Phnom Penh – Cambodia

After a few days doing next to nothing on Lazy Beach, it was high time we actually saw some of the Cambodian mainland. Phnom Penh was the first stop – a city which seems to be able to alternate between chaos and slumber depending on what street you happen to set foot onto, with families living on footpaths next to parked Hummer trucks and stunning colonial buildings set next to more recent developments which barely look able to hold themselves up.

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We ended up here at the end of the Pchum Ben Festival which, according to the ever-infallible Wikipedia, “was established for buddhist to pay their respects to deceased relatives by cooking meals for monks and making offerings to the “ghost” of deceased relatives”. What it meant for us was that, on our last night, the riverfront was jam-packed with high-spirited Cambodians, lots of activities and street food.

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Phnom Penh was our first introduction to lok lac. I’m not sure how Khmer this really is, but it has become a firm favourite for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and an established enemy of my waistline. I spotted it while out wandering around just after sunrise on my own, on the corner of street 19 (Preah Ang Yukanthor) and Preah Ang Makhak Vann (whatever number that is), where the smell of BBQ pork caught my attention.

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Lok lac seems to be BBQ pork (usually), chopped up, served with some rice, spring onions, a bit of soy sauce and a few other sauces for dipping/mixing. Often there’s a fried egg chucked on top. Just marvellous. When Rosie eventually woke up I took her back to the same spot so I could justify having another few mouthfuls from her breakfast too.

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We kept going back to the same place for coffee over the few days we stayed in Phnom Penh, after our first attempt at ordering an iced coffee there to escape the heat & humidity resulted in us getting one with condensed milk – awesome. It’s a cafe at what appears to be a tourist information centre, with very little tourist information, and which is sponsored by “Mr Toilet Public”.

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It’s the white pentagonal building in the middle of the map below – well worth going to and ordering an iced coffee with milk.

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Phnom Penh itself seems best to just wander about and relax in – there are some cool things to see, like the Royal Palace, National Museum, Wat Phnom and the night market (if you’re there on a weekend).

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The Cambodian blokes seem to be a fairly agile bunch – even in middle age. We watched in awe for an hour as they twisted and flexed themselves to hit what appeared to be a spring-loaded shuttlecock back and forward in their circle using feet (in front and behind them), elbows & heads. I since managed to track these things down in a market in Siem Reap – they’re prounounced ‘Zye’. After reading various shuttlecock websites, I guess this is from Ti Jian Zi, which means ‘kick little shuttlecock’ in Chinese. Needless to say, I’ll be bringing one or two back to the UK.

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As a slight aside, there does seem to be an increase in skill the further along the riverfront you go. At one end, there are a bunch of people barely able to kick anything, somewhere in the middle there are circles of men, a couple of women, and an occasional westerner who are just thumping rattan footballs back and forward at each other as hard as they can, followed by groups getting to grips with the Ti Jian Zi techniques and, lastly, the professionals.

Even at 6:30am there are people out exercising:

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Enough dribble – here’s the Flickr album:



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