Phnom Penh means different things to different people. On AmaWaterways Riches of the Mekong, Phnom Penh means the hustle and bustle of a big city, great food and a reminders of the Vietnam war. This post is one in a series about our river cruise trip with AmaWaterways. Our last post, All aboard discussed our trip from Siem Reap and our first day on the ship, the AmaDara.
What is your name?
But before we get to Phnom Penh, we make a stop along the river. The Oknha Tey Silk Village is located on a large island (7000 inhabitants) in the middle of the Mekong river. Our ship docks, we walk up a steep incline (remember this is near the end of the dry season so the river is very low) and we walk into a monastery.
We visit a local school before we get to the Silk Village. Schools are generally located near monasteries since for years (centuries) only monks were educated. The school children are 10- 12 years old and of course adorable. They sing us songs and we each get to meet and talk with them to practice English. Once we get past what they have learned “What is your name?, How old are you? How do you like your trip?” the English is sparse. But it’s still fun to communicate with them.
In another reminder of the war torn past, we learn that the school master got his job because when he came back to his village, he was the most educated person there. He has an 11th grade education – all 6 of his brothers were killed in the holocaust.
After a short tuk tuk ride, we arrive at a silk factory. We saw the whole silk making process from worm to cocoon to threading to weaving. Very nicely done and of course it finished with a visit to the shop. Judging from the number of bags passengers were carrying back to the ship, the silk factory made out very nicely. The silk scarves were all hand made and between $10 and $15 – a real bargain.
After lunch we ventured into Phnom Penh via Tuk Tuks. The drivers did a tour of the city. But between the choking traffic, the concerns about shoplifters (it seemed we were perpetually warned about people ripping off watches directly from your hands) and the fact that the tuk tuks were covered such there was no visibility above 4 ft off the ground, the excursion wasn’t very helpful. Also, it wasn’t narrated so we really didn’t know what we were seeing.
We stopped at Central Park and saw some monuments and learned about King Shianouk (or Prince or prime minister) – which was interesting. Then, rather than going back to the ship we opted to go to the Central Market.
Driving in Phnom Penh is chaotic and clearly not good for your health – both in terms of air quality and risk of accident. But we made it to the market in good time. We were expecting the worst – crowds full of shoplifters, aggressive vendors and made in China products. Instead we found a huge array of stalls, relatively open hallways and vendors that were happy to serve.
We bought a couple of souvenirs, found our Tuk Tuk driver and went back to the ship.
The forecast: hot and humid
It’s hard to over exaggerate how hot it feels here. Temperatures are mid 90’s with stifleing humidity. Locals all seem to wear long sleeves and pants, interesting enough. Actually those on scooters wear light jackets. For us North Americans, the heat just zaps the energy out of you. AmaWaterways has been very good with encouraging water consumption and also very good about providing hands wipes after every excursion. Third world countries, as we’ve been reminded, are worried about survival and cleanliness is a secondary concern.
Phnom Penh by boat
After showering off, we watch young Khmer dancers perform some traditional dance on board the AmaDara. Similar to Vietnamese dancers but there’s even more Indian influence here. The kids (10 – 18 years of age) seem to be having a good time – and it shows.
Another great dinner (Cambodian fish steamed in banana leaf) followed by lots of good conversation, brings us to the end of the day. Some passengers went into the Phnom Penh for dinner or drinks. Since we over night here, that’s easy to do. We’re thinking about going out tomorrow night.
Looking ahead for tomorrow – we tour the killing fields from the Khmer Rouge.
Here’s some more pictures from the day: