Phnom Penh, Cambodia
I woke up today with not much on my “to-do list” (there really aren’t a whole lot of “must see/do” things in Phnom Penh). Luckily, I had overheard another guest at the hostel asking the staff about Khmer boxing yesterday; evidently they perform Khmer boxing (also known as “Pradal Serey”) on the weekends at the Bayon Radio and Television studio (they film it and broadcast it on their network’s channel). So, after spending the morning working on my journal entries and buying my bus ticket to Ho Chi Minh City for tomorrow through the hostel, I then found a tuk-tuk driver parked outside the hostel to take me to the boxing match. We left at about 13:15, having been told that the fights would start at 14:00 and last until 16:00. My driver drove around the city asking many people on the streets for directions – this is a common occurrence in Asia, taxi/tuk-tuk drivers are desperate to get customers and will take on passengers without actually knowing how to get to their destination. We ended up driving east on a very dusty road (he gave me a pair of sunglasses to shield my eyes from foreign objects and debris), crossing over the Mekong River, and continuing on . . . until he stopped to ask directions again and found out he missed the turn; so we back-tracked a little ways and then headed north to the television studio. After finally arriving at the studio, we discovered the fights would not begin until 15:00 – we had arrived at 14:11, so at least now we were no longer late. I sat in the tuk-tuk cab until it was time to head in to the studio; my driver drove us through the gate and parked his tuk-tuk, then we both entered the small stadium behind the studio and found an empty spot on the metal benches; there was no entrance fee, so I think my driver was pleased that he could watch the fights for free as opposed to waiting outside with his tuk-tuk while I watched them. My driver bought me a water bottle and we sat waiting for the matches to begin; in the meantime the camera and light operators were still troubleshooting their equipment; this took sometime and the fights didn’t actually start until after 15:30; I also noticed that out of the entire crowd throughout the event, I was the only foreign person there (I suppose that makes this a genuine cultural experience for me; not something that rings false and is geared toward pulling cash from tourists). The first two fights were Khmer boxing which uses both arms and legs; I could not discern any noticeable difference between Khmer boxing and Muay Thai; in fact, they both had musicians playing their instruments when action was occurring in the ring and the fighters would walk around the ring bowing, praying, and performing a fighting dance before the start of the fight; they also both had five rounds for each fight. The exception in fighting styles was the third fight; there was no music, no one walked around bowing and praying before the fight, the camera operators were only interested in the final round, and the fighters wore boots and did not kick each other at all – it was straight-up boxing. The fourth fight returned to the Khmer boxing style of the first two, which – as I typed above – looks exactly like Muay Thai; the only difference is in name and, from what I read online, don’t call it Muay Thai or Cambodians may get offended – I think this fighting style emerged in Cambodia and Muay Thai is based off of it -; during this fight, one of the men got hit in the groin and even though he reentered the ring after being checked on during a time-out, he could not recover from the blow to his junk, so he soon lost that fight. The fifth fight was the main event and the lights went wild and a fog machine blew its vapor out on the ring as the fighters entered; this was the best fight of the day that I witnesses, although they were all pretty exciting. After the main event, most of the crowd exited the stadium and so did my driver and I; then, after relieving myself in some bushes, we drove off as another fight was starting (I’m not sure how many fights were scheduled for today in total, but it was already past 18:00 and I was ready to head back to the hostel. We drove back and soon made it before it was completely dark; I paid my driver and tipped him well for hanging out with me longer than I expected and for buying me two bottles of water. I then entered the hostel room and typed away at journal entries while talking with three New Zealanders who were our (the two Englanders and I) new roommates. After 19:00, I then joined the two Englanders and a Colombian woman for dinner, we found a nice restaurant and I ordered Khmer Amok with chicken, Khmer Char Kdout (spicy meat flavors with lemongrass, chili, basil, onion, garlic, green beans, and green pepper) with chicken, steamed rice, and a jug of Cambodian draught beer. After that excessively large meal, we then walked to the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) for a drink; we walked up to the roof-top bar and I had a Belgian beer while we conversed amongst each other (the place was very empty and we were the only customers on the top level). After finishing our drinks, we all decided it was late (past 23:00) and we all wanted to sleep off our meals, so we walked back to the hostel and soon went to bed (shortly after 0:00).