One of the unexpected bonuses of travel in this part of the world, is that you get constant new year celebrations. This weekend, today in fact I think, is the start of the Chinese Lunar New Year – or Vietnamese New Year as I prefer to think of it. Anyway, we are into the year of the Rooster apparently, the Rat no longer being in ascendance. Hence long weekend. There has already been what I think of as the actual New Year, from my parochial Western perspective (arrival of January 1st) and later on there will be Khmer New Year though I’ll have to Google to find out when that actually is…. OK mid-April, according to Wikipedia, so it must be true.
So I’m sat in the FCC balcony in Phnom Penh, supping on a dragonfruit lassie and feeling pretty fine. This is a great way to spend some time. I have again opted for a staycation for the long weekend. Shared a tuk tuk to Sary’s guest house at 10.00 a.m. and then it was a short walk here to soak up the ambience. The tuk tuk ride was good, you feel the cool breeze in the tuk tuk, the roads weren’t too busy, but there was lots of interest along the way – not least my companions tales from his adventures the night before. Also, saw one of those huge funeral carriages and a funeral tent. Lots of monks, general scenes. I felt good about being in Phnom Penh.
I would recommend Sary’s Guest House to you, but there’s no point, the owner has accepted up an offer ‘too good to refuse’ by a developer who I think is turning it into a girlie bar/ hotel of some sort. The location is ideal for that, I suppose, which may be a shame, but is also a fact. I understand he had misgivings about the sale of his established business – not the purpose to which it will put, but whether he should stick with it for a bit longer. He went to see a fortune-teller for guidance on the topic, even though he claims not to believe in such things. (Where’s the harm eh?) Upshot is, the business will close in a couple of weeks, and new delights be offered at the premises in due course. I wonder if those eccentric ladies will get a look in? I’m particularly happy that returning here I spotted the tuk tuk with that alluring and seductive offer. Who wouldn’t want to spend a night with a load of eccentric women? They are always going to be the best company in any context!
I am getting a bit sick of my apartment to be honest, it has served it’s purpose, but I don’t want to spend any longer in it than I have to. It is so hot and soulless, and with the dodgy internet and only CNN for company it saps the spirit. It does meet the criteria of being safe, generally quiet, clean and near to work, but there are much better options out there to be had now I’m actually here. If I’d been proactive enough I could maybe have moved after the first month, but my default position is inertia, it’s fine, just rather lacking in atmosphere. Anyway, I’m hoping that this riverside base for the next couple of days will give me a break from that tedium and let me explore the area a bit more in my own way without worrying all the time about how to get back. It does seem silly to have been based in Phnom Penh for some 3 months and potentially seen so little of the ‘obvious’ attractions. I want to see The Killing Fields Film at the Empire Movie House (or cinema, as I prefer to think of it) opposite the guest house where I am staying, and I also want to take in the Dance Show at the National Museum. Plus just chill, read a book, do very little in fact. Try not to fret about lesson planning. That kind of thing.
So after dumping stuff early, I wandered off the few hundred yards to the FCC. En route, I passed by the most extraordinary temple. My tourist map of Phnom Penh reveals this to be Wat Ounalon, and it is simply stunning.
One of the most elaborate I’ve seen, but also a working pagoda, monks wondering about carrying bags of baguettes or on their phones. Animals various, piglets, cattle in shaded stalls. They were on the small side, but they animals looked healthy and happy relatively speaking. There were elaborate silver elephants and golden buddha statues in abundance. Wonderful planting and ornate red and gold gates that were spectacular in anyone’s eyes and also apt for Chinese New Year (though I concede it would be a stretch to think that was in mind at the time of painting). Subsequent internet searches tell me it is the centre of Cambodian Buddhism, and also that one of the stuppa contains an eyebrow hair of the Buddha. Oh my.
As I explored, there was a deep resonant and melodic boom, that sounded like a gong being sounded. Exploration took me to an enormous bell, which some tourists (not western ones) had struck with the huge swinging bar that hangs for the purpose. I have no idea if this is allowed or appropriate or not, but the slumbering tuk tuk drivers slept on, and no monks or nuns appeared to take exception or intervene.
I didn’t spend all that long at the Wat, I could maybe have gone into some of the central areas, but they were busy with people burning incense and offering prayers and it didn’t really feel appropriate to be swinging around with my camera. I enjoyed just strolling and gazing on in awe. It is a remarkable place indeed. How has no-one mentioned this place before?
From here, it was but a short hop to the FCC, where I ordered some amazing spring rolls and some less than amazing french fries. They were french fries too, thin and tasteless and rather cold. Oh well. The ambience here is amazing. I’m contemplating next a move up a level to the rooftop bar, for maybe coffee to finish. What a day, and it’s barely noon! Might have to adjourn for coffee now. So many different locations to try within this one venue before I get that perfect spot!