52: Cambodia > Phnom Penh > A Booming City

Departing KUL on time, our flight AK852 soon passes over Setiu in northern Trengganu. That’s the village of Penarik to the bottom of pic. If you have time to kill, head for Penarik Inn, just laze in a hammock under the coconut trees, and let the gentle breeze from the South China Sea lull you – sheer bliss! 🙂

Approaching PNH airport from the northeast. The new-ish Cambodian-Japanese Friendship Bridge crosses the Tonle Sap River, which meets the mighty Mekong River and the smallish Bassac River just below the red winglet of the plane.

The plane swoops low over the suburbs, and frankly, Phnom Penh does not look too bad at all. In fact from here, it looks prosperous. In my book, a town which can afford to paint itself is prosperous.

Amazing development, considering the fact that the city was virtually abandoned during the Khmer Rouge rule 1975-79, and experienced further conflicts till several years ago. Early 1975 it had some 2mil people, and now back to the same number.

We land on time, our first trip ever to Phnom Penh, but 2nd trip to Cambodia (click HERE for our earlier visit). New-ish international terminal was opened in 2003, and the airport is operated by a French-Malaysian joint-venture.

Getting the pre-paid ticket for the cab ride to town is harmless, and soon we have a very friendly Mr Sophal happily showing us the way (tel: +855.12.906963, if you wish to use his service, very careful driver too, but English a bit weak).

The lights are working fine, and the traffic has been quite orderly.

Motorbikes rule the streets. A family on an outing.

Passengers on a taxi-bike, the most popular form of local transport (no city buses, trams or trains here).

I love the way girls ride pillion here. They look so graceful and elegant. 🙂

New buildings are cropping up everywhere, indicating booming economy.

After so much turmoil climaxed by the Khmer Rouge, Cambodians are at peace now and can focus on nation-building.

Businesses are everywhere. Btw, for fruit connoisseurs, nobody can beat the Thais in producing high quality fruits. These photogenic local ones at the Russian Market (southern Phnom Penh) are no match …

… except maybe for the mangoes, which are awesome.

Also at the Russian Market, I spot an oddity – a type of shellfish also considered a delicacy in my home state of Kelantan. Interestingly enough, nobody else in Malaysia loves this stuff called ‘etok’ except the Kelantanese. Maybe a remnant of long-forgotten cultural tie?

Just 3km northeast of the Russian Market, we come to the confluence of the Tonle Sap River (nearest us) and Mekong River (on the far side), and the smaller Bassac River (hidden, coming from the right). Three rivers meet here.

We see a platform jutting out over Tonle Sap River …

… where some sort of prayer is being held in the hot afternoon sun, led by a priestess in colourful garb.

Prayer done and paid for, she prepares for the next guests.

On the bank behind me, there is a shrine full of activities.

People, healthy and sick, come to offer prayers and then release birds bought on the spot.

Big business, selling these birds.

Not so good news for the poor swifts …

… and munias. Bought by devotees, released and most likely recaptured for sale again. Such is the circle of life for these critters.

Lotus buds are also part of the offerings.

Futher inland, there’s a beautiful square in front of the Royal Palace.

At the main gate of the Royal Palace, a pavilion faces the square, with a huge portrait of King Norodom Sihamoni, previously ambassador to Unesco and classical dance instructor. He ascended the throne when dad King Norodom Sihanouk abdicated in 2004.

To the left, I can see the ornate roof of the Throne Hall in the compound. This palace has been in use by Cambodian rulers since 1866.

A short distance away from the Royal Palace and the river, the highly-regarded National Museum.

Beautifully-done roof of Singgora tiles, it was built in 1920. Khmer style, but with French design.

There’s a beautiful garden in the middle of the building complex, a French influence. The museum houses the biggest collection of Khmer art in the world and is famous for its priceless pre-Angkorean relics – some statues date from the 6th century. Unfortunately no photography is allowed (I secretly snaps this one).

Next stop is a must-visit place for any visitor to Phnom Penh, the can-find-anything-here Central Market, built in 1930s. It has an imposing hall in the middle with 4 arms jutting out, just like a giant ‘X’. This is the northern entrance.

Inside, the huge cavernous central hall …

… with the tunnel-like arms heading NE, SE, SW and NW.

Around the four arms, there are bazaars hawking all sorts of things. Some of the girls can speak Malay, either self-taught or being Champa Malays. It also shows there are many visitors from Malaysia now.

A noisy group of Vietnamese find irresistable bargains. It’s only 5 hours from Hochiminh City for these folks on a tourist coach.

Sweet and sour pickled stuff and fruits, all in one spot.

Next to it, an intriguing business.

Fried insects! When I was a kid, I used to enjoy fried grasshoppers we caught in the ricefields, but the menu here is more impressive. Beetles?

These are tarantula spiders, deep fried, first discovered as a delicacy when people were starving during the Khmer Rouge era.

One large part of the bazaar specialises in just fabrics of all types.

Shoppers arrive all the time, and by late morning, it gets very busy.

As it gets warmer and more crowded, we decide to leave via the southern entrance.

But not before we stock up on the juicy roadside mangoes.

Finally we have to leave, and it is a cloudy afternoon when we depart Phnom Penh.

Soon we are cruising in fine weather above the South China Sea. Phnom Penh has been a most surprising city, having rebuilt itself from the destruction of the Khmer Rouge (1975-79). I think it’s a matter of time before Cambodia joins the other economic tigers of Southeast Asia.

Actual GPS tracks of our flights.

GREEN is AK852 KUL-PNH (9M-AH?) arriving PNH on the dot at 4.05pm, 04/04/08.
RED is AK853 PNH-KUL (9M-AFJ) arriving KUL 10min early at 7.10pm, 06/04/08.