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Sex, Drugs, Guns and Temples - A tour of Cambodia

By Lawrence Sheed

Not an hour into my flight and I’ve already managed to kill the dvd player on the IBM laptop I’ve sequestered from the office. Its well under warranty, so I’m not really bothered, but the design of the thing sucks. Enough of technical problems.

Pleasant journey from the Portman. Caught the airport bus immediately – price is creeping up bit by bit. February’s trip to HK via Pudong airport cost RMB16, this time around its RMB19. Inflation.

Something I don’t consider here in China. Living on an expat salary, its easy to forget that it exists here. Prices haven’t crept up much in the 6 or 7 years I’ve been living in China. Expatriate luxury items have gotten cheaper over the years. How much of that is due to knowing what and when to buy, and how much is due to the much vaunted WTO I cannot say.

Thats all past me now, I'm on a plane to Cambodia, land of the sex starved German tourist, and cash starved people. This time around its me, myself, and I, rather than with company.

The flight is nondescript, a Shanghai Airlines special. Nothing especially good, but nothing especially bad. The food is rather edible, so thats a plus. All in all the flight is around 4 hours. I was semi conscious for about half that. Battery life on me runs about the same as the laptop I'm typing this on.

Arrival - The airport is quite modern - more so than I'm expecting. I actually don't know what I'm expecting, third world, or first world opulence masquerading as tourism. Turns out its a little bit of both.

Once out of customs - (tip always bring a pen...), the warmth and humidity of the place hits. Its like Shanghai in summer. Hot and Humid. We arrived in the late afternoon, so it was still relatively bearable. A change from Shanghai's April dreariness and rain. Always a sucker for punishment, I get on the back of a Motodop (moped/bike), and tell him to take me anywhere. The tout closest interprets this as Capitol Guesthouse, and off we go.

Traffic is just as chaotic as in Shanghai, although silently. I don't think I heard anyone hoot, honk or otherwise make an untoward noise. The Guesthouse was about 20 minutes ride from the airport. My rear was feeling the ride - 4 hours in a plane exacerbates these things somewhat.

The guesthouse was nothing to speak of. Reminiscent of the room in which Leonardo de Caprio slept in the film "The Beach". A quick trip to the internet cafe next door found some potential places to stay tomorrow. I'll only be in this place one night. 1 Star, but livable. The price is ok though - roughly $3 a night.

While in the cafe, I bump into 2 Australian's that I saw before getting on the flight out in Shanghai. They were also newbies, and suggested we go out for dinner together. We walked together down to the river, and found a bistro that did a passable greek salad. With anchovies! Strange, but interesting taste.

The currency here is a mix of US$ and Rials. You can pay in either. The money is rather confusing at first - I think I paid my second moto driver 10x the amount asked on the way home from dinner. You live and learn though. Whats 2$ compared to 20c to a Shanghai Expat anyway.

Tomorrows potential room and board is the Hong Kong Hotel. Recommended by the website www.penhball.com Good site, although adult orientated. As always, that doesn't mean that the info isn't useful, it just leans a little towards more interesting avenues.

I'm going to sleep early tonight. My moto driver will be here tomorrow morning at 9am. Apparently I have to be a good little tourist, see the killing fields, and other fun sites. Moi jaded?

The second day awaits...

Day 2

I see a city that has already sold its soul.

I'm at the Russian Market. Its an indoor market, rather than an outdoor one, which makes for interesting lane after crowded lane of knick-knack brick-a-brack kitchness. Cripples and small children wander around hawking books and other small goods for a premium. Silver goods and material dominate the corner I'm in, but its pretty much the same crap you get everywhere. I'm sure the Shanghai Peoples No.2 Crappy Artifact Factory makes a killing overseas as much as it does back home. Clothing material here is nice though. A regional specialty I presume. Wandering around I notice that the native toys do include a semblance of past mistakes. Wooden carvings of helicopters complete with gun turrets.

Other parts reminiscent of Cheng Huang Miao a.k.a. Yu Yuan. Alleys upon alleys of useless and yet useful garbage. Cheap, Nasty, and required, all at the same time.

One delicious irony - its more expensive here than China. Shopkeepers try and sell me CD's @ $2, DVD's at $5. Cheap, cheap they cry. I laugh, and tell them its triple what I pay back home.

