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Published: December 2nd 2018
On the Road in Hun Sen's Cambodia
These election signs were everywhere during my trip. Pretty easy when you're the only party running.
I took one early morning last gasp at the Canadia Bank, but alas it was shut up and dark. Resigned and a little worse for the wear I piled myself into the Phnom Penh pound bus, mini-van more like. At the time I bought my ticket a couple of days before I was assigned seat #1D. Sounded pretty good to me. It turned out that 1D was actually the passenger seat next to the driver. Well, this was certainly informal.
At least there was more leg room than in the seats behind me with all the other passengers. I would also be getting an unobstructed view of the road in front of me. I passed the time studying the driving techniques of the Cambodian highway. When the mini-van would approach a car it wanted to pass, the driver would snuggly hug the left fender of the car. There it would wait, hovering a little into the next lane, until it saw a slim opening and then zoom by completely into the onrushing lane. It kind of became like watching a sporting event for me. Hey, I was a captive audience.
The five-hour trip felt like it stretched out endlessly.
The bus stopped at a roadside station and café. Some passengers got something to eat. Some went to the bathroom. Well, you know the drill. Afterwards, the passengers began to gather in front of the café near the gas station. I drank my coke and leaned up against a metal post. It was so hot. I began to whither and used a large tub of water meant for use on cars to cool off. Dipping my hand in and rubbing water all over my head and arms.
By this time all of the passengers were there, but still no driver. We all waited for what seems like forever. Standing around like the strangers in a strange land that we were. Finally, I decided to go on a search for our fearless driver. I noticed him deep into the middle of the café crowd. He was just sitting at a table chilling out. I just stood there standing staring at him from a distance. He startled when he noticed me staring. He got up and promptly head out to the bus. I walked back to the other passengers triumphant. Nobody knew what happened but me and I would not of
have it any other way.
Back on the road the highways spilled out endlessly in front of me as I watched the pavement flowing under the front of the van. I listened to A LOT of music and tried to zone out. I am almost at the end of my rope when I check my watch and see that we only have 30 minutes of the five-hour journey left. A ray of hope at the end of the tunnel! But as the minutes tick away, I begin to notice we are nowhere near anything that could be described as the outskirts of Phnom Penh. I check my guidebook. ARRRGGH! The ride between Battambang and Phnom Penh is actually 6 ½ hours. Another 90 minutes thrown on to my sentence.
* * *
We did eventually arrive in Phnom Penh and I grabbed a tuk tuk to my hostel. One of the reasons I was so anxious to reach Phnom Penh is because I wanted to find a bank to somehow give me some cash. And this being the start of the Chinese New Year holiday all the banks would be closing early. My scheme was to try
to see if I could use my credit card to get some sort of cash advance. As soon as I put my bag down in my room, I bolted out to the street again, hailing down another tuk tuk. I told the guy that I lost my atm card and needed to go to an actual brick and mortar bank to see if I could get some cash.
The traffic was oppressive, but the young tuk tuk driver did a monumental job of getting me from place to place. The traffic was so tight at one point that when I saw the bank in the distance I hopped out and weaved myself through the vehicles on foot. The first bank was the ABA Bank. It was absolutely jammed pack with local Cambodians trying to get their affairs settled before the banks closed for the holiday weekend. It was a madcap scene, but I managed to ask if I could get money from my credit card. Nope, not here, try ANZ.
The tuk tuk driver was waiting for me outside and he said that there was a Canadia bank nearby and we should try that first. We pulled up
to the bank only to find that it is completely shut down already for the holiday. Ah Canadia bank, you eternal nemesis. So it was off to ANZ. Once again braving holiday traffic we arrived at the ANZ bank. It was open! It was remarkably peaceful inside and I took a number and sat down in the much appreciated aircon. Phew. I might actually be in the clear.
My number was called and I got up to talk to the teller. She was a very calm intelligent girl with thankfully excellent English. I explained to her my situation and what I want to do. She said that unfortunately they don’t do that anymore. Since when? About two years now. Oh well. I told the tuk tuk driver that it was hopeless and had him drop me back at the hostel. I asked him how much I owe him for this wild goose chase. He said I could pay him whatever I thought was right. I give him what cash I can, which is more cash than I can spare. He looks at me and says how about more? I say come on man. You just drove me from bank
to bank unsuccessfully looking to get cash. You know I don’t have much cash.
Back in the hostel I showered and changed since I was still in my bus travelling clothes. By this time, I was starving. I had seen a Burger King just down the road. I went there because I was sure that they must take credit cards. Sure enough, they did and a whopper was purchased and devoured. There was even a little shrine set up by the employees, complete with an offering of a hamburger and coke.
I felt like exploring down the river front promenade. There was a great buzz and atmosphere to the place. The whole thing was a feast for the eyes. Palm trees strung out with lights, flowers and food being offered at shrines, and a festive holiday crowd spilling out everywhere. I located a Chinese restaurant that I was planning to try for dinner later that night. After checking that they took credit card I headed back to take a well needed nap.
My friend, Stacey, arrived later that evening. I heard a commotion out in the hall and looked out to see her being let into her
room down the hall. Stacey worked with me when I was teaching in Japan. Me and her and the other teachers got up to all sorts of trouble as well inserted ourselves into the fabric of the Sapporo nightlife. She had actually been to Cambodia before and had not been too enamored with Phnom Penh. I was determined to show her its better side. We headed out into the city night bustle.
We hadn’t seen each other in five years. She was now living and working in Singapore. The lives of international teachers are certainly not dull. At the Chinese restaurant we got all caught up over a seafood set, a dumpling set, and a BBQ set. Decadent and delicious. Credit cards and those that accept them are a wonderful thing.
Back at the hostel I used Stacey’s phone to call home and make calls to my bank and credit card companies. I would not be able to get a replacement atm card, but I would be able to access my visa card using a newly acquired pin. My family would also be sending me some cash through Western Union. I was relieved and my Cambodian trip was back on track. Kampot here I come.
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