Oh There You Are Flavor!

Today was another long bus day as we headed from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh for a few days in the capital.  We woke up early, showered and packed our bags.  Somehow I think I’m getting worse at packing as time goes on.  This was now my twenty second time in two months loading everything into my backpack, and I think it was the least efficient job yet.

We headed down stairs and out the front door of the hotel, Lynn to grab us breakfast, and me to hit up an ATM so we could pay our hotel bill.  We met back up, tasks accomplished and headed back to the guesthouse with some fresh cash (again with a $100 bill for some reason) and some freshly buttered and jammed baguettes.  We paid what seemed like way too little for four nights and some laundry in our guesthouse but didn’t complain and waited around for our ride to show up.  We had been told we needed to be ready by 7.45 for pickup, and so here we were.

When 8.00 came along and there was still no sign of our bus we started getting nervous.  Lynn asked at the reception desk and the lady said it usually shows up between 8.10 and 8.15.  Oh well.  A few minutes later it showed up right on time and we hopped on for a short ride to the main bus terminal where we switched onto our Giant Ibis tour bus.  The seats were much roomier than our bus from Bangkok had been, and there were power outlets and supposedly free Wi-Fi, though neither of us were able to access anything with it being as slow as it was.  Still the trend of everywhere in Southeast Asia having free Wi-Fi was holding true.

For the next six and a half hours not a whole lot happened.  We both slept some.  Lynn listened to podcasts about history and people reading their childhood dairies out loud while I just listened to music or sometimes nothing and watched the road out in front of us.  It seems the highway was under construction (I hope it isn’t this poorly maintained) and a lot of the drive was spent bounding over ruts and potholes in the dirt road.  We stopped briefly for, I think, our worst meal in Cambodia yet.  Lynn had a lemongrass soup and I had a green chicken “curry.”  Both were incredibly watered down versions of whatever they were trying to be and neither had much flavor to speak of.

A couple of grass huts over rice paddies at our lunch stop.
A couple of grass huts over rice paddies at our lunch stop.

Around 3.30 we arrived in Phnom Penh, grabbed our bags, and walked out through the swarm of tuk-tuk drivers that had gathered, repeating “no, thank you” over and over again.  Funnily enough, when Lynn was our front alone she was not asked a single time if she wanted a ride.  It seems, as a woman, she is either unable to afford a $1 ride or unable to make decisions about such things.

We walked the twenty minutes to our hostel, enjoying stretching our legs after the long ride and taking in the city.  It seemed much less focused on tourism than Siem Reap, like real people live here, and had traffic like Hanoi so we get to use our road-crossing skills again.  The hostel itself seems very nice, if not a little overly trendy. The bed in our room looks like a giant hamster wheel made out of welded steel tubing, which is different.

After some cooling off in the A/C we headed out to explore the town.  We first walked over to the Central Market which was pretty hotly recommended as a thing to do here.  Upon arrival we decided that most people’s list of things to do in cities counts on you not having travelled around Asia for two months before arriving because Central Market was no more or less interesting than the dozen or so other markets we have seen selling knock off name brand items and cheap clothing.

Slightly dissapointed we headed over the river and walked down the large sidewalk bordering it as giant rain clouds rolled in.  Luckily they held off from dumping on us and we had a very pleasant stroll past the Royal Palace (Cambodia is nominally a kingdom), the Government’s Anti-Corruption Headquarters (which was the only building without cars parked on the sidewalk out front, though were not sure what that means), and a lot of people playing a hackie sack like game with what looks like a very large badminton birdie.  Reaching the end of the river walk, we turned down a park lined road towards the National Independence Monument where we noticed a lot of people out for an afternoon jog, and one man pulling his daughter on her bike along with a leash.

The Mekong River and a long boat trying to free itself from the mud on shore.
The Mekong River and a long boat trying to free itself from the mud on shore.
A Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who was King of Cambodia when it became free of French rule in 1953.
A Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who was King of Cambodia when it became free of French rule in 1953.
The royal palace and a flock of motorbikes passing in front.
The royal palace and a flock of motorbikes passing in front.

By now it was getting dark and we were ready for food.  We were very, very tired of the flavorless food Cambodia had continued to serve us so we decided to try a Burmese (Myranmarian?) restaurant that Lynn had found, hoping that anything stuck between Thailand and India packs a lot of flavor in its cuisine.  We were correct. We probably went a little overboard with ordering but we had samosas, onion fritters, chicken and split pea curry, coconut rice, and tea leaf salad, along with complimentary soups, vegetables, and fruits.  But it was all only $16 so it’s hard to argue with that.

Full up and finally satisfied that we had again found flavor in our food, we walked back to our hostel through the ex-pat neighborhood, identified by the large houses with security guards out front, and the high number of coffee shops and international schools.  We stopped briefly in a pharmacy and found some more Dramamine for cheap as well as some contact cleaner for Lynn before returning home.

A huge dinner. The tea leaf salad, which was our favorite, had not arrived yet.
A huge dinner. The tea leaf salad, which was our favorite, had not arrived yet.

Daily Walking Miles: 7

Fun Facts:

  • Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are only 140 miles apart but it takes six hours to drive because of the poor road conditions. We are now very grateful for the Interstate Highway System.
  • Now that we know the smell of rancid meat and dirty sewage water we are smelling it more and more and are starting to associate it with “what Cambodia smells like.” Sorry Cambodia.
  • Phnom Penh has a lot more food variety available, we think because of all the ex-pats.  We’re hoping Siem Reap was just a dirty tourist town with bad food and we can turn over a new leaf with Cambodian food here.

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