Phnom Penh Postcard



The bus ride to Phnom Penh was without incident, the road to the capital city paved and not as potholed as that from the border to Siem Reap. Word on the street was the Cambodian government kept that particular road in a state of disrepair to encourage tourists to fly into Siem Reap on their state controlled monopoly airline.

The streets outside the bus depot of Phnom Penh were full of tuk tuk drivers,‘as prevalent as flies around shit’ (borrowed quote). I walked quickly away, but one followed, offering to take me to the tourist district for US$0.50.

Tuol Sleng Museum
Torture apparatus

I agreed and he dropped me off a few streets adrift of Tonle Sap, a river running into the Mekong.

But … having just hopped off his motorbike, I then found myself once again arguing over the agreed upon price. This time the motorbike rider was joined by a crowd of enthusiastic tuk tuk drivers, all crowding around and yelling at once.

It could have been intimidating but I had been in the country long enough (four days) to know it was all a falsehood.

This was the country of the Khmer Rouge, an ideology where no-one could be trusted, not even one’s own brother.

Every man was in it for himself.

Skulls from the Killing Fields
Skulls from the Killing Fields

“Do you want to know why I came to Cambodia?” I could have asked.

But instead I left to find a cheap hotel room, leaving the group behind, prancing and pontificating for their own content.

However finding the cheap hotel room was proving more difficult that I had originally anticipated, especially as there was no way I could back-track in the direction I had come.

Finally I saw a cheap room been advertised in a bright pink neon sign and opened the door, below the sign, to walk into a dimly lit bar. There I was greeted by a western, retired lawyer-type male, wearing figure-hugging black bicycle shorts.

Leading me upstairs the retired lawyer-type showed me a room filled to the brim with a double bed, a small television set, mirrors on the ceiling and no natural light. A framed plaque on the wall told the intended occupant to place all valuables in the hotel safe; not to think they would be secure hidden in that week’s smelly underwear.

A Cambodian wedding
A Cambodian wedding

He had read my mind.

Reaching into the bottom of my backpack I retrieved my wallet, hidden in the previous week’s unwashed underwear (smelliness a subjective matter), and handed him the rental costs in advance.

Once he had departed I checked myself in the mirror.

Cambodia was wearing me down.

Claustrophobic, I walked to the riverfront and found a bar in the midst of a five hour happy hour, beer priced at US$0.75. Settling in, I was marvelling at the French architecture, listening to the sound of the river melt away into the darkness, when I noticed a group of New Zealanders approach the waiter.

“We will drink at his establishment if you can find a table for four” I heard the leader of the group instruct the waiter.

With no spare tables and sitting at a table by myself, I realised I was in trouble. Never one to miss the opportunity to make more money, the waiter would obviously politely ask if I would move.

I told the waiter to wait, to give me a second, while I went to the bar.

Shortly I returned to my table, four US$0.75 beers in hand, all to be consumed by myself, alone, in peaceful solitude.

I smiled politely at the New Zealand negotiator.

Sorry buddy, but Cambodians aren’t the only arse-holes out here.

Houses on the road to the Killing Fields
Houses on the road to the Killing Fields