Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Cambodia: Phnom Penh during Water Festival

After the arrival to the airport I filled visa form, paid 30 USD (25,80 EUR) and got a nice one-side sticker in my brand new passport. The administration took just 10 minutes and I was out of the airport building where my old Taekwon-do friend Chivorn Pal and his students Siesung Tang and Vannsak Lim were waiting for me, holding a transparent with my name and a big flower. Last week I got one from my Airbus colleagues, this week from my Taekwon-do friends and I am pretty curious what will happen next week in Siem Reap. We agreed to meet on training next day and I took tuktuk for 7 USD (6 EUR) from the airport to my hostel. Next day Chivorn told me that normal price would be like 4 USD (3,50 EUR). I need to be more careful with the tuktuk drivers then.

The hostel was great, located just at the Mekong river side, in 4th floor with a terasse and perfect bar, restaurant and music. That was a completely perfect spot to watch all fireworks during water festival that was starting the day after.

Next day there was not too much time to do anything due to long sleep after long flight, jetlag and natural laziness. In the afternoon I packed my training stuff and took a walk through the city rush heading to the Olympic Stadium to attend a training with Korean Master Ri. Having good mood, I was politely refusing tens of tuktuk offers that were smashing me from all the sides. With the motorbike, tuktuks are the fastest transportation in a heavy traffic. Being little hungry, I wanted to buy few bananas in a local street market but what a surprise when the lady gave me 2 bananas and refused to take my money. How nice of her. That never happened to me in Lidl! I promised her to come later and buy something from her and next day I did so. In the evening back in hostel I won twice over the hostel owner in chess and with a smile on the face finished my day.

After proper sleep I met Chivorn and Siesung at 8:00 in the morning in front of the hostel. Guys were so kind last day and offered a sightseeing tour. It was the day when water festival was starting and in the afternoon all the riverside was going to be closed for all the vehicles. I took a motorbike with them and visited National Museum and amazing Royal Palace with its Silver Pagoda, having a great explanation by Chivorn. Next drive led us to Wat Phnom, a buddhist temple located in a small hill in Phnom Penh. The temple built in 1372 stands 27 metres above the ground and is the tallest religious structure in the city.

For the lunch we were invited by Chivorn’s law teacher to join him and few friends in a nearby restaurant. I found out that “bat” means yes but otherwise the Khmer language is a complete jibbrish to me. I am everytime amazed how many languages do we have on the planet and how all the people still are able to communicate to each other. I learnt few basic Khmer phrases to stay cool.

We continued to the genocidal museum called S21 Truol Sleng. The local high school was used in the past as a secret prison between years 1975 – 1979 by a new regime Khmer Rouge after it won the Cambodian Civil War. It reminded me closely the concentration camps we had in Europe during World War II. Interesting but sad place.

In the evening we took a dinner one floor below my hostel with few friends, enjoying an amazing firework on the river and view to all the people below us. The annual three-day Water Festival (Bonn Om Toeuk) competes with the Khmer New Year for being the most important holiday for Cambodians. The boat races on the Tonle Sap river and the amazing carnival atmospere ashore attracts millions of people from all Cambodia. More than 400 boats, propelled by precision-trained oarsmen, take part in the annual boat race.

In 2010 a tragic incident happened when about 350 people died and more than 700 were injured during a human stampede. For next few years the water festival has been canceled and was resumed again just in 2014.

The festival also marks a unique natural phenomen, the Tonle Sap river reverses the flow of its current and it is most probably the only waterway in the world which flows in opposite directions at different times of the year. From November to May the river flows into the Mekong like any other tributary however during the monsoon season, there is too much water in the main stream that forces Tonle Sap river changing its direction and flow back into Tonle Sap lake.

Few times during my stay in Phnom Penh I took a walk to a nearby island Pich to enjoy a night market and a water festival party made by Korean DJ. All the event reminded me Oktoberfest in Munich. Just nobody wore Lederhose or Dirndl and instead of beer there was soju. It is not my favorite drink and I sipped 1 bottle all evening long.

During one of my walks in the city I was also asked by a young lady whether I need some company for the evening. Well, I was not really sure whether it was a lady or not but mentioning that she is from Thailand, I think she could have been easily anything. I like trying new things but there are limits.

In my last day in Phnom Penh my limits were pushed a little bit further and I agreed with one of the traveller to try local worms, bugs and frogs to eat. I think that the biggest issue is our mind that is not used for that kind of food and we see it awkward but the taste itself was pretty good. That does not mean I will add them into my common menu for the future though.

Time to leave Phnom Penh and enjoy Siem Reap and its temples 300 km further. I took a bus for 14 USD (12,10 EUR) that is mainly used by expats and international travellers who do not want to use overcrowded local buses and enjoyed 5,5 hours long journey. My next bus travels will be anyway by normal bus for a normal price that is about 6 USD (5,20 EUR).

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