4:30 am. OUCH! Headache?
But Wilhelm and Ute aren't even here! I guess I can't blame the Cambodian headaches on them after all !
5 am. After some reading: OMG. The 3 day water festival is the most important holiday in Cambodia, only rivaled by the Khmer New Year in April. How is that for travel timing, LOL ?
The festival was CANCELLED in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015, the first 3 cancellations being the result of a human stampede at the 2010 Water Festival that left 347 people DEAD and another 755 injured. As if Cambodia's history wasn't tragic enough already ! The cancellation in 2014 had to do with the fact that apparently having the whole populace from the outlying country regions was not considered desirable in a time of political tensions. Those in power were fearing a peasant revolt ! It's 2016, and the festival seems to be ON. This explains why the number of affordable rooms with river view is lower than last February, but I can't figure out WHY there are still LUXURY suites with balcony and river view available for < US $100 at all !
Here is an interesting intro about the city I presently roam that I found on Travelfish.org:
A heaving crossroads of cultures, times, peoples and worlds, Phnom Penh is a city on the edge of everything. With one foot still rooted in the past, which you can find in the temples, markets and buzzing back streets, and another striding boldly into the future, which is pretty much all around you, this thriving, turbulent city brings together Cambodian, Chinese and French influences in a congested, grimy, shiny, vibrant and thrilling mash that somehow seems to work — except when it rains.
5:30 am. Daylight is appearing across the Mekong.
OMG, how I have missed this spot !
OMG, how I have missed this spot ! Last time I was here was in February, and it is very apparent that the Monsoon season has just ended. Where there were steep embankments from the road down to the water of the Mekong in February (people already had planted veggies down there), the water is closes to the road now, and the river with its noticeably wider body looks even more majestic than then.
|Give this one some time to load. It's an animated image file !|
But at its height of the Mekong water flow, the water in the Tonle Sap River right in front of my hotel would be flowing OUT of the swollen Mekong upstream to fill Tonle Sap Lake. That is the origin of the Water Festival, the reversal of the Tonle Sap River. This is important here. It's probably NOT a coincidence that the Royal Palace sits directly at the spot where the Tonle Sap flows into (or out of, LOL) the Mekong.
5:45 am. Am I GLAD that I'm an early riser. The boat teams that arrive from all over Cambodia for the water festival are practicing on the river.
This is not just two Universities in England competing in a rowing match, this is the whole country sending their teams to Phnom Penh for the annual Water Festival.
The whole sight is at the same time familiar (Yes, I was a competing rower in my teens) and utterly strange. There is so much I don't understand. At no time during this trip has it been more obvious to me that I'm just a foreigner here, but the whole thing is so beautiful that tears of joy are streaming down my face while I try taking pictures, LOL.
One thing that is utterly strange: Do they have different categories in the big race for boats of different sizes or will those with 10 paddlers be competing directly with those things that look like 100 man war galleys?
|A breakfast with a view ;-)|
6:50 am. It's Bright and Warm outside. There is no one at reception yet though and the breakfast area is empty too, not even any staff visible. Ah well, there are worse places to hang out and smoke and write a blog. It's 27 Celsius before 7 am and the way the flags fly gives an indication of the air blowing across the Mekong. It's perfect !
7:05 am. I'm already walking back to the elevator when a woman arrives and she nods to my awkward question "Breakfast now?". There is a breakfast menu with 5 choices and pictures. Number 5 looks good, but my choice produces a doubtful look on the woman's face. After a quick "It's O.K. I can eat other things too" she shows me item number 1 and says "This nice". My nod of approval produces a relieved smile. Why eggs with bread are easier to make that bread with jam is beyond me, unless there is no jam. Either way, I'm not getting any banana-chocolate jam today ;-( e from the old Khmer ways of conducting sea battles!
7:15 am. Just HOW many teams will there be participating in the great race of the Water Festival? A bit of more reading tells me that my impression of watching war galleys was quite perceptive. Apparently these boat races derive from the ways that the Khmer of old days used to wage war !
8 am. I head down to the lobby to pay for the room tonight. Same rate, lovely people. 5 minutes later the phone in my room rings. Her son apparently wrote today's date on two pages of her calendar instead of just one and she didn't look at the other page. The room was already booked. Then she squeezes me into the VIP suite, for which I happily pay more money. This time she double-checks and indeed that room was already taken too ;-) I am homeless.
