Arriving in Cambodia is always an “interesting” experience.
Cambodia is a visa on arrival country so you head up to the application desk, turn in your passport, your application, your arrival card, and a photo. Then you cross your fingers and wait. Eight or so people have to touch your passport. No idea what they all do, but they sit in a line and pass the passports down one at a time. But not necessarily in order. And sometimes some other official comes running up with a handful of passports from who knows where that need to be stamped. No rhyme or reason to the process that we can tell. Then, when the visa has been approved, a man at the end holds up the passport. Maybe he will try to say your name. So, everyone clusters around that one man, anxiously waiting to see their passport appear in his hands. Pay your $30 (must be in clean, newish U.S. dollars — regardless of your nationality) and you are on your way.
But you aren’t clear yet. You still have to run the taxi gauntlet. Now, keep in mind that there is currently a fixed rate for tourists to get into town. One price if you are going to the riverside, another if you are going further. (If you are a local or an expat, we understand you can find a taxi for much less). And there is a stand where you can pre-pay for your ticket – you know, something official like that you should be able to trust, so you don’t have to negotiate with the drivers. Except the stand will tell you that all taxi rides are the more expensive price. When we said “no, no, we are only going to the riverside, we want the cheaper ride”, the guy at the taxi stand says “go talk to the taxi drivers.” So, off we went to the taxi stand. Where all the drivers told us that the fare was the more expensive price. We held firm and, sure enough, after a few minutes one of the drivers took us for the correct price. Thankfully, we had read about this scam before arriving and were well-prepared, but I’m really starting to miss metered taxis….
The highlight of our stay in Phnom Penh, at least for Robert, was a bicycle tour. 25 km on “unsurfaced country roads.” Let me translate. First, ride a few kilometers from the tour office to a ferry, dodging cars, tuk-tuks, motorbikes and the odd pedestrian (not all of which were driving on the right side of the road and many of which will come from a side street out into traffic without even looking), all within inches of you – it’s a well choreographed dance but we don’t know the steps. Then, ride through the countryside on dirt paths and gravel paths. Then, take another ferry to an island where, in addition to the dirt and gravel paths, we rode through a pasture alongside grazing cows and horses. Then, take another ferry and ride the last few km on a formerly paved, but rapidly becoming unpaved, road full of speed bumps along with the previously mentioned carts, tuk-tuks, motorbikes and the odd pedestrian (oh, and chickens and dogs as well).
I think we saw some pretty scenery, including rice fields, riverbanks, pagodas and the like, but my head was down, sweat was dripping into my eyes, and I was pedaling hard trying to keep up and not crash. Robert loved it. I, on the other hand, loved the break where we got to eat dragon fruit.
The highlight of the city for me was probably the hand-pulled noodles.
We found a cute little shop that made noodles to order. You could have them in soup or cold or fried. They also made dumplings. We had chicken noodle soup, cold noodles with pork, and pork dumplings. (Yes, I know that sounds like quite a bit, but it was our only meal of the day unless you count some Pringles we had in the middle of the day… it is too hot here to want lunch). So good.
We missed the killing fields this trip, which is a real disappointment. We were both under the weather on the day we were supposed to go. We might head back this way for another couple of nights before heading to Vietnam so we can go. But we did see our first monkey!