Wow, what an amazing first day of briefings, questions, adventure, markets, rain, smells, and amazing food! We started with our first tuk-tuk ride, on which we jammed all six of us, for a ride to the US Embassy. Upon arrival, Annie became the first to opt out of our "sick pool" but felt much better afterwards. We think the shock of the heat right after breakfast, plus facing backwards on the tuk-tuk proved a bit dicey. Great recovery, though!
At the Embassy, we were met by the Asst Defense Attache', Maj TJ Cerullo (USA). TJ was a great host and set up a meeting with reps from the US Agency for International Development, Politico-Economic Sections, and the Peace Corps. We had two full hours with these four and it was time well spent. Each of them briefed us on their current activities and discussed with us projections and priorities. We had plenty of questions and they just couldn't have been more informative and helpful. We learned about US priorities there (human rights, political stability, education, and food and health stability and availability) and how Cambodia is slowly changing and improving in the face of overwhelming corruption and decades of single-party rule with little real democracy.
From there, we returned to the hotel--again via tuk-tuk ($3 each way for all of us)--and got to see the sights and sounds of the main drag in PP. We quickly changed clothes into more casual wear and headed out with our guide from Mango Tours, Mr Senh (Sing), and our driver, Peap. They had cold water for us (which was greatly appreciated) and they took us to Rombeng for lunch. Rombeng is part of a group of training restaurants that is a functioning non-governmental organization (NGO) that trains young people on-the-job to enter the service industries. Rombeng gave us unquestionably the best $10 Lunch I've ever had and some amazing, exotic, and delicious dishes. We had the set menu (see photo) and then ordered two exotic plates on top of that--the fried tarantula and the stir-fried red tree ants with beef filet.
As might be expected at a training restaurant, the service was outstanding and the food was wonderful. We even had a chance to sample a couple of local beers and some other fare.
From Rombeng, we spent the next three hours touring three local (not tourist oriented) markets of Phnom Penh. The first (Orussey) was by far the most "local" and was the most jumbled and "aromatic" market I've ever seen. It was probably closest to the Mercado in Addis Ababa or the Oweno Market in Kampala, Uganda, in terms of, um, how shall I say it... being adventurous. The chicken/duck "arrival and processing area" had us all wishing that we had facemasks--or BSL3 suits. The next one (translates to "Golden Dragon") was really a wholesale center and we saw just enormous amounts of fruits and vegetables in stalls changing hands. the final one was the Russian Market and it catered a little closer to what tourists like, allowing us to buy a couple of t-shirts and other souvenirs. There were plenty of other attractions, there, too, like motobike parts,fresh crabs, pork, silver, fresh and dried fish, etc.
We then went to the banks of the Mekong (after overcoming amazing traffic gridlock) for a dinner cruise on the Mekong. Unfortunately, it rained nearly the whole time, but the food and drink were good and the conversation with Sing was even better. He amplified what we heard that morning from Embassy personnel about the state of his country and was very generous and accommodating in answering our many questions. We made it back to the hotel just a little after 8pm. I took a shower to remove the remnants of the Orussey Market and several layers of sweat, while the cadets headed to the pool.
To save sometime, I'm just going to post all of the photos from the day into one big slideshow. You can see them individually, too, on the website HERE!