No worries, Booking.com saves the day again. It costs me way more and probably won't be as charming as my present room and the staff, but I do find a room for tonight with balcony and river view. And it happens at the FCC Hotel, LOL. How much more expat can one go but stay at the Foreign Correspondents Club Hotel ??? That's where the reporters always hunker down below the window sills when war breaks out !
Off into the back streets.
On the one hand it is nice knowing exactly where the stores are where I can buy cigarettes (OMG, the price for a CARTON of 200 cigarettes of my favourite brand has FALLEN to US $4.50), wine (The little hole in the wall keeps going and going and the shelves are stacked with an outrageous selection of wines from all over the world; sure, you have to turn your cell flash light on to see in there but hey, $7 for a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, try finding that in Canada), and incense (I know the store, I know exactly which box I want, and it is still the same price; the stuff I bought in Vietnam just doesn't smell right).
Yes, that was all one sentence, LOL.
|I just caught the pig's arse in this shot ;-(|
9:15 am. The laundry that I hung out to dry at 8:15 is DRY, lOl ;-)
|The pride of the Cambodian Navy|
10 am. Something is changing on the river. There two boats with red flags now at the finish line and some contestant boats are being towed upriver. Are they saving energy for preliminary racing heats? Also, the Cambodian Navy is demonstrating its might on the river (grin; at least that's real tarp on that Navy boat, not just a banana-leaf covering, LOL). The actual Water and Moon festival does not start until tomorrow!
YES, that is what its real name is: Water and Moon.
And guess what? It's a SUPER-MOON on Monday, the closest the full moon has been to Earth since 1948 ! OOOH PLEASE, let there be NO thundershowers obscuring that sight !!!!! But somehow I am strangely confident that whoever is responsible for having brought me here at precisely this time will not chicken out at the last moment and let clouds obscure the spectacle ;-) Strange words for a former convinced atheist, but if these words are truly sacrilegious I'll find out on Monday because the skies will be dark (oooooh, more of it !)
10:30 am. I have moved. Into the Director's Apartment at the Foreign Correspondents Club. LOL! WTF ? A two bedroom apartment with balcony (river view) and the suite extending throughout the entire building with a view of an old colonial building out of the rear bedroom. It's laughable that I am living here all by myself, but I'm not sure whether I will ever be in Phnom Penh for another River and Moon Festival (or if the festival will ever take place again) so this time I will splurge for a room with a balcony because there are no cheap rooms left. Actually, let me put this into perspective. This lavish extravaganza put me back US $ 95 and includes breakfast !
On the other hand (DARNED, there is always that other side), I paid 1/3 of that for last night's palace and when I go back to properly check out they already have started to clean my room. The last remnants of the peanut/sesame stickiness on rice paper had gone into the garbage this morning because it had been covered in tiny ants, but when I get my hat and the last remnants from the room, the previously ant-covered foodstuff is back on the desk, no doubt destined for the cleaning staff's kitchen. It's difficult to explore just exactly what kind of shame I'm feeling, but that I feel shame it is undeniable.
11:30 am. I'm back in my new rental palace and I can tell already: It is TOO comfortable. Yes, I drink wine and smoke and catch up on YESTERDAY's events in Saigon (so many new impressions have invaded my head that it feels like a WEEK AGO) in the blog writing. BUT: NO, I'm not in the streets experiencing more. Because Cambodian LIFE will certainly not come to me in my posh Director's Apartment !
|The front side of the colonial building behind me. Which idiot would drink Carlsberg after they committed such a cultural ATROCITY ????|
|No metal scaffolding, no spray painting. Each tower gets four guys with a brush|
O.K. I'm going out now!
But I get side tracked. The silver alley where I bought the temp replacement for the bear cuff I lost descending in a balloon in Siem Reap and where Kookum's Buddha comes from. The booze and cigarette alley.
Down to the river where the practice run are in full swing.
Of course, The original plan was to visit the train station even though the ticket office closes at noon weekends. I'm dripping wet from just walking ! 4 pm and 32 Celsius (feels like 37) with NO wind anymore!
he area of the night market. Who needs a night market (except tourists) if the entire city is one giant market ?
I just randomly turn corners and finally come to a stop in front of a passport photo store.
