phnom penh - Where's Byrne?

phnom penh

06.10.2011 – 10.10.2011 Sunny 30 °C

We booked our bus to Phnom Penh with Mr Mo in Don Det, who reassured us that it was only nine hours after us explaining our concerns to him that all Asian bus ticket sales people are wankers. He didn’t do anything to improve their reputation, fourteen-hours later we arrived in Phnom Penh but after some of the reviews we’ve read on the net about this journey I feel we got off lightly. There was no other way to get from Don Det to Phnom Penh so I was aware that we just had to lump it. An hours wait at the border, two bus changes and diverting through Siem Reap were contributions to the four-hour delay. Upon exiting Laos we had to pay $2 to get out and $8 to the Cambodian border control to get in, the fucking greedy bastards, including $1 for taking our temperature. Rock on. God knows what the fee is to get out of Cambodia. Again, I had read horror stories online that if you declined to pay the bribes they wouldn’t let you in the country and because you couldn’t go back into Laos you were stuck in a quarter of a mile of no mans land until one of them made the decision to let you through, so for $8 I wasn’t going to chance it. A brave Dutch woman did though and told them to piss off telling them she had family who were Cambodian diplomats and they let her through. Go the Dutch.

Although Phnom Penh is a nice capital with good food and very cheap beer, considering we were in a capital city there wasn’t a great deal to do and they are not very geared up for the tourists – yet. There are excursions but once you have knocked those out it’s very much a place to relax and waste time.

Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields. We visited the Genocide Museum followed by The Killing Fields one afternoon which was informative and respectfully explained. These two attractions portrayed the gruesome regime under the Khymer Rouge with Pol Pot as leader. The Killing Fields especially have been really well put together with the Genocide Museum perhaps needing a little further attention. Only seven inmates survived the three years of terror the prison was active, with five of them having passed away already from natural causes. Miraculously on the day we visited they had recruited one of the two living survivors at the exit selling copies of a book he’d written and posing for photographs, forgive my scepticism but I’d put money on him being an actor. We had read on Wikipedia the museum was run by some famous geezers son and all profits went into his pocket so we took the ‘survivor’ as just another moneymaking sideline. Verdict: My recommendation for these places can’t come any higher. You have to do them.

A quick note on the tuk tuk there and back, I didn’t know and have never read anything about how dirty and dusty Cambodia was and so was not prepared for it. The dust was so bad that my eyes were aching half way there, with the tuk tuk driver obviously noticing in his rear mirror we were struggling he pulled over and bought us surgical masks to breathe through. Bless him. It  must have looked like he was driving Hannibal Lector and his mate around.

One other strange thing about Phnom Penh is that although they have the Riel as their national currency absolutely everything is quoted in US dollars. I asked a Cambodian guy at our hotel why this was and he smiled and said that he couldn’t tell us but that he liked dollars. Informative. I have never dealt with dollars before having never been to the US and found this to be a pretty rubbish currency to use at first with all the notes being green and black and looking alike but did  get used to it.

I suppose the worst part of Cambodia must be the continual begging. Walking around, you are subject to more disabled people asking for cash than I thought possible to be in one place. They’re missing legs, arms, hands, eyes, you name it, you’ll see it there. Mothers with young babies or just kids are out at it too. I gave to a few but you’d be bankrupt if you gave to them all. The other thing is the child sellers. If you are sitting outside a cafe/pub/bar it’s very likely you’ll be approached by a child no older than ten trying to sell you nuts, books, fans, nail clippers, or bracelets. I suppose at least they’re trying to earn a living but it’s not very nice while your eating dinner. Be prepared. Tuk tuk drivers are no problem here, although on reflection, you are probably bothered more there than in Thailand, a simple no thanks and a smile does the trick.

I enjoyed Phnom Penh and although we paid £25 for the Cambodian visa and had only been there a week we needed to move our arses into Vietnam. Nice city and well worth a stopover. The people are friendly, the girls are pretty, the food is good, the beer is cheap and the accommodation is comfortable. What more could you want?

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