I had planned to post from Cambodia, but I got distracted. Then I went into one of my periodic funks. Woke up with good intentions this morning, but the internet wasn’t working. But I can’t stand to leave a post half finished, and can’t bring myself to post before I complete this one, And so, here’s my trip report. I doubt it was worth the wait.
When I left Korea Wednesday afternoon it was snowing.
Getting there proved to be a bit of a hassle. The flight out of Incheon was delayed for over an hour, not due to the weather but because we were waiting for connecting passengers. I was kinda pissed because I had paid significantly more for a direct flight to avoid the hassle of being delayed when making a connection. Oh well.
So, with the delayed flight I didn’t arrive in Phonm Penh until nearly midnight. But my trusty buddy Dennis was there waiting as promised. We taxied to my hotel, I dropped my bags and we stepped outside to grab a drink and have a chat. Luckily (or not) the street in front of my hotel was lined with bars. Given it’s proximity and us not knowing any better, we selected the Candy Bar (open 24 hours) as the place to sit and catch up with each other. Unfortunately, given the nature of the bar we had some difficulty holding a conversation. Some Cambodian lasses were bound and determined to provide the company we did not want. After trying repeatedly to get them to move on to customers who might have some interest in their womanly charms, I finally offered to buy them each a drink on the condition that they drink them at another table. And they agreed. Problem solved.
After awhile Dennis went home and I retreated to my room.
Anyway, I’d give the Lux a 3 star rating and it was conveniently located.
Thursday morning I stepped outside into the humid warmth of a Cambodian January.
Dennis wanted to take me to an upscale place for lunch.
Now, tuk-tuk’s (pronounced took took) are ubiquitous, cheap, and surprisingly comfortable. Another thing that was convenient is the currency. U.S. dollars are the standard, and the Cambodian riel is only used for amounts of less than $1.00. I used the riels I received in change to keep the beggars at bay.
As might be expected, there is a lot of poverty in Cambodia. But having said that, it didn’t seem as in your face as it does in the Philippines, at least in the capital city of Phnom Penh. The beggars were not as aggressive either and seemed pleased to receive what amounts to pocket change. It’s a sad thing to witness of course, but overall not as depressing as it is in the PI.
After our fine lunch, we headed over to one of the local temples Dennis wanted me to tour. It turns out that Cambodians have a tradition similar to the Spanish siesta. And to our dismay the temple was closed until 2:00 p.m. As we stood there pondering our next move a tuk-tuk driver offered to give us a one hour tour of the city for $15. Dennis being familiar with the going rates for local transport immediately told him that was ridiculous. After some back and forth, they agreed on two hours for $15. And we were off to see the sights.
Now, when I mentioned earlier that a tuk-tuk was surprisingly comfortable, I was referring to the head and leg room. They are not however air conditioned. Riding around in the heat of day mired in traffic congestion is hot and dirty work. In due course, I found myself thirsty and craving a cold beer. I had already grown fond of a local brew called Angkor, which is not to be confused with another popular brand, Anchor. It’s all about the pronunciation I suppose, but I sometimes found myself with a beer opposite of the one I intended to order. Anyway, as we were riding along the river front I recalled reading about the historic Foreign Correspondent’s Club housed in a fine old Colonial-style building.
After the city tour, I retired to my room to recuperate from the heat, shower and change clothes, and then head out for a night on the town. Now, regular readers know that I’m not averse to participating the bar scene, but I’m not enamored with girly bars so much. And that’s all there seemed to be in the vicinity of my hotel.
I guess some definitions may be in order. In the Philippines they have “go-go” bars featuring bikini-clad young women dancing on a stage enticing you to “bar fine” them (early release from work) so that you might engage in some consensual adult activities (for a price of course). No go-go’s in Phnom Penh, but the girly bars operate on the same principle. No dancing and the gals are generally more conservatively dressed, but they surround you at the bar giving you puppy dog eyes looks in the hope that you will consent to buy them a drink (for which they earn a tidy profit of a dollar or so). These girls are also available for being bar fined.
Maybe I’m just getting old (shut up!) but I really just prefer to sit at the bar and enjoy my beer in peace. To be honest, I get irritated at being pressured to buy drinks for gals who’s company I don’t really desire. I mean, after the standard “what’s your name?”, “where you from?”, “how long you visit?” and of course, “buy me a drink?” there just ain’t much conversation to be had, in English at least. So, my tactic was to have one beer and move on to the next joint. Never let ’em get too close! Ha!
