By the time I left Phnom Penh on Feb. 6, I had spent nearly two weeks here. But I didn’t stand still. I completed a four-day circuit through Battambang, Siem Reap, Beng Mealea and back to Phnom Penh.
Battambang is a sleepy riverside town, allegedly the second largest city in Cambodia. It feels less dense, slower than Phnom Penh. Though there is certainly evidence of farangs, Battambang is not a tourist destination. Thus, it is less developed and dramatically less expensive than Siem Reap. The absolute coolest thing about Battambang is the wood shops making furniture, art objects and Chinese household altars. In fact, the interior of the hotel I stayed in was entirely hardwood, with the lobby and all the rooms stocked with strikingly beautiful chairs, tables and fixtures as if it was all just casual beauty.
Another visit to the National Museum in Siem Reap: being reminded of the enlightened kings of the Angkor period (11-12th C.) who built hospitals and genuinely desired to improve the lives of all their people. In fact, at least one followed Mahayana Buddhism, was considered to be a bodhisattva by his people and his wife, after death, was even regarded as the Great Mother, the perfection of wisdom (Prajnaparamita), in her own right.
Meanwhile, present day Cambodia is not quite so concerned about the welfare of its people, having legalised gambling (a regressive tax) and built at least 20 casinos in coastal Sihounoukville, primarily for Chinese tourists who come in droves. At present, there is only one casino in Phnom Penh, Naga World, which looks like Las Vegas (or more accurately, Macao). Nearby are huge construction projects that look like Chinese hotels going up- and probably another casino. Fortunately, Thailand has not legalised gambling. Suits me just fine.