Sunset, or, ‘Pretentious? Moi?’

March 17, 2012

Phnom Penh has, for many years, been known as the Pearl of the Orient. I’d always thought this was because it’s really small, and just precious. But sitting on my balcony at both sunrise and sunset, I’ve begun to wonder if it wasn’t due in some part to the quality of the light here.

During the day, Phnom Penh is bathed in a harsh, even brutal sunshine. The shade provided by trees and walls is a valuable commodity, with stalls and small businesses clustering in the lee of anything casting a shadow. But for half an hour after dawn, and for and hour or so before sunset, as the shadows shrink and then lengthen, the city is drenched in a lustrous and pearlescent light that lends a romance that it lacks during most of the day.

Looking out across the Mekong River, as the gathering darkness rolls in from the direction of Vietnam, the clouds take on a nacreous quality, with layers of colour shifting and roiling and gradually being swallowed up by the advancing dark. Azure hints at tangerine, then raspberry, before eliding into pewter, then coal-black night.

Out on the west side of the city, the setting sun deliquesces into the horizon, and Venus (and Jupiter this week) rises up above the distant buildings; the occasional plane drifting in to Poechentong Airport is silhouetted in the rosy light. Finally only the high clouds catch the last few rays, before disappearing into the dark.

As the velvety night draws close, and the chorus of chuffing mopeds gives way to the gentle stridulations of the crickets, a calm descends. This city is, just, completely precious.

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One Response to “Sunset, or, ‘Pretentious? Moi?’”

  1. Nicola said

    get a job – you big pouf! – Love you lots and knew exactly what you were talking about when I saw the azure turning into tangerine in the photo on the front page of the Saturday Telegraphs Travel section this week!

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