Phnom Penh – day 363

Happy birthday Jayne!! Feeling slightly guilty that I had nothing planned like she had done for my birthday, the least I could do was give her a day full of her favourite foods – so to start, not quite an Irish breakfast roll, but close enough… A full English breakfast! Absolutely stuffed and barely able to move, we shuffled down to the street and slowly began making our way to Central Market, stopping en route to pick up some more water as we sweltered in the heat! 

The Art Deco building that houses the Psar Thmei (central market) has a huge domed hall that resembles a Babylonian ziggurat and some claim it ranks as one of the 10 largest domes in the world. The market has four wings and we wandered up and down the stalls selling gold and silver jewellery, antique coins, dodgy watches, clothing and other items. The food section, as always, was our favourite and we spent ages gazing at different produce that we had no idea what it was!!Continuing north, we walked through the streets, avoiding the endless cries of ‘TukTuk’ before arriving at Wat Phnom. Set on top of a 27m-high tree-covered knoll, Wat Phnom is on the only ‘hill’ in town. According to legend, the first pagoda on this site was erected in 1373 to house four statues of Buddha deposited here by the waters of the Mekong River and discovered by Madame Penh. The main entrance to Wat Phnom is via the grand eastern staircase, which is guarded by lions and naga balustrades. 
Predominantly used as a place to pray for good luck and success in school exams or business affairs, the temple was full of offerings, such as a garland of jasmine flowers or a bunch of bananas (of which the spirits are said to be especially fond). We wandered around each level of the grounds for a bit, finding a quiet shady spot to sit and enjoy the tranquility of the temple complex before heading over to the river front. Walking past a group of old men playing chess from a set where most of the pieces had been replaced with water bottle tops. The river front was beautiful and deserted! With no shade at all, it was only stupid tourists like us who were walking down the promenade. 

Knowing that the Royal Palace wouldn’t open until 2pm, we looked around for somewhere to have a cold drink whilst we waited… Surprisingly, we found a Costa Coffee and I treated Jayne to a birthday smoothie! Enjoying the free wifi and air conditioning a bit too much, we reluctantly left and headed to the Royal palace. With its classic Khmer roofs and ornate gilding, the Royal Palace is a striking structure which bears a remarkable likeness to its counterpart in Bangkok. Being the official residence of King Sihamoni, parts of the massive palace compound are closed to the public. We were only allowed to visit the throne hall and a clutch of buildings surrounding it. The throne hall is topped by a 59-m high tower inspired by the Bayon at Angkor. It is used for ceremonies such as the presentation of credentials by diplomats many of the items once displayed here were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. Leaving the palace complex, we entered the Silver Pagoda via the north gate. The Silver Pagoda was so named in honour of the floor, which is covered with more than 5,000 silver tiles weighing 1kg each! The staircase leading to the Silver Pagoda is made of marble. Inside, the Emerald Buddha (not made of emerald but possibly Baccarat crystal) sits on a gilded pedestal high atop the dais. Along the walls of the pagoda are examples of extraordinary Khmer artisanship, including intricate masks used in classical dance and dozens of gold Buddhas. There were a few other structures located inside the complex however we were both feeling the heat at that point and the only one we remember most was Phnom Mondap, an artificial hill with a structure containing a bronze footprint of Buddha from Sri Lanka. The reason we remember it was the security guard with his toddler son who happily sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to every tourist who walked past! It’s like he knew it was Jayne’s birthday!!We headed back to the guesthouse via the Wat Botum park and the Cambodia-Vietnamese Friendship Monument before heading past the Independence Monument and the UNESCO building. Trying our luck, we headed inside and were introduced to Philippe, an archaeologist from Belgium who worked for UNESCO, restoring their monuments. A brief explanation of our travels and we headed off with his email and an instruction to get in touch about doing an interview or writing an article for them. 
Had a cold drink at the guesthouse and played Scrabble before heading out for dinner. Meal number two of Jaynes favourite food was Dominoes pizza! Fortunately, it was the Cambodian equivalent of ‘Two for Tuesday’ (which they refer to as ‘Crazy Tuesday’) so we tucked into two, very small, medium pizzas whilst I presented Jayne with balloons! Heading over to the Blue Pumpkin bakery, I picked up Jayne’s birthday cake – a Black Forest gateau – which was personalised. Had to wait whilst he redid the message biscuit as they had missed out the ‘a’ in her name. Took it back to the guesthouse and enjoyed a slice (or two!!) of cake whilst we watched Jayne’s birthday present – downloaded episodes of ‘Quantico’ from iTunes. Tuesday 4th October 2016

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