Half an hour later I have 8 passport pictures and I paid US$ 3. And they put in a lot of time retouching, LOL. I also bought some instant coffee. Of course, NOT Nescafe. Why shovel more money into the pockets of a Swiss multinational company if you can buy products that were at least produced on the same continent as the one where I presently roam?
The land of the Spider People?
Might as well take another bottle of wine, I'm just sweating it out as quickly as I can drink it ;-)
6 pm. I expected the place to be packed by fireworks-lovers but the only people up there are an Australian couple who set up a cell phone to capture a time-lapse movie of the setting sun, the moving lit barges, and of course the fireworks.
This time they are prepared. They have a full bottle of white wine in the fridge which I am told to just grab. I order Viet Calamari, which turn out to be greasy but the sweet chili dipping sauce is exquisite and takes care of the grease.
All of a sudden the mood lighting with the rotating disco coloured spots are replaced by glaring bright lights. WTF? New guests have arrived. Indubitably that is their doing ! They want to be able to read the menu and haven't figured out how to use their cell flashlights ! And what language do the new arrivals speak? Time to be proud of the French part of my heritage again, because the other part is just too embarrassing.
7 pm. The fireworks barge is out there in the middle of the Tonle Sap River, but where are the fireworks? My bottle of wine is getting close to the 66 % level !
7:30 pm. Still in the rooftop restaurant. Still no fireworks. It's 28 friggin degrees Celsius at this hour and I'm eating ice cream doused with Sauvignon Blanc, which just happens to be the perfect thing in these conditions. conditions.
The Germans behind me, who were rather unusually quiet up to now, and who were told by ME that there would probably be fireworks, are piping up now talking among themselves " I personally do not think that there will be fireworks". Ah well.
|The Donald using the word 'FAIR?" LMFAO !|
Ever heard of Pandora's Box?
Cassandra Over and Out..
8 pm. The Germans behind me are getting restless and as I just KNEW they would do, they come over to ask me whether it is CERTAIN that there will be fireworks tonight. LOL. Am I glad that I don't ........
9:30 pm. Back in my abode. At least I'm over my jet lag ;-) But the second wind doesn't seem to be coming. Maybe it went with that second empty bottle of wine, I threw out? Who knows ... ..?
10:30 pm. There is life in the streets right outside my window. But I just can't muster the energy anymore. For what? Is that what old age is like? Or just the result of getting up EARLY every morning. Or ..... there one empty bottle in the waste paper basket, and two in the fridge. BUT one is almost full ! LOL. I still haven't broken that record set when I was in Kona with Grandma. I opened a third bottle in the afternoon, and the two previous ones were EMPTY. And Grandma is not one to suffer a drunk in the house, so the heat does something to lessen the effect ! Trust me, if it was otherwise, I'd be listening to this day to admonishing talk on how incredibly inebriated I was on that day !
11:15 pm. phhhhhh....
5 am. It's pitch dark outside (over the river I mean) when I have my second cigarette on the balcony. Street vendors have already positioned their carts at the curb (did they ever leave? Do they have anywhere to go????) and their rhythmic warlike chanting is already audible from war galleys being propelled through the water somewhere in the darkness.
I'm excited. It is November 13, a Monday, and today is the first actual day of Bon Om Touk. Will I even notice a difference compared to yesterday?
I missed the very pinnacle of glorious show display of a RED sun rising over the Mekong but I still manage to get a few shots of the remnant of the beginning of this new day.
OMG, I could SO live here. To see this every day? How could anyone ever get bored of THIS ?
One thing I notice right away is that the staff of the restaurant/club/cafe/whatever is NOT happy. This must NOT be a nice place to work. I've seen clerks standing behind the cashier-machine of mini-supermarkets here that looked much happier than these women. I'll never find out the underlying reason (It couldn't be my new Saigon shirt that I'm giving its Virgin wear today?), but I'm shocked to notice it right away.
the menu: In my quest to discover new things, I stay away from regular fare like 3 egg omelette, etc a nd go for toast with passionfruit jam. A VERY runny affair.
|The FCC ;-)|
There will be no text between A LOT of pictures down below. If I write what I felt, this post that is already 4 days overdue, will never get published (OMG has it ONLY been 4 days that I was here? It feels like 2 weeks ago when I write this in Siem Reap).
