Friday 8 September, fine 32°
I got up at 5am and walked to Preah Sihanouk Boulevard to shoot the sunrise over the monuments there. We noticed yesterday that there were Police and army forces out around the monuments ( probably due to the Thai Prime Minister being in town, also probably because the opposition party leader had just been arrested ), and this morning I disturbed a few of them snoozing in hammocks which they had tied between flag poles.
The sunrise was very nice but just as I was getting good shots of the Independence Monument they turned out the lights that were lighting it up, so I moved on to the Statue of the Father King Norodom Sihanouk to shoot that instead. Again there were lots of people out walking and cycling ( anti-clockwise ) in the relative cool of the predawn air ( 27° ).
As I left the hotel this morning the night porter warned me about being careful with my bag and to hang on to it, and our tuk tuk driver to the hotel last night also warned us about hanging on to our bags. This is the first time in our trip that we have had these warnings so I asked the night porter when I got back to the hotel at 6:30am what the risk was. He said that thieves, mainly on scooters, would target tourists to snatch their bags, and he said it was his duty to warn people. I was happy to be warned, but I am not sure whether the problem is worse in Phnom Penh than anywhere else, or if the locals are just more concerned for my safety than elsewhere.
We had breakfast at the hotel and then grabbed a tuk tuk at 8:15am to Wat Phnom ( literally 'hill temple' ). The ride to the temple took us through the nice parts of Phnom Penh, with lots of embassies and banks etc. There certainly seems to be money in Phnom Penh, every 3rd car is a Lexus or Range Rover.
We arrived at Wat Phnom and paid the US$1 entry fee for foreigners, and walked up the small hill to the temple. We had a look around and then walked down again and walked down to the riverfront ( the Tonle Sap River just before it joins the Mekong ) and walked along Preah Sisowath Quay ( which looks like the heart of the backpacker accommodation area ), grabbed a drink at a cafe and watched people for a while.
We walked south again, stopped briefly at a chemist to get some strapping for my busted finger, then carried on to the Royal Palace. The entrance was all closed but someone told us that it was re-opening at 2pm so we decided to come back then. We carried on walking through Wat Botum Park which brought us back to Preah Sihanouk Boulevard and then back to our hotel at 11am ( a nice 4km walk from Wat Phnom ). We relaxed and went for a swim.
We still couldn't get the bus booking from Phnom Penh to Seam Reap to authorise on our credit cards through 12goasia.com, so we got the hotel reception to make the booking for us with Giant Ibis for $US15 ea, leaving at 8:45am tomorrow ( we will be picked up at the hotel at 8:30am ).
We headed out again at 1pm , walking to a bakery / cafe on Preah Sihanouk Boulevard ( mmm croissants again ) then grabbed a tuk tuk to the Royal Palace.
We bought the tickets to enter the complex ( R40,000 / US$10ea ). Liz had to buy a t-shirt as scarves were not permitted as a way of covering shoulders in the Palace so that was another US$3.
We walked around the complex ( a lot of the palace is occupied and therefore not open to the public ) and then walked through to the Silver Pagoda complex ( Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot ) and looked around that too. The scale and detail in the buildings is stunning ( as always ).
We left at 3:15pm and grabbed a tuk tuk to the Aeon Mall, which is a big western style mall with a department store ( "Aoen" ), a supermarket and other chain stores. We grabbed a drink at Costa Coffee, grabbed some supplies ( including NZ apples ), and looked at the price of NZ cheese and butter ( US$25 for 2kg and US$2.90 for 227g respectively ). We headed back to the hotel by tuk tuk at 4pm for a rest.
Out again at 5pm, tuk tuk to the Royal Palace for sunset. There seemed to be a bit of a fair going on in the park in front of the Palace, with food vendors and people gathering for a picnic and playing games. I am not sure if this is normal or a Friday night thing. We also noticed that other parks that we passed on the way in the tuk tuk were busy with people when they had been deserted during the day.
We took photos and watched people until about 6:30pm then grabbed a tuk tuk back to the hotel, then out for dinner to a restaurant at the end of our street called "Flavours", where we had the usual great meal for a cheap price ( US$13 for a pad thai, a chicken curry and a couple of US75c beers ). We were talking over dinner about the quality of food we had had through the trip so far, and we could only come up with 1 dinner we had in Bangkok that was disappointing, while the rest of the food had been outstanding.
We also talked about how surprised we were by Phnom Penh and how nice a city it was, with a nice feel to it and more friendly people.
We walked back to the hotel at 7:30pm, getting ready for another ( last for the trip ) bus journey tomorrow to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. We are both looking forward to the next few days, despite me now having a cold and a very sore finger still.