Cambodia 004 – Phnom Penh’s Backpacker Areas
February 14, Wednesday, 2007 Phnom Penh
So far I haven’t found a convenient and comfortable place to sit with my NEO. This morning, all I could think of was this coffee shop attached to a gas station variety store. It’s comfortable enough, but there aren’t enough tables to make it convenient. I feel like I can’t stay that long. I was also sitting at a table by the door and window and it was a bit hot. Now I’ve moved farther back and it’s a bit more comfortable.
It’s an interesting place in that only people with a lot of money can afford to shop in these places. So you see some rich Cambodians, plus a lot of foreigners who obviously work in Cambodia. Stopping off here in their white 4X4s on the way to work to get a coffee is part of their routine. It’s pretty good coffee, I must say. I got a cafe latte and it’s much better than the coffee I got at that Garden Center Cafe.
I didn’t go out into the countryside yesterday, but stayed the whole time within the city limits. I didn’t go very far either, but it was an interesting afternoon. The morning was spent NEOing and at the Internet cafe.
After I left the Internet cafe, I cycled down to the river. Three rivers actually join up here at Phnom Penh – the Sap, the Mekong, and the Bassac. The largest part of the riverfront area of Phnom Penh runs beside the Sap, or Tonle Sap, as they call it.
While I was at the Garden Center Cafe, I picked up an ex-pat magazine and a tourism brochure. As I leafed through them, I learned that many of the popular foreigner bars and restaurants are along this riverfront area on Sisowath Quay. I had seen a bit of this area on my first day and wanted to take another look.
My route took me along Sihanouk past the Victory Monument. I have so far managed not to take a picture of the Victory Monument, but I suppose I will succumb at some point. Why not? It’s there. I don’t know, however, what victory it is a monument to. I don’t imagine it matters.
The riverfront area is surprisingly attractive. From what I’ve read, we have the French to thank for that. They laid out wide boulevards, built some nice buildings, and made sure there was lots of park area left between the buildings and the river. At least that’s true for this section. Past Sisowath Quay, it reverts back to standard big city industrial riverfront.
I said before that Phnom Penh feels like a large village compared to Taipei. That feeling is starting to fade a little bit. The traffic, though not nearly as congested or challenging as Taipei’s, is still there and still pretty constant. The scooters are starting to take over. It flows better and is much easier to handle than in Taipei, but no one would say it is a tranquil paradise. I also said that there were few tall buildings. And that is true. There are no Taipei 101s or World Trade Centers or even anything approaching the size of the building where LiveABC is located. There are no giant blocks of square buildings. But there are some pretty impressive structures. Phnom Penh seems to be growing rapidly. Down by the river there are some very large hotels. They are beautiful in their way. Certainly impressive. They are built on large chunks of land and a lot of thought went into their design. I also saw a massive Buddhist studies center. I keep thinking I must have misread the sign. The place is huge, like a city all by itself. I can’t imagine the whole thing is just a Buddhist studies center. Beside it, another hotel is going up. This monolith has got to be twenty stories high. It has all the makings of a modern luxury hotel. In the shadow of this place there was a pleasing dump of an amusement park. It had little rides and lots of places where you could throw balls at targets and win stuffed animals. I rode through here and then hit a dead end. I had to circle around and then get back to the river.
From there, the riverfront turned into a nice wide park. There weren’t that many people there and no one bothered me as I rode around and stopped to take a couple of pictures. I saw one tall foreign man on a Trek mountain bike and I stopped to talk to him. I didn’t learn what organization he worked for, but he was wearing a WWF T-shirt, so chances are he worked for them. He was down at the river to arrange a boat cruise party for a colleague who was leaving and going back to New Zealand. This man looked to be in his late forties and had been in Cambodia for years. He liked to ride a bike around Phnom Penh and had his eyes on my Ortlieb bags. From what I’ve seen, nothing like my bike or gear can be had in Phnom Penh. But when I told him how much I had paid, he lost interest.
I’m getting more and more concerned about my bike and thought I’d look around for the bigger tires that I couldn’t find in Taipei. This man said there were some bike shops near the Russei Market and I decided to go there later in the day and see what I could find.
