On the road to Phnom Penh

On the road to Phnom Penh

We were on another public bus today for our return trip to Phnom Penh. As a result we were up early to breakfast before the 07:30 departure time. My sunburn seemed to have calmed down somewhat overnight; where yesterday it looked like it would be painful and peeling in due course, today it just looked like I’d overdone the tanning a little bit. It was only uncomfortable in a few small locations, so I think I’ve lucked-out on that!

The bus journey was unremarkable. I spent most of it getting reacquainted with my music collection and staring out of the window. I managed to miss a great photo opportunity looking up the length of a lush valley towards the mountains though and then spent most of the rest of the trip with camera in hand futilely hoping I would get a second chance.

The Throne Hall of the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

The Throne Hall of the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

We lunched at one of the many restaurants along the riverside again as the Friends NGO restaurant was shut (again)! Afterwards we went on to tour the Royal Palace which was pretty and very well maintained, but I think overshadowed by our memories of the glittering Grand Palace in Bangkok.

The Silver Pagoda does merit mention though, partly for its floor made entirely of silver blocks and partly for its enormous collection of Buddha statuettes. Like the Thai Temple of the Emerald Buddha, there is a raised dais on which sits an image carved of jade and numerous golden images on the tiers below it. Unlike Bangkok, though, the walls are lined with glass display cases exhibiting the numerous other Buddha statues that have been gifted to the King over the years. So many of them are almost identical and displayed in rows that you could think you had wondered into the gift shop by mistake!

Monks strolling in the grounds of the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

Monks strolling in the grounds of the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

During the day I had been having a text-message conversation with Chris (one of the friends with whom we would be spending a few days in Phnom Penh) about the logistics of meeting up. It was all looking terribly complicated as they had commitments and our schedule kept slipping, but we managed to meet up after the palace for Chris to give us a key to their place so that we could arrive late if need be. We met in the park near the Palace as he was walking their dog, Theo, who has grown so much since we last saw him in Sri Lanka three years ago!

After a bit of a catch up with Chris we headed back to our guest house to shower and change for dinner. We’d arranged for the last dinner to be at almost the same place as we were at when we were here a few days ago; the River Crown, which is owned by the same people and on the floor above Touk. We had the same al fresco ambiance overlooking the river and the same menu (and cocktail happy hour!) but sadly didn’t have the pool table.

Our farewell dinner with the group

Our farewell dinner with the group

We all ordered more cocktails than we probably should have, but they took so long to arrive that nobody got overly drunk. (Pete and Marc inevitably started ordering jugs of beer.) We’d learned at some point that drinking gin makes Pete overly emotional and he often ends up crying after drinking it so, being a tad mischievous, I ordered him several large Gin & Tonics over the course of the evening; it would have been so flattering for someone to be in tears at our leaving the group…!

It turns out he is a tougher nut to crack than that and he lasted the evening in a seemingly very good mood. In fact the whole evening was quite convivial. Brett and I managed to talk a while with most everyone, although I didn’t quite catch up with Monica and Ana or Jenyfer. Panha made a little speech wishing us well and there were hugs all round as we left the restaurant.

Brett with Pete and Ana

Brett with Pete and Ana

Instead of heading straight over to Mark & Chris’ place as we’d planned though, we agreed to host an impromptu poker game in our guest house room. So in due course, Julia, Marc, Tim, Lucy & Annie all came along to play for the toothpicks that someone had lifted from the restaurant. Pete and Ana decided to get an early night as the remaining group had an early start for Ho Chi Min City in the morning (although, I suspect Pete really just wanted to go off and sob in privacy…)

Despite (or perhaps because of) several of the players being new to the game we had a good time. Marc turned out to be more of a savvy player than most – so Brett and I decided we were happy he lived on a different continent and wouldn’t be able to invite him to our regular games! I actually did quite well compared to my normal showing, finishing the evening as one of the winners!

The game did eventually wind down though, people left and Brett and I finally packed up our packs and headed out. Perversely we only came across one tuk-tuk on the road and the driver appeared to be stoned, so we passed on that and walked over to Mark & Chris’ place – which wasn’t really that far in the evening air.

I was surprised in the end how emotional I felt about it all. From my own time leading tours, I know the dynamic of the group can make or break the holiday for everyone on it. We had a pretty good group; while not everyone got on splendidly, there was no-one who especially got on people’s nerves. I feel I have met some really decent, interesting people and I hope we are able to keep in touch with them in the time to come. I really feel we have made some new friends in these ten days, which is an unexpected bonus to the trip itself. I feel sorry to be leaving them early and wish them all the best for their time in Vietnam and journeys home!