Sunday, April 28, 2013

Phnom Penh Street Energy

Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia, and its largest city with a population of 1.3 million. Almost 10% of Cambodia's 15 million people live in Phnom Penh.  That figure is closer to 15% if you include the surrounding area.  By comparison, the city of Siem Reap has a population of 200,000, although Siem Reap province has close to 1 million people.

Phnom Penh is located at the confluence of the Tonle Sap, Mekong and Bassac Rivers. The Tonle Sap is the same body of water that is a huge lake close to Siem Reap.  In fact, in the rainy season Tonle Sap Lake swells to 4 - 5x its size in the dry season.  That's why all of the floating villages exist.

Boats on the Tonle Sap, just before it meets the Mekong

It is about 80 miles by boat from Phnom Penh to the border of Vietnam.  We had earlier considered taking a 1-day boat trip down the Mekong, but it was more difficult than we thought to get a Vietnam visa and we didn't really have time.  Not that such details ever stopped us before.

Although there are only a few buildings taller than 5 stories, Phnom Penh has big city traffic congestion and you do have to worry about crime.  However, the traffic is pretty tame compared to larger Asian cities such as Mumbai, India (Bombay), and we didn't have any incidents in PP.  We did alter our money carrying habits, just to be safe.

Motos, cars and tuk tuks converge at rush hour
Are they trying to outrace each other, or the pollution?
It's fun for the whole family!

There are some really amusing street scenes in Phnom Penh.  Outdoor aerobics are popular, and it didn't take long to stumble across one such session on Sisowath Quay, the main street by the water.  A 40-ish man was leading a group of about 75 women, mostly in the 40 - 60 age range.  He does this twice a day, at 6 AM until 7:30 AM and from 5:30 to 7:30 PM.

The speakers blare out music from popular songs you would probably recognize, except that the never changing background beat of traditional Khmer music makes it all sound similar.

Our waiter at one of the hundreds of restaurants across the street gave us some interesting background info on the leader.  He used to be a professional dancer (background to a Cambodian singer), but was then unemployed.  He was enterprising enough to start this aerobics class. Doing the math, he probably makes a better income than he did before, and it's a lot more fun!

The Man in Black leads the ladies, and a couple of dudes

Riding in a tuk tuk along Sisowath Quay, you also pass a beautiful monastery, the Royal Palace, and other eye candy.

We saw the same monastery from the rooftop restaurant Le Moon
Plaza in front of the Royal Palace, complete with Royal Garbage Bins

Monks, people and lions mingle in front of Wat Phnom

OK, so the photo below is more of a balcony scene than a street scene.  This is off of our room at the Raffles Le Royal Hotel, a British-owned hotel with a French name.  It was built in 1929, and is located a block away from the U.S. Embassy.  Jackie O. stayed there.

This lovely local is blogging to her friends back home
Nice to know we're close, in case we ever get in trouble.....

The photo below might be our favorite in the entire blog.  It was taken from our adjacent tuk tuk while stuck in traffic.  The woman is holding onto the back of a dolly on which the driver of the moto is sitting.  This is proof that if you take thousands of scattershot, amateurish photos over the course of a couple of months, you are bound to eventually luck into a National Geographic shot.

Although the expression on the woman's face looks inscrutable at the instant of camera click, in real life it seemed like mild annoyance, at least at first.  You have to admit she looks great in purple.

She's holding the back of a dolly that the driver is sitting on

What does the name Phnom Penh mean, you ask?  The next blog entry yields the answer.

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