We’d arranged our itinerary around the water festival so imagine our disappointment when we arrived in Phnom Penh to find that the event had been cancelled. Apparently the prime minister had decided that the money used for the event would be best used for helping the flooded areas of Cambodia. It’s a fair point but several people that we spoke with felt it was a bad break with tradition. They felt that the scale of things should have been reduced, but the symbolic boat race should have happened. But it was cancelled so we would find other things to do in this beautiful city.
The night of our arrival there was a firework display down at the water front and as the townsfolk celebrated their national holiday they also prepared themselves for the celebration of the country’s independence from the French on 9th November 1953. We’d walked past the Royal Palace and through one of the town’s public squares where throngs of people were watching a song and dance performance on a huge stage. There must have been 50 people on stage (and room for loads more) singing and performing one of Cambodia’s traditional dances to give thanks for rice and the rains and sunshine that help it grow. I guess there was a certain irony that it was still being performed so close to the recent flooding throughout Thailand and Cambodia.
The street sellers were out in force, cooking food and touting helium balloons and cheap toys for the children. Youngsters played football across the paths and stray balls were returned by whoever was closest. There was generally a carnival atmosphere across town as we headed for the banks of the river. We learnt that Phnom Phen was at the confluence of four rivers; the upper Mekong, the lower Mekong, Tonle Sap, and bassac River. It was interesting to hear that the Tonle Sap River flowed in both directions. In the rainy season the river flowed up to Siem Reap but in the dry season it flowed back down to Phnom Phen. Now I think that’s unique for any river system.
The river was real busy with people fishing from the banks, fishing boats working in the river, pleasure cruises scurrying across the river with their loads of tourists, and river taxis. But most of all, on this night people were preparing for the fire work display. In all honesty this turned out to be a bit of a damp squid as despite going on for about twenty minutes it was very repetitive and ordinary. But perhaps that just me!
After our meal at the Titanic (see separate review) we headed off to get a Tuk-Tuk back to the hotel. We’d remembered to bring the hotel card with us (always a good idea if you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language) and having showed the card we got a price of $8. We’d been told that a fair rate to this part of town was $3 and so that’s what I offered. The driver looked hugely apologetic and said that wasn’t possible because the town was so busy that he’d have to go the long way round. I offered $4 and he said that his best was $5. We tried pushing him a bit further with the customary walk away, but he wasn’t having it. We had a quick discussion and decided that $5 was worth it for us as we could not even consider walking back.
I returned and we agreed $5 and the four of us piled into the Tuk-Tuk and just as the last of us took our foot out of the street he started off. A little scary! We weaved our way across the street and soon we were heading in the right direction. The road was rammed with traffic and true to his word we were weaving through the back streets and enjoying the hubbub of town. It was certainly a longer journey than we anticipated and it took us almost 15 minutes to get to the independence memorial.
It was at this point that we realised the traffic in the rest of town had been light! We got on to the roundabout and then edged our way every "step of the way". People were fighting for their personal space on the road and we had to admire the skills of all the drivers (cycles, motorbikes, cars and tuk-tuks). Finally after about another five minutes we were exiting the roundabout and heading for our now nearby hotel
What a fantastic journey! We certainly couldn’t complain about the price or about our experience in a Phnom Phen Tuk-tuk.