Cambodia travels:Phnom Penh

036The flight from Malaysia to Cambodia was a crowded one and I am sitting next to this young beautiful girl from Ethiopia. “Are you visiting Cambodia?” I ask her and Tina tells me that she has been living there for over two years and her mother is a doctor. She lives near the capital and her brother owns a well-known restaurant here. She says,” Cambodia is over run with NGOs ( non-governmental organizations) some doing great work and others, well, others just using money to do their own things.”  I am eager to know more. I tell her about my Cambodian friends in USA who came in the 80’s from Thailand. This was a mother with nine children, the youngest being a new-born baby in her arms. Today the youngest is married with her own little baby and the mother has gone back to Battanbang to take care of her mother. ” Ah , but they are all Americans, here you will see Cambodians are gentle, loving people, but they hardly run businesses here. Even though the country has been free of the Khmer Rouge days of the 80’s they are still not owners of businesses.” I want to tell her more about the Cambodian family that I know, but I also need to get some first-hand idea about Cambodia from Tina.  She has a soft, French accent when she speaks to me about the people, the food, etc. Finally, as we get ready to depart the plane she adds, ” Form your own opinions here. I hope you find it a great trip for you.”

I land in the capital, worrying all the time if my e-visa will work. My group (mostly family members) join me and we sail through customs and immigration.Phew!  Our tour guide is delayed and I see a Cambodian family waiting for their relatives coming from abroad.  The grandma in the crowd is hugged by all the westernized family members who arrive. The grandma looks regal in her silk sarong even though she is petite. This is  a young country, having lost almost 50% of its population during the Khmer Rouge genocide. Her face is lined, yet she looks charming.

We go to our hotel after going through broad streets and narrow alleys, all looking clean. Our guide states, “The King is going to be buried soon, so the streets are filled with Buddhist monks.”  We see  saffron-colored robes everywhere on the way.  We get to our hotel. I go up to my room and lie down exhausted. The phone rings” Hello” I say crossly not wanting to get up with a ringing headache. ” What’s up Chobs? We are waiting for you in the lobby” Already? I come down and my cousin is not happy to see my tired face. I think I am hungry and the guide stops on the way to the palace area to let me eat something. Munching on my pear and sandwich I feel revived and ready for everything. My camera is there and I am eager to soak in the capital.

Sol, our guide, is a friendly  person who is willing to answer questions. He seems to know a lot about his country and  has a smiling face and that is reassuring. He teaches us a few phrases in Khmer, the language of the Cambodians and we promptly forget it except for one of my uncles who has a razor-sharp memory. ” We go now to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, please no pictures inside it, OK?” Sol says.  The Royal palace is the residence of the King and most of it is closed up.  There are a lot of saffron-colored Buddhist monks along the way and it takes a little time to get to the area.

There is a beautiful garden around the palace area and we spend time admiring it. Next to the palace are these grey structures that look so elegant, they look like little shrines. Then we take our shoes off to get in and see the Silver Pagoda.  The floor is of silver and we see beautiful gold and silver Buddhas, and a beautiful Buddha in crystal. ( Sol tells us that many of the treasures here were stolen by the Vietnamese  but the richness of the Khmer period is obvious still.)  We admire the Buddhas and someone talks about the Buddhas in Thailand. Sol says they were probably stolen from Cambodia! 037040041We notice a lot of tourists mostly from Korea.  “Cambodia is now the place to visit” says Sol, “We have a lot of tourists and January is busy season”.  It is a sunny day and we still need to go on cyclos and see the Museum which is close by.

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