March 1 – March 3, 2012: Phnom Penh
Upon landing, warm air touched our face and know exactly we have to deal with uncomfortable weather; hot air and humidity in Phnom Penh. Our hotel messed up, and do not have a private car waiting to transport us to Pavillion Hotel. Not a good start! Instead of taking a taxi, we go for a Tuktuk (cost $7 usd), a popular means of transport here and half hour later reached our hotel. Hotel manager is very apologetic and offer to upgrade our free ½ hr massage to one hour. OK, nice gesture so I forgive them. We stayed here for 2 nights.
Hotel Pavillion, from the outside, looks unassuming with only a small gate visible from outside to enter their property; but once inside is very nice! It is a hidden tropical oasis with lots of palm trees, swimming pool and plenty of cabanas and lounges around the pool and in the small garden.
As soon as we’re in the lobby, they offer us lemonade, native delicacy for snacks and cold towels. Our room decor is nice, done in Cambodia style with use of dark woods; and our bed draped with fabric. There’s a sofa, a balcony that overlooks the pool, and a good size bathroom with a shower. It looks recently remodeled. They provide daily 2 bottles of water and a tray of fruits in our room. The hotel staff is very warm, friendly and helpful; seem eager to please and make our stay as pleasant as possible. I highly recommend the Pavillion hotel, and the only minor complaint I have is the low water pressure in our shower when the gardener waters plants in the morning or late afternoon. It’s best you don’t take shower at the same time.
After resting for just few minutes, we head off to The Royal Palace. It is walking distance from the hotel, but we took the Tuktuk as we did not want to battle the heat. Entrance fee to Royal palace costs $6.25 usd per person and includes the Silver Pagoda. The scorching heat and humidity is hard to bear and wish we had an umbrella. The garden around the palace is well maintained, and beautifully landscaped. Our 1st impression, it looks like the Golden Palace in Thailand. We quickly walked to Silver Pagoda and was relieved there are big electric fans in the front where you take off and put on your shoes.
I notice my husband looking pale and a bit dizzy. Not sure if it’s the heat frustration or he is suffering from glycemia (low sugar levels in the blood) and needs to eat. Slowly, we made it near the exit when he feels really ill and luckily, there are benches he could lie down. I rush to buy fruit juice and cold water; placed wet towel on his face to help cool him off. After few minutes, he insists we go back to our hotel despite my worries if he is well enough. Our air-conditioned hotel room provides him much-needed comfort and he dosed off. Ramon feels better after taking a nap for 3 hours, and apologizes for ruining my plans to go have a drink at FCC, watch the Mekong river and have dinner on the riverfront.
Dinner at our hotel restaurant is delicious. We order papaya salad, grilled chicken with mango sauce and fish brochette served with a yummy condiment (no clue what’s in it, but it’s perfect accompaniment for the fish). We eat everything on our plate and so full, I wonder how are we going to feel during our massage. We go outside for a little walk, nothing much to see, but just to walk off our full tummies. Half hour later, we go have our one hour full body aromatherapy massage. What can I tell you, I rate it as one of the best! And I’ve had many comparison from different places around the world.
Still adjusting to jet lag, we wake up at 4:00am giving us plenty of time to take shower, get dressed and have breakfast leisurely before our tour. Breakfast at Pavillion hotel is served by the pool. They start you off with coffee and a glass of passion fruit juice, and slices of loaf bread & jam. You can also order eggs cooked however you like, and request bacon or ham.
With a full stomach, we go outside to look for our Tuktuk driver at our agreed time of 7:00AM. I had pre-arranged a full day tour with a driver who speaks English very well, whom we met during our walk the night before. For some reason, he is no-show and we end up going with Narit, who’s English is limited, but good enough for basic conversation. First on our list is a visit to the Killing Fields. It takes almost 50 min to get there due to traffic, normally only about ½ hour. Getting there is not pleasant, it is dusty and air is so polluted with smell of gasoline; foul odors emanating from occasional dumps/garbage we pass by along the way. My eyes are very irritated, and could barely keep them open; we hold our breaths, for as long as we can; cover our mouth and nose to minimize inhaling the much polluted air. It’s quite amazing, to watch the skills of drivers as they maneuver, turn and change lanes on heavy traffic sucessfully, and avoid collisions.
