Cambodia: love / hate at first sight

We arrived in Cambodia by boat late in the day. We heard a lot of people saying that locals ruined their time in Vietnam and Cambodians were the nicest in the word, that having loved Vietnam and its locals, I had high hopes for Cambodia. Being greeted by very aggressive tuk tuk drivers, sellers right off the boat, at the ATM machine and simply stuck to us while talking in the street was a little disappointing. The fact is, in Vietnam we avoided touristic areas, but Phnom Penh harbor is loaded with tourists (and the dirty old occidental guys openly here for sex is not making it better). We found a cheap hotel, walked around the riverfront and along big avenues. What a relieve, the town is beautiful, some avenues are spacious and cleans, we’re eventually feeling a very nice vibe.

We walked passed a dozen of 40 something men playing pilou, a game that was originally created in my hometown, Nice (yes I will always maintain it!) and apparently is very famous here. It’s like football but with a device made of a few coins and feathers that flies like a badminton fly. The guys were insane! The were hitting the pilou from behind their back, making shapes with their arms where the pilou had to go through, it was crazy to watch! I have to admit I’ve never seen anything like that in Nice, the Cambodians took it to a whole new league.

The next day, we woke up and went to the central market. After a 15 minutes walk under a very hard sun, we arrived in the covered area. It was crazy hot and smelt like pollution and petrol. I started to feel dizzy, so we went to the food section where the smell of rotten food added to the other ones. The view of all those decaying fruits, meat and fish, all eaten by thousands of flies was just too much for me. I’m not used to smelling anything, and this made me feel so bad that I almost fainted. We had to go back to the hotel by tuk tuk, and I pretty much spent the day in bed. Markets in Vietnam were not so different, but I don’t know why, this one literally made me sick. After that I couldn’t eat for 2 days and lost my appetite for a full week (where I didn’t loose 1 fucking gram). I still managed to get out of bed around 3.30pm to visit the royal palace and its beautiful temples and stupas.

The next day we went to Battambang, a smaller city on the way to Siem Reap (the city where Angkor is). We biked to a temple 15 kilometers away where I, once more, got sick. Too much sun, not eating enough and biking is a bad combo… I arrived on the site, saw hammocks in the shade and slept there for an hour. The temple was absolutely beautiful, and a giant Buddha was built behind a little lake. Right next to it, there was a school, kids were playing around that big Buddha during their brek. It was the perfect spot for a nap. On the way back I could appreciate the villages we were biking through. It looks a lot like Vietnam, except that houses are on stilts! They tend to be smaller too. Still, kids are very happy to say hello and wave at us, while a lot of locals would smile.

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First sight of Cambodia.

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The central market of Phnom Penh.

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Very highly skilled pilou players.

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Some offerings.

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The royal palace.

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The giant buddha near Battambang.

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A temple right in the city.

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Architecture in Battambang.

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