Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The Royal Palace
So a little while back Singapore was rendered more or less uninhabitable by pollution blowing over from Indonesia (where they are currently illegally burning down the Sumatran rainforest). We decided to flee and impulsively bought tickets to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

We visited Cambodia years before, to see Angkor Wat (which is one of the coolest places I've seen), but I'd never been to Phnom Penh before. Honestly my expectations weren't high (it isn't known as a tourist destination), but I really liked it.

Cambodia is one of those dysfunctional, really poor countries where foreign aid is a major industry. In my opinion this does very little good to the average Cambodian, but it does mean that there is a huge community of expats/foreigners, all with a lot of disposable income (because while NGOs may not pay big salaries by Western standards, by Cambodian standards they are enormous).
KFC: Reminded me of China, where they are ubiquitous
Hip cafe serving delicious gazpacho and croque monsieur
R approves the gelato: ice cream haze
There's a whole street of art stores
So there are all kinds of businesses catering to this market, meaning tons of cool cafes, "socially responsible" restaurants serving organic food, hip clothing boutiques, English language bookstores, and a thriving nightlife scene (though B and I did not participate in this). Sometimes travellers complain about Westernization, but the truth is that places with NO Westernization tend to be uncomfortable for Westerners (like it's impossible to find somewhere nice to sit for a quick drink, because the locals are too poor to afford such a thing).
Central park near our hotel: Phnom Penh is fairly small and thus quite walkable
R found a "big stick": she is obsessed with sticks lately
Naga railing reminds me of Angkor
The birds are for sale: Buddhists believe releasing them gains you merit
Like many poor countries, the streets are shopfronts: here's the local mechanic
Fresh coconut seller
Local barbershop
Street scene: most buildings are low rise, which gives a nice small-town feel
Cambodia also has a long, glorious cultural history: even though it's poor and backward now, at one time it was a major cultural center (thus the existence of Angkor Wat). I very much enjoyed experiencing a bit of their marvelous music, architecture, and art; Cambodia's thriving and vital take on Buddhism is pretty interesting too.
National Museum grounds
Trying to get R to pose: she's over it though
Mostly she wanted to feed the fish
R on the palace grounds: they still have a king in residence
Love the architecture!
Silk weaving demonstration
Musicians playing traditional instruments
R really likes it: later she danced to it, much to the amusement of everyone
 Finally, the food in Cambodia was really, really good. It used to be a French colony, which means that delicious bread, pastries and coffee are widely available; and the indigenous food is absolutely delicious (similar to Thai food but with slightly different flavors).
R contemplates a Buddhist shrine
Giving Buddha a hug
Tiny shrine, so cute
I was a bit concerned about visiting such a poor country with a toddler, but there was nothing to worry about. Cambodians loooovvve children, meaning that almost everyone went out of their way to amuse and accommodate R, and most places were very child-friendly (like many restaurants stocked toys for the child customers). Plus Cambodia has a pretty high birth rate, which meant lots of playmates for R.
R in the tuk tuk: she loved them ("my best" she says)
R playing with a Cambodian tourist
Some of her admirers: R is always a big hit
R being followed by some of her fan club: she is grumpy from all the adulation
Meeting another friend: later on they played tag
While Phnom Penh isn't a must-see destination on the lines of Hong Kong or Angkor Wat, it is a very pleasant place to spend a few days or even a week. I would love to go back, actually (since we didn't get a chance to see everything!).

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