My impression of Pnom Penh: dusty, fairly urbanized and busy. As soon as we got down from the bus, a dozen of tuktuk drivers offered us their service. Surprisingly all of them spoke good English-with clear pronunciation, accurate grammar and vocabulary. The biggest and tallest guy first got my attention; he was probably in his mid-40s, brown skinned like me, wearing long-sleeved shirt and dark-colored trousers. He looked straight to my eyes and asked where I wanted to go.
Having lived in the church for fourteen years, lived among the players of Philippine’s Gangster capital for four years, met religious and dodgy professionals and businessmen and worked with foreigners, I could easily differentiate a sheep from a goat. The tuktuk driver was, as my instinct hinted, a man who can be trusted. So I answered his question, negotiated the 2.30-7.30pm trip around the city and before we knew it, we were in a money exchanger already. To my surprise, I saw all sorts of currencies through a transparent glass cover in that foreign exchange place. There was no security guard- only a woman who must be in her late 30s who served me and a teenager who spoke fairly comprehensible English. After having our first hundred dollars changed, we went to the National Museum which was just about 10minutes from the shop.
As soon as we arrived, 6 kids selling mineral water approached us. I told the eldest one I’d buy from him afterwards, entered the gate of the musem and woolah, we have time traveled! Outside was a well-maintained garden with a number of statues-one that’s most striking was a life-size elephant head and a bush which was skillfully trimmed to form its body. We bought entrance tickets and read the regulations which to our dismay prohibited use of cameras inside the museum but would let us take photos in the garden. I was awestruck looking at different relics, bayons and paintings. I thought I received too much information that day that I went to the cafe in the interior garden to chill out, at least for a couple of minutes. I had my first Cambodian coffee while my buddy was taking photos in the garden. One thing struck me while I was seated there-an old church bell carved with a Latin cross amidst all Buddha statues and images! It was probably the only Christian symbol of the place that keeps relics of pre-Khmer Rouge regime.
We carried on exploring the museum and in at least two corners, I was given flowers by a devotee who later gestured that I pray to Buddha. So I put the fragrant plants onto the pot where incense sticks were also erected and gestured a bow in front of the life size idol. There were at least 6 of them there and every visitor did the same. Apart from the idols, we saw dozens of framed photographs of the Angkor Wat which we were yet to see.
The museum tour took about an hour and all I had with me upon exiting the museum was admiration of the Cambodian government that continues to make an effort in documenting its culture and history.
Thanks for reading,