A Night At The Opera

A day of adventure was in store finishing off with a night out for some traditional Cambodian Opera.

We started the day with breakfast on the riverfront at the Corner Restaurant . The traffic was backed up along the riverfront as we drove along and we discovered we had stumbled onto a protest to free some of the protesters who were jailed trying to get better pay and conditions for those in the clothing industry (they want wags increased to $150 US a month ).

Omelettes and coffee for breakfast for something different. We bought the local Phnom Penh Post from a newspaper seller and it was interesting reading the local news. For example a couple of boys in Poipet are now in hospital after having a joust on their motorbikes with samarai swords over who would be the valentine of a local lass, sadly a concerned friend intervened and caused an accident. The local police have warned all that samarai swords and motorbikes do not mix. There was also another article about a guy who stole some relics from a temple, he apparently thinks he is the brother of the sun and the locals (including police) say he can run very fast and make himself invisible. Most disturbing for me was his grandmother who proudly told the paper she was a beggar and came to Phnom Penh to earn the big bucks $50 US a day (this is why I do not give to beggars, we have seen many who have big wads of cash and stand in front of you looking destitute often with children hard as it is we say no)

After breakfast we checked out Wat Omlouan located on the riverfront, right in the middle of the hustle and bustle but once inside the gates it seemed like a thousand miles away. We had a look inside the temple and around the grounds, before finding a seat with a table to just relax. A young girl sat with us before a young monk joined us and started chatting. He explained how the temple takes in girls and boys and gives them an education and accommodation. He came from a rural village about 200kms away and was at the University studying English Literature and languages. The young girl was his friend who had come to visit him but only spoke Chinese and Khmer. They were both nice and friendly.

We left the peace and serenity of Wat Omlouan and joined the rat race traffic along the riverfront over the Japanese Friendship bridge onto the other side of the Tomle Sap river where we went looking for Wat Borun. The instruction to turn right came a little late so we turned at the next opportunity, travelling through the wide concrete paved streets of a gated community with some really flash houses belonging to wealthy locals and expats. There was a beautiful two storey wooden house which was obviously constructed by some master craftsmen and the houses lining the streets reminded us of some of the wealthier Chinese houses in other countries.

We followed our google maps direction through less affluent backstreets where the roads were much narrower and paved with construction spoil. Broken bricks, tiles, plaster, concrete, rocks, rubbish paved these bumpy streets and locals stopped to gawk at two Ferringhi riding past, with kids waving saying hello. We arrived at Wat Borun to discover we’d visited there the day before, but didn’t know its name. lol

I remembered a short cut we’d been down the day before and this took us around the back of Wat Borun and it was a nice peaceful ride through a shady avenue on a nice concrete paved road. We travelled along the back road which parallels the Mekong River past a worksite where a mosque was under construction. It’s interesting seeing how other people construct things and on this site they were using hundreds of 20 ft saplings as uprights no thicker than my arm, with bamboo of differing lengths no thicker than my thumb to stand on. From this “scaffold” they had been laying bricks with no platforms just precariously hopping from one perch to the next.

We saw a ferry just up the road and I thought “lets go to Silk Island” Michele being on the back followed.The road down off the riverbank to the ferry was extremely steep, rutted and just made of dirt. When I pulled up at the ticket shed Michele was looking at the steep grade and was voicing her concerns, but I addressed her concerns with a “na she’ll be right” and using a little back brake slowly eased down the hill before gunning it up and onto the ferry. I think every local on the ferry gave us the once over when we pulled up, but there were lots of nods, smiles and hellos. The ferry only cost 800 Riel so less than 25 cents and the crossing only took about five minutes. Michele’s concerns returned when we arrived on the opposite bank, because of the steep grade and the amount of people trying to vie for position in the traffic but I just addressed her concerns by telling her to “hang on” and then gunning the throttle. The main road on this side of the river was actually heaps better than what we’d experienced around the edges of Phnom Penh and I could only surmise that this would be due to a fairly stable population with not so many heavy trucks.

We travelled along through villages, with houses lining the road, gardens of vegetables and rice paddies beyond them. It was quite relaxed and rural. We were looking for somewhere to stop and eat but at this time we must have been either too early or too late because most people had taken to their hammocks. We re-established communication with google and the navigator informed me we weren’t on Silk Island at all but on the opposite side of the river. oops…

Our butts were caning from all the potholes we hadn’t missed over the last week and despite changing position from one cheek to the other, standing up, repositioning we knew it was time for a rest, so at the first sweet corn seller we parked up and took a rest. The lady selling the sweet corn was chatting excitedly to her two friends as we pulled up, I don’t know if she thought we were going to buy all her corn, but when she lifted the lid on her pot there was so many cobs in there it was obvious she was expecting a big day. Two cans of coke for $1 each, 500 riel for the cobs, a bottle of water for a further 500 and we found a bench seat to rest our weary butts. Word must have got out that two Ferringi were in town because when we were climbing back on the bike a crowd of kids turned up smiling, waving and all yelling hello. Lol