A visit to the Killing Fields is depressing to say the least. To see the evidence, hear the stories of senseless killings of innocent children, women, young adults and men is incomprehensible. Getting here early is a good idea for you avoid the heat and the big crowd, who arrives as we are leaving. We stop at the nearby Russian market for a quick look and to buy a pair of sunglasses to protect my eyes from dust. Our next stop is S21, a school converted to a prison, where the victims are housed, tortured and interrogated for crimes they never committed before they are taken to the Killing Fields to be executed. Hundreds of photos of these victims are on display, and see in their faces fear, pain and agony….what a chilling & horrifying memory of the terrors these people suffered under Khmer Rouge regime, with one man responsible, Pot Pot who has been referred to as “The Hitler of Cambodia“.
It’s lunch time and our driver, Narit, suggests we go to Romdeng restaurant for lunch. We ask Narit to join us for lunch, and he gladly accepted. This restaurant is rated no. 1 on TripAdvisor. It is one of the two restaurants run by kids taken from the streets and trained to be Chefs and wait on tables. A restored French villa with beautiful garden, lots of trees and a swimming pool; this place is lovely. My hubby orders their fixed 3-course lunch special which includes grilled beef salad, tofu w/ eggplant & passion fruit ice cream. I order Amok fish, cooked in curry, tamarind and coconut milk. And of course, the daring adventurous person I am, must order their specialty, fried toruntula. Crunchy and surprisingly tasty, I like it! This place serves delicious foods, and provides good service. My only regret, we do not have an opportunity to come back for another meal to taste other dishes. You must try this place, and the “dreaded toruntula“…you might just like it!
Our stomach full and satisfied, we head to Central Market, an awesome yellow painted building, high domed-ceiling and beautiful architecture design. Immediately my eyes are drawn to sparkling jewels & stones. So many jewelry stores congregate on the center area right below the dome, and you see a dazzling display, rainbow of colors reflected by these colorful jewels when rays of sunshine strike them.
The collection of clothing here looks more stylish and better quality than in Russian market. I love flowers and make floral arrangements too; so I stop to see the variety of flowers and intrigued by the lotus flowers. There’s a section for fruits and vegetables. Small food vendors scattered everywhere.
This is a place to shop for all kinds of souvenirs. Due to limited baggage allowance for domestic flights, our intent coming here is only to visit and look, not shop. However, despite my resolve not to buy, “spirit willing but flesh is weak“, I succumbed to buying some souvenirs. The design is nice. and price is right, so WHY NOT? Besides, they don’t take up much space, and would make nice gifts for relatives & friends back home.
Hubby getting tired, heat & humidity becoming unbearable we head back to our hotel to cool off and relax. We tell Narit to come back at 4:00pm to take us to the Riverfront. Turned out 4:00pm is too early to watch sunset over Mekong Delta river and Tonle Sap lake; the place is less than 10 minutes from our hotel. The Riverfront is a long stretch of boulevard along Mekong Delta river with few hotels and many restaurants where people flocks to drink, eat and “people watch”.
He drops us off by FCC restaurant/bar, and we ask him to return at around 7:00pm. During their Happy Hours (5 to 7pm) all drinks, except bottled beer are half price; so why not wait. Meanwhile, we watch people jogging, vendors selling cold drinks, and visit an art gallery shop. It’s time for the FCC happy hours, so we go upstairs to 2nd floor, take one of the tables in the front for best view of the Mekong Delta River. We enjoy the view, but sunset is nowhere to be found. Oh, it is on the other end of the bar/restaurant looking over Tonle Sap Lake; check it out and still no sunset to admire. Oh well, got wrong info from TA. We order beer & pizza for appetizers or snack which ended up as dinner as we aren’t feeling hungry anymore.
Night market is an interesting place with lots going on. There’s live music and shopping. Prices of clothing and other items are mostly fixed, but some owners still willing to negotiate.
Towards the back, we come to my favorite area, the food section. They sell fresh and cooked seafood, grilled meat, fried foods, soups, cane juice extracted before your eyes. And so many unfamiliar items. Quite interesting is the space provided for people to eat. Right in the middle, people are seated on the ground, with only thin mats separating their butts from the hard cement.