16 November 2009

Current stop: Cambodia

Temperature: 31degrees. Sunny. On our arrival to the port (we came by boat from ChauDoc in Vietnam) several people showing posters announcing themselves as the nicest tuk-tuk drivers or having the best places to sleep. We had the plan ready, based on our guidebook. One dollar or we walk to take us to the hotel we have chosen, about 800m from there. "Bad tourists" called the first one when sawing we were not open to negotiation. The second one took us, his name Pho. We took his phone number for having him as a driver the next day.

Tuk-tuk are motorbikes with a remork attached, that can take a few people in the back. They cost the tourist about the double as for a simple motorbike. There are very few taxis in Cambodia and some cyclos (bicycles with seat in front for 1/2 passengers).

Cambodia is pricier than Vietnam. There are more big wealthy jeeps but also more desperate women and children begging for money. For same price as in Vietnam, our hotel room was fairy simple, in a 5th floor without elevator, towels smelling of being always hand-washed in a bathtub. There was no upper bed-sheet, just a light silk sheet that could be more for decoration. "Please close your door and windows during the night" said behind the door, besides the already prison like barred window.

Next step: look for money. Few ATM accept foreign cards, but the ones that accept are indicated almost like a big gas station, with 10m tall sign with the symbol of each brand of card. Money that comes out: US dollars. Official Cambodia currency: riel (for which there are no coins). In fact, all the cities run in USD, down to the unit, and then use riel as subdivision of dollar. Exchange rate is 4135 riel = 1 usd. For the friends (mean, current use) 4000 riel=1usd, which makes 1000riel=0.25usd, just perfect.

We were in desperate need of laundry. Everywhere it was by piece, but we need by kilo. Google as a friend together with other tourists, we find a bike shop which runs a launderette walking distance from the hotel. Laundry done during dinner.

The next morning was for touring the city. Pho as agreed met us at 8am. When we said our plan, he start excuses as Thai embassy being too far away, then that he could not drive on the two main Phnom Penh avenues. We agreed that he could take us nearby and we would then walk there. After 300m he turns to opposite direction, after while we ask where he is going. He stops near other tuk-tuk drivers and asks another one to take us. This one just did what we wanted. Drove us around the city and waited for us while we were doing our business (Thai embassy, market and museum). At the end we re-ask why Pho could not take us to the Thai embassy area. "He had to do some job mid-morning" was the new excuse. Impossible to know the real reason.

Thai visa will be ready only Thursday. Meanwhile we can take it easy visiting the city, which was deserted 34 years ago, when Cambodia Khmer Rouge suppressed money, religion and private property in a communist rural utopia. It is quite impressive city still with strong signs of the war and repression that happened 30years ago.

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