On my last night in Phnom Penh, I didn’t sleep. Recovering from the 12+ hour bus ride from Can Tho in Vietnam to Phnom Penh, I slept in most of the day I arrived back in Cambodia. I awoke to a growling tummy at 2am and ventured out onto Street 51 for a bite to eat. Packed with people even at this hour, the thundering sounds of music emanating from Pontoon Club and the many bars along this street could fool you into thinking it was still 9 or 10 pm. “Fifty-one” as it’s called in local speak never sleeps. It’s open for business from 7pm to 7am daily.
I headed to my favourite street corner stall, “Katy Peri’s Pizza” for my ultimate pizza fix. I’d had enough of noodles and Vietnamese cuisine over the last 2 weeks. Move over Dominos and Pizza Hut, these guys put out the best wood-fire pizzas bar none. Anyone who has been to this part of Phnom Penh can attest to the fact that its a happening place and somewhat sleazy. Ladies decked out in their finest trendy duds, 10-inch high-heels and makeup plastered on thick and liberally, parade up and down the street as are the ones who work at the bars and clubs calling out to customers to come in and have a drink.
After a hearty meal, I’m faced with the question of whether to head back to sleep or just sit and people watch. People watch I did and as dawn was upon us, the street began to empty out like a ghost town. I decided to grab my camera from the room and take a stroll down to the riverside to watch the sunrise.
The morning air was crisp and cool albeit a little stinky at spots where rubbish was collecting and the homeless were huddled seeking refuge from the elements along the sidewalks as I walked by. This is Phnom Penh, heart-breaking as it is, it’s commonplace to see this.
The elderly early birds at the Royal Palace Park were already full swing into their morning exercises with the pigeons accompanying them to the tune of a blaring Khmer beat as it played from a portable radio set nearby. Across the street excited children were running riot chasing pigeons as they flew high up and away in all directions only to return for more fun with the kids over and over.
I’ve spent many a Sunday afternoon here with these winged creatures when I lived here and perhaps there were one or two that may have recognised me. Perhaps I was a familiar face to some of them. I’d like to think so. But then again, who really knows how these things work. The universe weaves its magic in strange ways.
The sunrise over one of my favourite little shrines, Preah Ong Dong Ka, at the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers was in a word, splendid. As it peeked out from behind the clouds, the sun played hide and seek with me as I tried to capture it in all it’s glory over Sisowath Quay. Pigeons dotting the skies ever so often added to a magical atmosphere of a new day dawning.
I’m not an overly religious person but often find myself drawn to places of worship when I travel. This little shrine is special and I’ve been here many times. However, this was the first time it was not busy and I managed to get inside and offer a prayer of my own together with the locals who were here on this fine morning. Interestingly enough, it’s odd that the general populace who visit this temple are Buddhist yet the deity they offer prayer to is Lord Vishnu, a Hindu God.
The sun is high up and I’m basking in its morning rays. I have to remind myself that I can’t be sitting here all day, I’ve a flight to catch soon. My journey across Indo-China took me over land covering some 1,750 kilometres of bumpy, twisty and pothole ridden roads over a 2 week period. My back hurts but I loved every minute of it. Like every trip I’ve ever taken, it started off like a fully charged battery, full of enthusiasm and excitement of the adventure that awaited but today, it comes to an end. That battery only has a trickle of energy left and I’m dragging my feet trying to make every minute left count. Where did all that time go?
I came to say farewell to the pigeons in the park and spend time at my favourite little temple overlooking the river. I’m sure I’ll find an excuse to come visit again. I always do. But until then, my heart remains here.
I’m on my flight back all too soon. I’ve seen some amazing sights through a tiny viewfinder and sitting at my desk back in the comfort of home in Kuala Lumpur, I can’t believe I was there in the first place. All I can do now is relive those precious, almost fleeting moments through the images I’ve shot on my trip. Snapshots captured in time that last forever.
The Roving Photographer
April 2nd, 2016