It’s Thursday, it must be Cambodia!
Now don’t get me wrong, we are still very much enjoying our whistle stop tour of the Asia but boy are we ‘toured’ out! (Tomorrow we only have a half day tour and then on Saturday we have a whole day off!) Today we leave Laos and head for Cambodia, and its capital Phnom Penh. Our drive to the airport is pretty unremarkable, as is our flight. Although the sign telling me what I can’t take in hand baggage made me laugh … no guns, no bombs, no hand grenades, no baseball bats, no knives, if you’ll excuse the expression … no shit Sherlock! Finally, I think that the pilots in this area have learned what I was saying and today our pilot found air without lumps! Arrival in Cambodia was stricter than we have seen elsewhere, but you just need to follow the system. Great Uncle Bulgaria and I had already completed Visa application forms for the entire party before we left the UK. On the flight from Vientiane to Phnom Penh we were kindly given another three forms to complete prior to arrival in Cambodia and then, when we arrived we were presented with another form to complete. It appears that they like to have pieces of paper completed!
We duly queued up to present our paperwork to apply for the Visa on entry, (when we found the right queue!), and, having presented all five forms, one was taken and the rest given back. They also took the photos that we had taken so long to prepare before leaving the UK and threw them in a bin, using a web cam to take our photos as we applied! Another form was taken by someone collecting them from everyone on the flight … absolutely no attempt was made to look at them. We then joined another queue to pay for our Visa and to collect our passports with the visa entry and went to passport control. This involved another of our forms and getting fingerprints taken on both hands – interestingly, the slightly older amongst us didn’t have their finger prints taken because, according to Captain Clarke, they become increasingly unreliable as one gets older – for once I feel young then!! Having finally got through passport control and collected our bags, we queued one final time to hand in a form to a customs official who equally took no notice what-so-ever of anyone’s form. When we were finally out I discovered that of the five forms I had entered Cambodia having completed, the only one I still had was the Visa application that I had completed in advance before leaving the UK. Ho hum …
The first thing that struck me as we left the airport was the heat – it is a lot hotter here than it was in Laos! The second, and more immediately apparent, was the traffic. Phnom Penh has traffic jams like you will see nowhere else! We discovered fairly early on in our journey that in Cambodia you drive on the right … or the left … of the middle … or a combination of these and any other piece of hard surface you can find that isn’t occupied! What we also discovered, (although you will have to wait for some photos, dear reader, but we’re working on it), is that the vast majority of traffic is motorbikes and that, armed with a motorbike of any description, you can quite literally carry anything! My favourite, and I’m afraid it was impossible to get a photograph, was a 50cc moped carrying a pallet truck on the back!
Our latest guide met us at the airport, Karona. She is very beautiful and I’m sure we’ll get her into shape very soon. (We have found with all guides that they need a bit of bashing into shape otherwise they are either pushing you to purchase extra private tours with them, or making you walk, in 35 degree heat, about 65 miles to see yet another temple!) Actually, talking of temples, we were straight into a tour of the city and so, after checking into the hotel, we went off to visit the Royal Palace. The King still lives in the Palace with his mother, (his father died two years ago but had abdicated sometime before that), and, I have to tell you dear reader, he does not look unlike myself! He sports a similar hair style, (very current!), is of similar build, (slender I hear you say!), and has quite similar facial features, (maybe not quite as chiselled as mine, of course, but close!).
It will probably come as no shock to you, dear reader, that within the grounds of the Royal Palace, we did visit a temple. Photographs were not allowed on this occasion, so I thought you might be interested in some traditional dress. The different colours represent days of the week, so starting from the left we have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday … I am sure you can work out the rest! This was in a small museum also part of the Royal Palace, as was another temple, Wat Preah Keo, that is used to house the fine collection of gold and silver. Photographs were again banned, but let me assure you that this is one of the largest collections of gold and silver I have ever seen! The floor was made up of over 5,000 tiles, each was solid silver and weighs 1.1 kg. At the centre of the collection was a gold Maitreya Buddha that sports 9,584 diamonds and is dressed in royal traditional dress.
I can honestly tell you, dear reader, that we really did enjoy our visit to the Royal Palace, but I think we have done enough temples for a couple of days! So, from the Royal Palace it was on to a sunset cruise on the river Mekong. What can I tell you? Boat, sit, Mekong River – that’s what you do! That having been said, it was actually fantastic! We spent just over an hour cruising down the Mekong River as night fell and looked back at Phnom Penh as day became night and the city shifted to another gear, (it strikes me that it doesn’t sleep, just changes gear and carries on!).
The boat was incredibly comfortable and the cruise was thoroughly enjoyable. The sunset wasn’t the best sunset I’ve ever seen, but I did my best to capture it. Having returned from our cruise we were dropped at our hotel where we had previously been informed that the bar has a ‘happy hour’ with all drinks at half price from 4pm to 9pm. Since the hotel is a ‘Raffles’, (the same group as the famous hotel in Singapore), prices are not the cheapest in Asia so we had already decided we would take advantage of this. As we walked through the entrance to the hotel lobby, Madame Cholet cried, “Where’s the bar!” – You can take the girl out of the street but …
Having visited our rooms to freshen up, we met in the bar 30 minutes later. Actually, the prices at full value are not as bad as I feared, and at half price, positively attractive! Captain Clarke and I decided to try the scottish fair whilst Madame Cholet sampled a daiquiri and Great Uncle Bulgaria a caipirinha. They were very good so a second round was ordered! We then went to one of the two hotel restaurants and discovered that they too had an offer – if you ordered the buffet, you would be served as much wine as you wanted. Obviously, this went down very well! Captain Clarke and I settled into the red, whilst Madame Cholet and Great Uncle Bulgaria slurped, sorry I meant sampled, the white. The food was good, Captain Clarke enjoyed two large bowls of pasta, (spaghetti carbonara followed by spaghetti bolognese!), I enjoyed the barbeque and Madame Cholet and Great Uncle Bulgaria enjoyed a variety of salads, barbeque meats and cheeses. I have to confess that by the time Captain Clarke and I left the restaurant I felt we had had a couple of glasses, but nothing compared to Madame Cholet and Great Uncle Bulgaria who were definitely on the wrong side of sober!!! They may pay for that tomorrow.
One small faux pas on my part again this morning that I should have mentioned. Our guide to the airport was our ‘assistant guide’ who had given up ‘monking’. On the way he presented each of us with a beautiful plaited string that he tied around each of our wrists. Apparently he had had these blessed by a monk and they would bring us peace and protection whilst travelling. It was a very kind thought and very much appreciated. However, as he tied each one around a wrist, he blew on it to pass on the blessing. I couldn’t help myself as I turned to Great Uncle Bulgaria and said, “I’ll bet that’s the first time you’ve had a blow job from an ex-monk!” … fortunately the guide didn’t hear me! Although, on the subject of travelling, it is now an official fact that Great Uncle Bulgaria is always grumpy when travelling! He used to deny it, but I can now confirm that, unless there are no forms to complete, no queues, (either for check-in, for visa applications or for luggage reclaim), that our transport is immediately obvious on arrival and that nothing else even comes near to a completely unhindered transition from transport to the airport to transport from the airport, he is officially grumpy! I’m afraid I had to inform him of this today! It’s RudyMenTerry!
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