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Cambodian Luxury

2008 April 27
by rob

April 20, 2008

Our nice in the fancy Phnom Penh hotel was just what we needed. The free breakfast at the hotel was really nice… really nice coffee, fresh fruit juice, fantastic yogurt and muesli… oh so good. We decided that we needed a second night there. The hotel was kinda jerky about it and said we needed to move to another room that cost US$5 more (for a grand total of US$50). Yes, that’s expensive. Oh well. It was only one more night… ad it WAS really nice.

I spent a big chunk of the day trying to use the internet cafe and catch up on my blog and photo journal. I got caught up on my photos, but the internet cafe was so crap that my blog posting got messed up and I lost most of it. Bastards. Oh well.

In order to find a good internet cafe, I actually walked around and ended up trying about four different places. At the last one, I had a interesting experience. I was looking for a cafe that I could make a phone call home using Skype. At the last place, the dude said there was a laptop in the back that I could make my call on. He showed me the laptop. While I was logging onto Skype the dude sort of hung around and kept talking to me. The conversation went sort of like this:

Dude: “How long have you been in Cambodia?” — a pretty common question from Cambodians.
Me: “I only got here last night.”
Dude: “What do you think of Cambodian people?”
Me: “I’ve been here for less than a day, but they seem very friendly. They smile a lot. I like that!”
Dude: “Do you have any friends in Cambodia?”
Me: “No, just the people I’m traveling with. I’ve only been here for a day, after all.”
Dude: “Do you like dancing?”
Me: Now I was thinking, okay, this is getting wierd… I just wanted to make a phone call, then this guy won’t stop being chatty! I respond, “Yeah, I enjoy dancing once in a while.”
Dude: “There is a dance party tonight. Lots of music. Do you want to go with me?”
Me: Okay, this is getting wierder! “Aww man, no thanks… we had a rough day yesterday, I need to catch up on sleep. Now, I’m going to make my phone call…” That’s when I started to ignore him and hope he left…. which he did…

The phone call wasn’t successful… the internet was just too crap. I ended up using the computer for only about 5 minute after he left, even though he talked to me for about 15 minutes before. So, I went out to pay…

Dude: “Fifteen to thirty minutes, 1000 riel.” — note that the rate is 2000 riel per hour — rounded up to the next 15 minutes (500 riel)
Me: “I don’t think so. I only talked for about five minutes.”
Dude: “Yes. 1000 riel.”
Me: “I know I was trying to use the computer for about twenty minutes, but for the first fifteen, you were talking to me the whole time.”
Dude: “Yes.”
Me: “So then I was really only using it for 5 minutes on my own.”
Dude: “Yes.”
Me: “So you agree that I should only pay 500 riel.”
Dude: “Yes.”
Me, handing over a 500 riel note (that’s about 12 cents — yes I argued over 12 cents): “Okay, I’m going to go now.”
Dude: “Good bye… I wish I could go with you…”

Okay, so this Cambodian dude was totally flirting with me. He wanted me. I am absolutely serious. He really said that he wished he could go with me and he really invited me to go dancing and make “friends.”

Alex and I were excited to find a REAL SUPERMARKET close to our hotel in Phnom Penh. Apparently our hotel is located in an posher area of the city… banks, electronics stores, supermarkets, cafes, handicrafts stores, embassies, hotels, lots of businesses. It was busy and the roads were filled with honking cars, motorcycles, and the ever-ubiquitious tuk-tuks. We were DEFINITELY not in Laos anymore. Cambodia is hip and happening and moving places. Laos is a sleepy backwater place that is treading water and trying to keep up. Anyways, at this supermarket, Alex and I bought cheese, bread, wine, chocolate, peanut butter, beer, juice for lunch and snacking along with other essential sundries like shampoo and deodorant.

For dinner, we went to a pizza place near our hotel and grabbed some takeaway Hawaiian pizza which we enjoyed at the hotel while watching a movie on the TELEVISION (yes, we had a TV!) along with the rest of our cheese, bread, peanut butter, and wine from lunch.

It was an exhausting day!

April 21, 2008

I think we did even less today than the day before. We moved from our expensive fancy pants hotel to a cheaper guesthouse one block away. It was only US$20/night instead of US$50/night, but still had air conditioning, a TV, a refrigerator and a private bathroom with heated shower — these are the necessary luxuries you normally have to pay out for.

Alex found out that our friends Andrew and Jenny from Spicythai Backpackers were also in Phnom Penh! We made plans to meet with them that night.

In the morning, Alex and I took a moto ride to the Russian Market to do some shopping. The Russian Market is apparently the place to go in Phnom Penh to buy souveniers, and bargain bootleg clothing products. I was surprised to see a large number local handicraft shops that were set up to promote local industry and provide all profits back to the community. There was a lot of charity work afoot all over Cambodia. Many of the products in these handicraft shops were made of recycled materials — bracelets made from recycled cigarette wrappers, bags made from old sacks of rice, figurines made from pieces of scrap metal or bullets. Alex bought a heap load of souveniers and presents from shops like these. I was still offically “traveling light” so I only bought a bag made from an old sack of rice, an “Adidas” shirt and a pair of fake Birkenstocks. The fake sandals were so painful that I ended up throwing them out a couple days later.

That night, we went to a restaurant that I had read about in Lonely Planet and had been lusting over for at least a week. There was a Russian Restaurant in Phnom Penh and it was supposed to be really good. It totally surpassed my expectations. I had borscht, cabbage rolls, fresh bread, and a lot of vodka (probably like five shots). Alex had some beef stroganoff and only drank some gin and tonics. She said it was wierd that anyone could drink so much vodka straight at one meal. Vodka is easy for me… no problems :)

After the amazing Russian meal, we motoed up to the backpacker ghetto and met Andrew and Jenny for drinks. We stayed up late and drank a lot. We made plans for the next day.

