After recovering from a stint of food poisoning in Kratie, we were ready to head down to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. We were given two options: a 4-5 hour minibus where we would have to share seats with other passengers for $7 each, or a 7-8 hour full sized bus with our own seats for $10 each. In the end, we opted for cheaper and shorter and went with the minibus.
We were picked up around 8am and made it to Phnom Penh by the afternoon. As usual, we were mobbed by a pack of tuk tuk drivers offering us rides. One of them conned us into a ride to a hotel that he promised would be $5. “If you book a room, the ride is $1, if not it is $3.” Convinced we would probably take the $5 room, we agreed. When we got there, however, the cheapest rooms they had were $10, not $5. Maybe he meant $5 each or maybe he’s just a dick, who knows. Also, the room was pretty horrible, and that’s saying something coming from us. We refused the room and paid the driver his $3, then decided to walk to a nearby hostel instead.
The hostel was full, and by then we were tired and sweaty from lugging around our packs, and we needed to sit down and eat before we started maiming each other. After a quick lunch (and the first real meal we had since we were sick) Joe suggested that he go find a room for us while I sat with the backpacks. A few minutes later he came back and we carried our stuff to the hotel he found. For $16 a night, we had a huge suite with air conditioning and a kitchen! Not the cheapest accommodation, but a good deal for what we got.
By then it was already late afternoon, so we decided to just take a walk and explore the area. We walked over to the riverside area where there are a lot of trendy hotels and restaurant. We didn’t realize how developed Phnom Penh would be, nor that there would be so many world class restaurants! Apparently Phnom Penh is an up and coming “foodie” city.
We caught a nice sunset behind the Royal Palace and the city lit up as the sun went down. The traffic was also insane, just as bad as the big cities in Vietnam. Except in Vietnam it seemed organized where the traffic in Phnom Penh was more like survival of the fittest. Sometimes it seemed like people actually wanted to run us over.
We’d heard it said that Phnom Penh was seedy and we saw the truth of that right away. There were more beggars on the streets than anywhere we had been previously and lots of neglected looking children. At one point we passed a public bench where a woman sat huffing a can of glue or something, while her naked infant lay next to her watching us walk by with the dead looking eyes. It was really disturbing and reminded us of the reality of life in Cambodia for some people.
Cambodia, and Phnom Penh in particular, also has a pretty notorious sex industry and is apparently a hotspot for pedophiles from all over. There are lots of gross old white men hanging out with young Cambodians girls everywhere…it’s kind of hard to miss. Tourists can also visit orphanages, but there are a couple of organizations trying to spread awareness about the truth of such places. Apparently many of the children there have at least one living parent and are being exploited for the purpose of making money. These are just a couple of the ugly truths of present life in Cambodia, but it has gotten and continues to get better.
Despite its dark parts, Phnom Penh is also really hip. It’s pretty huge and there is a lot of cool street art. The people are pretty nice too, though they hustle you for tuk tuks and other things a lot more than in Laos. The children are also the friendliest we have met so far in our travels. It seemed like we heard little voices shouting “Hello! Hello!” at us from every angle. Sometimes we couldn’t even tell where it was coming from! And they have the biggest, most heart melting smiles you’ll ever see. There’s nothing cuter than a beaming, two year old baby with no pants or shoes on, chasing you down the street to wave and say hello.