Walking around Phnom Penh again made me feel like one of those senior citizens who constantly drones on about how much everything has changed. That building wasn’t here four years ago… Wow, there sure are a lot more Lexus SUVs cruising the streets… When did so many Cambodians get fat? And what’s with all the creepy Western guys in their 50s holding hands with young Cambodian women? This place is getting almost as bad as Thailand…
I was also struck by Phnom Penh’s relatively high level of development, an unusual impression that can only occur when you arrive in Cambodia from a very select group of countries, of which Laos is one. You can be pretty sure a country is impoverished if it makes Cambodia seem like Switzerland.
I had a day and a half in Phnom Penh before Marie’s plane arrived, and I spent most of that time revisiting spots I remembered from four years ago. I walked over to Wat Phnom before sunset to see if the evil, banana-gorged monkeys were still around. Sure enough, there they were, although they’d multiplied and now seemed too overweight and lazy to expend energy being evil.
On the way to Wat Phnom I passed Sambo – the elephant who spends his days giving people rides in the park that surrounds the wat – being guided down a busy street, his work apparently done for the day. Then I came across a big tree covered by what must have been over two hundred bats, and after checking out the no-longer-so-evil monkeys I saw a rat running through the grass. Who needs a zoo?
That evening a storm built up across the Tonle Sap river, giving me a chance to practice the tricky art of lightning photography. While I was taking photos a Cambodian woman, there with her daughter and her mom, said hello and asked, “You photo light?”
“Am I photographing the lightning? Yes. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
She frowned. “No, it not beautiful. It kill people.”
Um, OK then. You win this round, Cambodian woman.
Both mornings I hit the street for pre-dawn photo shoots and had some luck with color and clouds on day two. Assuming that a jet-lagged Marie wouldn’t be especially enthusiastic about setting the alarm for 5am, I figured it would be best to get sunrise shots out of the way before she arrived.