Books are cheap though $2 or less for your very own pirate copy of "Brother No. One", or another equally Cambodian book. I pick up a copy of "Off the rails in Phnom Penh - Into the Dark Heart of Guns, Girls and Ganja" by Amit Gilboa. [Insert Obligatory Amazon Link Here ;)] Interesting book, but ultimately a disappointing read.

I wander around some more and find a place to sit amongst the chaos.

Three ladies next to me are jabbering away in Cambodian - Khmer?

Cambodian sounds a lot like a mix between Cantonese and something else. I keep getting glimmers of recognition. Not sure if this is real or in my head. Time shall tell.

The Chinese are here big time though, and their influence is easy to spot.

Where I'm sitting is actually a coffee shop. Best iced tea in Phnom Penh advertises the sign. The teapot in front of me however, has the Chinese for good journey written on it.

Two kids (a boy and a girl) behind me watching what I'm doing. I motion, can I take a picture and get an affirmation. I give the boy half my can of Crush Soda (aka Cough Syrup, because thats what it tastes like). He's happy, glugs away and pockets the can for sale or return later.

To the right of me are an Expat and her friend. Talking to them, I found out that the hotel I'm staying at changed their name from Hong Kong Hotel to Big Luck Hotel because it was bombed.

Extortion from what I gather, she tells me. Always something that bodes well.

I learn my first Khmer - Ak Gong = Thank You.

I wander off again into the stalls. Although I'm on holiday, I'm still a glutton for punishment. I hook a left and wander into a CD store. For once piracy isn't just for PC's. They also have Mac Warez. I picked up a copy of Office X for $2. Hopefully its faster than 98 is on my iBook.

I'm finished wandering around the market. I exit where I entered and my motodop driver is nowhere to be found. I've read stories of of gang territories of Motodop drivers, but don't really know if its that, a siesta, or he's gone away with someone else more profitable. Its hot here. I'm sweating even in the shade. I'll lose 2 or 3 kilo's in water loss a day if it stays like this.

Should I stay, or should I go. That is the question.

The expat lady who told me about the bombing jokingly asked if I were a journalist or something - of a kind I replied. She was only half joking. Was / Is it a case of once bitten twice shy?

We swapped stories - She hadn't heard the story of the Dutch guy and his Israeli girlfriend getting shot for not having enough money on them. Its good advice though, she told me. Always carry enough.

Undertones of violence in the currents of society.

War is still a part of life here. They've only just gotten over being invaded by Vietnam psychologically. Nowadays the Vietnam invasion is of a different sort. More on that later.

I'm still waiting here for my driver. Time enough. I grab another motodop, and start off. Within a few seconds I hear a shout, and my original driver comes running.

After a second or so of juggling mopeds and apologising, we're off again.

Its still early, so I tell the driver to keep driving. This apparently means taking me to Svay Pak on Route K11. Its a village of bordello's.

I'm interested in looking at this facet of Cambodian society, although the driver takes great pains to assure me that they are actually all Vietnamese. Svay Pak is a dusty street off of the main road.

Hordes of women waiting patiently and watching TV in the shade of their respective brothel's yards.

I pick a suitable spot, and sit down to watch the proceedings. As I sit here, a foreigner is walking by with his kid. Can't be more than 10 years old. Strangely surreal considering where we are.

As we drove into the street turning into this dusty village, girls came out of their brothels, grabbing my arm and shouting me, me, me. Shades of Galaxy Hotel, Hong Qiao at its worst. Richie my motodop driver is eager to make a sale. I'm curious for curiousities sake, not for anything else though. Its harder taking pictures here, not everyone wants to be in the focal point of a camera.

A bell rings, and a hotel bus arrives. Sex tourism in all its glory. Am I spectacle, or participating in its debacle. Who gives a damn. All this soul searching is bull anyway. This, my friend is commercialism at its most raw.

2 o' Clock.

The longer I stay here, the longer I realise how true my opening line is. I'm a people watcher here, through and through.

'If only you could see what my eyes have seen' - Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner.

