We exit the speedboat with a map in my head of how to get to the guesthouse from the boat dock, collect our bags from the top of the tin can, and head the 5 blocks to get there. As soon as you leave, you face many tuk-tuk drivers, and the children who follow you shouting “hellowassyouname hellowassyouname”, hoping that you’ll stop for a minute and give some money. It’s tempting, but all accounts say that these kids are being pimped out for this, and it’s not helping to contribute to the cycle. It still makes you feel like an ass, just brushing by without acknowledgement.
Bangkok is a busy busy city. Phnom Penh is barely organized chaos. After dropping our bags, we headed to the Foreign Correspondent’s Club for a little civilization. It took this form- a perfect Gin and Tonic. Check out the beautiful cylindrical log of ice. Someone knows how to keep a drink cool in the heat.
And thus began my G&T faze of the adventure.
It’s difficult to explain the traffic situation here, but using the pic below, I’ll try. We are looking at the riverfront road, viewed from the FCC.
Here’s what we are looking at, from the top left of the pic. (Aside, it’s “right hand drive” in Cambodia, for what it’s worth). There are some south facing tuk tuks along the curb. Then there is a group of north facing motos following a tuk tuk. Then there are many zippy south going motos, then there are north facing motos, a black SUV, a red car randomly parked there, and a vendor walking a cart up the street. And this is pretty organized. On the side streets, in less touristy areas then the riverfront, it looks like this:
The Central Market is the place for the concentration of street type stalls, but without people on motos trying to kill you. But, there’s the danger of the ladies grabbing you and sitting you down at her stall. The blurry woman to the right is such a person.
She sits you down, you point at the noodles, rice and/or meat you want, and they bring you a bowl. Sometimes it soups, sometimes not. Today is was porky veg noodles with an egg roll.
It’s good, but one thing we notice about the food in Cambodia is the lack of spice and this would have been greatly improved with a little heat. Fortunately there were limes to squeeze which helped bring up the acid. But, for about a buck and a half, a good breakfast.
All over Cambodia we saw street vendors pushing these flats of cockles around. Usually they are all one flavor, but this cart had 4 sections. We never did try them, because frankly, shellfish baking in the hot sun seemed like a real bad idea. We also never saw anyone- local or not, buy them.
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is a former schoolhouse that was converted to a prison, interrogation and torture camp under the Khmer Rouge, operational for 1975-1979. This is a heartbreaking place to visit, and reading the accounts and seeing the thing in person really brings awareness to how cruelly the paranoid and vengeful delusions of Pol Pot were carried out. Twenty thousand people were believed to have been killed at S-21 Tuol Sleng in 4 years, and only a handful survived. Women, children, and men, all were incarcerated here. The KR kept extensive records of each prisoner, and reading the accounts of their crimes and confessions, all obtained with torture, is unsettling, to say the least. They took a picture of every inmate, which are on display. There are rooms and rooms of these mug shots, and you can see the fear in their eyes. Even the playground equipment was used to torture prisoners. What an incredibly sad chapter in this country’s history.
There’s so much that’s great about Cambodia, and quite a lot that is not. The infrastructure is crap, and the corruption deeply ingrained. Garbage pickup is close to non-existent, and consequently walking down the street, you are hit with 1,000 smells, some good, wafting from a street cart, but some so bad you almost retch in the street. It’s been a challenge finding good food here, for sure.
It took us until the day before we left to find this place, Chilly Noodle. Hand pulled to order, this is a dish that I’d be okay with if I had to eat every day for life. Dumpling noodle soup, great broth, fresh veg added, and real chili oil on the table!
I am not ashamed to say that we found this place (by recommendation from the expat that runs the local cinema) for lunch, and loved it so much we went back for dinner.
Next up- homestay in south-central Cambodia!