Into the Abyss

Phnom Penh at NightI arrived back in Phnom Penh last night taking the bus from Kampot. I was sad to leave for a couple of reasons I guess. One was that I just really enjoyed the place and its laid-back style  but the second reason was that leaving meant my journey was fast approaching an end.

I still had Phnom Penh to go but I had already been there so it was not new to me. I did decide to stay in another part of town than my previous visit and this proved to be a good decision.

Talk about black and white!

Where I had stayed on my arrival in Cambodia was more what you would call the residential side of Phnom Penh. People lived there. Commuted to work. There were corner shops, kids played in yards, and crossing the road was not an extreme sport that could easily result in injury.

Even though hectic on the main thoroughfares it was nowhere near the chaos and energy I was now experiencing at the waterfront. In particular the side streets of the waterfront area.

Apocalypse Now meets Patpong Road!

The curtain of nightfall brings with it a community otherwise unseen during the daytime. Bars which had previously been just iron doors with grates in front of them burst onto the scene. Names like the Pussy Cat Club, Bar Loco, The 69, The Candy Club, and dozens of others; all painted blood-red with flashing neon signs and an imposing dark interior. A cadre of young women spilling out onto the sidewalk. Enticing all male passers-by with a catcall or mid-air hip check followed by a wink and a smile.

I hadn’t been feeling great when I arrived back in Phnom Penh but I woke this morning feeling worse. Tropical head colds are not like the ones back home. Those are usually experienced as the weather turns from good to bad. You curl up, stay warm, invest in an anti-histamine and a movie marathon.

In the tropics the weather is great, you have limited time to spend wallowing in self-pity, the air-conditioner is not your friend; so you venture out. Feeling sick as a dog in search of some medication that will make you perk up and return your attitude in tact.

The pharmacie on the corner had a packet of pills for a dollar.

I have had this before in India where I felt lousy. The local chemist gave me a bunch of round red pills in a brown paper bag and instructed me to take 4 a day with water. The healing power of these magic tablets was so immediate I ended up returning to her and buying more for future use; if needed.

This was a similar situation except the pills were light green and I only had to take 3 a day; with food not water.

I don’t know what it is about these countries and their cures for the common cold but I have never had one that lasts very long after a visit to a local chemist in search of the proverbial hammer.

With the light green elixir doing its work I set off to be encased by the world’s tenth largest dome.

An art deco one at that!

The Central Market is a massive structure and as the name implies it is smack dab in the middle of town. If you are in need of a watch you go here. If you need a pair of shoes you go here. If you need the hoof of a pig you go here. Clothes, handbags, fish, meat, alive, dead, you can get it here.

A shopping center on steroids under one huge non-climate controlled roof. But you wouldn’t know it. The market is so well ventilated by the dome that upon entering you are relieved of all concerns regarding the typical sweltering market experience. The dome so high that for the first time in weeks your sense of personal space is returned to you.

Its shopping time! 

Bargaining in any market is the name of the game. Especially as a foreigner the best you can hope for is to not be taken for too much of a sucker. You will never get local prices but you can try, fail and enjoy the whole process. Reaching a price that allows you to walk away from that vendor without hearing snickers in the background has got to count as a good purchase.

MarketWith my swag of T-shirts, sunglasses, and gifts for folks at home I sat down on a blue plastic chair next to the bloody fish head sales lady in order quench my thirst.

I still had a couple of sneezes in me and these made the young water sales girl recoil in horror as she realized my sickly state. She stepped back further into her space, checked the tightness of her baby blue face mask, glared at me with eyes that spoke in very plain English.


The Raffles Hotel is an icon in several cities throughout Asia. Singapore, Beijing, Manilla, Siem Reap, and Phnom Penh. It is a hotel by which other hotels hold up as a standard and attempt to emulate.

In the heat and humidity of Phnom Penh I sought out the hotel as an oasis with a pool. A place my light green cold potion could continue its healing ways. Where a lounge chair waited for me. A cold drink, a waiter in a suit, and manicured lawns. No dust, no dirt. A place to relax.

It was everything I had hoped for. The lounge chair enveloped me and like a tempurpedic memory foam mattress it cradled me. Before long I was in the land of nod. Nod being a place I was not really allowed to be at.

I felt good; ready to hit the streets and see a Wat. One of the places on my list that I had not visited before was Wat Ounalom.

Originally built in 1448 this was a temple that had seen the ravages of the Khmer Rouge but also the dedication and determination of the people following that era. Statues had been desecrated but painstakingly rebuilt piece by piece. Relics had been cast away into the Tonle Sap River but retrieved years later and returned to their rightful place. Monks had been killed but like all over Cambodia the religious population was making a strong comeback into daily life.

I meandered though the complex. The age of the buildings was evident. Monks wandered everywhere busy with the routine and schedule of their lives.

A large golden stupa lay off to the side surrounded by a fence. The door was locked and there were no plaques indicating its history although it was obviously an important one.

An elderly monk stood beside the locked door and waved me over. With a broad smile he held up a set of keys. Almost like a child who was about to do something he wasnt supposed to. A mischievous smile.

