On your right, the beautiful Riverside view of the Mekong, and to your left, an empty lot with rubbish mountains. Phnom Penh is a city of inconsistencies. The view from Pizza World, a restaurant atop a sparkling highrise, is blocked by the crumbling shamble of a once high-rise apartment complex. And just above the rancid smells of the central market, an extreme skating rink provides brave Khmer teens the space to speed around on rollerblades over ramps and a drop-in half-pipe.
Today, I toured the touristy part of Phnom Penh with Nouna, my Khmer friend. Nevermind the threat of pickpocketing and the certainty of being overcharged by 200% at the market, the risks of riding a motobike in Phnom Penh are surely the greatest enemy of foreigners. With protection from the pavement flying under me, I white-knuckled the handlebar on the back of the bike as Nouna skilfully wove through traffic.
At Wat Phnom, the city temple, only foreigners are charged an entrance fee. At the royal palace, foreigners are charged 25,000 riel or roughly $6.25, while Khmer nationals get in for 1000 riel, or 25 cents. Given the ridiculous disparity in GDP, I suppose the difference is warranted, but it still feels like a rip-off. Nouna and I spent the afternoon wandering the temples and palace buildings, talking about her dreams to become a lawyer and the way the Cambodian government deals with education. We finally indulged in a late lunch at a local soup place. Several women attended the make-your-own-soup station with mystery veggies, noodles and lukewarm curry broth. In my extreme hunger, I ignored the sickening combination of body temperature soup and smacking noises around me. The soup was difficult for me taste-wise, but I managed to put down more than half the bowl before giving up. The drink, fresh sugar cane juice was delicious though.
I mentioned something about needing a swimsuit, and before I could say no, I was in a tiny, damp bathroom stall at the central market, doing my best stork imitation to try on a swimsuit. The threat of communicable disease felt too high, so I grabbed the biggest suit, pretended that I had tried it on and rushed back to pay my $4 and get the heck out of there. I'll be strutting the beaches of Sihanoukville in a conservative (perhaps matronly) daisy print one-piece with a delightful ruffle skirt. The best thing is that my winter fat reserves will be hidden by daisies (and that I only paid $4).
This is soooo not easy.