We were awakened at about 7:00 a.m. as the anchor was lifted and we set sail downriver to the small island of Chong Koh. There we disembarked on the riverbank for a stroll through a small village that used to weave silk, but with demand for silk waning they now weave cotton. Our guide is obviously a favorite with the villagers as they tease him and he teases them as we walk through the dirt tracts telling us about village life, the flora and the fauna.
Eventually we came to a small house that is typical of the island (and the region overall) with the living space up high on stilts and the work area below. Here the family has a spinning wheel and two old wooden looms at work. We are invited to look into their home which consists of one large central room with no real furniture (though my eagle-eyed spotted a vintage 1970s stereo on a shelf) and crude electrical wiring and no plumbing. I could see two bedrooms each with a proper bed and mattress. And that was about it. In the house lived three or four generations including an elderly grandmother.
On the way back to the ship we passed a woman pushing a mobile grocery store
and then a Chinese t-shirt factory where piece workers wove shirts on ancient equipment. I was told they can make $120 a month; a very good wage for the area and a highly desired job. Did I mention it was a fenced in area under the stilt home of a local Chinese family? Talk about a sweat shop!
As the path lead back to the ship, there were vendors selling various tapestries and scarfs. Many most certainly were not woven by the locals, but I was much happier making purchases here than in Phnom Pehn and the local folks were very much appreciative.
It was then back onto the ship for a short cruise down to Phnom Phen. This is the first time we will see it in the daylight. Honestly, it was not terribly impressive…other than the Royal Palace and the skeletons of a few new high rises being built. AmaWaterways offered an optional tour of the French historic area of the city which we decided to give a miss.
Instead we opted for an $8 tour by tuk-tuk of the city ending up at the Central Market. It was a good investment as there was not a lot to see, so we were happy to get to the market. It has recently been renovated…at least at its entrances and the central jewelry portions. It is, on its face, filled with knock-offs, t-shirts, jewelry of dubious quality, etc. But once you get your bearings, you can dive into the rest of the place. Silversmiths with small smelters, sections for housewares, shoes, etc. It is interesting and fun to walk around, but not exactly a treasure-trove of native local art, etc…which is truly sorely missing.
And then I found the food market. As fascinating as it was, it is one of the only places I said I would never eat in. I know I was in the same location that Anthony Bourdain had a bowl of soup, but the stench of rotting meat and grime made that bit of television a bit too unrealistic for me.
Now, while a couple of the people I am traveling with were actually getting nauseous, I found the variety and the graphical qualities of the market to be more than enough to overcome the olfactory challenge.
I focus on the fact that my satisfaction or requirements is not the measure. I am a voyeur; not even a visitor right about now. I am rudely (even if asking permission) invading the daily lives and businesses of these hardworking people, so I am not to judge, but rather appreciate that which I am trying to understand and appreciate.
It was then time to purchase a few tacky souvenirs for the kids and then a tuk-tuk ride for $3 back to the ship.
That evening some of the local children put on a dance show in the lounge. It was cute and the children were very proud.
But am I done? NO WAY!
It is Happy Pizza time! What? You have never heard of Happy Pizza. I haven’t stopped hearing about it since that damn Anthony Bourdain DVD! It seems there is a pizza joint that will sell you (and deliver if you request it) a pizza that will make you happy. You just need to order a “Very Happy Pizza” and a marijuana-laced pizza will be presented. (It is sort of an off-menu item, LOL.)
Now after two weeks of my children working me over, insisting it is OK because we are in Cambodia, I try to use reason and rationale. I even tried the following, “Do you think telling your friends you got high with your dad eating pizza in Cambodia is OK?” to no avail. But with long faces (one most definitely longer than the other…and kids you know who I am talking about!) I had to be the dad and made the final compromise: We will go to Happy Herb Pizza and order pizza, but not a Very Happy Pizza and I will even buy them t-shirts.
So the tuk-tuk drivers descend upon us at the top of the gangway politely fighting for our business. They have some sort of system because eventually one peeled us off and the negotiations began. He wanted $12…but I had Google mapped the place and new it was only a 1.2 mile ride, so we settled on $3 and we would let him take us back to the ship as well.
After a bit more pleading for special pizza reality set in and we ordered a couple of just OK pizzas in a real “joint” with geckos climbing the walls and some young Westerners looking like they were enjoying Very Happy Pizza.
I made it an early night as tomorrow is a long day with a tour of the Royal Palace and Museum followed by one of the most important things on this trip: Visiting the Killing Fields and Toul Sleng, also known as the S21 Detention Center.