Published: July 27th 2006July 27th 2006
Phnom Penh is a city of many smells
Unfortunately, most of them are awful. The Cambodian capital is a place of stark contrasts - every so often you catch glimpses of real material wealth, but most of the time you see object poverty. You walk past an opulently decorated flashy bar which plays Western music and sells cocktails and aromatic cuisine, all priced in dollars. On the same street, just metres away, there is litter strewn everywhere; rotting vegetables and rubbish pile up in the heat; naked, malnourished children play outside until the early hours. There are many amputees and small children begging.
In spite of this contrast, the Cambodians we’ve met have largely come across as upbeat, jovial and warm. The day we arrived we went to get some typical local food at a place where many Cambodians were lunching. There we got talking to a local guy, Chan who invited us to his cousin’s restaurant. This entailed our hopping on the back of his moto and crossing the length of the city. We thought ‘why not?’ and joined him. As we sped through increasingly suburban, poor areas, weaving in and out of traffic, I began to wonder
if we’d made the right decision. When travelling it is easy to become almost paranoid about people trying to scam you and rob you. Was this guy going to lead us to his “cousin’s place” in the middle of nowhere? Would we suddenly be charged some exorbitant fee in some bar his mate owns? Would we wake up hours later with no wallet or passport? Happily, none of these nightmare scenarios materialized. He was a quality guy - an Assistant to the head of a local education institute. We ate some traditional Cambodian fare on a rooftop restaurant overlooking the city: organic vegetables, some sautéed and roughly chopped; a bowl of tasty pickles; and delicious stir-fried beef. All of this was dipped into a mixture of black pepper, salt and lime juice. Chan told us that he likes to go drinking, and that his wife was a hairdresser who sorted out the hair of Cambodia’s rich and famous. He also explained that the Cambodian govt spends more on developing parks than it does on education. Later we took him out to drink mojitos. A random, but very enjoyable evening. Crazy English
Here in S-E Asia we’ve heard
some pretty odd English being spoken by the locals. It often cracks us up! In Vietnam we were asking about organizing Cambodian visas when a travel agent tried to assuage our worries by saying to me “listen brother, it’s all under control”. When you walk down a busy street in Phnom Penh, I guarantee that at least one moto driver will shout at you “hey sir, do you wanna shoot gun?”. This unsettled me when I learned that apparently some power-crazy backpackers get a kick out of shooting AK 47s and grenade launchers left over after this country has endured years of civil war and genocide. Unscrupulous, poor locals meet this demand by converting former military bases into primitive shooting ranges.
Here in Cambodge the educated middle-aged generation speak French. However, the young people speak pretty good English. Today we caught a moto-taxi and the driver reeked. This guy smelt worse than the rubbish strewn across the streets here. Seriously, awful. As we were getting off the moto, Indie said to him very clearly - thinking he wouldn’t understand - “I think you should go take a shower.” The guy looked up and responded immediately “I already took one
today, but if you want me to take another I will!” I find it ironic here that moto-taxi drivers speak far better English than suited people working, ostensibly, as travel agents (you ask them a simple question such as ‘what time does the bus leave?’ and they struggle to answer). Angkor Wat
The attached photos are from the famed Khmer temples of Angkor Wat. If, like me, you knew jack about Angkor Wat, then check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Wat
This week I learned that Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious building. I saw it - it’s immense. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of historic/religious buildings in general. Anyway I’d seen the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, Palenque and Tikal in Central America, so I wasn’t too enthusiastic about Angkor Wat before going. However, we went there at 0500 to watch a spectacular sunrise and I enjoyed it more than I’d expected. Nevertheless by midday we’d seen enough. Seven hours walking up, down and around temples was more than enough for me. Looking ahead
Our journey is 22 days old, and Asia is proving to be a vibrant and colourful part of the world.
Nonetheless in Vietnam, and - to a lesser extent - in Cambodia, you get the feeling that these countries are being saturated in terms of ‘new, exciting’ tourism. People have been here, and done this, before. Consequently more and more backpackers come here, and in a way it becomes less and less special, losing that ‘untouched factor’. Make no mistake - we’re having a blast and it’s been an eventful start to the journey.
However, many local people here want to make a quick and easy buck out of tourism. This is understandable - these are poor countries and the people who come here to travel are relatively rich and therefore fair game for being targeted. In other words we are seen as a market for people who want to sell their goods and services. Unfortunately you become weary of all this - the constant cries of “taxi!” and being unable to walk down a street without people trying to peddle photocopied travel guidebooks, Coca Cola, bottled water, drugs, motorbike rides, shooting ranges; food and prostitution. I comprehend that these are poor nations and people need to make a living - nevertheless both Indie and I are keen to
leave South-East Asia. I am particularly intrigued by the relatively less-trodden paths of Western China, Central Asia and opening-up areas of Russia. These all lay ahead of us.
Today we arranged our Laos visas and tomorrow we are heading north. From now on we will move no further south than we are now. It’s onwards and upwards through Laos, before we enter China, head towards Beijing then move West. The plan is to get back to Europe entirely overland - no planes, only trains, buses motorbikes, cars and boats for us.
Last time, Indie shared his particular views on the UN. This time, I bring you… Indie on the British Empire
“Being of Indian and also African descent, I have strong views on this subject. I don’t hate England or Britain. I mean, it’s the place in which I’ve been raised and lived my life… but the atrocities committed in Africa and India are shocking. Even when the British declared war on Nazi Germany, they themselves were committing atrocities in other parts of the world. You can’t have an empire but we can! You think they cared about Poland? They just cared for themselves….
I remember Tony Blair saying a couple years ago ‘Africa is a scar on the soul of the world’. How dare he? How dare he blame Africa’s situation on the world, on countries like Iran, like Indie, like Iraq, like Cuba? It is a scar on the soul of one nation and one nation alone.”
There are more photos below