Nov 212006

I arrived in Phnom Penh today after another unexpected evening.

I went out around 10pm to try and find some decent food after some internet time. About 11.30pm two dutch guys asked if I wanted to join them as they sauntered in a bit boozy. I had planned on a very quiet one but instead ended up having a few beers with them, then it dwindled to two of us as one headed back. There was a screech of cars coming round the bend, which skidded to a halt across the road. Everyone fell over themselves to open the door, included the local down and out lookalike who just asked us for cigarettes and a squaff of beer. We then spent the next half out wondering who these guys were, but were left with the mystery. We thought it may be a high up military guy or politician or mafia, but the Dutch had ended up drinking with a military dude the night before and taken to a karaoke bar (he even pulled out the guys cellphone and address which was some military arms unit). I was offered a potential lift to Phnom Penh with them and the dude but they were unsure whether to accept it or not yet. We headed back to the hotel to find his mate participating in his own personal holiday adventure of eating as many of the weird local ‘delicacies’ as he could – he was chomping on a ‘pregnant egg’ (cooked egg with bits of chick inside). I refused. I also refused the roasted ant on offer.

Anyway, I ended up on the bus and was chatting to a local getting some good insight into the country. After a few hours though I needed a rest from informing people again that yes, Scottish people spoke English, trying to explain the UK, and my own worst enemy I even tried to explain the role of the Scottish Parliament to him… I also ran out of listing of price of property, oranges, potatoes, rice, cars, cigarettes, alcohol etc to demonstrate to him that yes, we had a good quality of life, but not necessarily any happier than them, and n, we weren’t all millionaires despite our holidays. I pretended to go to sleep.

My Phnom Penh reception was as expected. Being one of only two westerners on the bus, the enslaught of local hotel touts and tuk tuk drivers even started knocking on my window before I even considered picking up my water bottle. As I embarked the bus I felt like what I imagined a fed up rock star would, pushing my way through them all to get to my bag on the bus. From the crowd I heard a lone voice, slightly clearer than the rest, despite him also holding up the compulsory laminated A4 hotel card :

“Sir, I can see you want to go somewhere specific. How about I take you on my tuk-tuk for $1 wherever you want to go, and you can have a look at your book once you get a seat?”.

I had a quick flashback to my old travelling buddy Jenny’s excellent advice : “When we used to arrive somewhere, we usually went for a beer before we looked for accommodation so we could chill out a bit”, but there was no contest.

“I’ll be there in a second.”

Within 90 minutes I was checked in to a pretty naff room (but I can never be arsed looking around as really you’re hardly ever in it), and on my way to S-21, the old Khmer Rouge prison. To be honest you could never describe these as good must see sights, however it wasn’t nearly as haunting as Auschwitz, but there were several chilling stories there too. I struggled to keep awake during the documentary as my lack of sleep and the overheated room with overstrained air-con made me loose another two litres in sweat.

Tomorrow I’m off to the Killing Fields, market, and to fight my guilty conscience of a strong desire to help out some corrupt soldiers and shooting a big gun on a firing range….

 Posted by at 1:12 pm

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