So for about 25 pics or so, this is my photo album that will bring back the memories when I look at them, but you just have to come here yourself.
|check out the LIGHTBULB ;-)|
|Phnom Penh Railway Station|
|Colonel Walter E. Kurtz hang out here ?|
9:45 am Back at the hotel. The police is present in much greater numbers than when I left. They're installing traffic-control barricades along the river promenade. But somehow it feels as if they're prepared for anything !
11 am. My move to the new hotel completed I await with neo-colonial trepidation the things that may come. When passing the reception desk I witness a fat white man talking to the Khmer receptionist in English with a heavy German accent "I am the boss, so you will ....". I don't want to hear the rest or it !
Sitting on this colonial balcony I see someone who owns NOTHING.
On the bright side: I am in a country where monks are still respected. Think about what monks represent (NO, not just God, there are MANY more aspects), and you will know why I like it so much here. It's what the whoring evangelical money-grabbers on the Prayer Channel always shout: VALUES ! But those preachers don't even really know what values are and keep talking about them all day whereas here people HAVE values, they just don't know that they do, or more likely, they could just not imagine a life without those values.
Yes, as a tuk-tuk driver told me yesterday in regard to friends of his who are living in Toronto; Schools are free and so is health care, that is true, but the price you have to pay for that is not charged in Cambodian Riel but in something much more precious ;-(
AND, what in a strange way I am always looking for. Stationary (paper and envelopes) with the hotel letterhead (although the envelopes are plain ;-(.
Somehow hotel stationary is the pinnacle of that classic kind of romantic notion of the good old days. And the neo-colonial hotel stationary from Indochina adds that je-ne-sais-quoi touch. But maybe that's just me, LOL.
10:15 am. Back to the other hotel to collect my things so THEY can start cleaning the room early. And they are happy about that. But they can't help but check whether I used the minibar or am carrying their television in one of my backpacks before they let me go. Producing a bottle of Chilean from my small backpack and saying "I do not need a MINIBAR !" gets me a smile though ;-)
Despite seeing the German boss earlier, I decide to give the KWest, the hotel restaurant a try, because I am absolutely STARVING. Also a chance to give a mistreated employee a tip, LOL.
|VERY pretty but not that good|
However, to the point: In this place, it doesn't take an effort to produce gorgeous images, because this place is just SO friggin beautiful. The special quality and ample availability of the light, the tones of the buildings and surroundings just add up to something one simply can't take a bad picture of!
2 pm. All that effort is taking its toll. It's NAP TIME!
3 pm. Yes, this hotel is fancy but despite all the posh outfitting, it is missing one thing. A soul. But right now I don't care about that; I'm trying to get the thread through the needle's eye. No, not a metaphor, that is what I'm doing. But the eyes of the needles provided in those cheap made-in-China hotel sewing kits are tiny and the thread is cheap, i.e. it frays. I just can't do it, even with my glasses on and cutting a fresh thread end. Let's take this down to the reception desk. At first 4 young women look at me funny but then they start smiling and promise to have the thing threaded by the time I'm back from shopping. I'm not sure what shopping infrastructure will be available tomorrow evening, so I buy a spare carton of cigarettes and an extra bottle of wine ;-) When I come back the thread has indeed been forced through the needle's eye. And they even tied a multiple knot in the opposite end of the thread !!!! Arkun !
|The building's shadows over the river|
5:30 pm. There are clouds moving in from the South. Or is that West? No idea, but they look solid. Gotta snap a picture of that Super Moon before they obscure the sight ;-) When I ask the waitress (Granddaughter of the cook and daughter of the manager) whether Cambodians are excited about having another Water Festival after non-events in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015, she nods and smiles. For Cambodians this is probably like having Christmas again after it had been cancelled for 5 years in a row.
||A Super Moon AND a rainbow? Someone is watching over my travels ;-)|
|Good bye, Super Moon, until Nov. 25 1934 ;-)|
The races seem to have finished for the day and all the participants paddle by the king's palace.