April 22, 2008

Our plans today were more impressive than any before. We met up with Andrew and Jenny at the very fancy Hotel Phnom Penh and hung out at the pool all day long. I also spent a good amount of time in the steam room, sauna, and jacuzzi. Phnom Penh was already freakin’ hot… why would I want to spend time sitting in a steam room? Who knows, maybe the heat was making me crazy. We stayed at the hotel for like six hours in the afternoon and only had to pay the day rate of US$5 each. Sweet deal!

The four of us reconvened that night for a meal at our first Cambodia restaurant. Indeed, I was in Cambodia for three full days and I hadn’t had any actual Cambodian food at all. I was still reeling in the huge selection of Western stuff available in Phnom Penh and was living it up as much as I could. I had some amok with tofu for dinner — its a baked stew like dish with lots of coconut milk and some spiciness. Pretty tasty.

April 23, 2008

So it was my fourth and final day in Phnom Penh. I guess it was time to do some sightseeing, after all. My stay in Phnom Penh was so far consumed with consumption and relaxing. I needed it, but I should do something touristy, I suppose, I guess.

Before sightseeing, Alex and I went for breakfast at a cafe near our guesthouse. I think it was called the “Garden Cafe 2”. Anyways, it was the freakin’ best breakfast I’ve had in all of Asia. Seriously. I got a breakfast for US$6.50. Yeah, kinda spendy, but it was totally worth it. I got:

* Freshly ground coffee — oh so good.
* A glass of fresh fruit juice — I chose the orange
* A large bowl of fresh sour yogurt
* A huge plate of fresh fruit — two oranges, two bananas, a mango, and an APPLE! (Apples aren’t that common in SE Asia since they need to be imported, usually from the U.S.A.)
* Real butter from France — European butter is far tastier than any butter in North America
* A big jar of black currant jam from England — more on this below
* Two eggs very fluffly scrambled
* A piece of sausage
* Three pieces of bacon
* A grilled tomato
* Two toasted slices of home cooked brown bread

Okay, that’s more food than I would ever order for breakfast. I couldn’t eat all the fruit and I took it most of it away for later. I cut up the mango and one of the bananas into pieces and mixed them into the yogurt with big spoonfuls of black currant jam. They gave me honey that I could have used, but I wanted the black currant jam — totally my favourite flavour of jam. That cafe sure made a mistake putting the whole jar of jam on the table. I totally have the backpacker mentality now that free food should not be wasted. That jar started about half full, but
it ended close to empty. Woo hoo!

After that fantastic (and filling) breakfast, Alex and I met up with Jenny and Andrew at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. After indulging myself in the luxuries that Cambodia provides to its tourists who want to pay for it, I needed to explore the dark side of Cambodia history. The museum was dark indeed. It used to be a high school in the 1960s, but during the regime of Pol Pot in the 1970s it was used as the most infamous prison in the whole country. Estimates vary, but somewhere between 13,000 and 20,000 men and women were held at the prison over the four years it was active. Only 7 people survived. The prisoners were subjected to the harshest tortures and awful living conditions. The museum itself is a grim testament to its history… lots of photographs and empty cells remain. Some rooms just contain a metal bed with shackles attached to it. These rooms would have a single photograph on the wall showing an emaciated man shackled to it. There were hundreds of photographs of the prisoners themselves, taken on arrival. There were paintings showing the methods used to torture people. I was very shaken to be there. I felt goosebumps and shivers and had to grip my crucifix necklace to give me the strength to continue. That museum is one of the scariest places I’ve even been.

After lunch, the four of us continued our exploration of the dark Cambodian past and took a tuk-tuk to the Killing Fields — a wooded field about 20 km outside of Phnom Penh. Prisoners from various sites in Cambodia were brought the the Killing Fields of Cheong Ek (and other similar sites around the country) to be killed in brutal, but simple, ways. Since bullets in 1970s Cambodia were rather expensive, prisoners were killed by hoes, shovels, sharp edges of palm leaves, beating against trees, and any other blunt objects that were on hand. There was a huge monument to the Cambodian Genocide there. The monument was full of skulls. Out tour guide showed us skulls with huge holes in them from the blows of hoes and shovels. The fields themselves consist of a huge number of mass graves. Some of these graves have been opened and are now open pits. These graves usually held 100 to 200 people. As we walked around the fields, we saw pieces of human bones sticking out of the dirt. There were 20,000 people killed and buried haphazardly in pits all over the killing fields there.

That night was Alex’s and my last night in Phnom Penh, so we went out for dinner and drinks with Jenny and Andrew. We went to riverfront for a bit of a pub crawl. We started at the very swanky (and expensive) Foreign Correspondent’s Club. We sat on the rooftop patio and drank half-price cocktails! Happy Hour is something that I didn’t really appreciate before this trip. The opportunity to get cheap booze in the afternoon is definitely appreciated now :)

After Happy Hour ended, we walked up the river front for Mexican food. We ended up going to two more bars after dinner. We played pool att one. Alex and I beat Andrew and Jenny two to one while a really lame live band played Lounge music in English. I toasted our stay in Phnom Penh with a round of Jagermeister shots for everyone.

We parted ways with Andrew and Jenny there on the riverfront in Phnom Penh. However, we planned to meet up again at Burning Man in Nevada, USA at the end of August.

To be continued…

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