a blog about the cultural experiences my husband and I have because of our work abroad...what's delightful and beautiful about different countries and cultures...what we have learned from living and working in countries other than our home country...and how those experiences have changed us

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

tourists for the weekend

Saturday was a "free" day, so Stephen and I decided to act like tourists and see some of the attractions of Phnom Penh. I took my first tuk-tuk (an open air taxi) ride when we rode to the Royal Palace.
 The sights of this Cambodian city are pretty cool. Buddhists monks with their bright orange robes. 
Children swimming in the muddy Tonle Sap River. 
The Asian architecture of the Wats (temples) mixed with many French style buildings.
 Colorful and crowded markets.
Although our intent was to visit the Royal Palace, we arrived just as it was closing. According to a tuk-tuk driver the palace closes each day from 10:30am-2pm. It didn't matter anyway because Stephen's shorts were above the knee and violated the dress code. 
We knew that I couldn't wear a sleeveless shirt but that shorts were unacceptable too was new information. Maybe next weekend we both will don appropriate attire, time our visit so we arrive before 10:30, and then hopefully get a chance to tour the Royal Palace.

The waterfront/Royal Palace area is definitely a tourist area. The tuk-tuk drivers were much more persistent than the ones in the BKK1 area. Though we said "no" several times, also saying "We aren't tourists. We live here now," one driver kept following us even exclaiming, "I see you again!" And if we didn't want a ride now, "maybe later?" Two drivers showed us laminated typed cards with various tourist sites and their descriptions. They were offering a personalized tour of the city. I want to learn the Khmer words for, "I like to walk." and maybe add, "I need it. I'm fat." Ha! Pointing out the obvious and being a little humorous. In the BKKI area, on one of the days last week, after Stephen and I had declined a ride the driver said, "You like to walk." I turned back, nodded and smiled. Other expats have maybe said this to him.
On the topic of exercise, in a park along the river there are exercise machines. That's exactly what I need! Exercising outdoors in this heat and humidity! Yikes! There is a signing warning you to stop if you feel faint. The English is quite interesting. "User must be 8 year olds and plus." "Please consult with your doctor before exercise if you think that it could affect your health."
We had three tourist sites on our list for Saturday but the only one we really experienced was Central Market. It's an informal market place where bargaining is expected. When I visited Thailand, we went to markets similar to these in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. I remember that the most successful bargainers were people who approached it like a game. They were good-natured and smiled as they negotiated for a better price. So on Saturday I gave it a try on a few items. I'm sure I was still charged a lot more than what a Cambodian would pay but at least I negotiated down some from the first price. :) My best strategy is to walk away. I was looking at some paintings out of curiosity but no real intent to buy. The man first said "4 dollar". I shook my head. Then he said "3 dollar". Again I declined and started walking away, "1 dollar" he called out to me. Just being at Central Market is an experience. Motorcycles belonging to both merchants and customers extend out in long neat rows. 
Children are bathed out in the open.
After Central Market we walked to the bottom of Wat Phnom which in on the hill for which the city was named. 
A giant clock sits just below the Wat. 
In the park was an elephant we could pay to ride on through the city. I've already had more than enough elephant riding in my life, but I enjoyed watching this one eat and swat flies. An elephants trunk is quite versatile! 
To actually see the Wat, we first had to climb up the hill and once we reached the top more walking was involved. I was pretty drained at this point so we opted not to visit this time. Another site still on our list for a later time. 

For lunch we stopped in what seemed like a nice place. But the prices in the restaurant also reflected tourist influence. Our meal was twice as expensive as most other meals we've had out. And the food wasn't even good. It looked good. Beautiful presentation. But the steak in my steak sandwich was inedible. I simply could not bite through it. I've ordered steak twice since we've been here and both times it was extremely tough. I think I'll forego any more steak in Cambodia, unless I buy Australian beef and cook it myself.

At a bakery called The Blue Pumpkin, Stephen and I did get some delicious drinks though. I had maybe the best chocolate milkshake ever. :) Stephen had a mango smoothie that tasted like mango puree; it was so fresh.
After only about half a day walking around in the heat, I was definitely ready for a rest so we returned to the hotel, took a shower (showers twice a day is our general practice now) and just hung out in our room until dinner. Not a bad half-day of sightseeing. At least we have a lot of pictures to show for it!

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