Custom Cards have been filled out, visas have been stamped, passports have been stapled (not sure about that one; pretty sure a stamp would be better than a dangly peice of paper in the middle of my passport but what can you do), and hell, our checked bags even made it.
Our tuk-tuk driver was waiting for us at the airport holding a sign that said Haack on it. I’m sure you’re wondering, “was the tuk-tuk ride even nearly as exciting as it was in my head?”
Well the basket we rode in was framed with wood and a green metal cage instead of wicker, but other than that, it was spot freezing on. The driver, Tain, even came with a few extra long fingernails; not all of them, just enough to make you wonder, what do you do with a 4 inch pinky and index fingernail,Tang? Thankfully, Tang was a pro. He bobbed and weaved through traffic like a master of his craft. He could simultaneously cutoff a motorcycle while veering into oncoming traffic and not a scratch, remarkable. Seriously, though, he was good. But the thousands of motos doing a traffic dance with almost no traffic signs is baffling to my American mind.
We stayed at the Alibi Guesthouse. Our villa is nice – two beds, a bathroom inside and a bathroom outside (not sure about this one as it has no door or curtain and is next to a 4 x 4′ porch) and a small kitchen area. Common areas have tables on balconies and are covered with big, healthy plants. The staff is very friendly and there’s a small bar in the lobby if we feel like drinks in the courtyard.
Turns out the Royal Palace is only a few blocks from our place so after a brief aimless stroll, we found ourselves buying tickets to access the Royal Palace and we hired Wan, an excited will spoken Cambodian with a big smile, to be our guide. They didn’t require you to have a guide but I’m really glad we brought Wan on board. He knew what each building was used for along with a fair bit of history as well as some cultural tidbits that’ll be good to know the rest of our trip in the Cambodia. The palace is very impressive. According to Wan, nearly everything had symbolic meaning, even the colors of the buildings. They were gold and white to represent Hinduism and Buddhism,the two religions of Cambodia.
The detail of statues, tiles and paintings in the buildings were also pretty incredible. I especially like the mural that wrapped around the inner area of the palace grounds that told an ancient story of a demon kingdom that captured a princess, so the king gathered an army of monkey people to take on the demons. It was nearly quarter-mile of monkey versus demon battles. Sadly during the Khmer Rouge they left the Miral to decay so fairly big chunks were damaged. Work has begun to restore it to all its former glory.
Wan also earned his wage by predicting rain and bringing along some much-needed umbrellas. Halfway through our tour it started raining buckets. I have to say, we looked a whole lot more comfortable than most. After the tour, Wan left us to check out more of the demon monkey mural on our own. While the rain was heaviest, we stayed under the covered walkway but we eventually realized it wasn’t going to let up so we pulled up our pant legs, got on our rain jackets and played in the puddles.
Dinner consisted of what I can only describe as a tempura of mini hush puppies, tofu, crab and something else resembling crab. We sat at tiny tables with tiny stools in the nook of a building next to the Mequon River. It was delicious, filling and only costed $3.50! It was a great first day!