Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The road between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh was glorious in comparison to earlier stretches. So, the bus was much more relaxing. The only downside was that during the torrential downpour, the bottom of the bus turned out to be less than impervious to water, leaving my entire pack drenched and all of my things soaking wet. Clothes dry, but what made the whole ordeal so frustrating is that when I stepped off the bus into the arms of the touts (Moto?! Moto?! Tuk tuk?! Water?!), all the water in my bag meant I was carrying 25 kg instead of just 9 kg. Undeterred, I slung the bag on my back, headed quickly to an Internet cafe and looked up a few places to stay. After a bit of searching, I arrived at the Golden Gate Hotel, which I thought was fitting given my former home.
With an address in hand, I pulled my bag over my shoulders and hopped on the back of a motorcycle. Helmet? We don’t need no stinking helmet. Going the right way on the street? We don’t need no stinking lines on the road. Ooops, watch the oncoming traffic. Stopping at traffic signals? We don’t need no stinking lights. Well, thankfully, the ride was brief and I was deposited at my hotel a bit exasperated, but none the worse for wear.
When I arrived, I fired up the air conditioner, unpacked all my things and strew them about the room atop anything that would support them. Then I went out in search of wifi and food. I quickly checked mail to see if I’d be able to meet up with Patrick. It was not to be – he was still in Bangkok – but he did provide an extremely helpful list of places to eat and drink. Thanks.
I enjoyed Phnom Penh a lot. It was noisy, vibrant and absolutely choked with people, traffic and a rich tapestry of scents emanating from all manner of foods, fuels and flora. Nonetheless, I got tired of always dismissing the Tuk Tuk and Moto drivers, so I just told them that my name was Moto (a nickname I was once given, owning to my name’s reference to the iconic motorcycle). That way, whenever I emerged from the tranquility of a shop or bus into the cacophony of the street, I felt like a real celebrity. Brad! Angelina! Moto! As the celebrities often do, I waved and smiled brightly.
Although I usually dismissed the drivers with a wave and smile, I did enjoy chatting with them from time to time. One evening, they suggested that for “cheap price” they could take me to some girls. I declined their offer and instead engaged them in a discussion of safe sex, including the use of dental dams and the risk of HIV transmission from oral sex. Funny.
After a night of providing sex education, I enjoyed a cool and peaceful rest – except for the two times I was awoken by the chirps of a gecko that lived on my wall kept my room and kept it free of bugs. Good job, gecko. The next morning, I took a moto (with helmet) to the Killing Fields. I’d read about Khmer Rouge growing up, but before you see a giant tower of skulls with your own eyes, it’s difficult to comprehend the tragedy. It’s so underreported in contrast to, say, the genocide during WWII. And even after all the killing (1975-1979 where up to 20% of the population was exterminated), and even after the Khmer Rouge was defeated by Vietnam, the regime maintained its seat at the UN (under various names) until 1993.
From the killing fields, I visited another related museum (S-21 or Tuol Sleng) before proceeding on to the splendor of the Royal Palace and the tranquility of the surrounding temples. Phnom Penh was Penhominal. Ha ha. But, after a few days, I was excited to visit Ho Chi Minh City.