It is our first free day in many. We agree to sleep in, yet we all wake up at 6, thinking we need to be somewhere. Over brunch we declare a moratorium on work talk for the day. It isn’t long before one of us slips, and mentions a project, a person, a site we’re working on. We do our best to hold each other accountable for enjoying this weekend day, this first day of no meetings, no appointments, no planning, in weeks.
We wander through Phsar Toul Tom Poung – the Russian Market – and are overwhelmed by the multitude of the same. Stall after stall after stall selling silk purses, silk wraps, silk cloth. Buddhas peek out from stalls, laughing, studying, instructing. Children with wide eyes and thin arms follow us around, attempting to sell us postcards (“Ten for one dollar, miss. Special price, just for you. Good price. Good price. No buy right now? Maybe later? Later, you come back, you buy from me. Okay? Okay?”), books, or simply beg for money. We are content to wander, to slowly meander through the maze of dark stalls, for once in a rush to go nowhere. We amass small bags of souvenirs for friends and loved ones back home then enter into the brightness of midday.
The tuk tuk drivers spot us right away. “Lady!” “Lady!” We choose one and make our way to Wat Phnom, the temple around which Phnom Penh was founded. Millions of Buddhas greet us inside the temple. A giant one smiles down on us, resplendently shining in gold. Many smaller ones, carefully guarding offerings of riel that the devoted have purposely placed in their arms, look serenely over the temple. The scent of burning candles fills the air; lotus blossoms are abundant. We’re not sure of the protocol beyond taking off our shoes. Can we take pictures? Is it okay to walk behind the Buddha? Should we light the incense? We compromise on all – taking pictures, but without a flash; walking on the side of the Buddha, but not behind; and making a donation, but not lighting the incense or disturbing the many faithful on their knees, praying to Buddhas.
Afterwards we walk along the riverfront, marveling at how many Cambodians fit on the back of a motorbike. The most we saw was six (truly), however, three and four were common. We passed a spa. We glanced at each other guiltily. Shouldn’t we be sightseeing? Shouldn’t we do the things we can’t do in the United States? Spending an afternoon at an upscale spa for only $20 was not something we could do in the US, so our dilemma was solved. Head massages, foot massages, and facials later, we felt like new women, ready to take on the hotness and humidity of Phnom Penh once again.