As we sit here, Richie, actually Theng Rithy tells me about his family. He's 31, has three kids - one girl, and two boys. His wife is sick, and his mother-in-law is 75. Not bad considering he just got out of the army as a driver, and has only been learning English for about 3 months. I don't mean to belittle him, but our understanding of each other is limited. His English isn't good enough yet, and my Khmer is non existent. He invites me to see his wife and family though. They live near the shooting range, about 4km's from the airport. I'll be honest here, I'm still a cynical bastard and feel nothing for him.

I grin as I write that down in my notebook, and he misunderstands completely.

I start to feel I'm understanding this place a little better now. Exaggerated manyana. Slow, but with an edge of despair - or is it hope?

This was the setting for a transplanted Heart of Darkness - Apocalypse Now.

"This is the end, beautiful friend, the end." - Jim Morrison, The Doors.

I wanted a holiday, and for my sins they gave me one. I'm writing for the sake of writing now, and it feels good.

I have a walk around. Is it disconcerting when a ten year old boy asks you if you want to get yum yum (a blow job) or not. Disparity or fact. One thing is for certain, I'm not judge and jury.

I have a feel for this place now, its one of the tourist sites that the Cambodian's take people to. All part of the tour folks. Similar to Angkor Wat, except this place is a temple to worship the body. 10 or 20 minutes of worship folks, and back on the tourism trail... aka trap.

Lessons from Bangkok.

Another shipload of warriors arrives fresh off the bus.

Time for me to go I think.

At least the younger kids here know how to have fun. They're all ignoring the adults and off in their own world. Nothing new there.

I leave the village by foot. I want to experience, and that is something I find hard doing at somebody else's pace. One thing that's immediately obvious on the way back is that this is still a country where people build their own houses, and make their own food. No McCulture here.

Does that make it Paradise Lost, or Paradise Found?

A point to ponder.

At least I can hop on a moped and drive myself out of it if I want to. The perspective of knowing that makes it romantic idealism. I'm sure if I lived it I'd want out just as much as they do.

Juxtaposition. I'm back on the moped, and see something that makes me stop Rithy and take a photo.

Cows and cellular towers. The old and the new. We drive on again.

As the day wears on, I'm gradually finding myself more and more frustrated with Rithy. Phnom Penh is a small city, and if I want to do the tourist temples, sights and sounds of the city a la CNN, then I'm sure he's my man. I want to be able to travel at my own pace though, rather than at his.

Tomorrow I'll see about hiring a bike on my own. I'm already starting to know and recognise the different area's, and I'm barely into the afternoon of my second day.

Enough is enough. Back to the hotel. Shower, and internet await.

Day 3

Started off the day lying in bed later. It is a Sunday after all. Unfortunately, my peace is broken by repeated calls from Rithy to the hotel room.

I asked him to meet me at 9:00am. At 9:15am, he phones waking me up. I groggily answer the phone, and reply sorry, come back at 12pm.

Every hour on the hour he rings again. 12pm I reiterate. Sleep for me is something I never get enough of.

At 12 I go down and catch Rithy snoozing by his bike. I'm off to the Internet cafe I tell him. With yesterdays irritations and todays, I've decided that I've had enough of my impromptu tour guide.

After finishing my emails, I go back outside to where he's waiting patiently, and ask him how much.

After some back and forth fakery, I ask him to give me a figure. $10 for 2 1/2 days. Seems fair to me. I shake his hand, and bid him adieu. He's probably still wondering why.

No sooner do I get rid of Rithy, than another potential candidate attempts to garner my attention.

Harangued yet again, I wander off in the direction of the market.

Its a hot day, 40 degrees in the shade. By the time I'm halfway there, I find rest in an airconditioned Malaysian run fast food chain. It may not be native, but I don't want to die of heat exhaustion just yet.

One thing that strikes me as I slowly cool down is how totally overwhelmingly US denominated the currency is. The prices in the restaurant are in US$'s, I pay in US$'s. I could be anywhere in the States if the prices weren't so outrageously low.

At least the change is in Rials, although the Cambodian manning the till has to whip out a calculator to work out what 30c US is in Cambodian funds.

I whip out the laptop and start typing this stuff out before I forget how to recognise what I've written. As I do so a familiar tune starts playing on the radio. Wang Faye sings, and I type.

Onward to the market. I have to buy some clothes, I came with two shirts, and the hotel is washing one of them. Unless I want to go out topless, I'd better buy something to wear.

