Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cambodia - Day 1: Phnom Penh

Well-worn from a few weeks’ worth of car and casa Christmas carols on CD, we three beings (Angela, Vito and myself) of Orient are, departed from Doha and waited to board in Mumbai for Bangkok and then on to Phnom Penh, off to our holiday adventure in Cambodia. In preparation for this vacation, I had downloaded a number of movies with Cambodian topics—mostly about the atrocities committed during the reign of the Khmer Rouge—but only managed to watch Tomb Raider before leaving. Would I be able to make this record of our travels more than just a list of our activities? That was the objective, in any case. Perhaps, in doing that, something more particular would emerge…

The weekend before our departure, Vito was saddled with a runny nose, sore throat and such, and then Angela picked it up, both posing miserable countenances and hacking mucus for two days in succession. When we arrived at the Hamad InternationalAirport, my own nose started running. It looked like it was my turn, and I feared it would get worse, which, literally, dampened our departure somewhat. In any case, we hoped we would, at least, be able to catch a bit of shuteye over the first leg of our journey.

Our Phnom Penh delivery occurred under cover of darkness. Knowing that we had to procure visas on arrival, and considering health concerns all over the world due to the ebola outbreaks in various countries, leaving the airport was not the miserable experience we had expected. After disembarking with our handbags and walking down the jetway, the long tube that siphons passengers from the fuselage into the airport, we walked past an infrared or thermal computer scanner that, Angela mentioned, could detect people who were coming off the planes with fevers. No one bothered with us and handed our declarations to one of the masked and gloved women who were collected them at the entrance to the airport. I was a little worried, because I was not feeling well when we left, but when I got off the plane, I didn’t seem to have any symptoms whatsoever. Then we waited in a short line, submitted our passports, paid, had our pictures taken, and then stood at the end of a visa-assembly counter where we had been instructed to wait with a number of other people who were milling about unhappily. The passports moved from one uniformed conveyor official to the next until they reached the end of the counter where they were then returned to their owners. It seemed efficient enough. Once we had received our passports, we had to wait in another line to clear customs, and then we were officially in Cambodia. The whole process didn't take more than 30 minutes.

Me and the Cambodian Christmas tree.
The drive to our hotel in a $12 taxi was not long. We checked in to the Pandan Boutique Hotel and, as we hadn't had any Cambodian Riels yet, we paid the cab driver in USD. We checked in and, as the weather was warm and humid, we changed into more comfortable clothes—clothes that we hadn’t been wearing for more than sixteen hours—and went out to find a place to eat in our neighborhood. The receptionist said there were restaurants behind the hotel and, in fact, there were many. We settled on Anise, which was bustling with foreigners. There was a large tree at the end of the bar hung with Christmas bulbs, and the wait staff were all wearing nouveau Santa caps that resembled something from a Dr. Seuss illustration—large tapered springs that looked like giant pipe cleaners tipped with white fluffy cotton puffs that bounced when they walked. It was nice to have a bit of Christmas spirit since we were going to be removed from any kind of traditional celebration this year.

We sat in large cushioned rattan chairs at a table outside in front of the restaurant, which was built on a wooden veranda above the sidewalk that overlooked the street. I tried the fish amok, which was a typical Cambodian dish that I had read about, Angela had tom yum soup, and Vito ordered a pork and potato bowl with noodles, which was gigantic. It was late, and we were tired, and Vito had fallen asleep by the end of the meal, so we paid our billwe had heard that US currency was accepted everywhere and that was proving true—and returned to our hotel to get some sleep. We were just spending the night in Phnom Penh, and then hitting the road early to travel to our real first stop in Battambang.

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