Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Royal Treatment

The WiFi in the room is not working this morning. Was last night was a fluke or does it come on only later in the day; I will just have to check again later.

I am beginning to rethink the reasons for the hoses in the bathrooms. We have seen more and more toilets in restaurants and hotels with signs asking not to put any paper products into the toilet. The hoses may be to cut down on the toilet paper use.

Breakfast is included with this hotel and is served on the top floor, a vast room with no windows that overlooks the river. The wind was blowing furiously this morning, so breakfast was a hasty affair. They did have a cook making omelets along with six steam table dishes with Asian choices like mixed vegetables, fried noodles and rice porridge. The coffee tasted like it had chocolate in it, but it did nothing to make it desirable. I have to have a coffee in the morning. If need be, I can go without the entire day, but morning is a necessity.

There is a café at the end of the block of the hotel where the café latte is excellent. After my caffeine fortification, we went to the National Museum. It did not seem like something that would hold my attention, but if you don’t try, you never know. Tickets were $2.00 each and then another $1.00 for a photo ticket, but photos are restricted to the garden only. As many museums in different parts of the world, the national one revolves around the religion that has shaped the culture. This was no exception; most of the exhibits were based on Buddhism, a religion that entered my radar when we were in Thailand. I have had a healthy respect for it ever since. The museum was enthralling with intricate statues dating back to the 8th and 9th centuries.

As we entered various rooms, a woman would approach us with little flowers on a wood stick. There was a different Buddha statue in each of the rooms and a vase with sand waiting for us to place our offering in it. We happily complied and left little donations of money at each.

In the center garden, koi ponds reign with one decorating each corner and a statue of Buddha in the center. For some insignificant amount of money, you can buy food to feed the fish, but they looked like they have been well nourished. Some of them could have provided a meal for a family of four with a doggie bag thrown in.

We were going to go to the Royal Palace, but it closes for 2 ½ hours for lunch, so we did too. After walking beyond it we were approached by a bright ten year old girl peddling water, who captivated us with her English skills. After a promise to buy water from her when we returned to the palace, she made us read the sayings on her pink hat so that we could be sure we were dealing with the right little girl when we returned. After repeating the slogans on her cap “Kiss me”, “Love Me” and “Hot Forever” she released us from custody. We really should have bought her a new beanie that was age appropriate.

Lunch sounded like a good idea and we found a little restaurant, one amongst three, that served personal sized pizzas for $1.50. They had some English newspapers, so we burrowed in and read the news of the world in English, rather than a daily dose of BBC which has been available almost everywhere we have stayed. When we returned to the palace, our little pink Madonna was waiting for us with two bottle of water ready for purchase for $1.00. Who could resist such charm?

When one thinks of Cambodia, royalty does not come to mind, at least not for me. I guess it does for many others. The line for tickets to get into the palace grounds was a long one, but it moved fast. For $3.00 each, we were given a booklet and map of the grounds with unlimited photo privileges except in certain buildings like the Royal Reception building. The king’s residence was off limits. What we found out is that the king and queen were exiled during the Khmer Rouge times, when they went to China to live. After the overthrow of the KR, the king who is in his early 80s and the queen returned, but he abdicated to his son. His son is in his forties and unmarried.

The palace grounds are what you would expect of royalty, but here Buddha reigns king. There are Buddha statues and chapels all over the ground. The royal reception room was stunningly beautiful, but of course, no photos were allowed. The royal gardens were immense, but all roads leading to them were closed to the public, so we could only view them from the periphery. A number of other buildings were closed off too, but still plenty to see and be in awe over.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a travel agency to find out about the trip to Chau Doc, Vietnam for tomorrow. We were informed there were two types of boats making the trip, one slow for a seven hour trip and one fast one taking a measly four hours. The most expensive was $12.00 each. My vote went for the fast boat to shave off the three hours. We would have to get to the dock via tuk-tuk at an added cost. When we went back to the hotel, Ron wanted to check with their travel desk. The manager is a Cambodian-American who convinced us that American guests who have done the trip in reverse have had nothing but complaints. They said they had to sit on the top deck, could not move about, and the diesel fumes were suffocating. He convinced us to book the slow boat for the fantastic scenery, the ability to walk around deck, take photos along the way, and sales pitch, and sales pitch. We bit the bait and paid $28.00 each providing us with a driver for the two hour drive to the dock where the boat leaves from and then the boat to Chau Doc. We were told we would need to be ready to leave at 6:00 am. No breakfast for us. It starts at 6:00. P.T. Barnum said there is a sucker born every minute, but he forgot to add that some suckers are repeat customers.

For dinner, we were going to try the Foreign Correspondents Club, recommended in the guide book. After one look at the menu, we said sorry and left. The prices must be meant for correspondents on an expensive account. Our next choice was the Bali Café right next to our hotel at 379 Street Preah Sisowath Telephone 023-982-211 e-mail Soothingly decorated with batiks on the walls, it is open to the river with a second higher level of seating augmenting the seating. With a table on the river side, we ordered from the a la carte menu, which was a mistake. I started with a coconut soup with chicken and vegetables, but also ordered vegetables with a garlic sauce and a pork dish. Each dish was more than substantial and could have been a meal unto itself. The blends of spices in each dish were superb and this restaurant is highly recommended. With our two large beers and six dishes, the bill came to $18.00 for both of us.

When we returned to the Royal Khmer hotel, we were told that the time for the boat has changed to 6:50 am, so we could have breakfast first, but please be ready to leave by 6:50. Another demerit added. When we returned to the room, the WiFi was again working.

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