Central Market turns out to be a marvelous piece of Colonial Art Deco style design. High Arched Ceilings run through the interior, making for a cool environment without the aid of unnatural airconditioning.

I browse through a few items of interest. Pricing here again seems inordinately high. Two to three times what Hua Ting Hawkers charge for their starting price. I know I'm supposed to bargain, but I'd rather start from a realistic figure. They have yet to learn that they are shooting themselves in the feet in the long run.

Another factor that makes it harder is the constant transfer in my head between US Dollar and Riel. This other is the fact that I cannot stop as I am writing this down. If I do, they take it as a tacit acceptance that I want to bargain and look. To be honest, I'd rather write. At least my French is improving. Half the hawkers address me 'én français'.

I eventually stop at a place where they don't start at the moon, and do a little chatting. I end up buying some clothes, and finding out that they speak passable Mandarin too, as well as Cantonese, Khmer, English, and French. It's always a good feeling to be able to practise with someone else who is in turn practising. Their Chinese turns out to be better than their English, and I tell them Cambodia is more expensive than China. Most of their clothes are the same fakery that you buy in Shanghai - Hugo Boss shirts, Ralph Lauren, and other icons of Piracy that I know and love.

I eventually leave, meandering through one of the many limbs masquerading as exits, and head towards the river.

The riverside houses about 2 miles of food establishments. The river bank opposite houses none. Cambodia shows how it really is barely developed. Trucks roll up and down on the opposite side turning up dust in their path.

The bistro I've decided to park my ass in has an innocuous sign. Special Happy Pizza.

Yesterdays topic du jour was sex, today's is drugs.

While drugs are technically illegal in Cambodia, Marijuana is readily available in the street markets.

Marijuana was only recently officially banned one or two years ago, at the request of the interfering Amerikan Government as the expat telling me so lightly put it.

Cambodian's use Marijuana as a food flavouring.

Back to my story. The waiter asks me how I would like my pizza - Happy, Extra Happy, or Extremely Happy. I opt for a mild sprinkling of Happy. I still plan to visit one of the many Wat's - or Temples today. I shall see how 'happy' I am in an hour or so....

I also bought a book in the market - this one was recommended to me yesterday - "Red Light's and Green Lizards", by Liz Anderson. The cover isn't as garishly in your face as yesterdays read, but this one looks like it will provide what yesterdays book only promised. Post pizza I'll give it a look through.

As I write this I realise I've forgotten to go into any details about the very centre of central market. I'm sure this is my subconscious talking. The centre is full of gold, jewels and other items that females of the species place so much value on. Now I've mentioned it I'll pass on.

The happy pizza fails to make me other than my normal self - Maybe I should have tried extra happy?

Despite the urges of the Motodop drivers hanging in the vicinity, I decide to do the Shi Yi Lu thing, and walk. I've given up responding back to drivers enquiring if I want a ride. Walking in the heat is liberatingly cleansing. My arms a suitable shade of lobster red.

I get accosted by a beggar - a small child grabs my arm and holds on till I pull out of his grip.

My philosophy on begging is just say no.

As someone once wrote - Build a man a fire, and keep him warm for a day. Set a man on fire and keep him warm for life. I'll leave it to you, the reader to work out what I'm obliquely trying to say.

Phnom Penh is boring me now, tomorrow Siem Riep - possibly. I shall see how feasible that is later.

Day 4

Lunch time - again a late start. I go and visit the Cheong Ek Genocide Centre - aka the Killing Fields.

Its a fairly short drive outside of town along a dusty road. There are already people here when I arrive. Nobody seems particularly shocked or peturbed. Just another sightseeing run. Is this how Yad Vashem, or Nanjing Memorial is supposed to be experienced?

Are you Experienced? - Jimi Hendrix

Immediately opposite the entrance is a tall white building. This houses the skulls of some of the victims of man's inhumanity to man. Vicious black comedy in the labeling. Senile old men reads a sign in one corner. Senile old women reads a sign in another.

Its actually pleasant out here. The sounds of the city barely noticeable. In any case they are drowned out by the cicada's chirping in the tree's. I'm no better than the rest. The only thing thats disturbing me here are the flies landing on my arms and face.

This is not a museum, and there are no curators.

