Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The journey from Siem Reap to Cambodia's capital city could have been done entirely over land but the roads are just as bad as the one from Poi Pet at the border of Thailand. Commercial flights are available too but that's more expensive. The affordable faster solution - sailing Tonle Sap lake, Southeast Asia's largest, via Rambo Express Boat.

As it is wet season at this time of the year, Tonle Sap is also at its widest and deepest, expanding 10 times more than what it is during dry season. So much so that the trip from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh took six and a half hours.

As we sailed away promptly at 7 a.m., fisher-folks living in their floating houses were already busy for the day. Most of the houses were quite small and toddlers can be seen playing through the open doors while their mothers were either doing the laundry or cooking breakfasts. Meanwhile, small boats brimming with vegetables were plying their trade from one floating house to another. This is truly Cambodia at its rawest.

We arrived in Phnom Penh really famished. After checking-in at the Pacific Hotel, J.P. herded us to the Chinese Pull Noodle restaurant where the noodle plays a starring role in the dish. The noodle is freshly hand-made: that is, from a single dough, strands of noodles are pulled with great skill to the applause of onlookers on the sidewalk. Add a spicy pork and broth to it and voila, I got myself a much-deserved lunch.

The rest of our afternoon is free so the four of us in the group - Joe, Bethan, Jess and I took the tuk-tuk to the Russian market. Nothing extraordinary there - the same touristy stuff we saw at the old market in Siem Reap. I saw a lady vendor with heaps of lanzones on her basket and bought some for Joe, Bethan and Jess to try (I wouldn't dare them with Durian which was also available).

I find Phnom Penh has more character to it than Bangkok. It's not overrun with towering new buildings but rather the lack of it makes it feel like you're in a set of a 1970's movie. What I also find remarkable in this capital city is that there's no traffic jams - it's mostly tuk-tuks and motorbikes criss-crossing the roads. It's got a big town feel to it but I don't find it suffocating as its pace is not as fast as Bangkok's.

Before dinner, we had drinks at the FCC (Foreign Correspondent's Club) along Sisowath Quay. Despite its name, it doesn't have a clubby feel to it, most likely because it has tourists for customers and not newspaper reporters or writers as one would expect. From the second floor, I got a commanding view of the Tonle Sap meeting up with the waters of the Upper Mekong and Bassac rivers. I could spend a relaxing day in this perch watching the world go by in Cambodia.

Dinner was at Friends restaurant, a popular expat restaurant where the waiters and cooks were formerly street children and juvenile delinquents. I particularly like the paintings hanging on the walls and the general color motif of blue and yellow - pleasing to the eyes as your stomachs begin to grumble. We ordered tapas and found the food heavenly (did they have angels for cooks as well?) This isn't only one of the cheapest - we were billed $6 for each one of us in the group - but one of the best culinary adventures I've had in a long time.

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