The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces…

July 1, 2015

I’ve just got back to Phnom Penh after spending a couple of days in Bangkok with my absurdly generous and lovely brother. Although I’m less a fan of ‘Bangers’ since it became a proper world city, and not a collection of tin shacks on a bend in the river, as I used to know it, it is a surprisingly lovely place. People say that Phnom Penh is like Bangkok 20 years ago; I can’t really see that to be true. Phnom Penh will have to come a long way in the next two decades if it’s going to have a McDonalds’ or a 7-11 on every street corner – not that they’re particular signs of civilisation, of course.

We were staying at the Westin, which was extremely civilised. I had a suite big enough to park my Lear Jet in, if I hadn’t had to sell it to pay the taxi driver to take me into town. My brother had brought a number of gifts from the US, including a little stuffed pig for Harley the Wonder Dog, which he had been assured in the pet shop was indestructible. (It turns out to be highly destructible if you’re Harley.) I put the pig on one of any number of dressers; when I came back to the room later, housekeeping, thinking it might be lonely, had made a bunny rabbit out of a small towel and some orchid petals, and put them together. I thought that was a nice touch.


On the first night we ate at a restaurant called Gaggan, which has just been voted as the 10th best restaurant in the world. It was quite an experience. We had the 24-course tasting menu, which is basically Indian food via molecular gastronomy, or molecular masala as someone called it, with lots of dry ice and intense half-remembered flavours, newly imagined. It was sensational, although I was flagging a bit by the time we got to course 20 or so.

The second night, we went to Nahm (number 22 on the world’s best restaurant list) and had god knows how many courses: probably a dozen or so. It was also stunning, although the chilli became a bit overwhelming towards the end, and (whisper it) Asian restaurants don’t do good desserts.

After that, it was back to reality: a budget flight back to Phnom Penh, a tuk-tuk through the rutted muddy streets and a cheese sandwich at home with Blossom and the dog. Bangkok is astonishing, but there’s really no place like home.


2 Responses to “The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces…”

  1. David Hayhurst said

    Have the new mass transit projects like the monorail done much to ease peak-time congestion? I had a friend there some years ago who, if kept late at the office, would just sleep on a bunk bed there. There was little point in trying to make it home.

    We had the strangest experience in Siem Reap two years ago. Three different people on the same day – unprompted by anything I’d said – told me that it was sad how much of the natural, unforced warmth of most Thai people had dissipated, probably due to all the political and economic problems of recent years. They seemed to feel that many Thais just saw tourists as a necessary evil and weren’t doing much to disguise their latent contempt. I thought it sounded a little harsh.

    Do you sense any general change in mood?

  2. Dave, the new transit systems have eased things a bit, but it’s still not brilliant. As to Thai attitudes, I felt this time that because of the political problems keeping some tourists away, people were a bit nicer than in recent years. But I was going pretty high-end, so you expect some proper subservience. And the taxi drivers were still tossers, although quite polite…

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