goodbye thailand,hello cambodia

Here we are then, eleven days into the trip and country number two. I’ve arrived in Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, and retired to bed to write a quick update on life on the road.

This is a country which is close to the heart of my current travel buddy, Fred, who set up home with my sister here a couple of years ago. Being with such company has meant that I have been able to take a back seat in planning for this country, which has made a nice change. The vast majority of these six months away I will be deciding where I am going and what I am doing, but in Cambodia I am delighted to take the passenger seat.

I had heard tales of Cambodian airport customs which entailed a certain level of bureaucracy and a love for all things paperwork. Handing your forms over to the customs here was a serious affair – the officials dressed in military style blazers that were coated in badges and stripes. The one guy had more badges than your average boy scout. There were different queues for different forms, your passport was taken away from you in one foul swoop. Several minutes later you end up hanging around the end of the line waiting for your passport to be vetted and stamped by upto fifteen different officials. Once the passport was good to go the final customs officer held up the passport for all to see, calling the owners first name out as if they were looking for a lost friend.

We took a tuk-tuk into town in the pouring rain – in fact, all it seems to have done in South East Asia is rain since Fred arrived! Now, I love tuk-tuks. They are without doubt the coolest day to day transportation in this part of the world. I remember my first tuk-tuk ride as fondly as my first kiss (maybe more, seeing as I cannot remember my first kiss) Since that first tuk-tuk ride in Kandy, Sri Lanka, I have always got stupidly excited at the prospect of any trip in one of these beauties. Sure, they can be hot, sticky and smelly – but that is the fun. Why take a lift in a more expensive, soulless taxi when you can hop into the back of a tuk-tuk and experience the sights and smells of a country up close and personal? There is something that always seems to get travel juices flowing whenever I’m in one of these, getting a mouth full of dirt and a nose full of dust.

My first feeling about Cambodia is a general warmness between folk. Everyone seems quite happy buzzing around town, getting on with their own business in a quiet, peaceful manner. We came into Phnom Penh during rush hour in the rain – the traffic was naturally chaotic and with the rain lashing down you’d expect plenty of shouting and gesturing at anyone who happened to get in another persons way. There was none of that, just people doing their best to get home and not worrying about fist shaking at the idiot that may or may not have cut them up. And to think how stressed I get cycling home in the rain, down the bottom of Holmer Road….

I’m also excited about the prospect of being in another brand new country. I’ve heard plenty of tales about Cambodia, from both family and friends that all have spoken so highly of the place and the Khmer people. I’ll get the chance to visit some places that are special to Michelle (my sister, by the way for anyone unsure) that are not at all the kind of places you would find in your average Lonely Planet. An email from my mate Gilbey claims that this is the ‘best country on earth, fact’ – high praise indeed. Word on the street is this is one of the cheapest countries in Asia to drink beer – tonight we supped the local brew ‘Angkor’ for less than a dollar a pint. This was in the upper scale ‘ foreign correspondents club’, which had no obvious sign of a foreign correspondant.

That was a much more acceptable price for a beer than what we were paying in Bangkok last night! After a day looking round the remarkably shiny and brand new Siam Square shopping malls, we hit the town. That town being an area of Bangkok called ‘Chinatown’ – can you guess why? Oh yes, you can – well done. The sreets were full of life, diners chowing down on some frankly awful looking seafood amongst the usual noises and chaos that fills a busy Asian city. Now, I’ve been having many chats with Fred about getting involved in the local culture – I’m pretty good these days at rolling my sleeves up and giving things a try. Local transport, mingling, seeing parts of the country that are off the beaten track, communicating and such I love. But when it comes to eating insects, tortoise or seafood that looks like it has been washed up on a polluted beach then I’m afriad the answer is no. I don’t eat Chinesh food as a given back home and the most adventurous object I’ve ate from the sea is a piece of Hake in Durban. Which, in all fairness I thought was Haddock. I just don’t like seafood – and that is not a crime. I’ll settle with my average chicken in black pepper with rice with a 60THB bottle of Chang and leave the Chinese to eat one of the Blue Peter pets.

We then went for drinks in the infamous ‘Patpong’ district where I kept getting odd offers to watch late night table tennis matches for what I would imagine to be highly inflated ticket prices. It was quite funny crawling into the hotel and seeing the clock say 2am as we had no idea it was so late – we had only gone out for a ride along the river to Chinatown and a couple of drinks!

Fellow chicken eaters, Bob and Chanel from Holland

Chinatown, Bangkok

Arriving in Cambodia

Tuk-Tuk Cambodia style


2 Responses to “goodbye thailand,hello cambodia”

  1. 1 Donna
    October 15, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Bit off topic but I am loving your Oasis CD’s !!!! Especially Seattle 2008……the ‘Don’t look Back in Anger’..’So Sally can wait, she knows its too late’……beautifully done!!

  2. 2 Donna
    October 15, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    Hi Richard,

    Rain!! Glad you are feeling the friendly atmosphere in Phnom Penh and that you have visited the Foreign Correspondents Club…groovy place even without any of the aforementioned…? Say Hi to Fred from me…

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