Despite the somber but necessary day visiting S21 and the Killing Fields, we had a fantastic time in Phnom Penh. During the John Kerry excitement, we met Elijiah, the Quality control manager at the FCC. He immediately took us to The Empire, a bar and movie house owned by Kevin Woolmer. We all stayed up super late dancing to many old videos, telling travel stories, and drinking his great beers and wine. Over the course of the week, we spent a few fun-filled movie nights with Kevin and Elijiah. Elijiah also invited us to an amazing art event housed right behind the FCC in a historic building that the FCC plans to renovate. The artwork was bold and multidimensional, using several different types of media in striking colors to portray visions of Cambodia. While soaking in the great art and impressive surroundings, the artist, Dominique Tricoire, came over and introduced himself to us. The FCC photographer snapped our photos, and we made it to their webpage! I can't believe we were such celebrities in Cambodia, superpants, ripped T-shirts, dirty socks and all!
We spent quite a bit of time exploring the main highlights of the capital city as well (that is, when we weren't nursing hangovers from all the fun!). Perhaps the biggest cultural sight is the palace with its distinctly SE Asian architecture, as well as the national museum with treasures saved from the Cham ruins at Angkor Wat. The national museum also put on a delightful cultural show with traditional music and dancing. As I'm sure you've figured out by now, I am a sucker for cultural shows. We also took a cooking class, which included a superfun visit to the local market followed by a cooking course of four different dishes. Most Cambodian cooking involves mashing several spices together in a mortar to make a paste. For tiny people, those women sure do have good upper body strength! All that great food required a trip to Kingdom Brewery to wash it down. At last, a popular local brewery that actually uses hops as a primary ingredient! Now there's an idea! Not surprisingly, it is owned by a foreigner. What was particularly interesting, however, was that they use rice in addition to malt in the fermentation process. Since malt must be imported, it is much more cost-effective for them to add rice to make the malt stretch further. They also pasteurize the beer IN the bottle as well. Sitting in their lovely bar overlooking the Tonle Sap River (which merges into the Mekong), I must confess I downed three pints of the Chocolate Stout...wow, do I miss strong, dark beer after all this time on the road.
We managed to get our Myanmar visas easily through their very pleasant embassy in Phnom Penh, and our month-long Vietnam visas were to begin on February 1st. So we sadly bid adieu to our new friends as we boarded a boat heading down the Mekong, towards Vietnam and away from this truly special country.