Readers' Submissions

Pnom Penh Dreaming




The evening began sitting on the veranda of a numbered lakeside guesthouse in Cambodia's capital. The sun dipped out of sight as I rolled an enormous number from a dried plant resembling parsley. The fellow Australian sitting next to me did the same and we shared the opinion that while cheap, the bags of parsley we had purchased were about as potent as say… parsley. Eventually my neuro transmitters responded to the inhaled smoke and I felt the tiredness, sweat and dirt from that day's cycling between Neak Luong and the capital gradually fade away. The crappy cane seat beneath me provided the perfect perch from which to stare mesmerised at the mysterious floating plants that moved about the lake as if sentient. A gecko ascended the lamp adjacent to us and clambered onto spherical lampshade, becoming silhouetted as though attached to a floating moon.

Pretty soon I returned to earth and thoughts turned to eating as they tend to, and my cycling companion mentioned a desire for Indian food. We consulted Phnom Penh's local barang rag, the Bayon Pearnik for sustenance suggestions, and found the Chi Cha Hotel & Restaurant to be offering such treats.

We headed outside to a gaggle of motos fighting for our fare. We selected the least pushy of them to take us to our dining destination. 'Malcolm' was not only quiet and polite, but also responded to my requests to pilot his Honda Dream at a sane speed along the capital's rustic boulevards. We turned onto Monivong, the breeze in my face, street vendors flitting by in a blur of night time activity, the French colonial buildings merging into a continuous collage of colander like concrete.

Before we knew it, the wanky alliteration ended and we were standing outside the Chi Cha, a low key hotel and Indian restaurant, as the name suggested.

$3 for your choice of curry and salad with unlimited rice and chapatis was definitely up my companion's alley, being the tight arsed human Hoover that he is. We both tucked in as the widescreen television in the corner belted out Bollywood's finest, a stark contrast with the dirt poor locals scratching for a living outside on the street.

We agreed that the fish in the fish curry tasted as though it had just been pulled from the dubious looking muddy river to our left, and no doubt that was exactly what had happened. The pungent sauce however, succeeded in making it palatable.

Having consumed enough food to make us walk in a slightly unsteady manner, we paid the man and waddled out to the street in search of our next moto ride. At this point I realised that I should have acquired Malcolm's services for duration of the evening, as a couple of sharks on crappy red Daelims moved in for the kill. Pathetic dilapidated beasts they were, the foam stuffing trying to escape from their vinyl seat coverings, and only one set of the three available rear shock absorbers in service (only passengers to be carried tonight, no trailers or trussed up chickens). We tried to select the least unsavoury of the bunch, but his colleague would have none of it.

"I see you first!" he insists, nudging the others out of the way and seriously invading my personal space with questionable bad breath.

"So what," I said. "I like this guy."

"I see you first, you come with me,” he shouts louder than before.

Standing there on a badly lit Phnom Penh street, with no one around but us and a few straggly moto drivers, I decide that the safest option is to go with the arsehole and get it over with.

"Ok, take us to Sharkys."

"Two dollars."

"No way, I'll give you 2000 riels."

"5000 riels"

"No, 2000 or we're walking there."

"Ok, 3000"

"Bye."

"Ok, Ok, 2000"

We both climbed aboard his clanking, smoking Daelim and braced ourselves against the inevitable potholes and bottoming out suspension. About 90 seconds later we arrived at Sharkys, which was only about two blocks away. There were a few
girls wandering around outside giving us the eye, and the usual motley assortment of moto drivers. My companion climbed the stairs towards the neon lighting to reconnoitre the establishment, while I tell Mr Daelim to wait. After a short duration, he reappears and gives me the verdict.

"It's full of dogs wearing white face paint."

We decide to try the next place on our list, the Heart of Darkness.

"Do you know where the Heart of Darkness is?"

"Yes, I take you."

At this point we made our next important mistake: failing to renegotiate the fare which now included a second destination.

To be continued…

Stickman thoughts:

Travel in Asia 101 – always negotiate the price first!