|River Walk Area via rooftop bar|
I am sad to board the 7 hour bus to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap. I didn’t have much time to be sad, as the Cambodian man sitting next to me wanted to practice his English. He tells me about all the different places he loves in Cambodia and helps me with my spelling when I write them down. Another example of how friendly the Cambodian people are, I think. Yet, upon arrival in PP I am thoroughly unimpressed. Driving to the hostel from the bus station I can’t discern anything charming about the filthy place. I’d been hearing about the charm of PP for a while but I find it filthy, dusty and very busy (though I think that was mostly due to the fact that there are no stop signs or stop lights so everyone is just go go go.) I think maybe that is the charm and one just has to get use to it. We arrive at the hostel and my skivvy driver is hounding me about my plans for tomorrow. He’s looking as desperate and miserable as the children of Angkor. I tell him I haven’t decided what to do and walk into the spotless hostel. It’s quite different from the where I stayed at in Siem Reap. It’s newer, a bit colder and only one staff member on the clock, a man who calls himself Tony Montana. Tony Montana is very hung over. After checking in I grab a map and head out into the trash filled streets. I walk a little ways and appear to head into the tourist/financial district, a million times different from the rest of PP. I’ve only been walking around for half an hour and I can already tell two things: 1) it’s very apparent how badly war has ravaged the people of this country and 2) someone is putting some serious money into this capital.
I walk to the central market and buy a shirt for my brother. The market was horrible and had nothing of interest and I left confused and overwhelmed by all the people desperate to sell me something. I pay a tuk-tuk driver to take me to the museum next to the royal palace, as I’m having a hard time orienting myself. He drops me off and it turns out both the palace and museum are closed already.
I begin walking past the royal palace to try and get a view of it through the closed gates. Next thing I know a cute Cambodian a little older than me pulls his tuk tuk over next to me. His smile makes me think of my brother. His name is Bora and after chatting with him for a bit I agree to pay him 5 dollars to drive me around for an hour. He takes me to some statues and, after telling him a few times that I don’t want to go see boxing, I ask him to bring me to his favorite spot in PP. He takes me to Diamond Island. It looks a lot like a deserted helipad between the Tonle Sap River and the Mekong River. We make it just in time for sundown. It’s a hangout for Cambodian teens to play football over the concrete landing pads. Families are picnicking and watching their kids play in the sand. I am the only white person there so I attract a bit of a crowd. People come up to say hello then turn around and leave without another word. Kids come up to stand next to me, though none of them speak. I say hello to one little girl who is barely walking she’s so young. When I wave at her she laughs and waddles quickly back to her older sister. As we leave Bora stops to check his phone, only to have a text message from the Belgium girl he spent last night dancing with at the disco. He has me read the English to him then type a reply, “Yes I would love to have dinner.”
|Diamond Island look at the Mekong|
Later, her grills me for tips as he confesses “I’ve never had dinner with a girl before.” Although I think this is a lie, seeing as he tells me he’s actually engaged to a girl in the Czech he plans to wed soon, after he goes to work in Korea for a year…
He then takes me to a bridge where 300 people were trampled to death last year.
“You want to take a picture?”
“No,” I tell him. “Not really.”
Afterwards I treat him to ice cream. He asks me some more questions about what to talk about at dinner but I don’t think I was much help.
From the view in his tuk-tuk I begin to like PP a bit. Crowds of people gather in the numerous parks to play, eat and do the aerobics classes set up every ten feet. The “begging” children are just as clever, funny and willing to chat as the kids in Siem Reap, though they are infinitely more sassy. My bartender that night actually sits with me for my two glasses of wine and tells me his life story. I’m warming up to the place.
|Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Memorial, which Bora says "is a lie."|
|Diamond Island's lovers lane|
|Bora was actually going to let me drive...|