It’s interesting that my brief contacts with the ex-pat world mirrors the ex-pat world everywhere else. The Garden Center Cafe is Grandma Nittis (without the good food). The ex-pat magazine had this long article that read much like the nonsense in Taiwanease, dissing the local people for their stupidity and inefficiency and all the rest of it. And this man on the Trek spent a good ten minutes warning me to be very careful with my bike, that there were thieves everywhere and that if I took my eye off it for a second, it would be gone. He then trotted out as many stories as he could think of about foreigners who had had their bikes and other things stolen. He said that the woman that the boat cruise was for had her bike stolen just two weeks after she arrived in Cambodia. She had gone to the Russei market, in fact, and had put her bike in a secure parking lot where you paid a guard to watch it. She came back later and her bike was gone and the guard said he knew nothing about it. I didn’t mind the stories. In fact, I felt a bit like I needed a bit of a reality check. I’d been wandering around feeling quite safe and relaxed. That’s how I felt in Taipei as well when my bike was stolen there. I may have mentioned that at the Shining Star they gave me a hard time about locking up my bike. They insisted that it wasn’t necessary. It certainly wasn’t necessary to lock it to anything they said. But I insisted and I felt bad about insisting, like I didn’t trust them. Talking to this foreigner has made me feel better about being not so trusting. One problem, similar to in Taipei, is that there is often nothing to lock one’s bike to. When I went to Tuol Sleng, I simply put my bike in amongst all the scooters in front of the Bodhi Tree and then put the lock through the wheel and frame. No one could ride it away, but anyone could pick it up and throw it in the back of a truck. I left it there anyway, because I had this feeling that it was safe here. Apparently, it’s not as safe as I imagined.
My mood continues to be very good, and I’m pleased about that. I find myself laughing and being more open than I’ve been in a long time. When I came out of Tuol Sleng, a tuk-tuk driver (well, one of many actually) asked me if I wanted a ride somewhere. I said that I didn’t need one, that I had a bike, that bike over there. Then this guy said that he knew all about my bike. He knew I had a bike. In fact, he had been watching my bike for me and now I owed him a dollar. At other times, I might have been defensive or just ignored him. But I simply laughed and joked with him, telling him that he didn’t even know I had a bike, so how could he have been guarding it? He replied that he didn’t know it was mine. But he did see the bike and he was guarding it for whoever it belonged to. So I owed him a dollar. I joked back and he slapped me on the shoulder and went to his tuk-tuk with a big smile on his face. I’ve had the same basic attitude with people asking for money. (I’m somehow reluctant to use the word “beggar”.) At an intersection yesterday, a blind man came up to my bike being led by a young boy. I didn’t understand what the boy said, but it wasn’t like there was a great mystery. I simply smiled at the boy, took a thousand riel out of my shirt pocket and handed it to him. I’ve been keeping a thousand riel in my shirt pocket so that I don’t have to get out my wallet. When I rode up to this coffee shop, a woman was standing right where I wanted to park my bike. She waited patiently while I locked up my bike and took off the bags. Then she asked for money. I smiled at her and she smiled back and laughed and I gave her a thousand riel. I’m glad I haven’t gotten all tense about that stuff. I never feel right about ignoring people asking for money. So giving them something feels like the best thing to do. It certainly isn’t a lot of money. A thousand riel is twenty-five cents American. Yet, as I found out the other day, a laborer can make as little as 6,000 riel in a day. So even though a thousand riel doesn’t mean much to me, it would make a difference to someone here who doesn’t have a job. And yet, it isn’t any of this that is the difference. I think it’s just that I’m comfortable here and it’s easy to react to these people as people. I’ve been watching this woman ever since I sat down here and she casually drifts from car to car to scooter at the gas pumps and holds her hands together in the traditional greeting. A large percentage of the Cambodians give her money. I have yet to see a single foreigner give her anything. I don’t know how much the Cambodians gave her. It could be as little as 100 riel. Maybe she’s making a lot. And if she is, more power to her. She has a little girl and a little boy with her. If she can make enough to put them through medical school or something, well, great.
It surprises me how many foreigners go through this little coffee shop. I’ve been sitting here only a short time and I’ve seen all types. There have been some rough and ready looking types. These are generally men who roar up in a 4X4, all business, and look like they could be off to look for buried treasure in the jungle. There was a young woman who looked like she stepped right out of the pages of Businesswoman Weekly. She was crisp and clean in a nice skirt and white blouse with high heels and delicate earrings. She got a copy of an English language newspaper, a coffee, sat down with her ankles crossed, read the paper, then got up and clipped her way across the gas station to work somewhere. She didn’t look like she’d broken into a sweat a day in her life. Almost everyone looks totally in control and sure of what they are doing and where they are. They walk into this place like they own it, most of them with a scooter helmet under their arm. Then when they get their “usual”, they go out and hop on their scooter and roar off into traffic. Then there have been some tourists. A group of four Japanese tourists came in and sat down at the table next to me. They have four matching sun hats, matching sandals, and they are all playing with their cameras – stereotype in real life. I have also seen a couple of backpackers, but it’s hard to tell if they are backpackers or people living here. I usually can’t tell until they take out some identifying object like a Lonely Planet or a map.
