Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Phnom Penh Part I

On Wednesday, 26 May we left Siem Reap. It had been a good three weeks, but we needed to see more in Cambodia. We were headed to Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri. By all accounts it was supposed to be beautiful, mountainous and cooler. Also, avocados were supposed to be in season and this was the only region of Cambodia with the right climate. We made a reservation at the Nature Lodge. A Peace Corps Cambodia volunteer had stayed there in April and her pictures on facebook had looked great. We had to get there first.

If you look at a map of Cambodia you will notice a dearth of roads. You will also notice that Phnom Penh serves as a hub with all the national highways running in and out of the capital city. Much like Samoa, Cambodia suffers from "you can't get there from here." We took a six-hour bus ride into Phnom Penh on Wednesday and booked into the not-grand Grandview Guesthouse (if you remember is a recent Tidbits, I mentioned how terrible it was). We immediately left in search of the station belonging to the only bus company in the country that services Sen Monorom. Cale had their address and a general idea of where they should be on the map. We set out on foot, flabbergasting and frustrating every tuktuk and moto driver we passed for the next hour. Neither Phnom Penh, nor any city in Cambodia, is built for pedestrians. The traffic is pure insanity and follows absolutely no traffic rules. I recently read an article describing traffic rules as "do whatever you like but if you hit someone you have to pay them money." When we were lucky enough to we on a road with sidewalks (pavements as our UK friends call them), we already knew to avoid them. Thanks to our Siem Reap experience we knew that sidewalks weren't for walking. They are for parking cars, motos, tuktuks and bikes. Or for setting up your mobile food stand or bookshop. Or for increasing the size of your store or restaurant by spilling out on the sidewalk. We were the only people out walking.

Finding the bus station proved to be a little trickier than anticipated. We ended up at a tour company and after much discussion back and forth among the entire office staff we were given some both vague and complicated directions in broken English. I asked Cale when we stepped out of the shop, "So. What did he say?" "I am not really sure," was the reply. Luckily we were able to find the bus company and purchase our tickets for a bus at eight the next morning. We also discovered we had come at the station the back way and had in fact passed the correct road to turn on earlier in our search. We headed back along that route.

As far as I have been able to gather from my limited experience in Cambodia, it is common for cities to have trash pickup. It is also common for the garbage trucks to dump said trash at some designated place in the city where the poor can then search through the trash for recyclables or other useful things. I then assume the remainder is collected again later and carted somewhere else or these spots would become landfills. According to Clem, they used to dump the trash between the river and the Old Market in Siem Reap until someone pointed out that piles of rotting trash are not too appealing to tourists. Well, the road we walked back on appears to be a place where trash is dumped. There wasn't a fresh load, but it was still less than fresh as a daisy.

That night we ate at the Lazy Gecko, where we ate overpriced food and were told the advertised free wifi was down (even though Cale was picking up the signal with the computer and just needed the password to access it). We suffered through sleeping in the dingy guesthouse by putting our own ie down on the bed so we didn't touch their sheets and Cale tried desperately not to touch the filthy wall the bed was pushed up against.

Thursday we were up early and walked back to the bus station, this time with our packs on. Two barang walking with giant backpacks through the streets of Phnom Penh cannot really blend in. Every tuktuk, moto and taxi driver for miles found us. I had gotten used to "you need tuktuk? and "you need moto?" and "you need ride?" However, they were trying a new tactic now and guessing where we might want to go. So you have all these random me walking up to you and just picking a destination at random (actually, I assume it is where they were going anyway) and asking you if you are going there.

"You go Siem Reap?" No. "You go Battambang?" No. "You go Sihanoukville?" No. "You go Killing Fields?" No.

While we waited at the bus station, another tourist seemed keen on making friends with Cale, though Cale tried his best to be curt. According to this guy, his friend had recently lost all his stuff (including wallet and passport) because he had put is bag on a moto and sent it to the bus station ahead of him. This tourist guy was sharing this information as a warning. Seriously? You handed over everything to a moto driver and just let him drive off with out you? And you were surprised that it was stolen? Just how retarded are you? We are always with our bags when traveling except when they are in the trunk of a taxi or the under carriage of a bus. In those cases we still keep our passports and other important things in our possession.

Eventually the bus came and we piled on. There were two other barang couples on the bus and outside of town we picked up another couple. Eight barang on the bus to Sen Monorom. We learned later that this was pretty rare. It was like an invasion of barang for Sen Monorom when we eventually arrived seven (or was it eight) hours later.

More on the Nature Lodge later.

— Sara

No comments: