Cambodia (Phnom Penh)

March 13, 2007

(February, 2007)  Phnom Penh. This capital city is bustling and bursting with energy as is so much of Southeast Asia. They are nowhere near as far ahead as Hanoi for instance, but then they didn’t really start until the civil war ended a few years ago. 

The colonial buildings have not run down as they have in Yangon in Burma, and in fact many have been recently renovated and house restaurants and stores.There are wide, tree-lined boulevards left over from the French era that are still elegant. The city is laid out in a grid, with the streets numbered, although there seems to be a jump of say five numbers from one street to the next—looking ahead maybe.

phnom-penh_0473.JPGThe Raffles Hotel here is very similar to the one in Singapore but not as elegant. It also hasn’t been restored recently and doesn’t have more than three restaurants. The rooms were OK, but after all the excess of the Amans they seemed a little small. The pool was nice, and there were pool men to lay out towels for you and but they didn’t tuck them into the cushions on the loungers as we had come to expect. (We had became a bit Aman spoiled!)

phnom-penh_0418.JPGIt was so hot (30-33 degrees centigrade) that we didn’t walk very far. We hired “T,” a tuk-tuk driver and had him take us around day and evening for three days. He would take us to the entrance of each stop and then wait for our return. We walked through the Central Market, the Russian Market, the National Museum, and the Royal Palace.

We hired a boat and rode up the Tonle Sap to its juncture with the Mekong and another river. We walked a few blocks along what is a street of artists and boutiques, showcasing the beautiful silks of Cambodia.Food was universally delicious but the presentation and service were far from elegant except at the hotel.

 A dinner at Malis, the restaurant said by all to be the best, was certainly tasty but there were no napkins just a box of tissues on the table. However, our dinner, with beer, came to less than $15 so we cannot really complain too much.

Another dinner, upstairs on the porch at Sugar Palm did have napkins and some very interesting food, especially the minced pork on morning glory vine. The total here was $10 or $12.

 Our last night, we splurged on the Khmer Degustation menu ($35 each) at the elegant Restaurant Le Royal in the hotel. Here in air-conditioned splendor, amidst white linens and with European service, we had our best Cambodian food. Starters were a mango salad with prawn purses and scallops and lotus pods. This was followed by an exceptional pumpkin soup with sweet peas.The fish course was what they call amok, alas no longer served in a banana leaf, spiced with lemon grass, galangal, turmeric, garlic shallots and chilies, and cooked in a sauce of palm sugar, coconut milk, eggs and nohr leaves.

Both main dishes, the grilled Takeo lobster in a mild curry and the beef with a lime and pepper dip, were served at the same time, accompanied by jasmine rice and stir fried greens called kai lan. Various Khmer sweets completed a delightful meal.phnom-penh_0475.JPG


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