Saturday 2-Sunday 3 February
Today our group of seven – David and Joy, Tony and Jenny Georgeson, Di and Jim Ginis, and David’s sister Marion Davis embarked on our next travel adventure
We departed Sydney on 2 February flying with Singapore Airlines and spent overnight transiting at Changi Airport using the Skytrain (a light rail system) to transfer between terminals. An early flight the following morning saw us wandering Terminal 2 and exploring the delights of Changi Airport which included water gardens with goldfish, other decorative fish features and an area called Sanctuary @Terminal 2. This had a number of reclining lounges, an internet room, a smoking room and beautiful gardens decorated with Singapore orchids.
After our connection to Phnom Penh we soon became aware of the different levels of development and sophistication between it and Singapore. Phnom Penh is a city in transition with large numbers of new buildings, most adorned with the traditional pagoda style roof decoration and several western style condominiums. It also has many old buildings which aren’t in good repair, often being quite run down. The electrical wiring has to be seen to be believed – black spaghetti is a close but inadequate description.
The traffic is an interesting mix of old and new. There are cycle drawn Tuk-tuks but these are relatively few as most are drawn by motor bikes or motor scooters. Motor scooters abound on all the streets. The drivers usually wear helmets, but passengers don’t. We saw many passengers riding side-saddle including one lady nursing a very young baby. An enormous variety of items are carried on bikes. There are also an increasing number of cars on the streets, mostly Japanese brands, and often at the luxury end of the market. We saw many 4WDs and quite a few Lexus. The traffic seems to move quite sedately and if you can find a small break crossing the road isn’t difficult. The bikes just deviate around you.
We spent an hour at the Russian Market, a covered market where almost every conceivable item can be purchased. It seems to be arranged in areas – clothing, fabrics, watches and jewellery, dressmaking, bicycle parts, embroidered goods and DVDs but not very much electronics. In among these tightly packed stalls is the food area. Fish, prawns, skinned frogs, mussels, and pork are all displayed and for sale without refrigeration. The strong fish smell accompanied by the occasional rotten vegetable odour, intermingled with the smell of grease from used motorbike parts, all closely packed under a metal roof in temperatures over 30⁰C was almost enough to turn my stomach. We escaped outside and found a café to have a beer around 11am.
We had lunch at a nice restaurant overlooking the Tonle Sap River. I had Cambodian Fish Amok, while David had steamed fish with ginger, Both meals were very tasty. A Cambodian dancer and her partner with a type of xylophone entertained all the diners. This restaurant is obviously set up to cater to tourists, but at the moment seems a safer place to eat than some other places especially given the recent assaults on our senses.
Phnom Penh is full of civil servants and other government workers given time off to celebrate the funeral and cremation of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk. People everywhere are dressed in black pants or skirts and white tops, and wear a rosette of black ribbons. The main streets are lined with Cambodian flags all at half-mast. All major buildings have shrines to Sihanouk which comprise his face, flowers of tribute and black ribbon decoration. Many streets have been closed off to traffic and there has been an influx of foreign dignitaries. Among these is the Australian John Anderson who was an early force in the restoration of order in Phnom Penh after the overthrow of the Pol Pot regime.
Our day was completed with a dinner provided by Bunniks to enable us to get to know each other better. The food was a set menu with a delightful mix of flavours – Cambodian food is much more subtle in its flavours than Thai food, for example. The cocktails here were a good investment – only US$4 for a dacquiri. Beer is also cheap too, and very refreshing in the hot weather.