Cambodia Full Speed

31 Dec
New Year's Eve dinner

New Year's Eve dinner

I was only in Thailand on my way to Cambodia really. I was going to meet up with a Norwegian friend of mine – a bit the reason of the whole trip. We met in Thailand 5 years ago and had such a great time that we said that we should travel together again. And since he was scheduled to do Xmas and New Year in Cambodia, I set out to join him for part of his travels.

So after only one happening day and night of crazy Bangkok, I made my way back to the huge new airport. I had booked myself onto Air Asia – the Ryanair or EasyJet of Asia. For a few dozens of Euros you can fly around the whole of South East Asia – but like the cheap carriers in Europe, don’t expect anything more than a ‘flying bus’ (no food, no reading, no service, no nothing).

Forget about cake - it is sticky rice with mango here!

Forget about cake - it is sticky rice with mango here!

I didn’t really know how much time it would take to check in at the airport (having prejudice about Asian systems probably) so I arrived almost two hours before my flight – way too long time. So I went for a snack: eating sticky rice with fresh mango – forget about the cakes this is what Asian tea time is like! And because of that I almost missed my flight, which was completely down the other side of the airport – which I crossed in super speed (thinking I was missing my flight) in a few minutes only…

When arriving in Cambodia, it became very clear to me that things did not quite work there as they do in Thailand or Europe. A first hurdle was immigration: it took no less than 3 forms to get an ‘on-arrival’ visa and be let into the country. The procedure involved queuing up at the ‘Visa-request’ counter. The officers there would take your passport and form, check it and then pass it on to the administrative staff. They then had to prepare the Visa in the passport and hand it over to the supervision staff (in the more fancy uniforms) who than passed the passport on to the Cashier – who then held up the picture page – in front of a herd of 50+ tourists waiting – so that the person that belongs the passport to could come and pay the 20 US$ and pick it up…

Immigration into Cambodia...

Immigration into Cambodia...

I had already spotted long in advance that this would be a time consuming process, so I took advantage of the occasion to go to the loo and to the ATM cash machine. I had printed out my cheat sheets from the internet with the value of the Cambodian Riel, but the ATM only gave me the option of withdrawing US dollars. So I checked a few other ATMs, but they all only had dollars on offer!!?? What’s wrong with this country – not using their own currency?

So most of the purchases are done in dollars. And the bank notes of thousands of Riel are only used to give smaller change (probably because it is difficult to get your head around millions of Riels). So for a moto drive you’d pay 1US$ (or 4000 Riel), 2 bags of fruit also come for a dollar, a beer is one and a half (and you’d pay the half then in 2000 Riel), etc.

Coming out of the airport, the challenge was to get transportation to the hotel we had booked. The offer is not the problem, as taxi drivers assault you as soon as you leave the airport. But how to find one with a decent price… For this battle, I teamed up with a French couple that arrived on the same flight with me – it would be ‘us’ against ‘them’. According to my guidebook, we were defeated by 3 dollars – paying 12 US$ instead of 9, but there was air-conditioning in the taxi and he dropped us off in 2 different places…

Traffic is quite an experience. The motos (just jump on the back, up to 3-4 persons) and tuk-tuks are very common – actually they hunt you around asking continuously if you need a moto or tuktuk – even when you just alight from one! You best drive with your eyes closed as they weave you through traffic. The rule seems to be the “survival of the fittest” – the bigger vehicle always gets priority – for the rest everything goes. I was on a moto the other day in a one way street – and then we had passed the street where I needed to be– so when I pointed that out to the driver he just did a U-turn and did a slalom through the upcoming traffic… No worries – the principle of “live and let live” is very strong here… (and to add to my confusion – the cars drive on the right hand side of the road – after getting used to Thailand for a day…)

Lovely pool at Manor House

Lovely pool at Manor House

I hadn’t realized yet that it had been so warm (in Thailand or Cambodia) because of the air-conditioning everywhere. It was only when I arrived in the lovely Villa-hotel ‘Manor House’ that I started smelling my own transpiration. Yummy! But, no worries, the guesthouse had a pool, which I was using within 10 minutes after arriving there…

Manor house was a great location, set in a quieter street, but relatively close in the city centre. It was owned by Australians but ran by friendly Cambodian staff. The old nicely decorated house was plunged in the middle of a nice garden with pool. And the rooms were quite spacious. The guesthouse was on the list of ‘gay friendly’ places to stay. And I did notice after only a few hours there that the management was veeeeery gay friendly. So much even that the manager knocked on my door with pleading eyes, explaining how much he liked me, ‘what a nice person I was’ and that it had been a long time since his last time…

HEEEEELP – what do you do in situations like that… I thought I’d be clever and told him that I had to get dressed (changing clothes I mean). So he simply replies ‘oh yeah, that would be great’ – still standing in the doorway, blocking the door. When I explained that normally I would do this in privacy, he said that it’s ok for men to undress in front of each other – like at sports… Yeah, but… Anyway, in the end he got the point that I was not interested. Oof.

Running around town with a friend is not quite the same as being there alone, especially as my friend had been in Cambodia before. So basically I was just following, not even knowing where we would be situated on the map. But that’s ok, we managed to get everywhere we wanted to get, but until I’ll be traveling on my own, I won’t have the feeling that I have arrived in Cambodia yet – as there is the comfort of a guide ;-)


One Response to “Cambodia Full Speed”

  1. Anu 14 January 2009 at 12:26 #

    Hey Tony, thanks heaps for these reports! They really make my day on a quiet day at work. So I suppose Cambodian immigration is a bit less relaxed than Tanzanian. A friend of mine worked in Nairobi, and travelled to visit Tanzania. She got a visa at the border. Details in the visa included her first name (who cares about surnames anyway ?!) and nationality Italian (well, she was travelling with Finnish passport, but so what?!) She was just saying she might face a few questions if she ever tried to apply for U.S. visa with the same passport!

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