Lucky Me! a fellow Toasmaster was making a speech last week – on how crazy she was because of the presence of Indian cricketers in Sri Lanka. I saw the gleam on her face as she mentioned one cricketer after another – the names meant nothing to me. But they all sounded wonderful to her.
Well I felt the same visiting the Kingdom of Cambodia a few months back. It was my second oriental destination. I had a friend named Cedric whom I trusted would give me all the tips needed to cover the popular sites.
My expectations were not high of the capital city, Phnom Penh. Cambodia is a developing country with a turbulent past just like Sri Lanka and is just settling for serious development of sorts. Yet I was a bit shocked of the state of congestion in the city as I approached my hotel from the Airport.
After a quick wash and a nap I set off to venture the streets of Phnom Penh. The boulevard overlooking the Tonle Sap/Mekong River is lovely. This section of the city has the King’s Palace and the Museaum and a host of restaurants that’s popular among the expat crowd.
Hotel food was really bad (no expectations there either) I needed at least one solid meal from one of these restaurants. I tried an Italian place. They served me with a suptious pizza, a Greek salad to my friend and we ended with a Alfogato – a dessert and coffee, two-in one winner.
The walk down the boulevard was splendid in the evening. The young and the old come to this paved way to do all sorts of exercises. They will play games in groups, dance to music, stroll, nibble and chat. I saw people in office clothing also joining in, very unlike people from Sri Lanka, whom you see hurrying home with a loaf of bread and other food stuff. This I thought was an ideal way to recap energies spent during the day.
The saw young parents full of smiles watching their offspring truddle along in confidence. They eat off their parents plates, sticky street food that could be either hot or sweet and sour and smile sweetly. They seem to enjoy the food as well as the act of sharing it. And very relaxed – I was convinced they at nothing urgent waiting at home. There was a puppy too – playing the fool. I remember because by then I had lost my doggy and was still very sad. This was a miniature fluffy thing, I didn’t get it’s name or kind, nor did I manage to capture it – due to poor light and it’s unruly behavior.
The sweet smell of Jasmine garlands and incense drew me to a shrine at the end of the paved way. It was a small shrine painted in bright gold, enshrining many Hindu gods. They were hard to be seen because of the number of devotees crowded into that small place. I didn’t understand their form of prayer and I wasn’t about to join them. I moved on.
One thing you cannot miss in the city is the shared repespect for men and women. This is something I check out so that I can fit in accordingly. I enjoy places where there is higher respect for women, because of the lack of it at home. Because of the repression under the Khmer Rouge regime the new generation is very free, gender-unbiased. They come across as very kind and humble. It was perfectly safe for me to walk in the street as night set in and catch a tuk-tuk back to the hotel. Well the hotel was in the not-so glamourous side of the city where the shops had all closed down and a few people were cleaning the pavement in front of their stores. I paniced for a second before the doorman greeted me with recognition.