The monks glow like embers in the streets of Phnom Penh.
We ambled north along the Mekong as it rushed and eddied south, and saw the inevitable companion buildings to any port or harbour town, cafes, tourist dives, girly bars with names like “I get you and you get me”, (what it is, exactly, that they “get” and how they get it can only remain open to speculation).
The tourists here are scragglier, seedier, older, whiter, maler, hairier & grungier – Ironed clothes an affectation.
The people are different here. The country is poorer, the rubbish everywhere (no bands of conscientious lady-late-night Vietnamese street-sweepers here), the rice paddies seem scruffy and unkempt compared to the cut glass perfection of Vietnam.
The city is less prosperous. But there are some remarkable Gotham City style skyscrapers, black reflective glass, huge undulating buildings with beaks and platforms and crowns looking over waves that break onto the clearly broken footpaths below.
There are empty malls with cineplexes (waiting, we suspect for tourists or prosperity- whichever comes first) where we saw an excellent Josh Brolin, Beneficio Del Torro action/adventure flick called Siccario.
The Main market (Marché Centrale) is a sight to behold, futuristic, something of the UFO about it, slightly reminiscent of Metropolis, but coupled with a delicacy and a shadow-playing filtered light that is mesmerizing.
Orange robed monks have suddenly reappeared
(We think we saw about 4 or 5 in 6 weeks in Vietnam), but here they wander the streets en masse in glowing tangerine, offset by their dark brown domes, lemon umbrellas and white teeth, going about in little clusters of holiness, receiving and giving blessings, standing plain-chanting a delightfully melodic prayer outside of the shop of a righteous shopkeeper. Masses of little children in their blue and white uniforms pour through the streets.
Temple construction is everywhere, new pagodas and gopurams, freshly plastered, gilded, be-Godded and painted, arch into the sky whilst the workers below slap paint and plaster and bricks together at a furious rate, hanging off, on and around rectangles of bamboo supports.
“Pop-up” hairdressers grow out of the temple walls. $2 is all it takes for you to sit in a rickety chair, gaze into a cracked and clouded mirror and get the best haircut of your life.
Phnom Penh, we spoke disparagingly of you in an earlier blog, we take it back, on further acquaintance you are subtle, mysterious, enchanting and complex.