Saturday, February 15, 2014

15. Phnom Penh By Night

Phnom Penh has none of nightlife one finds in neighboring Thailand. There are no strip-clubs, no A-gogo-bars and none of the attractions commonly related to its neighbor to the West. Cambodia is not as 'dead' as Laos, by no means, but very different from the more developed Thailand. 

The night activities are divided up between age groups and nationality. The young Cambodians of both sexes have their Karaoke bars, or Karaoke 'shophouses', easily recognizable by the hundreds of scooters parked in front of them. I don't have a first hand account what they are actually doing in there for hours on end, but it involves singing and drinking, I guess. There are some discotheques distributed around town, again for the local and young crowd, but my guess is that those are prohibitive for most young local people because of cost.

For the foreigners, typically of a more mature age, there are the many excellent restaurants, and first and foremost, the rattan-chair-furnished open air bars along Sisowath Quay, commonly referred to as 'Riverside'. Here I like to sit for hours watching the night car and motorcycle traffic pass by, and the pedestrians. It is like sitting in any open-air cafe in, what I would call "good" city, mainly in Europe. It is just fantastic to see all the scenes happening around you, and very entertaining too. Depending on which cafe you choose, prices for drinks are low, i.e. at 'Mekhong River', my favored hangout, a pint of the good local pilsner style brew, Angkor Draft, is 75 U.S. cents, a pitcher $2.50.

Not the 'Queen of the Night', but maybe a Princess.
At my favored hangot 'Mekhong River' cafe.
Barefoot kids are trying to sell books, wristbands or other paraphernalia, many beggars come by, young and old, and the many severely handicapped people in wheelchairs, or without, mostly injured by landmines are begging for money. Everything goes without hassle, or any aggression. Speaking of which: How an entire big city, or the entire country even, can live with such challenging traffic conditions and NOT be plagued by ROAD-RAGE is simply admirable. None of that exists here, at least on the many hundreds of kilometers on the road, or sitting in a cafe at one of the busiest streets I personally have never experienced any of that. Bravo.

NOTE: (added 2/17/2014):

When I enthusiastically wrote about the relatively well-behaved drivers/riders showing no inclination for road-rage in an otherwise chaotic, overcrowded traffic mayhem, I didn't know what the paper would publish two days later:

In Yorngs tuk-tuk. I do not ride the motorcycle at night.

Central Market at sunset.

Chinese restaurant, one of thousands.

Very attractively restored French corner building, now Hotel 'Maison d'Ambre'

And then there is food. Everywhere. At night at some of the major commercial streets in downtown, people set up makeshift restaurants with one or several cooking carts and a small, or huge number of the infamous plastic tables and low kid-sized plastic chairs one finds all over Asia. The 'restaurants' are set up after sunset, and after the regular businesses at that particular street locations rolled down their steel shutters and removed their wares and displayed from the sidewalk. It is then, when the restaurant spreads out. They are very popular and must be good, otherwise the large numbers of customers every night couldn't be justified.

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