Monday, October 02, 2006

Trip: Cambodia
Date: October 2, 2006
Place: Phnom Penh

Well I finally arrived in Phnom Penh (though not by boat as I hoped!) It is actually a very nice city! I am staying in a fabulous little hotel right by the river. There is an internet cafe and an ice cream store across the street and a bookstore next door! (Which as you know is a VERY dangerous thing! I bought four books already!!! Is there a pill for this do you think?)

After driving for several hours through the Cambodian countryside, I noticed a couple of things. First, they have more paved roads than Lao. Second, the quality of construction on the buildings seems better than Lao - more solid. They live in the same style of wooden house on stilts, but the Khmer houses are more plumb and level. The Lao houses look like they were constructed from whatever was available; the Khmer houses look like they were planned. There are not as many French chateau-type houses here, but many of the stilt houses are painted; blue seems to be the favorite color.

I have received word that my poor sister is now working six simultaneous jobs, so I felt that since she was not able to relax at all, I had to do the relaxing for her. Consequently, I have been getting massages in all of the countries that I visit. Here is a summary of the various types of massages for your vicarious enjoyment:

Thai Massage
My favorite. It is like a combination of yoga and acupuncture. The masseuse folds you into different pretzel shapes and then applies a kneading pressure to your various pressure points. It is very relaxing and relieves muscle pain. You are fully clothed for this massage (they will usually give you a loose shirt and pair of pants to put on) and your feet are washed before they start.

Lao Massage
The goal of Lao massage seems to be to make your client cry (and my masseuse almost did a couple of times!) They apply extreme pressure to your pressure points. Mine hurt so badly that I was not inclined to go back! My masseuse was a very nice woman, however. As you have heard, I have mangled my limbs pretty badly while traveling (hey, I always say if I don't come home bruised then it wasn't a good vacation!) Every time she would see another cut or bruise she would give a little yelp and then would run and get her jar of smelly, gooey ointment that she would rub on me. It made my skin feel like it was on ice! She noticed I was freezing (since I was covered in the stuff), and so she kept putting towels on me like blankets. It was very funny... Like the Thai massage you are clothed in loose clothing and you get a foot bath before they start.

Khmer Massage
This massage is somewhere between a Lao massage and a Thai massage. There is no folding or stetching like there is in a Thai massage, but the pressure is much gentler than a Lao massage. It is medium pressure, sometimes with a bit of kneading, on your pressure points. You remove your clothes for this massage, but still get your foot bath. The removing of the clothes part was a bit unnerving, as your massage takes place in a large room with lots of mats where everyone else is getting a massage - i.e. no privacy! At least I kept my underpants on and the room was dark!

After my Khmer massage last night I had dinner at one of the little outdoor cafes that line the street next to the river. I really like Khmer food. It is similar to Lao and Thai food, but not as spicey. Most dishes are like a soup that is served with rice. Coconut milk is used liberally, and there does not seem to be much cilantro - thank goodness! For you other cilantro haters out there, the Thai word for cilantro is "pak ti", ("mai pak ti" to say "no cilantro"); the Lao word for cilantro is "ka pom tom"; and the Khmer word for cilantro is either "chi" or "won soy".

People come around here and sell books on the streets! At first it seemed like heaven, but then I realized they were all selling the same books - tour guides and books on Cambodia. Great if you don't already have a Lonely Planet guide though, as you can pick them up for just $4 here! There are also a lot of beggars here. I realized after dinner last night, that I did not really run in to beggars in Thailand or Lao... The children are the saddest. I gave out the last of my pencils today. I was really happy because after I repacked my bags before heading to Cambodia I noticed that I had two airplanes left!! One I gave to an orphan boy begging for food in Kompong Cham. He was so sad. I just wanted him to feel like a boy for awhile, and he really appreciated the airplane (others at the table gave him food.) The last airplane I gave to a little boy today. His mother was a beggar and he was playing with a can tied to a string! That was his toy! It was so sad to see and I was so grateful that I had one airplane left to give him. He was so happy and he and his mother kept throwing it back and forth to each other. I wish I had more airplanes!!! If anyone wants to send me some in Bangladesh, I will make sure they go to good homes!

This morning I went to the Royal Palace and the National Museum - both of which are right across the street from my hotel! After that I went to the Central Market to try to buy a new journal. I have my larger journal with me, but it is too big to put in my camera bag, so I also carry a small journal with me. My joural requirements are quite specific: it needs to be small (preferably 5"x7"x 1/2"although my other one was a bit smaller); it needs to have a plastic cover (otherwise it disolves when it rains) ; it needs to have unlined pages (I like to sketch and lines get in the way); and I prefer spiral bound books because they are easier to open. I visited the stationary stores at the market (which were small with limited stock). I did not find any journals that met all of my specifications, but I did buy one that is the right size with a plastic cover. Its pages are lined, but the lines are really light, so I am trying to ignore them... It isn't spiral bound either, but I didn't have any pages left in my other journal and desperately needed a new one, so I took it as it was the best that I could find. Oh, and yes, I broke down and bought some Khmer textiles. I didn't have them made into a skirt today, even though they told me they could do it in one hour, because the woman selling the cloth was being annoying about the price and I negotiated a better price without the sewing. I was thinking about having the fabric sewn into skirts in Bangladesh, as I know that I could get a good price there, but now I think that I may go back tomorrow and have the girl sew one skirt so it is done in the Khmer style and the people in Bangladesh then have one to copy...

I think that tonight I will get another massage (for Heather's sake...) and read one of my new books! I will probably be in Phnom Penh for two more days. (I am hoping to rent a scooter tomorrow). I did purchase a ticket to go to Siem Reap (Ankor Wat) on Thursday - by boat!!


At Tuesday, October 03, 2006 9:07:00 AM, Blogger Heather Lea said...

Thanks for getting all the extra massages for me. I really appreciate and need them. I think I'll stick to the Thai method though, I don't like painful massages. Although the price is right!

Who knew that those little airplanes would be so successful! Good call I'll be sure to bring some with me.

You sound like you're having an amazing trip. I hope we get to rent bikes and tour India in the same fashion. I can't wait.


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