Posts Tagged With: Tonle Sap

Phnom Penh Evening Walking Tour

Happy new year! I hope you are having a good start to 2015. Here in Phnom Penh, things couldn’t be better. With the weather hovering around 75 degrees and a drop in humidity, it is absolutely idyllic outside. There’s a slight breeze at all times, the sky is clear, and the streets are begging to be walked.

So, Sean and I decided to spend our Friday night making a small walking tour of Phnom Penh.

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We parked our car at Independence Monument at the bottom of the map. Normally, Sean doesn’t enjoy walking in Phnom Penh because there’s a serious lack of sidewalks, which amounts to having to dodge motos, bicycles, dogs, and potholes constantly. However, our friend lives downtown and says she loves to walk her dog around the parks in the center of the city. Sean and I decided to see how far we could get, of course with dinner and a few card games mixed in.

The map above is the route we ended up taking, which, for scale purposes, came out to be a 2.5 mile loop. I would absolutely recommend you print out a copy of this map the next time you’re thinking of going on an evening walk in Phnom Penh. It was fantastic!

Here are some photos from our stroll, presented in the order that we came across them in our loop.

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After parking our car, we found a great silhouette of Independence Monument and the King Sihanouk memorial.

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The park was bursting with people exercising! Apparently 5pm on a Friday evening is not only the time to work out, but also the time to find out how much you can indulge over the weekend. We saw at least three people sitting with a scale, ready to weigh you for a small fee. How could I resist? Turns out, it was the best ten cents I spent all day! (Unless she rigged the scale to always give its patrons good news…)

IMG_2380If there’s one thing to be said about Cambodians, it’s that they love games. From cards to soccer to badminton, they love hanging out and playing games with each other. There’s even a game that involves throwing your sandals back and forth down the street, which I still haven’t quite figured out yet. These guys in the photo above are playing a game that involves using your feet to loft a heavy-duty shuttlecock back and forth between each other.

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And of course, perhaps other than games, Cambodians love sitting outside with each other and snacking. Food is at the heart of their culture, which makes Cambodia’s culture dear to my heart.

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Another exercising phenomenon is that of the group cardio dance classes. All you have to do is show up at dawn or dusk to an open area in the city, and you’ll find a stereo, a dance instructor, and a bunch of men and women ready to get their groove on.

What follows next is a series of photos around the north end of Wat Bottom park and the Royal Palace. There’s no other way to caption each of these photos except to say that they’re stunning, so I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

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As sun began to set, Sean and I looked for a place to take a break and play cards. The riverside is famous with tourists for its string of endless restaurants, massage parlors, and promenade free from traffic for walking and socializing. While we never actually eat dinner on the riverside, we love to have a drink and watch the sunset from one of the many rooftop bars.

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This place was a great pick, as it was five stories high—three stories beyond the height of the popular FCC—and completely deserted. The name? Starry Place. It’s located across from the FCC and above Touk. We had fantastic views across the Tonle Sap, and found out that the Sokha hotel is actually now complete! (The giant, brightly lit building.) I hope to go over there some time this month and check out the views from their roof.

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This place, Starry Night, was pretty eclectic in terms of decoration. It is certainly not a polished, highly trafficked tourist hot spot. Which, obviously, is why we loved it. (And the hundreds of plants with Christmas lights!)

After the riverside, we walked back towards street 178 for dinner at Tamarind. They also have a lovely rooftop terrace, which, in 70 degree weather, I wished I had a sweater!

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Sean had his usual three-cheese pasta, and I had a greek salad. (Which turned out to be the absolute best greek salad I’ve had in the city!)

I hope you take the time to get out and enjoy this lovely weather. If you’re reading this in a colder climate, crank up the heat, make yourself a pineapple smoothie, and ask your loved one to give you a foot massage. Your imagination can do the rest!

Stay tuned for a blog about the new Sokha hotel!

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Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Bicycling Around Phnom Penh

 

Bon Om Thouk, the water festival. Happening every November, Bon Om Thouk marks the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River. I know, sounds crazy. A three-day festival that draws millions of people to the city from the countryside. Boat races, costumes, parties.

This year, it didn’t happen. We still got off school for the holiday, but the boat races and the celebrations were cancelled. Why? Some say it was due to political instability. Some say it was due to the extensive flooding.

What to do with a five-day weekend? Sean and I wanted to go to an island, but were scared by impending storms. It was the weekend right after Typhoon Haiyan, and Vietnam was getting hit pretty hard. The island we wanted to visit (Koh Rong) is a two-hour boat ride from the mainland. We thought it best to hold off ’till clearer forecasts.

So, we lived like royalty in Phnom Penh, exploring parts of the city we hadn’t made time to visit before. We left the city the second half of the break, but the first half we had a lot of fun being visitors in our own town.