5 pm. OMG. I did dare do it! Tomorrow night I will stay in a simple room. Well, kind of. It is part of a resort RIGHT at the BEACH, but it isn't one of their regular brick bungalows with air conditioning and all that good stuff. Those are all sold out, which is a good thing because it made me chose what was left. A traditional (It's a resort, so it's Disney-Traditional) Khmer house on STILTS made from WOOD (can't you just hear the mosquitoes buzz?) without A/C but with a mosquito net over the bed (I just know I'll get caught in it when I have to pee in the middle of the night and will start panicking and tumbling around the room wrapped in a big net !) and a ceiling fan (maybe the net will be caught in the fan and I'll be slung around in circles ?).
Ah well. It'll be good for me. One of those comfort zone things ! Maybe I should buy a new tube of insect repellant today? My old one is pretty much empty. The little beasts seem to LOVE the area around my ankles but at least up here in Phnom Penh they aren't carriers of Malaria. That, however, still leaves Dengue Fever and Zika ;-)
|Big wigs are being chauffeured in German cars. Ts Ts. And why do the chauffeurs have to touch their cars?|
Coincidentally, the NEXT Super-Super Moon will occur on my Birthday in the year 2034. Maybe I'll get to see that one too ? I'd be 69 years old to the day ! (I can hear someone laughing at that number !)
6:15 The Big Bang. Fireworks are here again. A particularly nice touch is that the floats with the huge light display keep circling around the width of the Mekong.
6:40. I'm slowly walking back to Star Bar, when I'm drawn down to the river embankment.
|OMG. 27 degrees, floats on the Mekong, fireworks, AND a SUPERMOON|
I just can't believe how Travel Karma has been with me again. Because the simple act of kicking oneself into the behind shouldn't produce results like that, should it?
|Cambodians are out on the streets (river banks)|
Let's get some chicken mushroom soup (NOT the Tim Hortons variety, this one is in the Asian food section of the menu. And why not another bottle? If they don't have internet on these islands, they probably won't have wine either. Of course, I won't have a fridge either, I only realize this very moment ;-(
Hmm. That's what warm air and chilled wine do to me. I start ranting. As long as I'm not starting to talk soccer or hockey that's ok I guess, LOL.
7:45 pm. The soup arrives with rice. Grandma outdid herself, this is GOOD STUFF; the oh-so-tender chicken is so much better than the cubed chicken in the Pad Thai I had for lunch at the Luxury hotel.
8:30 pm. Ooops, I did it again (why stop here?) I booked a no a/c bungalow. It has a fan and a mosquito net. No internet either. No, not the one in Shihanoukville, but one on an island off the Cambodian coast. I think I'll either be cured of beaches for the rest of my lifetime or there is a small chance that I will never enter Wifi-land again. Why would I do such a crazy thing? Scrolling might be necessary to do this picture justice, LOL.
9:30 pm. After a chat with the fab family running the fab hotel with the fab rooftop bar serving the fab food, I walk back to my boring luxury hotel. Soon I want some munchies! I head into the back streets and soon discover an open 'supermarket' (family run convenience store). I stock up on mosquito repellent (3 tubes !) and am about to put a tube of sunblock into the basket when an about 11 year old Cambodian kid walks up to me with a huge grin and says "The price of this is actually stated here on the packaging, Sir". WHAT was THAT? This kid speaks the best English of any Cambodian I have met so far !!!!!! I tell him so and make him my personal shopping consultant. Only when it comes to the term 'munchies' does he draw a blank.
To my horror he says questioningly "Mun Cheese?". Holy Moly, I quickly dive into a language lesson "Something to munch on", hoping to improve his English even more and to stay away from the cheese thing. The kid and the store owner (his uncle) are fun and are hoping to get me as a new regular customer ("Do you like wine?", LOL !) and after informing them that I'm leaving early tomorrow I ensure them that I'll be back in their store the next time I'm in town.
From most people this statement probably would be little more than B.S., but a) they are fun and its a good store and more importantly b) I WILL BE BACK in Phnom Penh. I have no idea when that will be , but I am certain that I HAVE to and WILL come back to this city and its people.
It's strange. I just know that I can easily live without Sai Gon or Nha Trang (Now Ha Noi is a different matter) in my life, but every time I leave Phnom Penh I feel like I am leaving part of me behind and only an incomplete version of myself keeps traveling on.
A note inserted when I FINALLY finish this post on Dec. 31 2016 at Denny's.
I knew that I'd be back in Phnom Penh at some point. Now I now WHEN!
T minus 10 days ;-)