A Road Trip To Phnom Penh
Myself and two friends decided that we fancied a boys only break from Pattaya where we all own properties and it was decided Cambodia was the order of the day. Previously we have all travelled to P.I and Laos together. Some weak excuse of a visa run for
one of us was made to our partners and the date was decided.
Last Saturday was the departure day, and we all met at my house at 7 AM. Our plan was to take my friend's car to the border at Koh Kong, so we headed up to the 36 motorway and set a brisk pace towards Trat. In my opinion the area just after Trat and before the border is among the most beautiful countryside and certainly on a par with Chiang Rai. It reminds me quite a bit of Wales.
We arrived at the border some four hours later and parked our car in a compound not 100 yards from the border crossing. The cost of parking the car was 200 baht / day which I thought a little on the high side! Car parked, my friend used the ATM and managed to lose his card in the machine. Having heard many stories of ATM fraud we were a little worried, but we checked the machine for a false front and it seemed fine so over the border we trundled. Since we have returned, he has a new card and no money is missing from his account.
First thing we did was to get stamped out of Thailand which we did with no dramas at all. Then we walked the 100 yards to the Cambodian side where we were immediately surrounded by kids and guys who would help us fill in the arrival form. Being the seasoned travellers we are, not one of us had a pen so we were at their mercy. First form was a medical form relating to the HN151 virus and we all had our temperatures taken. This cost us 20 baht each although I’m sure this was a rip-off. Then the guys filled out the arrival forms for us, and submitted them which took about 10 minutes, and the arrival visas were issued for us. For this service we paid 1200 baht to the immigration officers and the guys who helped us demanded 100 baht from each of us. They received 20 baht each. My advice to all other people going is to take a pen and fill out your own forms and only hand your passport to the guys behind the windows in uniforms.
Ok so formalities carried out we now realized we were still 10 km from Koh Kong where we wanted to meet an old friend who runs a small restaurant on the main drag. We negotiated 300 baht to take us to the town by taxi, and we paid the 1 dollar fee for the 2 kilometre bridge into Koh Kong. We later found out that was over twice as expensive as it should have been. Welcome to Cambodia!
We arrived in the town at 11:55 AM and the bus to Phnom Penh was leaving at 12:00 so I said a quick hello to my friend Sam of Fat Sam’s eatery while my travelling companion bought our bus tickets. The cost of the bus tickets in Thai baht is 600 baht each but we realized afterwards that in dollars it was only $10, so once again we paid about twice the going rate. Welcome to Cambodia! We arranged to spend some time having lunch in Sam’s on our return 3 days later and boarded the bus. The bus was advertised as “Air-con luxury travel”…Bullshit! It was like a sweatshop on the bus, and the suspension made it feel like the bus was travelling on the moon. I was slightly surprised that the roads didn’t seem much worse than some upcountry roads in Thailand. However most were only single lane. Five minutes into the bus journey I realized my telephone was missing from my pocket and I think it was lifted from me at the border by a pickpocket, so be careful there. I wasn’t too upset because it was a new touch screen thingy, and I am back to my old Nokia brick now which I can do everything with.
An interesting incident happened on the bus when a Korean tourist who was part of a group of 4 men starting shouting out loud at the driver from the rear of the bus stating that his time was money and other obscenities. I'm sure that this action would have gotten him beaten up if he spoke to a Thai in that way. The bus took 6 hours to cover the 280 kilometers to Phnom Penh. My first thoughts regarding Cambodia was how poor they are, and also what a dirty country it is, because all one can see is discarded rubbish everywhere, and I’m sure the word bin or trashcan does not appear in the Cambodian language.
We arrived at the waterfront in Phnom Penh at 6 PM and got a tuktuk driver to take us to a hotel. On the way we stopped to change Thai baht into dollars and got 26 dollars to 1000 baht. Being from the UK I didn’t realize what a bad rate this was until I worked it all out later that night. My advice to anyone going to Cambodia is to take your own dollars or use an ATM machine there. The Cambodian currency, the Riel, only seems to be used for small change, and $$ are the currency requested everywhere. If the tuk tuk driver takes you to a hotel of his choice he will receive commission from the hotel of $2 per room, and as such the ride should be for free, but if you are going to a destination of your choice $2 seems to be the going rate for a 5-10 minute ride. I was told that around $12 -15 dollars would secure the tuk tuk driver's services all day. I was very impressed with the tuk tuks themselves which are like carts with suspension that can adequately carry 4 large farangs and it is towed like an articulated lorry by a scooter. These tuk tuks put the trikes of P.I and the tuk tuks of Bangkok to shame.
