I wake early it's only 6:30 but the sun is rising through the curtains. The rain is hammering down outside and for a moment I forget where I am. I fall back to sleep realizing that I’m on holiday.
I shower and dress and walk down to breakfast back past the swimming pools and through the lobby, this really is a stunning hotel. Breakfast is the usual buffet affair now adopted by all hotels. The offering is good with a heavy accent on fresh juices, salads and healthy foods.
I sit outside on the terrace its warm again and sunny, despite the downpour earlier. My cappuccino arrives and tuck into breakfast. Steve the chef emerges and we have a good chat about food, CV’s, celebrity chefs etc etc. He also tells me with glee that he hates British staff, we both laugh. I quiz him on the Obama trip earlier in the year. He’s candid in his reply but did tell me the time he had to move all the food to a presidential palace for the lunch buffet. The security guys would not let him out of the hotel, until Steve told them I don’t go the president gets no lunch!
He wishes me a good day and I wander back to the lobby and take a few photos of the hotel façade and front gardens. Tuk Tuk guys hassle me but I just wave, as they are not allowed in the hotel grounds unless instructed.
My bro turns up in the now fixed Jeep and we shoot off into town, heading for the French market slap bang in the centre of PP. The traffic is heavy and as I have said anything really goes. I enquire as to driving rules and of course insurance, basically there really is none. We park and have to pay somebody to look after the car, making sure to leave the handbrake off so they can move it if needs be.
The French market in the art deco style is truly stunning and has been here since 1937. The French development agency renovated it a few years ago and its pretty spectacular. Certainly not what I expected to see slap bang in the middle of Cambodia We head in to meet a stall owner and her husband who my brother knows well. They are charming and we run a small stall selling drinks to hair nets, its tiny but they earn enough to get their daughter through university. We have pictures taken, they clearly adore my brother. Next door stall is shaving up huge ice blocks with antiquated grinders and axes. This is why you don’t eat or drink from stalls my brother reminds me, its pretty filthy. Outside huge lumps of ice are loaded sideways onto scooters and are quickly driven away.
We wander through the food stalls where you can buy anything from dried shrimps and fish to pork brains and heads. Frogs, small pigeons and even what look like blackened sparrows are for sale. The smell is overpowering and all the food is covered in flies, it was time to move on.
The centre of the market is stunning and beautifully painted and is surprisingly nice and cool, I take more photos. I buy US $100,000,000 for my daughter for £5 what a bargain! The market is heaving now so we decide to leave. Outside the Jeep is thankfully still there, we pay up and drive off for a spot of lunch.
By now its warming up and the air is thick and muggy, only thing to drink to keep cool is beer apparently. We head off into town and look for a bar to refresh ourselves. After a couple of beers we set out to find a local restaurant my brother loves. But his knowledge of the area, like the internal workings of a diesel engine are not his strong point. That coupled with beer or two makes it even more difficult. We finally arrive at a restaurant called Romdeng. Like most buildings here its open and airy with lots of plants and pictures. Its run by a charity called Friends International who take vulnerable urban children and give then training and education so they can fend for themselves and their families. They also provide education, support and life skills such as hygiene, safety and drug advice plus medical help. Sadly and shockingly 30% of prostitutes in Cambodia are aged between 12 & 17. Here my brother explains the kids are taken off the streets and are trained to cook and wait on tables.
Romdeng opened its doors in 2005 and has been turning out great food since day one. All the furniture and paintings are all made by local children and families, and makes them all very proud.
The food is based on simple, well cooked Cambodian cuisine, form all the provinces. If I had to explain the style I would say it was a lighter, simpler version of Thai food.
We order more beer and order a few starters. Prahok, a deeply flavoured fermented fish dip is served with raw, pickled vegetables, its delicious and very, very strong indeed. Imagine triple strength, thick Nam Prik, and is not for the faint hearted. I remember Steve’s advice, and hesitate, my bro says its fine being fermented and I tuck in.
Next we tuck into crispy tarantulas with lime & Kampot black pepper dip. They are very good indeed, crispy, tasty with a chilli kick. Here they are eaten as a snack like we would eat crisps. The dip is very spicy but with a sweet edge, it works well, but again is not for the faint hearted.
For main course we had beef with red tree ants, lemon grass. It was a dry, curry stir-fry very fragrant and came with some red sticky rice and Morning Glory, a type of water spinach. By the time my brothers wife turned up we were pretty full, but I couldn’t resist tasting her dry fish salad with green mango and dried shrimps. It was like the rest of the food, very good.
We settle the bill and I purchase some artwork plus their recipe book and head off to a local knife shop. I suppose it must be the chef in me but I’m fascinated by cooks knives and make sure wherever I am I spend hours watching cooks and their knife skills. I did treat myself to a sting ray skin handled knife that is a wonderful piece of work. By now its getting very warm and we decide to go our separate ways for a lie down. Within in no time I’m back at the hotel and by the pool, dozing. The waiter brings me chilled pineapple wedges, beautifully trimmed and iced fresh ginger tea.
After a kip, shower and change I’m off out again to meet my bro and his wife. Its now early evening and James Bond is waiting. We set off and after a minute or two he again asks me if I want ‘Boom boom’ I play ignorant. He will not give up and reels off the menu again ‘You want girl’ ‘No’ ‘You want women’ ‘NO, NO NO NO’ He goes quiet for few seconds ‘Massag...’ NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO’ he laughs out loud.
We arrive at The Foreign Correspondents Club, a two storey building overlooking the Tonle Sap river. My brother and his wife are waiting. James B says he will wait for me I say I maybe 3 hours he tells me its no problem. The restaurant is light and airy and the food is simple and very good from what I can remember. I forgot to take my note book and after several Margaritas can’t recall a thing, so sorry about that. We stagger out, bear in mind I’m also tired, into James Bond’s Tuk Tuk and go back to the hotel. I ask him how much its is he says up to me. I pay him $10 he says its too much, I shake his hand, he says he will see me tomorrow and drives off a happy man. I flop into bed.