The Cambodians who come in are just as interesting as the foreigners. They obviously have money and spend much of their time laughing into their cell phones. Then they go outside and jump into their trendy little cars and race off to some other social appointment. Of course, having a cell phone is no guarantee that someone has money. Cell phones aren’t as common as in Taipei, but there is certainly no shortage of them. It’s a common sight to see someone driving their scooter with one hand and shouting into a cell phone in the other hand. That would be a good symbol for Cambodia in my mind – busy people. They’ve got things to do, deals to make, and places to go.
I took some pictures along Sisowath Quay yesterday and I hope some of them turn out. It’s a very atmospheric area. It would certainly be a great place to stay, more convenient and beautiful than where I’m staying. Of course, the hotels would be three or four times as expensive. It would still be worth it though if you were looking for a real holiday. I’m sure you get a lot for your money in those hotels. And there were tons of beautiful bars and cafes and restaurants to hang out in. In my neighborhood, those things are definitely lacking. There were quite a few foreigners wandering around, including one older fellow who really did think he was on assignment for National Geographic. He annoyed me and he wasn’t even taking pictures of me. He went up to every single person that was looking away, sleeping, or otherwise unaware of him, and started to take pictures. He had the air of a sneak thief. I wanted to punch him. I’m not sure how the Cambodians felt, though. They probably felt the same.
I didn’t have any big plans for the day, and after the quay, I just kept riding north along the river. I thought I might cross the Chruoy Changvar Bridge, also known as the Japanese Friendship Bridge, and cycle along the river on the other side. But when I got to the bridge, I was overwhelmed by the traffic and couldn’t figure out how to get on the bridge. I thought I’d save that adventure for another day, and I kept riding. There wasn’t much to see up there, though, and the traffic became crazier and crazier. I finally turned around and cycled back into the city. I had a plan in the back of my mind to go check out the two backpacker areas. I wanted to at least see them even if I didn’t stay there.
One area is along the Boeng Kak Lake. The LP described quite a number of guest houses there and they sounded much the same as similar places you’d find in Thailand. I cycled till I thought I was somewhere near the lake. Then I kept turning right and going down side streets to see where I ended up. Most streets took me into a dead end or industrial areas and I turned around. But then I got lucky. I noticed right away that this street was different. I saw a sprinkling of foreigners and lots of tuk-tuk drivers tracking them like lions stalking antelope. I kept going, and suddenly the road became narrow and turned to the left. Suddenly, I was in a mini-Khao San Road. The LP makes a big point that the backpacker areas in Phnom Penh were not like Khao San Road. However, I beg to differ. It was exactly the same. One second, I was out there in Phnom Penh. The next, I was in a narrow alley hemmed in by guest houses, curry houses, money exchangers, tour guides, ticket sellers, and massage parlors. All the typical backpackers were there. Some were just arriving, and had those huge round backpacks on their backs and the not much smaller knapsacks on their chests. I think of them as the turtles. They’d just been dropped off by a tuk-tuk driver after some epic bus journey from somewhere and were walking from guest house to guest house looking for the best deal. Other turtles had come to the end of their stay here and were negotiating with tuk-tuk drivers to take them to their next destination. Others were hanging out in cafes and browsing through second-hand books. I often find groups of foreigners like this somewhat intimidating in an odd way. They look for all the world like traveling warriors. There were a lot of Europeans and they had this effortless air of cool with their wild hair and sleeves rolled up to show large tattoos. I know if I spoke with them, I’d find they were just normal people doing the normal thing. But the look of them is something else entirely.
I wouldn’t have minded checking out some of the guest houses just for fun. I’d read that a few of them are built on stilts out over the lake. That sounds great, but I’d also read that these places are a real attraction for mosquitoes. But I contented myself with riding the full length of this street and then turning around and going back. In fact, I had no choice but to double back. The street came to a dead end and I had to go back. It was a quaint little area and I could see that staying there would be quite pleasant and fun in its own way. Certainly a person wouldn’t be constantly struggling to find a place to comfortably sit and get their bearings. The whole area was nothing but comfortable places to sit and get your bearings, and drink cold beer and ice drinks and eat good cheap food.
