them were quite good! It was like a giant flash mob. From there we headed toward the water where my ear spotted some amazing music. We wandered toward it and saw a group on a stage playing traditional Cambodian music. We were told it was a Buddhist celebration that is held every week, where flowers and incense inserted into a coconut are offered to shrines. The shrine was jam packed and sat and watched and listened for a while. We ate delicious fried noodles at a cart and enjoyed the action happening around us.
The next day we hit all of the usual tourist spots including the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and National Museum. All of these things were a pleasant walk from where we were staying and we especially enjoyed just observing daily life in the Cambodian capital. Phnom Phen is not particularly touristy which is nice. One of the local foods we discovered were Amok, which is a dish made with coconut milk and usually fish, and Sour soup, which is a slightly tart broth and can be made with any ingredients but I particularly loved it with green tomatoes.
On the next day we did the heart wrenching stuff; Killing Fields (Cheung EK) and the Genocide Museum (Tuol Sleug Prison). Cambodia’s tragic recent past is not something I will go into detail here but it can be found on the internet. Be warned-it is grim.
I was curious about Apsara dancing and, fortunately, we found a dance performance at the National Museum.
In just 4 years, from 1975 to 1979, 90% of the artists, including dancers and musicians, were killed, so many of the traditional art forms have had to be rediscovered, people retrained and audiences rebuilt. This particular dance troupe is part of an organization called Cambodian Living Arts and was started by a remarkable man named Arn Chorn-Pond. Read his sad and amazing story here -http://www.cambodianlivingarts.org/about-us/history/about-the-founder/