I go back and take a shot of the 'senile old men' sign. Only one door is open, and I have to squeeze through two tight corners again to get around. As I return to the entrance, a group of Australians (or New Zealanders - I can never tell) enter. One picks up a skull, pokes his fingers through the eyes, and explains to his friends how the Cambodians would slaughter their own by hitting bodies in the back of the head with a hoe until they died. I move on.

In a sense, this place is only here because the Cambodian's want the two dollar entrance fee. Another cash cow for gaining foreign assets. There is a sense that the past is past. It does not do to contemplate on it. Even the seats here are sponsored.

'Drink Angkor Beer' - As sponsored by Pol Pot. It doesn't quite go as far as that, but the implication is there, and its no big stretch of the imagination to believe in it.

I sit writing this amongst a group of moto drivers. They are more interested in today's CamboSix Lotto numbers than me after I prove both uninterested, and uninteresting. I move along to Camp Genocides guest shop.

7 Habits for Highly Successful people is one of the items on offer. Irony again. The country is full of contradictions. The store lady asks me where I am from. I ask her her name. We trade answers. Attila, but not the Hun. Another irony in its modern sense of the word. She has been working here eight years. I ask how many people come each day. "Very much", she replies. Its cool in the shade of the shop. Attila can speak a little Japanese, Chinese and English. Her Chinese is passable. She doesn't speak French. You can tell who the major visitors are here already. I am a source of amusement with my mish mash of language skills. Polyglot I am not. She goes off to get a water, and I go off to get some more photo's.

I do what any normal red blooded male does post Camp visit. I go to the shooting range.

The range is a 30 minute drive away past the airport. Its a non-descript area inside what appears to be an army training camp. As is usual in these situations, the go-kart track is not too far distant.

In a very relaxed way, they offer me a menu of todays popular choices.

Prices start from a reasonable $8 for 10 shots with a .22 pistol, all the way up to $200 for a B20 Rocket Launcher (1 shot only). Being vaguely South African, I decide to go for the traditional weapon of choice - The venerable AK47. It's actually a bigger gun than I expected.

The instructor cum salesman tells me to put on my ear muffs and have a look through the view finder. I can barely see the target - its about 50 metres away. I note that this, like other guns is right handed. I have to fight my natural intuition to focus with my left eye, and close it instead.

This only mildly detracts from the experience. Warning me to hold my shoulder tight to the gun holster I squeeze my first shot. I'm not startled when it goes off. I'm holding a sense of anticipation. I look toward the target, but cannot see if it's a it or a miss. I have 20 shots to play with anyway.

What I've read before about shooting is mostly correct. Its squeeze not pull. The recoil isn't too much of a problem. It does move the front end of the barrel a little each time though. After 10 shots I go to semi-automatic. It's still easy to squeeze the trigger for one shot even so.

I let out a small burst of 3 shots. The barrel dances before me. I let off a few more, and before I know it I'm out of ammo. We walk a little ways down the range to pick up the target before the instructor ushers me back and sends one of his staff to fetch it. I sip a coke while I look at my score.

Two head shots, a couple of body shots, and one actually on dead on the target I couldn't actually see.

My vanquished paper enemy, killed whatever the score. Not bad for a beginner.

My adrenalin supposedly coursing down my veins, the owner/pimp asks me if I would like to try a hand gun now.

I've decided that I'm not a gun lover, and leave. $20 for 20 minutes. Not a bad haul for a country where that can last a week eating expat style.

Back for the long ride back into town. On the way back we pass a number of signs that say "Raise your English - Study at school". I've spent enough to study twenty times over.

The route takes us past Central Market. It's a place I like. The same beggar girl with attached baby from yesterday hangs by me.

I'm sat in front of women making herb garlands. They keep making them, but no-one seems to buy. The same garlands are toted around the riverfront, so maybe that's the target.

A pair of monks dressed in their orange garb walk by, one with their ubiquitous cell phone ringing along. I'm no stranger to Asia, so this is no surprise.

For some reason hammocks are also part of the lao wai sales plan here. I am offered a few before they realise I'm not biting. I'm content to sit here once more and watch people go by.

I have a half hour before my driver comes back, I can spend just as long watching and waiting here.

My rear end eventually gets bored, and I head back to the river front delta for another Pizza. This time I order Extra Happy.