In the it’s a small world department, I got a facebook message from an old Itaewon darts friend Tom who had seen my post about traveling to Cambodia. Turns out he’s teaching at an international school in Phnom Penh. So, naturally we made plans to get together to drink a few and throw a few. They only have one bar with darts apparently, and those are of the soft tip variety. It’s not a game I like, but given the lack of alternatives, I made the best of it. Tom says he’s the top rated player in town and he won 5 of the 9 games we played, so I guess he still is. It was fun for sure though and great seeing him again.
Back in 2013 I had run into Tom at a darts tourney in Las Vegas. There he introduced me to his friend . I didn’t know if he’d remember me or not, but the first time I met him at work it was all “good to see you again!” and the like. Now, we always get a little dart talk in at the conclusion of our official business. Small world indeed.
I told Dennis I’d like to venture out to see the infamous Killing Fields. He’d never been, considering it to depressing to see in person. He, being the good host that he is, consented to join me. To my way of thinking you need to remember these victims as examples of just how cruel and depraved human beings can be if we have any hope of preventing such crimes in the future. I actually hold little hope in that regard.
It should come as no surprise that I ventured out to the bars that night hoping to take the edge off the inhumanity I’d seen. But I was also on a mission to find a “regular” bar like my beloved Shenanigans back home. So, I walked past all the girly bars between my hotel and the riverfront, ignoring the plaintive cries of “Darling, come in!”. Eventually I came across a bar called Cadillac and took a peek inside. It seemed normal enough, just a couple of customers and not a bar girl in sight. When I entered I noticed a sign saying the bar was “no smoking”. That’s the only bar I saw on this trip with that restriction. Of course, I don’t smoke–I vape. Being the polite S.O.B. that I am, I asked the bartender if vaping was ok. I’m not sure she understood, but when I showed her my e-cigarette she shook her head no. Ah well, I turned around and walked out.
I was a half block up the road when the American owner of Cadillac came out and hollered “come on back, vaping is fine, just no smoking”. Well, by now I had it in mind to get me a massage, so I told him I’d come back later. Which I did after having a very fine (and legit) full body massage (1 hour for ten bucks).
The owner of Cadillac bar turned out to be a Texan named Chance. When I arrived the staff were bringing in the outside seating and I asked if he was closing. He said no, he just didn’t want any tour group popping in and wanting to order up a bunch of food. So I get me an cold Angkor and I’m happily vaping away when Chance insists I join him in a shot of whiskey. So we did our “cheers” and then he invites me join in a game of “liars dice” with another customer and Chance’s Cambodian girlfriend. I had never played the game before, but it’s apparently a pretty common bar game involving dice and lying. You can get the gory details at the link above. There is some strategy and logic involved and despite that I managed a second place finish in debut event.
And now it was closing time at Cadillac and Chance bought me another shot, then invited me to go along with him and his gal to another bar for some after hours drinking. I declined at first but Chance wouldn’t take no for an answer so I soon found myself en route to a joint called Sharky’s. Getting there was interesting as well. Upon leaving the bar I discovered that Chance and his gal were both on motorbikes. Chance said I could ride the few blocks to Sharky’s on back with him. Well, I hesitated because a) I’m a big guy who’d look ridiculous on the back of a little scooter and b) I knew Chance to be every bit as drunk or more as I was. His girlfriend must have read my mind because she piped up and said “or you can ride with me if you prefer”. I accepted her offer because a) I’d still look silly but she was very pretty and b) she had only been sipping wine and didn’t appear all that drunk. And she was pretty.
I haven’t said much about the traffic in Phnom Penh, but it is quite a spectacle to behold. Only a handful of intersections are governed with traffic signals. Instead people play what appears to be like a choreographed game of chicken. I don’t know how it works without numerous accidents but somehow it does. There was only one major intersection to cross on the way to Sharky’s but witnessing the “chicken” ritual up close from the back of a scooter was pretty intense. When the tuk-tuk and Chance’s girlfriend both declined to yield I briefly considered the irony of meeting my destiny on a dirty street in Cambodia, but at the last moment the tuk-tuk braked and she swerved and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Sharky’s turned out to be another nice “regular” bar. Much bigger than Cadillac and featuring live music, pool, and a pickpocket who lifted a $100 bill out of my jeans. If stupidity were bad luck, you could say I was unlucky. I should have been much more careful. It was very late and that unpleasantness put a damper on my spirits, so I caught a tuk-tuk back to the hotel.
Dennis suggested we take a river cruise on my final day in town, and so we made our way down to the waterfront and overpaid for a couple of tickets.
A little more drinking in the afternoon, dinner at Cadillac (not bad for pub fare) and then off to one of the worst airports I’ve seen (even worse than Manila if you can imagine that) and my red eye flight home to Seoul. I was able to sleep most of the way and landed on time at 0630. Exited the airport railroad at Seoul Station into snow flurries. And I’ve pretty much been sick ever since.