New construction alters prime area’s ambiance, views

The character of my Boeung Keng Kang I neighborhood has undergone a remarkable transformation in the three years ago this month that I moved to Phnom Penh.

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In this photo from my roof, every high building looking east was built in the last two or three years, probably less. The grey one in the foreground was just completed. The crane in the background (right) atop an unseen tall building with a dramatic elliptical shape is some months from completion.

As I have written in the past, one reason is the explosion of fast-food restaurants in my neighborhood, which is popular with expats.  The other reason is the breakneck speed of new construction, which is obliterating pleasant mid-century villas and the shade of trees that are recklessly cut down on every block.

Perhaps I could argue against the change, though that would be folly.  Instead, what I can rant about is Continue reading

Holiday unknown to me gives access to French Embassy

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The imposing main building of the French Embassy greets visitors just inside the gate.

An annual series of events around the world under the umbrella of European Heritage Days had escaped me until this year, but last Saturday’s activities in Phnom Penh allowed me and hundreds of others to enjoy access inside some otherwise private international venues.

I learned about the possibility of seeing the French Embassy only the day before by reading a one-inch item in a local English-language daily.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see anything about also being able to tour the British ambassador’s residence, UNESCO offices and a restored colonial-era building where the high-end Van’s restaurant operates.  (I had dined expensively at the restaurant once and have felt no need to return.)

Still, visiting the French Embassy proved to be notable for Continue reading

Risk, even unintended, can result in its own rewards

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Part 3: The final installment of my hiking adventure

thumb_P4020724_1024By the time I had walked, skidded and hiked for a good hour, I decided that I had long ago reached the point of no return and so struggled toward the periodically faint signs of vehicular movement.

Eventually sensing incrementally louder engine noise and spotting what may have been a path, which disconcertingly vanished after a short time, I blazed my own trail, plunged through a thicket and stumbled Continue reading

The best researched plans don’t always work out well

Part 2 of my scary ordeal

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Numerous paths strewn with brown pine needles suggested trails that rarely panned out.

The first installment of my hike in Vietnam chronicles my decision to set out without map or working phone to reach the peak of Lang Biang in Dalat.

Among the three sets of directions I had printed out was this one:

The trail starts about 200-300m from the gate of Lang Biang Base. Follow the paved road that the jeeps take and after 200-300m, take the first dirt road to the right. . . It will go down a hill and there will be greenhouses on the right side of the road.

Simple enough, I thought, except I spotted only a green house, not a greenhouse, and assumed the faint trail that I saw there was the one to take.  Uh, it wasn’t.  I should have Continue reading

In Vietnam’s Dalat, I made two serious hiking mistakes

In this first of 3 installments, the saga of my hike in a foreign land

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The road not taken. . . at least up.

My second mistake was taking the wrong trail.

My first mistake was deciding to forego the road and follow directions I had assiduously downloaded from a travel site.  Truth be told, I should confess that I tried to follow the directions.

One of my chief reasons for visiting Dalat in south central Vietnam in late March was to climb a mountain called Lang Biang and gaze down on the city and the surrounding countryside from an elevation of 2,167 meters (1.35 miles) above sea level.

Unfortunately, Continue reading

Vietnam and Cambodia: A study in surprising contrasts

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Fashioned of recycled broken glass and ceramics, the Linh Phuoc pagoda (more photos just below) is decidedly bizarre, making Gaudi’s creations in Barcelona seem banal by comparison.

Please forgive my naïveté about having recently discovered some differences surprising to me between Vietnam and Cambodia in view of, or despite, the two nations’ tangled history, which I will ignore here.

After my return early this month from spending nearly two weeks in Nha Trang, Dalat and Saigon (which I prefer to the official “Ho Chi Minh City”), I saw for myself how Vietnam has changed in the dozen or so years since my previous brief visit.  It also proved impossible to Continue reading

Those who believe in curses say they must afflict gym

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My gym, which is situated in a prime location in a prime neighborhood of Phnom Penh.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then perhaps you remember the story of a trainer at my gym who was in serious condition after an accident on her motorbike.  I am happy to report that Poul is recovering nicely and eager to get back to work, perhaps in a couple of months, once she can start working out again herself.

Not so another trainer, the 35-year-old married father of two boys, whose name I’ll pretend for now is the common Socheat.

In a nation where much of the populace, even 30-year Prime Minister Hun Sen, is superstitious and believes in the power of curses, some Cambodians might well take seriously the notion of Continue reading