Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cambodia Take Two

This past week I went back to Cambodia, flying from Singapore to our first stop in the capital Phnom Penh. April is the hottest month of the year, right before the arrival of the rainy season, so we were greeted with scorching temperatures. 

Though air-conditioned taxis are plentiful and affordable, we decided most of the time to brave the heat and bumpiness and take tuk tuks instead. The trips are just as fast, sometimes faster as the smaller vehicle can squeeze through traffic. Additionally, you can see much more from the back of the open air tuk tuk, and feel as if you are experiencing more of the sounds and scents of the street. 

In the afternoon when it was cooling we took a stroll along the riverside. This area is populated with hotels, restaurants, and shops for tourists, yet there were plenty of locals hanging out in the wide plaza walkway, from couples sitting by the water to boisterous kids kicking around a ball.

There is a lot of construction happening on the strip of land across the water. I think it the new development will be some sort of resort or hotel. It was interesting to see the modern concrete building rising up above the river still populated with traditional boats.

For dinner we went to the Foreign Correspondents' Club, a nice, classy though touristy institution by the riverside. It was quite a fancy meal with great service, but very cheap compared to Singapore prices. The menu has a combination of eastern and western tastes - I ordered a spiced chicken salad with roasted pumpkin and a yogurt dressing, and it was quite delicious!

We were only in Phnom Penh for a day - our bus left late the next morning for Siem Reap. It's actually dangerous to take a night bus, not because of violence but due to the frequency of drunk driving that occurs in Cambodia. Additionally, most roads are not well lit at night.

We traveled with the bus company Giant Ibis. The ride to Siem Reap was about seven hours long, with two short rest breaks in between. The road between the two major destinations cut through the countryside, passing by small farm houses and fields of crops that stretched to the horizon. The few businesses that popped up here and there were mostly geared towards bus travelers like ourselves.

There was some construction happening along the roads. Generally everything was dry, hot, and dusty in the fading afternoon light. The bus ride was mostly uneventful and surprisingly smooth. A word of warning - there is no bathroom onboard! There is a large screen TV at the front, though, and we were entertained by Avatar and X-Men. 

Soon it became dark and we were rolling into a slightly more populated area, with roads decorated with colorful lights celebrating the upcoming Khymer New Year. We had finally arrived in Siem Reap!

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