Pearls of Phnom Penh

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‘Moto, moto?’ ‘Tuk-tuk?’ ‘Hello, moto?’ ‘You want tuk-tuk?
When you roam the streets of Phnom Penh you can’t escape the drivers of tuk-tuks and mopeds who want to drive you through the city. A simple ‘no thank you’ is enough to hold them off. Saying ‘yes’ is much more fun.

For 2 dollars I am taken to one of the highlights of the city; a temple called ‘Wat Phnom.’

I get out of the tuk-tuk at the foot of a man-made hill (27 meters) with a temple on top. Legend has it the magnificent building was built to house four statues of Buddha, which washed ashore at the Mekong River in 1373. The statues where found by Lady Penh. She is now seen as the founder of Phnom Penh.

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Snake in the garden of Wat Phnom

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Money offering

The sun is high in the sky and I cannot see any clouds when I start walking up the stairs. The heat and humidity make me sweat a lot, even though I just walked up three steps, but somehow I like it. It’s a free beauty treatment and a workout at the same time. When I arrive at the top I leave my flip-flops at the door and enter the temple where I take pictures of people praying. Some just sit with their hands folded, others place money on the altar or burn incense sticks. Suddenly a phone rings…

“OMG, it’s mine! Noooooo!’ Is the first thing that comes to mind while I’m frantically searching for my phone. A couple of meters away a monk in orange clothing answers his phone. I imagine he’s talking about what he wants for diner tonight and giggle inside.

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Man lights incense sticks inside Wat Phnom

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Birdcage with birds for good luck

Once I take my pictures I walk outside and put on my flip-flops. In the corner of my eye I see a man with a bird cage. The little birds inside should bring good luck. I see a couple in love giving the man some money. He then picks a bird from the cage and shoves it in the hand of the male. One second later the bird is set free into the sky. ‘Go birdy, goooo!’ The bird spreads it’s wings again and again, making little circles and ends up on a branch. Then a net surrounds him. The man with the birdcage caught the little one again and puts it in the cage for the next customer.

I look down the hill. A bus stops. Few seconds later the stairs are filled with Chinese people. All armed with tablets, cameras and phones. Time to go! I take another stairway down, say hi to a monkey on a chain and walk to some tuk-tuk drivers.

Running against traffic

Because of the speed I can cool down a little in the tuk-tuk. So many mopeds are passing by. I see walking pineapple salesmen and dogs crossing the street. The smell of Cambodian barbecues down the road mixes with fumes from all the traffic. A lot of people on the road are wearing mouth masks. When the driver sees a cop he puts on his helmet. On the left a moped is passing us, on it are a father, mother, two kids and the contents of a big market stand. The tuk-tuk I’m in is running against traffic. He signals with his right hand and we turn, again running against traffic. It’s dangerous but it works. Everything fits and somehow I feel kind of safe with this crazy driver. After a few minutes we stop at the Russian market. I pay the fast little driver and give him a little tip.

Movie star on the Russian Market

The Russian Market is a maze with boiling temperatures. Small streets and a lot of market stands. Fish is being prepared on the ground (not to happy with my choice of wearing flip-flops at this moment). Next to the fish there is a phone battery stand. I see a lot of colourful bags in one stand, in the middle of it I see a man smiling at me. ‘Want to take picture?’ He says. Of course I will. The other salesmen start laughing when they see the picture: “You movie star! You famous now!’ Once again I notice how nice the Cambodians are, they don’t ask for money, they smile all the time and willing to help when you are lost.

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The Russian market is a perfect place to buy your souvenirs. The woodwork that is sold is can be astonishing. In the middle of the market there is a food court. Best place to get ice coffee! It looks like a hygienic unacceptable place, and maybe it is, but the coffee is delicious. And we know, people who travel built up some resistance. With a bag full of pens, wooden jewellery boxes, domino games and postcards I leave the dark, hot, sizzling market hall.

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Food court inside Russian Market

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Never too hot for the hat that mom made

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Egg stand on Russian Market

Pearls

At night I visit movie theater the Flicks, run by a Dutch guy. It has the best atmosphere and you can lay down while watching a movie! I’m curious what tomorrow will bring. Maybe I’ll end up in the banana bar, maybe I will stay for diner with some locals or find new friends in the place where you can get happy pizza (yes, that’s weed on top). Whatever it’s gonna be, Phnom Penh is full of surprises and the biggest surprise until now has been the smile and happiness of the Cambodians. Pearls that you cannot put in the wood carved jewelry box I just bought. It’s the man selling bags on the Russian Market, the tuk-tuk driver who was so happy with his tip and the monks who offered me a cold coke yesterday when I passed by. They, for me, are the real pearls of Phnom Penh.

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