Today I explored more of Phnom Penh, spending time at Wat Phnom (Temple of the Mountains), and visiting art galleries and artisan shops. There are tons of galleries displaying the work of local artists and they’re open until late at night. I’ve noticed some exquisite items made from incredible Khmer silk!
Built in 1373 AD, according to legend the first pagoda at Wat Phnom housed four statues of Buddha that were found floating in the Mekong River by a woman named Penh. The name Phnom Penh comes from this Wat which sits on a hill about 30 meters (90 feet) high. It’s the only hill in the city of Phnom Penh.
It was difficult photographing the outside of the pagodas because there isn’t much room to get a clear vantage point. The interior is gorgeous! It has a central altar with a large bronze seated Buddha surrounded by other statues, flowers, candles, and items of devotion. The gallery walls contain murals depicting stories of the Buddha’s earlier reincarnations before his enlightenment.
If you release a bird inside the temple, it’s supposed to bring you good luck. There are several people with cages full of little birds outside the temple. For $1 you can release a bird at the entrance. Hats and shoes are forbidden inside Buddhist temples. I sat down next to a monk and had a short meditation inside Wat Phnom – very nice… The grounds around the temple are lush and beautiful with shade trees and benches so you can stop and relax. It’s very pleasant.
I discovered that the best way to get around Phnom Penh is to jump on the back of a motorcycle. For the most part the local drivers are very good and you catch a cool breeze while you’re riding. I prefer motorcycles over the tuk-tuks and they’re less expensive. At first I thought they looked dangerous, but they really aren’t.
Have been going out to explore the city every morning and by early afternoon I’m exhausted and end up along the river where tourists are sitting at outside cafes. Each day I tell myself I’m not going to end up hanging with the tourists again and each day (so far) I’ve ended up there.
The hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh’s markets is something else – moving a million miles an hour with no place to stop and take a break. You must keep moving or the crowd will mow you down. If you get lost and need to ask directions, good luck – not much English is spoken. You have to be independent and figure things out on your own or jump in a tuk-tuk and hope the driver understands where you want to go. I’m not complaining, but with the frantically fast pace, if you feel like a leisurely stroll or have a tendency toward claustrophobia, it’s best to avoid the larger central markets.
I’m making an effort to be a good tourist and frequent only responsible restaurants and businesses. My favorite restaurant so far is Friends which is a training restaurant run by former street youth and their teachers. It’s a popular place near the National Museum and the food is fantastic. I’ve also enjoyed the Foreign Correspondents Club which is on the second floor of a large French Colonial building right on the Mekong River. It has a large veranda with floor to ceiling windows open to the outside facing the river. The views are great and the people interesting.
I met two guys from the US there and we had dinner one night. They are old friends who went to college together – one from Seattle and the other Denver. They were fun and had visited Myanmar before Cambodia and saw Hilary Clinton briefly as she was passing through. They returned home this morning after several weeks of traveling.
On the way back to my hotel I decided to stop for a massage at Chatharith Seeing Hand Massage. The masseuses are blind and use the Amma shiatsu massage method. I had an amazing one-hour massage which cost only $7 but of course I left a large gratuity! It was another great day.