Phnom Penh and final thoughts

Even though I am a Texan deep in my blood and bones, I'm not a huge fan of being extremely hot. And if you add in muggy, I just wilt like the delicate flower I'm really not. It always startles me to hear that some people especially love the combo "hot and muggy" -- and Marc is one of them. Phnom Penh was very hot when we were there, and often so steamy that I just couldn't get out for sightseeing. I went out early a time or two, and in the late afternoon and evening, but otherwise Marc was out walking around on his own. Me? I lingered by the pool.

there are certainly shabbier ways to spend a vacation!
Marc scouted restaurants, wandered in neighborhoods, and walked along the riverfront. He took some of my favorite of our photographs, and shot the best videos. I'm pretty lucky that he excels at the bits I'm not so great at.

On the right side of the picture are four trays of raw pork strips drying on the blue stools. We saw so many
of these and couldn't quite figure it out. In the evening they put them on a charcoal grill, so were
they 'curing' them? 'Aging' them? No idea, but it was good looking pork, and it smelled
really good when they were cooking them. Marc was checking them out.
The monks always seemed to chant blessings for those who gave them alms, which made
us wonder about the morning alms round in Luang Prabang, where they didn't do that.
Since we'd seen that first in Luang Prabang, we didn't know to expect the chanting. But in Luang Prabang,
the morning alms round is (1) a very big thing, with a long, winding parade of monks
receiving rice from so many people along the way, and (2) The Thing To See, now.
So maybe it just doesn't make sense for them to stop, as it does when it's just a couple of monks
and a single giver. No idea. This was near the wet market in Phnom Penh. 
And hey, sometimes a monk just wants a treat from a street cart. 
The Independence Monument under a full moon. It was built in 1958
(hey, so was I!) to celebrate their independence from France in 1953.
Such typical Cambodian architectural features, I love that.
The Royal Palace, as you can tell by the giant images of the king and queen.
an accidentally great shot I took  at the Royal Palace. Love the colors of the place.
Doesn't it look like a Wes Anderson movie?
And guards flanking the royal gate, too, though they're much more lax than those at
Buckingham Palace. Leaning, hmph. A Beefeater would  NEVER slouch. (But I would.)
One early evening we were walking along the riverfront. We'd planned to eat dinner at the night market, but it was just crap food and a lot of junk to buy so we changed our plans and walked back to the hotel to get the location of a different restaurant. So many different beggars were out, many quite pitiful, and then we passed a concrete bench where we saw a very little boy, so malnourished it was hard to guess his age, sleeping on a few dirty blankets and sucking his thumb. There were no adults nearby, and when we stopped and looked at him, and looked around, no adult came over. It was kind of devastating. Of course we don't know if he'd been abandoned or if a parent or older sibling just didn't happen to be looking, but he certainly did seem abandoned, and no matter what else, he was in terrible shape. He haunted us both for the rest of our visit, and he haunts me still. Earlier in the day as we walked along the street, a tuktuk driver warned us to hold our camera differently, because it would be stolen. There is great hardship and poverty in Phnom Penh, even as there is wealth, and it's westernizing, and is a dynamic city.

So many times we were sitting along the riverfront, or walking along, and saw a western man with a Cambodian younger man or woman. It was pretty easy to tell the ones who were married to each other (though even that felt problematic to me) -- but even easier to tell the ones who were just picked up by the western man. I passed one western man with a younger Cambodian man beside him, and the young Cambodian man just looked awful. He was a little dressed up, as if for a date, and he was hugging himself around the waist, and his eyes were inward. He was walking slower, and it felt to me like he was walking as if he were on a leash. Western men with young Cambodian women, a similar look and feeling though the women were a little less haunted-looking. Not a lot, but some. I couldn't stop myself from wondering what story these men were telling themselves -- that they're different from the rest, look, they're taking the young man/woman out for a meal! They're not just using them, they're also showing them off. Or something, I don't know, it made me sick. It made me shake and cry. I'm crying while I write this. And so I think about that little boy, and wonder if this is where his life will lead him, assuming he survives.

I couldn't help but glare at the men as hard as I could. I couldn't stop from giving them the filthiest look I could possibly muster, even though my eyes were full of tears. I have not wanted to go to Thailand -- Bangkok -- because I knew I wouldn't be able to deal with the sex trade there, but it was no different in Phnom Penh. No different at all. Our hotel very explicitly stated that they do not allow sex tourism, as did the one we stayed in during our last visit four years ago. There is a reason they have to say that. It was excruciating to me, witnessing this.

it was lovely seeing the full moon over the river 
so much fancy lighting for the king
We both feel like we don't need to come back to Phnom Penh, unless we need to transit through the city en route to somewhere else. We were very ready to leave the city, but not ready for the trip to be over. It was a fantastic vacation, with such memorable experiences. Nong Khiaw, in Laos, and that moody, misty Nam Ou River. The boat trip we took up the Nam Ou, and the tiny little village of Ban Sop Jam. Riding an elephant on Thanksgiving. Eating in Hanoi, and the joy of that crazy place. Our glorious villa in Kep, and all the great food we ate. Lounging in the sun, swimming, being cold in Nong Khiaw and very hot in Kep and Phnom Penh. And then it was over.

Here's a link to the full set of pictures. I only really know how to say goodbye in Vietnamese, so this'll have to stand in for the whole trip. Tam biet. It was wonderful.

Kep to Phnom Penh

On our last night in Kep, we ate at Kimly, on the waterfront, and truly, we gorged. Marc got fried stingray in tamarind sauce, and I got a huge heaping mound of fried shrimp. I felt like I'd never want to eat again.

Today they painted these parking stripes, and the whole vibe has changed.
It's heading toward perfect westernization, and maybe all the new tourists will
be good for the restaurant owners and those who work here,
but it feels like a loss to me. I can find this in the US, in front of any
McDonalds. But the smoky, messy, crowded crab market at Kep
only exists here.
Marc's fried stingray in tamarind sauce
looking up the coast toward Kampot, leaning over the rail at our table at Kimly
in a place with regular spectacular sunsets, the moments of our final sunset in Kep
were Spectacular Spectacular
We were too full to have our rooftop pineapple treat after all, so we planned to eat it right before we left. The next morning we were up early to go into the national park that abuts our hotel, and it was so very quiet and beautiful. Green, lush, cool, drippy.

at the entrance
the whole walk was like this, and on occasion there would be an opening
on the left where you could see all of Kep and the coast to Kampot.
Beautiful scenery and vistas. Maintained by the Kep Squirrel Club, to boot.
I've never seen this before -- looks like alien mouths to me
Marc taking a picture of one of the big views
I personally am a sucker for fungi.
We came around a bend and saw this web, seemingly suspended in midair.
It wasn't visible from any other angle. It looked like glowing copper wires.
and these GORGEOUS shafts of sunlight streaming through the canopy
A couple of hours later, we had one last big breakfast, one last swim, packed our bags, paid the bill, and were driven to Phnom Penh.

one last swim in our gorgeous little pool
one last snack of super-sweet pineapple before we left
one last view from the breakfast table
goodbye sweet Veranda property
one last omelette
beautiful stonework
We got to Phnom Penh more quickly than either of us expected, just a couple of hours. Our hotel, The Pavilion, is very sweet.

walk in off the busy street into the peace of our hotel
the pool, surrounded by lounging platforms
and this Buddha watches over everything
We took a walk in the steamy afternoon just to reorient ourselves to the part of Phnom Penh we're familiar with, along the waterfront. It was insane when we were here last, since we were here at the opening of the Water Festival in 2011, when millions of people converged on the city. There was a HUGE storm brewing and the sky was heavy and the air was so muggy, so we walked and walked, stopped at a sidewalk cafe for a Tiger beer for me, and walked some more before returning to the cool of our room.

distinctive architecture here, and so many shades of yellow, orange and gold
I love the architectural styles
we saw this when we were here last, and went searching for it -- still here!
It's a little freestanding building on the riverfront, and inside
these heavily eyebrowed guys (Buddhas? don't know) sit
in front of a Vegas-style light show. I wish I knew more about it.
Men sit inside, and people pray in front.
self-explanatory......kind of
are these for sale? we just don't know.
no idea, but that's the king in the photograph
Seeing more monks walking around the street. Pol Pot killed most of them, and like the
rest of Cambodian culture, it's slowly coming back.
the riverfront
just a little pavilion on the riverfront
riverfront lined with flags. Vietnam there on top.
riverfront buildings -- it's easy to find videos of Phnom Penh
when Pol Pot and his people destroyed the place. Utter devastation.
Self-evident. And hilarious.
An urban offering spot.
LOVE Cambodian wats
a lovely wat complex
We went out for dinner to a vegetarian/vegan restaurant called The Corn, and had the very best meal of our whole trip. My curry was pumpkin/banana/tofu/coconut and it was amazing -- delicate and subtle layers of flavor. Marc got a red curry with some chicken (they will accommodate non-vegetarians), and we shared corn fritters and a luscious salad of thinly sliced warm pumpkin and pears over arugula with a mustard dressing. We added a homemade ginger beer, and all of that came to $20. Oh yes. Delicious, subtle, wonderful, and cheap.

my amazing curry, $5? Shazaam.
don't quite know what to make of this -- Santa is Vegan? Is that guy named Santa?

There was a gigantic thunderstorm that boomed through the night, and around 4am I couldn't sleep because of all the birds singing -- boo hoo poor me -- and then our day started with breakfast around the pool.

fresh passionfruit juice and French bread and pastries
a traditional breakfast -- fried rice with veg and a fried egg on top.
Would've been better with fresh veg -- we think these came out of a Birdseye bag.
But that egg was so yummy.

While I wrote this post, Marc went out and shot a great video of the morning market:

And now we're off for the day!