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Kristina's Cambodia 2002 Journal
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Kristina's Journal:

July 19, 2002- Phnom Penh....the harsh light of day

this is not a postcard!

I always say things will look better in the morning and they usually do. Unfortunately, Phnom Penh still was not all that inviting even in the harsh light of day. Our plan for the day was to see the Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda, the S-21 Genocide museum, the Central market, and also find a way to get to the border with Thailand at Koh Kong tomorrow.

I must say that the Asian international hotels have truly mastered the art of the buffet breakfast. Not only are there the American standards (potatoes, omelets cooked to order, bacon, etc.) but all manner of fruits, cereals, juices, sandwich makings for the Northern Europeans, and Asian specialties like congee.

After breakfast we headed out on foot to find the silver Pagoda and the Royal Palace. Both are clearly marked on the map, yet we still had our usual 20 minutes of wandering in the hot sun to find the entrance. The palace was nice but not quite as grand as the one in Bangkok. The Silver Pagoda was interesting but almost all the silver relics were in need of a good polish. A funny note; while inside the silver pagoda, we ran into the couple that had been in line behind us at LAX. They were there leading a youth group from the US. Small world.

From the Palace we walked to the National Museum in search of some of the statuary removed from the Angkor era temples. By that time it was quite hot and humid out, and after all that walking, it was hard to get enthused about seeing more statues. The museum is a open air building, set around a central courtyard with a pool in the center. The pool is filled with fish and when we stopped to look at them, we were approached by some Cambodian teenagers, obviously on some sort of school trip. It was clear they wanted to talk to us, but none spoke English well, and of course, we don't speak Khmer.

The national museum the national museum

Next, we set out on our task to find a way to the border. In the past, there have been only two ways to get back to Thailand from Phnom Penh. One was to fly back to Bangkok (currently about $120 one way incl. $20 departure tax). The other has been to take a 4 hour bus ride to the coast at Sihanoukville and then a 4 hour ocean boat ride to the border at Koh Kong, and from there, a taxi to the actual border. Recently however, a new road has opened. This road turns off at Sre Ambel, half way down the best road in Cambodia, the beautifully paved two lane highway to Sihanoukville. At this point, the road is unpaved and winds its way through the mountains. I've read both good and bad reports on the condition of this road but this is the way we'd like to go so we can make it over the border in one day. I had read there are no busses as of yet on this route, only share taxis and pickup trucks, and we don't even know if the road is currently passable due to it being the rainy season.

In search of a travel agency, we started with our hotel which had no clue how to get us to Koh Kong. A river front restaurant, aptly named the Riverside Cafe had a travel agent's desk with a sign advertising tourist minibus trips all over Cambodia and to Vietnam. They had trips to Koh Kong overland for $15. They told us the trip would take six hours, so we assumed eight. We stopped in a few other travel agencies; one told us there was no overland route and that we'd have to take the boat, the other told us they had no way for us to get to Koh Kong. I found all this odd, since Koh Kong is a popular destination with both Thai and Khmer tourists given that it has a large casino there. Hmmm...I'd read that it was possible to catch a share taxi at the Central Market, but that the cost was likely to be close to $20 each for the trip. Finally, we decided to go with the minibus option.

As it turns out, the minibus is operated by the popular Narin's Guesthouse. We had trouble getting the girl at the desk to pin down a departure time, but we were told they would be there at 6:30 to pick us up at the hotel. We figured that even if we left at 7:30, and the trip took 8 hours, we still might make it to the border before it closed and then maybe to Trat in time to catch the last boat to Koh Chang. We lowered our expectations and hoped for the best.

Everything, except restaurants, seems to shut down in Cambodia between 11 AM and 2 or 3 PM in the heat of the day; siesta time. Exhausted from trekking around in the hot sun and 100% humidity, we returned to the hotel for some time by the pool and lunch. Lunch turned out to be a Greek mezze of hoummous, tatziki, babaganoush, greek salads of olives, tomato, and cucumber, and tabouleh along with freshly made flat bread. It was wonderful, perfect for the hot day, and enough food for both of us for $6!

Above, the daily rainbow after the storm and Kristina, hard at work!

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last updated on January 1, 2003