Temple of the Mountains
Today I continued exploring Phnom Penh, spending time at Wat Phnom (Temple of the Mountains), and visiting art galleries and artisan shops. There are tons of galleries displaying work by local artists and most are open until late at night. I’ve noticed some exquisite items made from incredible Khmer silk!
Wat Phnom Statues, Temples, Pagodas
Built in 1373 AD, according to legend the first pagoda at Wat Phnom housed four statues of Buddha found floating in the Mekong River by a woman named Penh. The name Phnom Penh comes from this Wat – the only hill in Phnom Penh – which sits on a hill ninety-eight feet high.
It was difficult photographing the outside of the pagodas, because there isn’t enough room to get a clear vantage point. The interior is gorgeous! It has a central altar with a large bronze seated Buddha surrounded by statues, flowers, candles, and items of devotion. The gallery contains murals depicting the Buddha’s earlier reincarnations before 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 one of the birds at the entrance. Hats and shoes are forbidden inside Buddhist temples. I sat down next to a monk and had a brief meditation inside Wat Phnom – very nice… The temple grounds are lush and beautiful with shade trees and benches so visitors 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, local drivers are very good and you also catch a cool breeze while you’re riding. I prefer motorcycles over tuk-tuks. At first I thought they looked dangerous, but on city streets, they really aren’t.
Hanging with Tourists
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.
Busy Central Markets
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 directions, good luck – not much English is spoken. It’s better 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, avoid large central markets.
I’m making an effort to be a good tourist and frequent responsible restaurants and businesses. So far, my favorite restaurant is Friends, a training restaurant run by former street youth and their teachers. It’s a popular place near the National Museum of Cambodia and the food is fantastic.
Foreign Correspondents Club
I’ve also enjoyed the FCC – Phnom Penh Foreign Correspondents Club – which is on the second floor of a French Colonial building along the Mekong River. It has a large veranda facing the river with floor to ceiling windows open to the outside. The views are great, and the people interesting.
I met two guys from the US there, and we had dinner one night. They’re old friends who went to college together – one from Seattle, the other Denver. They were fun and had visited Myanmar before Cambodia where they saw Hilary Clinton as she was passing through. They returned home this morning after several weeks of traveling.
Chatharith Seeing Hand Massage
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. I left a generous gratuity. It was another interesting day!