This morning I sat in my friend’s kitchen and wrote a post titled “18 February 2023”. I had no intention to make it into a two-parter, but here we are. It’s 5pm. I’m back in the same kitchen after half a day wandering around the Russian Market area of Phnom Penh. And I’ve got more observations for you:
- I’m bowled over by how friendly and gracious every local I’ve come into contact with today is. A security guard said “Hello!” as I walked past and smiled when I, surprised, turned to return his greeting. (I don’t think a random guard has ever verbally greeted me in Ho Chi Minh City. The most you can get is a return smile if you smile at them first, but even this is rare—my smiles are usually met with an emotionless stare, if not outright ignored.) Every restaurant and café staff I’ve interacted with—and there were many—were unfailingly polite and—I can’t find a better word to describe—gracious. This includes staff at establishments I wandered in to see the interior and check the menu out. “Can I just see your menu? I’ve already eaten,” invariably engendered warm smiles and an instantly proffered booklet (always with English names of dishes). When I leave half a minute later, everyone thanks me profusely, wishes me a nice day, and “Hope to see you again.” I’ve never felt so repeatedly welcomed in an afternoon. I’ve never been made to feel so welcome ever in Ho Chi Minh City. Service is a big thing for me, so this is a major plus for Phnom Penh.
- Greenery appears to be a thing. I found a number of restaurants densely wrapped in foliage. They were all very quaint and extremely inviting. I wish I were staying here for a month instead of ten days, so I could go back to while away afternoons in all of them.
- Lots and lots of foreigners. A few clearly tourists, most unidentifiable.
- Beer ($1) was cheaper than soda ($1.75). So I drank beer. The draught Cambodian beer was actually very nice—a dollar well spent.
- Street crossing helpers are a thing. I saw this depicted on television somewhere (I don’t remember now where) yesterday in a commercial, and was the happy beneficiary of one today. My route to my lunch spot involved crossing a major thoroughfare. There were barriers in the middle, so I had to cross at a U-turn. As I stood there wondering how long I would have to wait for the traffic to ease off, an older man in a guard uniform with a light stick came up to me and gestured for me to follow him. He then proceeded to step confidently onto the street, waving his stick to stop incoming traffic, and lead the way for me to cross to the other side—Moses-style. Safely arrived, I hesitated, not knowing whether he was expecting to be paid for his much-valued service. But the man smiled and nodded, and I took that to mean that I was free to continue on my way.
- I must have spent an hour crisscrossing the small streets to the east of the Russian Market. In that time I discovered a dedicated English language book store (still haven’t found one in Ho Chi Minh City) offering a wide variety of titles for ridiculous sums of money (Chasing the Scream was $17.50. I quickly gave up on the idea of buying a paperback to read during this trip), numerous restaurants and bars, some bakeries, and a small store selling made-in-Cambodia products which I’ve earmarked for a potential return visit (I try not to impulse-buy. I’ll see in a few days if I still want the items that caught my eye). Those few blocks remind me strongly of the Nimmanhemin area in Chiang Mai which I and my partner loved exploring last July, but a more expensive (everything’s priced in US dollars) and international version (in that short walk, I came across restaurants offering Iraqi, Balkan, Russian, Greek, and Italian cuisines).
Today was my first full day in Phnom Penh. And I must say it was a roaring success. I’ve discovered an area I love that’s 30 minutes away on foot from where I’m staying (albeit a sweaty and not-entirely-pleasant walk). I’ve acquired change in local currency so I have the option to hop on a tuktuk to get there. I’ve got more restaurants on my to-visit list than I have meals left. I’m set for the next 8 days.
I hope you’ve enjoyed your Saturday. Until next time,