We looked at google maps and saw there was a bridge back to the other side of the river further up the road but closer to our location than the distance back to the ferry. We briefly discussed it and thought “why not”.
I got the call that I was turning left and seeing a sign with a side road on it turned left. It was definitely not the right road, but it went alongside a Wat and led to the river and we thought lets see if we can spot the bridge. The road petered out to a track around the back of the Wat and we rode down the steep river bank to where a large group of locals, kids included, were pulling in a large fishing net between two sampans. When we arrived all heads swivelled and in chorus we were greeted with “Hello” followed by sporadic waving and further “Hellos”. As they pulled the nets into the two boats tiny fish were jumping trying to escape. Eventually they landed the net and the tiny fish were scooped into a large plastic bag to be weighed on a set of scales further up the riverbank, and the larger fish transferred into different pens and netted areas in the water for later sale or use. The kids who’d helped in the catch lined up with a plastic bag each and were paid three small fish each. Looking out over the river there must have been at least 100 small boats fishing in the small area in teams of two dragging a single net or alone. We saw there was no bridge close so waved goodbye, retracing our path to the main road and travelled on further until we came to a huge roundabout with a sign pointing left to Phnom Penh, and right to Vietnamese Border. Around the roundabout were about six utes with a covered rear tray loaded high with people and their belongings, there were even people on the roof. They all seemed to be waiting for just another passenger before setting off, wherever.

We crossed over the bridge before detouring off the main road because it was under repair and absolutely horrendous and back onto the road paralleling the river, which we’d been on yesterday.
Our butts were still sore from the badly potholed roads and we knew this road was fairly good, however there are so many speed humps along this road for whatever reason and of course none are painted or marked it really takes a lot of attention to watch out for them because they blend in. We hit a few travelling way too fast because I was distracted by something on the side of the road.

Along the side of the river there are local restaurants constructed on stilts where locals come to eat. They were all deserted but we decided to take a break and checked out one called The Mekong. To say the staff were surprised when we rode down the driveway would be an understatement, but they recovered quickly and sent the English speaking son out to welcome us and invite us in. There were hammocks hanging from every available pole and it broke the restaurant up into sections so we found a nice spot overlooking the river, where they rolled a mat out for us and we took a seat. The son explained that they’d make 3 dishes out of a roasted chicken and when asked about the price he said ” don’t worry about price” We laughed because he reminded us of Leslie Chow out of “The Hangover”, lol

Very soon food started arriving, sweet and sour chicken, roast chicken, morning glory fried with chilli and chicken giblets and of course rice. There was more food than we were able to eat, especially after the corn earlier, but it was a great dining experience with no people around. There was no pressure to order more or vacate, just two people enjoying good food overlooking the river with no city noises just the occasional diesel boat going past.

After lunch I retired to a hammock to watch fishermen fishing along the riverbank with throw nets while Michele relaxed with a book. When we were ready to leave we were “not worried about the cost”, we were not worried about anything actually, we were pretty chilled out. True to his word young “Leslie” presented us with a bill of USD $11, the best 11 dollars we’ve spent this trip. As we departed we noticed thatched huts set back into the gardens for a more intimate dining experience and made a mental note to visit again before leaving Phnom Penh.

Just up the road we found the ferry to Silk Island and made another mental note for later in the week. It turns out there are three locations to catch the local ferry to Silk Island. They are all signposted, however, the signs are in Khmer and there are no pictures of boats for us dummies who can’t read Khmer. They are just blue signs with white writing, which I suppose is ok because most Ferringhi use the tourist ferry which operate from the tourist jetties in town.

We rode back towards town stopping at a Wat with all the Chinese zodiac statues outside. They were a crack up so we had to stop and take a picture. Further along the road it narrowed and we passed through a market smiling at people as we rode through the shopping crowds.

We stopped at another Wat to take some action bike shots, which coincided with kids leaving school. Very we soon had a crowd of kids watching and wondering as I set the camera up between statues on one side of the road, clicked the 10 second timer, then ran back to the bike. We rode past them waving, smiling, hello, goodbyeing, as they smile, waved, hello, goodbyed and laughed.

Back on the main road, over the bridge we were soon back in the ratrace along the riverfront. There were heaps of people taking stupid chances in the traffic and we wondered why there are not more accidents.

We continued on to the Museum, to park the bike, and purchase tickets to a Yike Opera Mak Therng. We were going to stop and have a drink at Paddy’s Bar but it was pretty full of expats so went next door to GN’s. They had friendly staff and we enjoyed a few mixed fruit shakes which were absolutely delicious whilst waiting for show time of 7pm.

Spectacular, is a word sometimes overused, but this show was that and more. It was a Khmer Opera, about an old man who marries a beautiful young wife who is stolen by a young boastful prince. He goes before the king to ask for the return of his wife and the story of justice continues. It was all sung in Khmer with subtitles on an overhead screen. The actors were all great characters and we could tell that they were all putting their heart and souls into their acting because at times they were crying, and it was also prompting tears in the audience. The show is part of a resurgence of Khmer art, slowly recovering after 90 percent of Cambodia’s artists were eliminated by the Khmer Rouge.

Plae Pakaa is the brainchild of one man who wanted to rebuild the arts after the Khmer Rouge. There is now training available all over the country.

After a late supper of fresh spring rolls we cruised home and were astounded that upon reaching the intersection near the hotel, the scene of much anguish, yelling, girls dropping their bikes, that it was almost deserted. We cruised through and moments later were parking the bike in the foyer.

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