I'm beginning to thing this pizza is overrated, when I spot an elephant wandering down the road. No, I'm not hallucinating, there really is an elephant. I whip out the trusty camera and grab a shot.

The rest of the day is unfortunately censored.

Day 5

Of Travel, Temples and other inconsequences.

I have no real urge to write. This morning started for me at 6:00am for a boat trip to Siem Riep, home of the legendary Angkor Wat. Its about 3pm now, and I should in other senses be arriving in Siem Riep any moment now.

The start was promising - I got on the bus for the short trip to the boat terminal on time, and even arrived with 20 minutes to spare. I looked at the already packed-to-the-gills boats, and decided this wasn't the way for me.

Its April. Cambodia's hottest month. The prospect of sitting 4 - 6 hours on the roof of an already overcrowded boat just did not appeal to me. There were only 2 small boats in the terminus, and more people arriving every few minutes. It didn't take me long to decide that the boat operators were not getting my money.

This was a view shared by 4 other people standing with me watching the proceedings.

The Austrian Ambassador to somewhere, his friend from an undisclosed Beijing embassy, and I assume their two wives - two ladies from Beijing who spoke excellent German. After a short discussion we all refused to travel in unsafe conditions. The boats were set for 30, but carried 50 or more people plus luggage from what we could see.

The golden toothed Cambodian who was fleecing the four on their already overpaid travel arrangements took an instant disliking to me.

"How can you say the boat takes six hours", he nearly shouted at me. "You only read in books didn't you.", "Hah!", he sputtered. I politely told him I was repeating what the ticket seller had told me. Someone who had less of an axe to grind either way.

The four phoned their travel agent to try and resolve other transportation, but after 30 minutes it didn't look like much more was forthcoming than lies, lies and more lies.

I headed back to Capitol Guesthouse and wished them luck.

After a short discussion I ended up getting a plane ticket to Siem Riep instead. A little more than double the boat fee at $50, but not a real budget breaker.

Task accomplished, I headed back to the hotel I'd checked out of an hour or so earlier, and checked back in.

Sleep beckoned.

When I eventually awoke I went on a little walk down to Wat Phnom. After the first 40 or 50 moto drivers I gave up waving NO and trudged on in silence. Some day I'll make a big neon hat with a sign saying 'No'. Should sell well to the tourists out here.

Speaking of business, I should mention the economics of boat rides. Each boat carries 50+ people. At $22 - $25 a ticket that comes to well over a thousand dollars a trip. Add in the return journey and you are looking at a net of $2000 a day. All this on a boat that can barely cost $10,000 to purchase outright at the very most. Given running costs here, somebody is making a very tidy profit. Of course this doesn't count licenses, ticket fee's and other miscellaneous kickbacks, but its still an excellent return on investment. Anyone want to buy a boat?

Back to the Wat

Its a pleasant place to sit. What appear to be Macaque monkeys roam the trees on the hill leading up to the temple. If I can, I'll try to get a shot, but they run pretty fast on the power cables strung up between the trees.

A group of young monks are watching me write from their vantage point on the top of the hill. I'm the virtual tourist attraction once more. A quick rotational walk around the Wat, and I discover where the hallucinatory elephant hails from. Its gives rides to fare paying customers at the base of the Wat. The elephant is a she. I don't know much about elephants, but this one looks in relatively good health compared to some I've seen. She spends most of her time swatting off flies with a sugar cane stick wielded by her trunk.

Elephants really do have bad eyesight. I sit facing her less than 5 metres away, and she stares back at me. She walks forward another four steps and is but a hand breadth away. I can reach out and touch if I dare. I take the cowards route and move back. The owner comes over and retrieves his charge. An impressive end to todays temple visit.

It is only as I walk around that I see the $1 for foreigners sign - "For foreigner only, Please pay here $1 per person". What was a semi mystical experience now feels cheapened. Oh well, you get what you don't pay for.

I grab a moto towards Sisowath quay. The driver goes off in what I think is the wrong direction - towards Svay Pak. After a few minutes I'm sure of it and get him to turn around. I settle on La Croisette for dinner, but the staff seem lackadaisical. After I receive my drink, finish it, and still wait for them to take my order, I decide to go. There are many choices here, and I'm not going to pay more for bad service.

Turns out to be a good choice. I had a marvelous meal a few doors down.

