Saturday, October 11, 2008

Phnom Penh Part 3: Walks Along Sisowath Quay and the Tonle Sap


At any time of the day, it's always interesting to walk along the Sisowath Quay, a riverine sidewalk much like
London's queen's walk, the banks of the Seine or Manila's Roxas Boulevard. The tourist-friendly stretch comfortably sits along the eastern part of the city, more specifically the southern bend, just facing the Tonle Sap joining the Mekong to form a Y-shape that drains south into theBassac River. As you go north, one gets a view of the Japanese Friendship Bridge that leads to the other side not quite navigated by tourists (but does that stop me?)

It is imperative to orient yourself with the Sisowath, since each side street from there allows faster, easier navigation. This is a most convenient focal area for walkers without guides. The avenue is paved and lined with cream colored street posts that romantically light the avenue at night. Late afternoon winds blow a comfortable waft at the riverside cafes and restaurants. There are concrete barriers – said to be floodgates - constructed above the river serving as convenient benches to watch local color. Several boats are docked below. Just across these concrete benches are rows and rows of motorbikes and tuktuks desperately waiting for tourists.

Every so often, touts would offer their vehicles, but I find that a sincere and insistent - not the condescending - "no" usually worked here, unlike their Vietnamese counterparts. Flags from the different countries with diplomatic ties to the country proudly rise above these riverside concretes. As the sun dipped into the horizon, I found myself catching my breath, and taking in the sights before me. From my vantage, simple Khmer life seems idyllic. No trace of the lugubrious crap I’ve been reading in several blogs and personal encounters about
Phnom Penh. I couldn't help recall the degree of anxiety I had about this city when I first visited. These were usual concerns, about the corrupt local police, fining commuters with made-up transgressions. Sounds familiar? They aren't completely baseless - but a lot of these anecdotes have been told and retold and blown out of proportion. My driver-guide voiced his displeasure about them, even referring to them as crocodiles (toldya, it sounded familiar). Being aware of such situations helps people avoid getting into the same dilemma.

Circle marks the Japanese Friendship Bridge; X marks the touristy area of the Sisowath Quay near the guesthouses and cafes, B - Bassac River, the confluence of the Tonle Sap and the Mekong. The northwestern body of water is the Boeng Kak Lake where other guesthouses line the lakeside. Quite far from the Sisowath Quay though.


I sat at the riverside for almost an hour, transferring every 15 minutes or so. Sometime after dinner, I realized I was seated beside a flag that looked familiar. Oh yeah, “ang mamatay ng dahil sa yo” (to die for you). LOL. It was nothing less than serendipitous to have unknowingly chosen a spot where my flag stood. It welcomed me - so far away from home.

There were several loonies passing along the road, talking to themselves, lost in the jungles of their own consciousness, chatting gibberish. Life in
Cambodia is hard, but then I have seen the same phenomenon in Madrid - a city that has some of the highest per capita of loonies roaming their streets. (Madridalso has similar number of "streakers" - fun-loving gentlemen in their trenchcoats with nothing else underneath. LOL)

From the tourist area, the southern route takes you to an open grassy field fronting the immense
Royal Palace. Right across is a small street-temple facing the river. Ambulant vendors gather around selling foodstuff, incenses, lotuses and trinkets. Further south is a series of buddhist temples that brightly gleam in the daylight. I could stay at the Quay all day if I didn't have an itinerary list to visit. Here are some images from the area, an obvious personal favorite.

Independence Memorial (above and below) commemorates the departure of the French in 1953, located at the heart of the city. Nearby is the mediocre Stalin-style Liberation Memorial, marking the Vietnamese capture of the city in 1979. Although the Cambodians were glad to see the end of the Khmer Rouge, they don't hold their Vietnamese neighbor in high regard either, and have demonstrated this by neglecting these historical landmarks for 2 decades (remember the Marcos head in Baguio?). It was used mainly as a convenient urinal. However, during my visit, much of the monument had already been cordoned off from everyone, locals and foreign tourists alike. I like the intricate Buddhist designs garnishing the structures.

Independence Park

This old lady is a blind vendor (above) selling lotus flowers and incenses for the nearby street-temple (below) by the riverside. I felt a bit guilty taking her photograph so I asked permission and gave her something in exchange for this photo opportunity which she held tightly (see the first photo above). I saw an appreciative smile so that made me feel better.

Tonle Sap boatmen (above) and children (below).

The Grand Palace

Sisowath Quay going north.

Sisowath Quay going south

"Ang mamatay ng dahil sa yo..."

Guess which embassy this is. (above and below) Though it's off Sisowath Quay, I made sure I get to see it. It's 2-3 blocks from the Independence Monument. I walked around the blocks, reaching the park, turning to the opposite side to get to the embassy; this, while my motorcycle waited for 30 minutes - just to orient myself with the place.

Aerial view from the north skies: Tonle Sap (left) and the Boeng Kak Lake (center) can be seen from here.

Sisowath Quay at night, near my DV8 Guesthouse. Cafes, bars, restaurants, a couple of internet cafe, some DVD shops line this avenue.

This is the Eye in the Sky!


Anonymous said...

as usual, all you shot are super! i especially love the perspective and motion in the last shot ;-)

Unknown said...

i love, love, love, love, love the hues in the photos.

Anonymous said...

hey, mate. i've been to PP, but i didn't see it as beautifully as you photographed them here. great job. cheers!

Twin said...

Nice lotus flowers...

eye in the sky said...

@caryn: thanks, caryn. night shots are tricky to take, especially when there's movement involved.

eye in the sky said...

thank you, thank you, thank you, lucy girl.

eye in the sky said...

hey, trevor, i think it shows on the photos when you like or dislike the subjects you're taking.

eye in the sky said...

@ twin: yeah, nice lotus flowers. they sometimes look like plastics, but they're the favorite flower offerings in buddhist temples everywhere, i wonder why. there's an explanation somewhere.

Anonymous said...

The information here is great. I will invite my friends here.


eye in the sky said...

Such kind words. Thank you.