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Published: March 29th 2006
My last night was Donal and the Aussies...we traveled off and on together through Vietnam and Cambodia.
I am writing this in the newly remodeled Phnom Penh airport in Cambodia’s capital city, and I have to say I have never seen an airport that is less representative of the city in which it was built. This airport, which was looted and destroyed in the coup just a few years ago, is now nicer and more modern than most airports in the States. As I sit here in big, comfy lounge chairs drinking a $2USD bottle water (which I would have paid 20 cents for just across the street from a woman on the corner) and a $4 Panini (about the price of a steak down the road), I am watching big Philips plasma televisions broadcasting tourist sites around the country. The marble floors in the bookstore must have cost more to put in than it cost to build the hotel I was just staying in. Floors foreigners are paying for by the exorbitant $25USD airport tax they charge! Ironically the bookstore is selling books about the military coup and their destruction of this very airport for 10 times the amount the kids or amputees are selling them for on the streets. I am not in Cambodia right now; when I walked through the terminal doors I was transported somewhere completely different.
My time in this amazing country has come to an end, along with this leg of the journey. The past week or so has been spent on the beach in Sihanoukville in Southern Cambodia. Literally on the beach for days. There is no reason to ever leave the beach in S’Ville. The guesthouses are on the beach, the restaurants are on the beach, the nightlife is on the beach…everything. The only time I got a glimpse of the town was when the bus dropped me off. S’Ville is one of those places that is very ‘up and coming’. Only 4 years ago tourists were being kidnapped and murdered on Route 3…now buses taxi people back and forth 3 times a day. It’s still a small paradise for people to relax, and for some to disappear from real life for awhile, but I think if Cambodia’s government can hold it together for a while (and that’s a big ‘but’, since this is the same government that was in place when all the violence was happening)…then this could become the next Koh Pha-Ngan (but let’s hope not!)
There is a saying all over SE Asia, “same, same…but different”. The locals coined the ‘same, same’ part; foreigners added the ‘different’ part. Here are some examples of how it is used….
Local tuk-tuk driver after driving you to your destination: “100 baht please”
Foreigner: “But you said it was only 40 baht”
Tuk-Tuk driver “yeah, same, same”
Foreigner “No, 40 and 100 are not the same”
Tuk-Tuk driver “yes, same, same…100 baht!”
Local kid selling books “you buy Lonely Planet book?”
Foreigner “yes, for Vietnam please…is it the newest one?”
Local kid “yes, new, new…this year”
Foreigner after buying the book, opening it and seeing 2001 as the copyright date “no, this is old…out of date…see…2001”
Local kid “no, same, same!”
Taxi driver at airport “you need ride?
Foreigner “yes, I am going to New Siam Guesthouse”
Taxi driver “OK, no problem!”
After pulling up in front of a different guesthouse, one that pays the taxi driver a commission…
Foreigner “This is not New Siam, this is Number 9 Guesthouse”
Taxi driver “yes, same, same…you stay here!”
So as you can see, everything in SE Asia is the same as long as it benefits the locals; no matter how different it really is. Hence the phrase ‘same, same…but different’. It’s gotten so big that there are Same Same Hostels, Same Same Pizza joints, Same Same Restaurant…and the ever popular Same Same (on the front) But Different (on the back) tourist t-shirts!
The funny thing is, this little phrase actually sums up my experience in SE Asia over these past few months. Every country has its differences…but they were all similar is so many ways. I don’t really know how to express what exactly these commonalities and differences are yet, I think it will take time to reflect…but for right now all I can say about Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia is they were the ‘same, same…but different’. And after my time in these countries I think I would have to say the same about myself.
I am flying to Bangkok now, where this is some major political upheaval going on. I fly out to Oz on the 1st…one day before the elections that could really set Thailand off! Check out the news on April 2nd to see how it all went down.
Talk to you all soon.
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