I head back to the internet cafe for today's set of emails and other meaningless tasks one must do in the world of the internet. My last few days there have been charming. Today I spent two minutes getting nowhere - nothing was working. I could hear their communal modem dialing away in the background, they obviously had some connectivity problems. I said forget it, I'll come back later and got charged 600 Rials for the privilege of 2 minutes of nothing. I was a little pissed. Friendly Internet Cafe in name, but not in nature. They lost a customer.

Tomorrow I fly to Siem Riep. Another early start to the day, this time a 5:30 kickoff. No nightlife for me again tonight.

Day 6

"Leaving on a jet plane" - John Denver

Not quite, its a twin propellor, and yesterdays early night paid off. I don't feel too blech!

This morning I caught a taxi to the airport "a Toyota" - the Santana of Cambodia.

$7 dropped for the taxi, I could see why the driver was eager - its $2 for a moto. Ah well, one lives and learns.

Inside the terminal its another $5 for departure tax. Fee's, fee's, and more fee's. I'm beginning to feel like a cow in a dairy. Milked, milked, and milked again.

Despite the three check-in lines there is only one plane. No, I stand corrected, 2 planes.

Since September 11th, the security on flights is tougher. On this flight they close the cabin door - it wobbles open a few times mind you, but the Taliban terrorists in the passenger list pass up on the opportunity. Beside the plane can barely make it to Siem Riep, let alone New York, New York.

Phnom Penh doesn't even have any skyscrapers. Must be very disappointing for all the terrorist wannabee's. This does feel very "Air America" though. I can just imagine a village gunman shooting off one bullet from a crotchety rifle, and bringing down the plan from the ground a la Mel Gibson's "Air America".

I get a copy of the Cambodian Daily handed to me. In other news, Gary Glitter, Britains Glam Rocker from the 70's failed to meet with Cambodian Police Chief Pol Pithey. Mr Glitter came here from Cuba in 1997.

After a short while, we land. Despite my allusions it actually isn't a bad flight. 40 minutes, the only untoward thing on the flight the sandwich and banana that was offered for breakfast.

Siem Riep obviously has a lot more foreign investment capital coming in than Phnom Penh. Its a small town, but already feels quainter than Phnom Penh.

The internet here is faster too. Not bad considering its almost an island. The fact that I'm the only one in the place probably helps too.

Unfortunately, I was sick for the rest of the trip, and didn't write anything else.

Suffice to say, temples were good (for what I saw), and I arrived safely back in Shanghai.

Pudong transportation sucks.

Quick Summation for those who got this far - Cambodia (in my experience) was a checkbox destination.

One of those places on that list of asian holiday destinations carried in your head that you go to, can say you've been there, and will never go visit again.

My trip cost around US$800 for 7 days (including ticket, which was RMB3000). This was a little higher than most people will spend, but I like to keep some standards...

Most of my larger costs were for ticket entrance fee's, taxes and airplane fee's.

Expect to pay between $10 - $20 for semi decent accomodation daily. $3 if you like cheap and nasty.

Airport taxes are $20 -$25 going into the country (visa ==tax) , and $20 leaving.

Flights to Siem Riep are around $50 - $60 depending on airline (each way). Add in $5 for in country airport tax each way.

The Boat trip is $22 each way. Bring lots of sunscreen for a boat trip, or prepare to die of dehydration and sunburn.

I spent between $5 -$10 per meal. This was mostly on cool drinks - a lime juice would retail at $1 - $1.50 a most venues. Food would be $3 - $5 depending on what you ate.

The big spend was the 3 day ticket for Ankor Wat - $40. A one day ticket is $20.

Drivers - you'll probably keep the same driver for a few days should cost around $4-5 a day, depending on how much driving you do, and how late you need them to. Haggle at the very end. Remember, if you don't like your driver, change. They are plentiful.

Bring plenty of small denomination $US. The Rial is only used for amounts of less than $1. Don't forget to bring 2 passport sized color photos for your visa.

Cambodia is 'relatively' safe, but take precautions, don't carry too all your cash around with you. Keep passports and money in a safety deposit box at the hotel.

Bring at least $50 with you, as noted above, Cambodian muggers have shot people for having less on them. Lastly don't walk around alone at night - take a moped driver from A to B.

The End.

The author runs the Shanghai Guide website.


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