I was very glad once again to have a bike. I think back to my horrible trip to Laos, and I see more clearly than ever that the reason I had such a bad time was that I didn’t have a bike. Other people might be able to get around easily using local transport, but I’m not comfortable doing that. At least, I never manage it. If I were here without a bike and had ended up in this backpacker area, my experience of Phnom Penh would likely be that backpacker area and not much else. How do you get out of those places once you’re in them? On foot? I suppose, but I hate walking. And walking opens you up to so many intrusions. When I finally left, I came up behind a woman who was heading out into the city up the street that led down into this area. She walked along trying to give off the air that she knew exactly where she was going and didn’t need any help. But of course that is no protection and a tuk-tuk driver came up beside her and started to talk to her and offer her a ride. She said no thank you, but of course he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He throttled down his tuk-tuk to her pace and went beside her for the entire length of the street talking and talking and talking while she kept saying no. I cycled slowly to take in this whole encounter. When I finally left them behind, the driver was still talking and the woman was still saying no thank you.
From there, I rode along USSR Boulevard. I remembered seeing some bike shops there on my way in from the airport. But even though I rode quite a long way, I didn’t see any bike shops. Eventually I stopped and headed back into the city to check out the area around Russei Market. I wanted to see what the market looked like, but I mainly wanted to check out the bike shops. Plus, just south of this market is the second big backpacker area and I thought it would interesting to look around there as well.
It soon became clear why the two backpacker areas sprang up where they did. When I cycled out of the first one near the lake, I rode right past the train station. The guest house area was within an easy walking distance of the train station. And when I got to the Russei Market backpacker area, I noticed that the bus station was there. So it’s only natural that backpackers arriving by bus and train would look for hotels after they arrived. I guess it wouldn’t just be foreigners. It’s natural to find cheap hotels beside bus stations and train stations in any country in the world. Then over time, some of the cheap hotels would start to specialize in dealing with backpackers, and another Khao San Road would be born.
Russei Market made a big impression on me. It’s definitely the place I would choose to stay as opposed to the lakeside area. Along the lake, the backpacker ghetto dominated. It had taken over the entire area and there was literally nothing else there. But as many guest houses as there were around Russei Market, nothing would ever be able to compete with the life of that market. Wandering around that market, I didn’t really know where I was, but I was certainly somewhere. I hope to go back there this afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky and take some more pictures. I’m hoping to be able to stash my bike somewhere and then go around on foot.
I didn’t know what the market would be like, nor exactly where it was. I was cycling along and then I saw a big truck piled high with a hundred bikes. I thought it might be coming from the bike area of the market and I turned down that street. I soon saw that I’d guessed right and I saw at least a dozen places with hundreds of bikes. It didn’t take long, though, to see that these places wouldn’t do me any good. If I’d had a mountain bike, I might have gotten some spare parts. But with a road bike with 700c tires there wasn’t a chance. None of the shops had anything remotely like my bike. They just had local bikes. The shop owners didn’t speak English and I didn’t have much luck talking to them. Even if I couldn’t get bigger tires, I thought perhaps I could get an extra tube or some patching kits. But I didn’t see anything like that at all. Perhaps there are more high-end shops, but in this area I was out of luck.
After I gave up on the bike shops, I looked around a bit more and the sheer chaos of the place started to sink in. I got out my camera and started to frame shots with the large buildings filling the frame and some of the traffic filling the foreground. I felt like I wasn’t really taking any good pictures. It seemed like an area that just oozed great photographs, yet I wasn’t clear enough in my head to get them. In any event, some of the pictures I took will show some of the detail of the place. With a wide-angle lens, at least I got a lot in each frame. Who knows how it will look though. There was so much activity and traffic that it was difficult to find a spot where I could stop my bike and comfortably take out my camera. Even then I was locked to my bike. It’s not like I could have left it there and then gone off on foot to frame a better shot. I had to simply straddle the bike and take a picture from wherever I had stopped. I do wonder if it was a special day. It probably wasn’t. I imagine the market looks like that every single day. I was exhausted just spending twenty minutes looking around. I can’t imagine working there all day every day. The noise and activity must eventually wear you out.
