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Culture, Friendship, Crime, Sex, Love, Cambodia Day 1 of 7

  • Written by Bob
  • September 24th, 2008
  • 6 min read


With my visa set to shortly expire I sat in my apartment in BKK and pondered which way to leave the kingdom and get reset. I had always gone to Laos, and while I did enjoy it greatly, I was ready for something more adventurous. My Thai friends had warned me of this land filled with bandits, killers, thieves, and women of the worst sort…Cambodia.
I planned a week in the kingdom to the east. I would start in Phnom Penh for visas and fun then on up to Siem Reap for a healthy dose of Angkor Wat.

Arriving in Phnom Penh via the international airport I was greeted with a scene reminiscent of many of the Middle Eastern airports I had been to. There were locals stacked on locals meandering outside waiting for this and that. My plan was to find the hotel counter first to look for suitable accommodations, but unfortunately while the signs do exist they lead you to nowhere. I was at the mercy of the tuktuk driver. I met up with the tuktuk line and was quoted a flat $9 for taxi or $7 for tuktuk.

The national currency for Cambodia is the Riel. It comes in 50 Riel to 10,000 Riel denominations and trades 4100 Riel to 1 Dollar at the time of writing. All ATMs dispense American dollars and everything is quoted in US Dollars. As a foreigner you will only handle Riel in the provinces or when dealing with amounts less than a Dollar.

Upon exiting Phnom Penh Airport and heading into the city the first thing I noted was the abject poverty I had only previously seen in Central America. Trash freely lined the streets and most people were definitely well below the poverty line. Riding in the tuktuk to some hotel I prayed wasn’t too horrible, I noticed that everyone stared at me and most would smile if I caught their stare and I would smile back. I got many waves from men and women of all ages on motorbikes. Even though it is an impoverished nation, I already felt Cambodians in general had a warm heart.

I was placed in a hotel that overlooked a large park walking distance from the Royal Palace. It was here that I saw my first distinctly Cambodian sight. There were hundreds of people in the park at 7 PM doing everything from sitting on the ground eating, playing soccer, badminton, and various other activities that were sporty and social in nature. While most of us spend those hours hunkered in front of the television, most Cambodians spend those hours out congregating. My guess is most cannot afford televisions or that they might not have an established Khmer entertainment industry that beats a night of sport.

More so than in Thailand, white foreigners stand out. I heard “tuk-tuk” uttered every few steps while strolling around the park, and although I do understand they are looking for work I cannot figure why they would think they would get a yes when 50 of their brethren just got a no. Everyone will stop to look at you and practice his or her English, “Hello, what’s your name?” I learned quickly they might not understand the meaning, as children in particular would ask this then run away laughing not waiting for the response. Finally when I bored of the park I flagged down a tuktuk and asked him to take me to the women! I knew from my Bangkok experience that this was a bad idea because he would likely take me to an overpriced fishbowl, but I figured I would just walk out and keep walking out until I got to the kind of joint I went for. To my surprise he took me to a normal place where the beer went for $1 a bottle (34 baht) with lady drinks coming in at $2 a bottle (68 baht). What a welcome change from Bangkok prices! The normal beers in all Cambodian bars are Angkor, Anchor, ABC Stout, Guinness, and Beer Laos. Some places offer Thai beers, Myanmar beers, or a more wide variety of Western beers. Be careful – they put ice in your beer!

This first bar was called the Happy Man Bar and the beautiful Khmer and Vietnamese women were just what I needed to see. I am not a grope and feel kind of guy so I was glad they were not crotch grabbers. I like to talk, joke, drink some beers, and shoot some pool so this place fit me perfectly. They had free pool, beautiful women, cheap beer, and good tunes. The girls had an innocent quality they rarely make in Bangkok or Pattaya anymore. While I did enjoy their company immensely I am a rambling man though so after a few hours I tipped some dollars around to the ones who were extra sweet and headed on to hop around.

Going from bar to bar it became apparent that in Phnom Penh the indoor beer bar reigns supreme. They all had a similar set-up. There was a bar and about five tables, a pool table, and in some cases a makeshift go-go stage (very small) in the back where you could get the girls to dance if you wanted to buy them a drink. I found overall most girls spoke little to no English which was both good and bad. I also found them to be very innocent. There were no crotch grabs or suggestive questions although they were very keen to go with me if I made the offer.

I wound up in a bar like this at closing time. All of the sudden the bill came, the girls disappeared, then re-appeared with purses in hand. I was just about to make the crawl back and try to get home when one grabbed me by the arm and said, “Go dancing na?”

Instinctively I asked, “How much?” She looked puzzled for a moment then responded, “Dancing free, beer $2, ok?” Wait…no bar fine? No tip requirement? This needed some investigation. The girl knew the tuktuk drivers on the street and negotiated us a trip to a placed called Club Orange Love. It was an all-Khmer disco. I was hammered drunk at the time so I of course did my best to flop around on the dance floor and the girls who accompanied me did their best to mimic my flailing.

At one point they got tired and wanted to rest so I obliged, but then the devil got on my shoulder. What would happen if I went out to dance alone? Would they follow? Would another girl pick me up? So I did just that. I went out and danced and was immediately picked up by another group of girls who wanted a piece of the new foreigner. Well the old girls were having none of that so they came back out and the head girl plopped a sniff kiss on my cheek and we did a pseudo slow dance. Her territory had been marked. Leaving the club I paid our beer bill ($8 for 4 of the big beer bottles) and we got back into the tuktuk. Well I had been spending so many dollars here and there that in the tuktuk I noticed I had no cash! So we needed an ATM well in Phnom Penh at 4 AM apparently the ATMs aren’t working so well. I explained this to the girls and they said no problem and paid the tuktuk.

The head girl and I got back to my hotel and crashed out. I was too drunk for boom boom so it was sleep sleep in my first night in Phnom Penh snuggled up with this beautiful Khmer girl.

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Stickman's thoughts:

That's a nice start to your Cambodian adventure.