Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Day 11: A Last Look at Phnom Penh

On a trip, the last day in any place is usually bittersweet. It passes in a blur, filled with frantic last-minute shopping and sightseeing, and more than a tinge of regret at having to give something a miss. The rush ends only when one is seated on the plane/train/bus, feeling unsettled at the lack of closure. Occasionally, the reverse is true. The day is spent in a leisurely manner, revisiting familiar spots, saying goodbye as it were. Our last day in Phnom Penh turned out to be one such day.

Breakfast at The Shop

We started off with breakfast at The Shop.

Christmas decor

The place was bustling. Clearly, it was a favourite with wealthy locals and expats. There were even what looked like breakfast meetings being held. We people watched as we ate.

cafe au lait

salt and pepper

salmon and scrambled eggs on toast

omelette with mushroom, tomato and cheese

All too soon, our meal came to end. We paid the bill of US$11.50, took one last look around and left for a stroll.

Around Sisowath Quay

We headed for the riverfront, so I could get some photos and change some money.

the morning rush hour

life on the streets

an example of the world at work

hmmm, that sense of aesthetics...

what of the Tonle Sap was visible

coconut juice, anyone?

Majulah Singapura!

Amanjaya Hotel - an Aman hotel... NOT!

in the midst of the bars and happy pizza joints...

reproductions are major business

behind their backs

artwork just lying around

three wise men

a Korean language school

a car wash

Street 240

We returned to St 240 for HM to go for a pedicure at Bliss. Two doors away, we stopped at the boutique, Water Lily, for a look.

entrance to Water Lily

look what replaced the company van

buttons galore

Leaving HM at Bliss, I continued on my walk. At a second-hand bookstore, I began my book buy, my way of wrapping up a trip, with memories and more of a place.

Round the corner from the Pavilion, I chanced upon a local wedding.

the equivalent of our void deck weddings

I would have loved to pop in but wasn't sure if my presence would be welcomed, even as a well-meaning tourist.

Wat Botum

Back in front of the Pavilion, I wandered into the grounds of Wat Botum. Inside was a hodge-podge of buildings, from the main vihear itself (which seemed locked) to quarters for the monks. I would later find out that Saloth Sar aka Pol Pot was once a novice here.

inside Wat Botum

holy laundry

religious cats

There was even a school where classes were still in session in the late morning.

unfortunately, echoes of Tuol Sleng

The classrooms were dark, unlit by any electrical means. I peered in through the open windows, careful not to look like some kind of pervert or pedophile with a camera. Quite unexpectedly, school ended. Class by class, starting with the younger ones, the students were released. For a moment, I contemplated saying hello to the teachers, in some kind of vague attempt to establish crosscultural relations with fellow educators perhaps. I watched as the teachers locked up their classrooms. In that moment, a million thoughts raced through my mind. Could they speak English? What would I say to them anyway? "Hi, I'm a teacher too"? If only I had some gifts with me, something to give to these children, stationery perhaps. As I hesitated, a car drove up. The last of the teachers, a young woman, got into it and zoomed away. So much for that.


I returned to Bliss to wait for HM. It was a pretty space, no doubt about it.

HM eventually emerged, happy with her US$7 pedicure, even though it did not come with a foot scrub.

Lunch at Cafe Yejj

The afternoon stretched ahead of us and we opted to dedicate it to shopping. HM decided that the Russian Market warranted a last visit, particularly for its textiles. We hunted down Uncle, our friendly tuk tuk driver, and got him to drive us to the area.

To fortify ourselves, we stopped by Cafe Yejj for a quick lunch.

Cafe Yejj

Round the corner from Jars of Clay, Cafe Yejj seemed Italian-inspired.

the Cambodian Daily

While we waited for our food, we availed ourselves of the reading material on hand. Nothing like reading the local rag for local insight, even if it's most likely written by expats.

ginger presse and cardamom lassi

penne with pesto

stewed aubergine (a ratatouille, really)

cheesecake with blueberries

The food was pretty yummy, good solid fare, and for just US$12.50. Before we left, we were given a Christmas present, so to speak.

Christmas cookies

We gave these to Uncle who decided to save them for his young son.

The Russian Market

It was a good thing we ate elsewhere. We still could not see ourselves eating at the market stalls. We did however buy some drinks, canned ones, yes, but served with ice...

food stall in Russian Market

We pottered around a bit, before zooming in on the textiles section where HM remembered seeing good quality cotton fabric with retro prints circa 1950s to 1970s.

textile shop in Russian Market

With a little bargaining, not a lot because we could not bring ourselves to do so in the face of such an obvious income disparity, we left with about 20 m of cloth.


The day was still young, so we adjourned to Tabitha, yet another NGO-run social enterprise, this one specialising in fabric products.

welcome to Tabitha

At first glance, the premises could have passed for a sweat shop. There were women everywhere, busy sewing away.

elves at work

quilt in the making

Tabitha may have been "proud to be Cambodian" but there was something decidedly incongruous about all these Cambodian women making quilts, Christmas tree baubles and Noah's Ark animal puppets. Of course Tabitha is a Christian-based NGO, and judging from the crowd filling up their baskets with stash for Christmas stockings, their clientele is predominantly white and Christian. Hey, even we heathens managed to buy US$70 worth of gifts for friends back home. I'd say Tabitha got its business model right.

Back at the Pavilion

We retired to our room to rest and recuperate from the day's exertions, such as they were. While HM reviewed our purchases for the day, I took the opportunity to do some birdwatching from our balcony.

my first Indian roller

yellow-vented bulbul - ok these are as common here as back home

Dinner at Ponlok Restaurant

Dinner time found us back at Sisowath Quay. On our last night, we decided to give Ponlok a shot. It looked exactly like our seafood restaurants back home in Singapore, except that all the staff members seemed to be children and teenagers!

the clientele at Ponlok

a little bit more OTT than Singaporean seafood restaurants

there are Liverpool fans everywhere

The service at Ponlok was excellent - fast and chirpy - but it was the food we enjoyed.

fried morning glory

mango salad with...

... this deepfried fish

stirfried crab with tamarind sauce

The crab was good but not as exciting as the one we had at Kep. The fish though was superfresh. For US$16, it was both cheap and good.

After dinner, we were offered a choice of dessert, which gave us a chance, finally, to try some local delicacies in a presumably safe way. We had heard that the staff offered headrubs and shoulder massages post dinner but we didn't witness any such perks being dispensed.

rice flour and glutinous rice in four different ways

With that, our last day in Phnom Penh came to an end. All that was left was for us to pack.

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