On the first day, we headed down the riverside and rented two bicycles.
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The weather was perfect! Bright blue skies mixed with fluffy clouds.
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We rented two bicycles from The Vicious Cycle/Grasshopper Adventure Tours. For $7 each, we got first-class Giant mountain bikes with great suspension and tires. Those things were beastly! We felt like we could take on the world… or Cambodia for a day, at least.

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We cruised around the riverfront for a while, enjoying how easy it was to zip up and down the promenade.
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A regular street in Cambodia, seen from my bicycle.

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We stopped at every ‘photo opportunity’… I was nervous in this picture because you aren’t supposed to stand on the grass in the parks. I know! They have concrete paths and nice benches, with perfectly manicured lawns. In every park, you only ever see people on the concrete; it is illegal to walk on the grass! I don’t think you’d ever get a ticket, but I do think people would give you some sideways glances. Sean really wanted me to pose with the elephant, though, so I sprinted into the frame, the scofflaw that I am…

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Our plan all along was to get to one of the islands on the Mekong. We got directions from the bike rental place, and headed to the car ferry. It was a busy day; I didn’t know how they could fit everyone on that tiny boat!

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But they managed just fine. A twenty motos squished up against Camry bumping a Lexus next to a Toyota Hilux in front of thirty people. And two foreigners with fancy bikes.

We thought we knew exactly where we were going… to the island… We had grandiose plans to go to Koh Dach, or Silk Island.

We couldn’t have been more wrong:

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We biked down the riverside, and hopped on a ferry. We ended up in a remote area, thinking it was a seldom-visited island. Nope. Just normal Cambodia outside of the bustling center that is Phnom Penh. We biked around, waiting to find the ferry to the ‘next island’, where we thought Silk Island would be waiting for us. This all could have obviously been avoided had I checked Google Maps.

 

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Regardless, we had fun bicycling Cambodia’s countryside! This phenomenon is often seen, but I haven’t blogged about it yet. Weddings and birthday parties are thrown on the street, outside of the house. You set up the tent and tables in the middle of the street, and anyone passing just moves around your party. Isn’t it convenient? You want to have a party? Why not just throw it in the street? It’s another example of how laid back everyone is here. I love it!

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Bicycling the remote wilds of the Cambodian countryside… (Not an island.)

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We stumbled on a cock fight! Sean snuck into the melee to see the dueling roosters. I was the only woman there so I hung back and took photos. How many kids in trees can you spot?
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And then we found Smango, the bicycle oasis. It is a resort/restaurant our friend told us to look for. Unfortunately our sweet friend also thought she was on Silk Island. Looks like this blog is going to crush many dreams…

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But the food at Smango was amazing! Sean had sweet and sour chicken, and I had Banh Chao. I’ve had it before, and I always enjoy it when I order it. It’s a delicious rice milk/coconut pancake filled with bean sprouts, sauteed veggies, and meat if you want it. You then tear pieces off, dip them in a peanut sauce, and wrap it up with cucumber and lettuce leaves. Yum!

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Smango had a pool, too, but we were looking forward to getting back to our apartment and taking a dip in our own pool. We had many kilometers left to pedal!


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We found a more major road that went through small villages. Can you spy the woman in the background balancing the basket on her head?
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Once we decided to head back, we crossed the Japanese Friendship bridge to get back into the city. This bridge crosses the Tonle Sap, which switches directions in November.

We still had a few hours to spend before we returned the bikes, so we headed to Wat Phnom, the major temple in the city.

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Not quite sure what she’s selling. If you know, please post in the comments!

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Me in front of Wat Phnom. It has a large clock on the grass in front of the temple. Wat means temple, and Phnom means hill. It is the major temple in Phnom Penh.
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I really love Wat Phnom because it has a large shaded park all around it. You can stroll thrpugh the park, look at the temple, have a picnic, or watch the sellers. I find it really peaceful!

IMG_8416As the sun got lower in the sky, we made our way back to the riverside to return the bikes. I spotted this building, which screamed French architecture. Cambodia was actually the “French Protectorate of Cambodia” from 1867 to 1953. You can still see a lot of French architecture, and excellent coffee and baguettes are actually more common than you’d think!

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After dropping off the bikes, Sean and I headed to a balcony with a view.

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Anyone who’s ever been to Phnom Penh has probably been to the yellow building, having the opposite view of this one. The yellow building is the FCC, or Foreign Correspondents Club. It is the historic bar of the city, check out a great article on its history here. They’ve also got a great, half-price happy hour. We chose the bar across the street though, for a change of pace. Which did we like better? You’ll have to visit yourself to decide…
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We were lucky we returned our bikes when we did. It looked like a storm was brewing. We savored a cold drink, an order of french fries, and the view over the Mekong river.

It was a great first day to a vacation. However, now we have to go find the real Silk Island….

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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