Money changed we went to find a hotel. The first two we called at were full and then we tried the Puncak Hotel. The rooms were old looking but clean so we booked 3 rooms for the night. We agreed to all shower and meet in a nearby restaurant in 30 minutes. I got to my room, jumped into the shower and guess what?..It didn’t work! I managed to shower with the drops of water available and mentioned the problem to reception on my way to meet my friends to eat. The food was nothing to write home about, but the home cooked baguettes were fantastic.
That night we hit a street with bars like Rosies and 104 bar. Being married I was never going to barfine, but I quite enjoy talking to the girls. My impression is that their English skills are limited, and most girls seem happy with the $2 daily wages they get, and the commission they get from the drinks they receive. I was never asked to buy a lady drink which is refreshing compared to Pattaya bars. I was told that there is an ongoing crackdown regarding bars charging barfines, and two prominent farang bar owners are currently in jail there on charges regarding sexual exploitation for running bars in a Thai style way. The way around it apparently is to charge $5 for a cocktail and then the girl is free to go home that night. Although as I previously said it seems to me that most girls are not interested in going home with anyone! I retired to bed around 1 AM and noticed that the shower had still not been fixed.
The following morning I went to reception at 10 AM and saw my friend having a row with the manager because his air-con failed to get below 33 degrees. I told the manager that I had complained about my shower and they still had not fixed that so the two of us checked out, but my third friend stayed there. Puncak is an apt name. I feel as it was indeed a pile of Cak. We walked around the corner and found a brand new hotel called “Noura Guesthouse” which is in front of the history museum, and had nice views. We were quoted rooms from $20 to $35 and the rooms were excellent. I would recommend this hotel to all, and there is even a coffee/pastry café there also.
I then decided to visit the genocide museum on 21st street and I was upset at the atrocities carried out by the Pol Pot regime. It seems madness that only 30 odd years ago the world stood still whilst a maniac tried to take his country back to the year zero. The genocide museum is the jail where thousands of Cambodians were tortured and killed from 1975 to 1979. The photos and rooms there are all exactly the same as when the atrocities were being carried out. Entry here was $3 dollars. I would recommend a visit.
That night we went bar hopping with local beer costing around $2 a can. I recommend Anchor smooth beer served in a chilled glass. I am an avid pool player, but the tables in Cambodia are not looked after at all in the same way as in Thailand. I didn’t see one table I could play on.
The next day I visited the National Museum which really was a museum full of Buddhist artefacts, but I was dismayed to be told that no photos were allowed. I stayed around one hour, but I wasn’t really impressed.
As I mentioned earlier the Cambodians really do seem to have a refuse problem with rubbish just dumped in great piles everywhere and I believe this needs to be addressed before they attract mainstream tourists. Also the cafes etc are not generally geared up for farang tourists and just getting a cup of hot tea with milk is a struggle. They need to up their game to be remotely near Thailand.
We visited Martinis, the famous freelancer hangout, and we watched two footie matches on the big screen. The food here seemed good and reasonably priced, and the beer cold and cheap. There were many girls hanging out including two dark princesses from Ghana although they were too heavy for my taste. The going rates seemed to be $20 short-time and $40 long-time although the African girls said $40 short-time only. In the interests of the readership I managed to negotiate one reasonably looking girl down to $25 long-time, but I politely declined when I found out how low she would go.
After our bone crushing bus ride from Koh Kong to Phnom Penh we opted for a taxi back. We negotiated $65 for a nice Camry taxi. I was later to be told by my friend Sam that $55 can be found. It took us four hours back to Koh Kong instead of the 6 hours by bus. We had the best breakfast that I’ve ever had in Asia in Fat Sams eaterie in Koh Kong and with a cup of tea it came to $3.50. Sam is a true gent and a fantastic host and I recommend anyone travelling through Koh Kong to look him up and he will put you straight on all prices etc. Sam's history is managing hotel establishments in Wales and his menu is impressive for a one horse town. I hope he learns about birth control soon though, because he has a new addition every time I see him and his brood is up to 3 now. This guy really deserves your support if you are down that way, and many will know him from Pattaya.
Sam arranged for a $2 taxi to the border and after all formalities completed we arrived back home in Pattaya 11 hours after leaving Phnom Penh although we did stay for 2 hours at Fat Sam's in Koh Kong.
In conclusion, I feel that a good trip was had by all, although it made me realize how comfortable my life is in Thailand. Although I often moan about many things in Thailand, it is 20 years ahead of Cambodia. I feel the Cambodians need to improve their English skills, clean their country, and vastly improve infrastructure if they are serious about being a serious tourist destination.
Would I return to Cambodia?…Yes, but next time to Siam Reap to see Ankhor Wat.