Friday, February 17, 2006

Cambodian Daze

{You didn't think we'd miss out on this legacy of the French, did you?}

We landed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and somehow didn't leave until a full week later!

(note: for those curious, it's "PUH-nahm-penn" pronunciation-wise)

I'm not sure what happened, but think we were sucked in to the city's mellow, hopeful, happening vibe and just wanted to stay. Honestly, we're probably still recalibrating from India and what seems restrained to us might be chaotic to a newly-arrived-in-Cambo traveler, but we're thrilled the moto drivers only ask once and beggars don't touch when motioning for food.

Somehow, Andy and I whiled away hours in Phnom Penh...slouching in giant, silk-cushioned, rattan chairs anchored under swirling ceiling fans sipping fresh~> read more

 juice shakes or iced black tea laced with lemon, mint and palm sugar. And loved every second of it!

And, most probably, French Imperialism also had something to do with it. Inarguably, the French know a thing or two about making a city great and their influence on Phnom Penh is no different. Creamy cafe-au-lait buildings with curly-cue, wrought-iron balconies line the streets, the boulevards are wide with sidewalks and grassy islands of monuments, and there are distinct quarters throughout the city, including one rife with Art Deco. Personally, I can take or leave the baguette, but it's entertaining to see that loaf as the national bread of Cambodia. Plus, where there's French bread, there are good chefs unafraid of baking with wheat flour and the liberal use of salt and pepper. YES...rice is nice, but wheat is sweet! Perhaps most importantly, we owe the luxuries of drinkable, crunchable, cold ice and imported cabernet sauvignon to the French colonists of Cambodia--two things which definitely take the edge off a day of exploration in the hot sun.

Phnom Penh sits on the banks of a confluence of the Tonle Sap, Tonle Bassac and mighty Mekong rivers, and it's an inviting waterfront with Art Nouveau lamps, billowing flags and fruit sellers which beckons a daily promenade. Thankfully, a cooling breeze flows off the water and tempers the city's electic mix of people as there is little shade in Phnom Penh and it's, shall we say, 'Asia' hot here these days. Western-dressed working Cambodians, rural Khmer laboreres (their heads swaddled by the native, gingham-like-checked kramas/scarves), aid workers in linen--albeit wrinkled--business attire, travelers in cargo pants and shoeless children, who should be in school but are instead selling photocopied books (like Lonely Planet and Dan Brown), mix on the streets. And most all are smiling. It's an easy aura for blending, plus there's an energy that things are just happening here. Now.

One of the coolest places to hang out in Phnom Penh, watch the sunset colors reflect off the rivers and catch the first cooling winds off the Mekong is The Foreign Correspondents Club (or The F for those in the know). During the crazy, cruel, schizophrenic times of the monarchy, the Vietnam war and the Khmer Rouge, journalists from all over the world sat in wicker chairs at The F, perched right along its multi-level, open-air, free-fall-to-street balconies and watched the days go by. Literally.

From stories above, foreign correspondents watched the feet on the streets of Phnom Penh and imbibed gin and scotch -- whole bottles are for sale even today -- to loosen the flow of words for deadline. The giant sails of ceiling fans cooled, and still cool, heated debates on whatever zeitgeist issue, and the ever-so-faint aroma of cigarettes past tickles your nose today. Newspapers from world-round are available for a leisure read and there's no rush to plow through a dense article; perhaps the club's only distraction is the static of numerous foreign accents that prick one's ear with curiousity or familiarity. We loved The F and rubbed knees against the balconies, the same which have seen and survived decades of Cambodia's newsy riots and bloodshed, on numerous occasions...sipping French burgundy and soaking up the ghosts of correspondents past.


Anonymous Heather Branan said...

Sounds wonderful! I can't believe that Bangkok is tame compared to India--that is such interesting perspective. I remember the thrill of finding a perfect baguette in Vietnam after weeks and weeks of only rice. The French influence does have its benefits!

Keep having a safe and fantastic trip. We miss you guys, Heather & Kevin

2:11 PM  

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