My First Trip To Phnom Penh
It was time for a visa run out of Bangkok. I’d been to Laos and Vietnam before. This time I decided to visit Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It was my first time and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I did some research online prior to my trip and there were so many mixed opinions about Phnom Penh. Some loved it, some hated it. I had to find out for myself.
My girlfriend at the time, the Thai nurse, picked me up from my place in Bangkok and drove me to the airport. I told her I would take a taxi but she insisted on driving me herself. What an angel. I wish I kept in touch with her… Oh well. They come and they go. Anyways, she dropped me off and we said our goodbyes.
It was a short flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh. I waited in line and got my visa on arrival. Passed through immigration and got a SIM card for my phone. Then I stepped out in to the Cambodian sun.
The parking lot felt like an oven. Touts began shouting at me from all directions. A couple guys started grabbing at my bag. “Taxi Taxi! Come with me!” The “taxis” were just random Khmer dudes driving old unmarked Toyota Camrys. Not the most confidence inspiring thing to see in an unfamiliar third world country.
I picked the least sketchy looking dude and followed him to his car. The ubiquitous beige 2000 Toyota Camry. I told him to bring me to Street 136 on the Riverside. I read this was the center of the seedy night life so that’s where I decided to stay.
We drove along as I soaked in the scenes of Phnom Penh. It wasn’t as bad as I envisioned. There were areas that looked quite nice. Stopped at a red light, a little girl was walking along knocking on car windows. She was barefoot and disheveled. Dirty clothes, matted hair, eyes squinting in the sunlight. Poor kids. Unfortunately this is a common sight in Phnom Penh.
She had a row of these flower necklace looking things hanging on one arm. She tapped on my drivers window and held up her arm, showing him the flowers. Without a word, he rolled down the window, handed her a few crumpled up bills and she handed him a flower necklace. He gently hung it around his rear view mirror and we drove off.
As we made our way to the riverside we hit a massive traffic jam. The driver started cursing in Khmer. “Traffic,” he said to me. “Street 136 is not far. You can walk.”
I was hesitant to get out in the middle of nowhere, but he was right. The traffic was like a parking lot. It was either walk or sit there for an hour. So I paid him, grabbed my back pack and got out of the car.
“That way!” he shouted as he pointed me towards the riverside.
I made it to the front of the traffic jam and realized there was some sort of political protest going on. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of people marching down the street. They had a main road totally blocked off. They were walking, riding motorbikes slowly and piled into tuk tuks. Waving Cambodian flags, chanting, shouting into loud speakers. They didn’t look happy.
And there I was, the only white guy around. I had sudden visions of them surrounding me, hacking me to pieces with machetes, then barbecuing me on the street. Hey, it could happen.
But no. They ignored me and I kept marching towards the riverside. Finally I found it. The Tonle Sap River. I dropped my backpack to the ground and sat on a bench. Sweat was pouring down my face from that walk. The sun was getting lower in the sky as I looked out over the river’s brown water.
Some sketchy looking western guy with tattoos and a shaved head walked up to the edge of the river and fired up a fat joint. He gave me a head nod. I nodded back. We didn’t talk.
Some lady was pushing a cooler full of cold drinks. I bought a can of Angkor beer off her, cracked it and took a big chug. Damn that went down good. Scorching hot in Cambodia and beer is the same price as water. No wonder there are so many drunks over there.
Some poor kid walked by me. He was holding a plastic bag full of cans. He pointed to my beer can on the bench, hoping I’d give it up. I politely said, “no” and shook my head. He grabbed the can anyways and walked away. I was so surprised and exhausted I didn’t chase him.
He kept walking, looking back over his shoulder to make sure I wasn’t following him. Then he dumped out my beer, which was almost full, and threw the can in his bag.
Old ladies were doing some kind of exercise dance routine along the riverside. I was watching them when some old guy came and sat next to me. I thought he was Khmer but he turned out to be Filipino. He told me he was working as a Catholic missionary there. He seemed like a nice guy. He asked me where I was from. When I told him America, he said, “Oh my daughter is studying to become a nurse in America. She is 19 years old. Would you like to meet her? “Umm sure, why not? Is she here?”
He said, “Yes she’s living here in Phnom Penh. You can meet her later.” So we exchanged numbers. He did call me later that night but I ignored him. Call me crazy, but I was sketched out by the whole thing. Perhaps his story was legit and he was trying to serve me up his 19 year old daughter on a platter. But I’m paranoid and thought it could be a set up.
I checked in to some shitty hotel. Forget the name but it was the creepiest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. It was around $12 so I couldn’t complain but fxxk this place was weird. Like some dilapidated building that hadn’t been touched since the 70’s. Puke green-colored peeling paint. A rusting iron staircase that was built for midgets. I literally had to duck and contort my body to get up these stairs. Then once upstairs, I had to cross a weird hallway type of bridge into another building to get to my room. There were Khmer faces peering out of rooms watching my every step. I felt like I was being walked to my execution.
That night I went out bar hopping alone on the riverside. Phnom Penh is a lot of fun at night. Plenty of good bars and restaurants to enjoy. Whatever you’re looking for is available. Girly bars, fine dining, upscale night clubs, live music venues. There’s a lot in a small walkable area. Street 136 was crawling with pretty women and shady looking characters. Music was blaring and the smell of marijuana was in the air.
I drank some beers at a restaurant bar while chatting with the staff. Friendly young ladies. One was particularly attractive. Her teeth were the color of butter and her forehead was an inch too tall, but besides that, very attractive. She was thick, with light brown skin. I could tell she was hiding some nice curves under her work uniform. We exchanged numbers and I moved on.
She texted me after she finished work and asked where I was. I told her I was tired and was heading back to my room soon. She said she wanted to meet up for a drink. I told her to come by my hotel and we could have a drink there. To my surprise, she agreed.
Ten minutes later she was outside of my hotel. I met her downstairs and she followed me up the creepy staircase, down the dark hallway and into my horrible room, where I had nothing to drink but bottled water. Damn I wish I splurged for a nicer place. But she didn’t seem to mind.
I won’t get into details here, but we enjoyed each other’s company. And it didn’t cost me a dime. Not a bad first day in Phnom Penh!
Soon after she was getting phone calls. She had a long conversation in Khmer language as she gathered her clothes and went into the bathroom. She came out fully dressed and said, “I have to go. My sister is waiting for me.”
We said our goodbyes and she left. That was the first, and last time we ever met. Thanks for the memories, sweetheart.
I had a good time in Phnom Penh. It’s rough around the edges but I think that’s part of the charm. Thailand is the better place to live long term. But Cambodia is a lot of fun and I plan to visit a lot more.
The author can be contacted at : SingleMansParadise.com