Experiences of a med student with an incurable travel bug.

Last of Phnom Penh

In our last few hours before leaving Phnom Penh, we stopped for lunch at a corner bar and restaurant that’s popular with the locals for some traditional Cambodian lunch. I had the beef with mushrooms and a side of stares from the local kids — we were clearly among the very, very few white people who had ever ventured there, which is too bad because it was delicious. So many other tourists, even backpackers, seem to flock to the western restaurants, avoiding the local food like the plague, something I don’t understand at all; the local food is the best part! The closest I’ve come to anything "western" was a nicer (meaning the entree was $3) noodle place where I ordered the Loht Chaa, a traditional Cambodian dish, and watched them make the noodles fresh right in front of me. Still not western food, though; everything else is too good to pass up, especially the fried bananas on a stick for breakfast, yum.

After lunch, we headed to the Royal Palace to explore all the beautiful temples. All of the temples were gorgeous, all featuring various, luxurious decor. Within the complex is the Silver Pagoda, the floor of which is inlaid with beautiful solid silver tiles. The crystal, gold, and jeweled Buddhas filling this Pagoda amplify the beauty of the structure even further.

After the long day of sight seeing, we still had another seven hours to entertain ourselves before our bus to Siem Reap. We wandered through the park across from the night market, where there were multiple dance-aerobics-type classes going on. The dancing reminded me of zumba, only less intense; to be fair, it was approximately one million degrees outside, so a less intense workout was perfectly justifiable. (I happen to be counting the miles of walking we’ve done in each city as my "workouts", so I certainly don’t have higher expectations of anyone else. In fact, that tends to be the extent my workout at home, too, so there’s no judgement here.)

Once the classes and thus our entertainment ended, we meandered through the night market again and grabbed dinner from one of the stands. From the dozens of meat- and veggie-on-a-stick options, I opted for a coconut-fried beef kebab, a beef mixed with veggie kebab, a veggie wonton (they called it a spring roll), battered cauliflower and beans. All this came with a side of pickled vegetables, and was SO. GOOD. I topped it all off with some nuok mia, freshly pressed sugar cane juice. During and after dinner we just lounged on the area mats and watched the karaoke and dance routines being performed on the stage in the center of the market.

At midnight we finally boarded the bus to Siem Reap and settled in for a miserable six hours. The bus had no shocks and the roads were becoming increasingly rougher, so it was a very bumpy ride. Then, despite the fact that it was a night bus, there were a few Brits immediately behind me that were shouting — yes, shouting — over the noise of the bus itself for the first half of the ride until about 3am, and at that point a different girl took over disruption duty by bawling for the next part of the ride. Needless to say, it was a relief to reach Siem Reap.

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