He unlocked the door to the stupa and invited me inside. It was hot, dark, and the smoke of incense filled the air. The monk began to pray and suggested I follow suit. He handed me an incense stick and I lit it.  I was kneeling two feet in front of the Buddha statue with no rope barrier; this alone was unusual.

This was a special place but I had no idea why. The monk began to pluck at his eyebrow and convey to me the message that would allow me to understand why this was a very special place.

Many stupas I have been to are built upon or surround various remnants of Buddha himself. This one contained an eyebrow hair.

The monk and I sat inside the stupa for 15 minutes until the heat finally drove me out. I felt like something very cool had just happened and was grateful to the monk for providing me the opportunity; I felt privileged.

It made my day.

I went and sat at the riverfront and as the sun went down on my last evening in Phnom Penh I felt less saddened about leaving and more excited to return. Next time I would be back with Alison and that would make the trip even better. We had shared this adventure as much as possible but electronically conveying the experiences of a country like Cambodia is difficult.

Next time we would create memories together and I looked forward to that.

For photos of Cambodia click here.

27 thoughts on “Into the Abyss

  1. All the pictures of Hotels, religious places, markets are amazing. You have enjoyed a lot and it is nice to visit some hotel with a relaxing environment. Seems you have enjoyed Cambodia a lot and it is great you are planning to return. It is nice you had amazing time and I love the story of stupa also.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another wonderful adventure Tim, and I know what you mean about finding magic potions in other countries. My first couple of years working in international travel I was on the road for weeks at a time and plagued with colds. I can’t remember the name of it now, but I found this amazing stuff in Australia that never failed to bash a cold in record time. Loved the photographs, and your description of the nightlife sounded quite like Mexico after dark. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tim, I have really enjoyed visiting all these colorful spots with you – and sometimes the journey to get there. Apocalypse Now meets Patpong Road! didn’t disappoint. I’ve had the same experience with local cures in Mexico but didn’t realize you could get them anywhere. As for bargaining, the one time I came out well was in Morocco where a local bargained long and hard for a scarf I admired. She than walked away at the last minute and I asked the seller if I could have it for the same price and he agreed!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Those Cambodia pictures are nice. I know the experience was life changing. The Raffles hotel looked very nice. I would love to see some of those bars in person.


  5. Being sick while traveling is miserable. But I’m glad to know where to go if I’m ever in need of a pig’s hoof! As always, I love the gorgeous pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great pictures and story. For some reason the pictures make me think about cock fighting in the markets in Manila and Bangkok. And the photograph of the hotel of The Oriental in Bangkok. Winter and February make me want to go and explore Cambodia.


  7. I would so love to know what is in those magic pills! The closest thing to that I’ve ever experienced is when my acupuncturist gave me herbs for a cold which worked as well. Loved the pictures of the dome. I think it is funny what you said about getting a good enough price so that the vendor isn’t snickering as you walk away. It is the small victories that count! I’ve never been to a market like that, but they always seem like such an adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I would imagine that if you’re making your way down the street burdened with a head cold and looking for some relief, getting hip-checked by a woman outside a tacky looking club with a name like Pussy Cat, is not going to make you feel a whole lot better.


  9. Your Cambodia travel pictures are beautiful. The markets remind me of so many places in Europe, even Egypt. I usually pack different remedies I think I might need for colds and such. But your post gives me the idea to possibly have more trust in other countries pharmacists too.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great writing Tim… always feel like I am right with you on these trips. Cambodia has been such a vivid and interesting trip! As to the wonder drugs…next time you are there, maybe a suitcase full to bring home??? Love Raffles in Singapore, by the way. I can understand why you sought it out:)


    1. Oh Jacquie, if I could have brought a suitcase home I would have. Not sure what was in it but it agreed with me better than anything in the US.


  11. Tim. that dome is an amazing place – imagine that as a market. Wow. But how smart since it is climate controlled without sacrificial means. Must make a lot of food vendors happy. I also enjoyed the story about the stupa – you must have felt so privileged. What an honour. Glad you had such a good time and that you shared it with us.


  12. Hi Tim, Very interesting the medication you got. Did you receive any indication of what the pills were comprised of? Whenever I was unwell in China (cold, sore throat, that sort of thing), I didn’t see a doctor. A Chinese friend would take me by the hand and lead me to a pharmacist. That very knowledgeable individual would ask if I wanted Western medicine or Chinese; I always said Chinese. I was never disappointed in the traditional herbal medication concocted for me.

    Thank you for another rich account of life in Cambodia. If I go there one day, I’ll feel a teeny bit prepared.


  13. I’ve enjoyed your posts on Cambodia. You paint the scenes so clearly I often feel as I am there too. The Central Market looks like a fun place to visits, although I must admit I’m not great at the bargaining bit. I guess you learn after a while.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thanks Tim, for the adventure through Cambodia. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it all. I wish you were still on the road so I could read more. Happy New Year.



    1. Hi John, even though I am back the stories of my trip through Cambodia are still coming out. After that there will be stories from past trips…until I hit the road again. Hopefully that will be very soon.


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