When I couldn’t take the market anymore, I turned to the south and started cycling up and down some of the side streets to check out the backpacker guest houses. There were a lot of them, but they didn’t dominate the neighborhood. There’s no way they could with the market all around them like that. If I didn’t have a bike, that’s probably where I would stay. Since I have the bike, though, I can stay farther away and then ride to places like that. I didn’t go inside any of the guest houses right there, but I did pop into one that was a bit farther away and a bit quieter. The room they showed me was $6 for just a fan. It was a better room than mine, though. It even had a big balcony. However, I still didn’t like it overall. While I was talking to the guy at the front desk, a backpacker came down to complain about the toilet paper in her room. She didn’t like it and wondered if they didn’t have any other toilet paper. The poor guy grabbed some containers that were full (I guess they supply it in each room) and handed it to her. She fingered it and handed it back as no good. “Is this the only kind you have?” she asked.
I was pretty worn out by this point and pointed the wheel of my bike back towards the Shining Star. I wanted to get a haircut and even went so far as to stop outside a couple of hair salons, but I never went inside. I was simply too sweaty and dirty to inflict myself on those poor girls. I thought I’d have a shower first and then go out to get a haircut. By the time I’d showered and rested a bit, though, I was not up for it and went to get dinner instead. I tried to find another place to eat, but no place seemed right and I went back to the same restaurant where I’ve eaten every night. This time I had the noodles instead of the rice. I tried to find out from the hostess there if there was some other food on the menu that would make a good dinner. I tried to give her some guidelines, like no seafood, but that didn’t help. Almost everything she suggested was some kind of seafood delicacy. She started with some kind of snail, then suggested river mud fish, and when I said no to both of those, she suggested frogs. We weren’t communicating that well. Finally, I got her around to some noodles and the “satay beef.” It was really good. I also ordered another glass of cold Angkor draft beer. Unfortunately, (or fortunately for my stomach) it never came, and I just had the noodles and the beef. The hostess was quite upset when I paid my bill and I pointed out that I hadn’t actually gotten my beer. She chewed out the waiter and said something about how it’s impossible to “get good help” these days. She was really angry about it and she offered me a small bottle of water I thought as compensation. I thought that was nice of her and said yes. But then she charged me for it.
Here, my story takes a more typical and sadder turn. I was just finishing up my dinner and thinking perhaps about grabbing a cold beer to take back to my room, when a sudden stomach cramp had me doubled over. Ah, the third world night of agony was on its way. I thought I’d been pretty lucky so far. I’d arrived on Saturday and been here for two and a half days and had not a twinge from my poor beleaguered digestive system. But I knew it was only a matter of time. It ended up not being as bad as I expected, but it wasn’t a great night. I was sick to my stomach and had pretty bad stomach cramps, but they didn’t last long when they came. Oddly, though, I had this other pain that was much higher, almost right under my heart. It was connected with my stomach somehow, but I don’t know what it was. The feeling was like a sudden stabbing pain and it hasn’t gone away yet. It just hits every twenty minutes or so. I think it’s just a spasm of some kind and it’s starting to go away now. It’s all a bit annoying though. It makes me think twice about setting off on any longer tours. I wouldn’t want to be stricken miles away from anywhere. Ah well. It’s part of the deal as I well know.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
It’s 6:15 p.m. over here. I am back in my room at the Shining Star. Today was something of an odd day. A bit of a pointless day I suppose. I wrote for a while at that coffee shop and I enjoyed that. But then I had a flat tire and my day seemed to go drifting away after that. I suppose I spent more time at the Internet cafe than I had planned. I sent off some emails and replied to one or two.
I did have an errand or two I wanted to run. For one thing, I had seen on my previous day’s travels a medical clinic that had a big sign about vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B. I was thinking that if it was convenient, not too expensive, and hygienic, I’d get them. I had wanted to get them in Taiwan, but things just never got that far in my plans. I rode up Monivong looking for this place, but I didn’t see it. That brought me to the Friendship Bridge and I thought that since I was there I might as well go across it. How many times in your life do you get go across the mighty Tonle Sap? The traffic was thick and chaotic. I ended up walking my bike along the sidewalk on the side just so that I could go slower and take in the views. There wasn’t a great deal to see from up there and the river was not busy at all, but it was still kind of cool. I walked all the way to the other side and then crossed the road (at great peril) and then came back. I took some pictures along the way even though there were armed guards sprinkled along the bridge. I thought if they didn’t want me to take pictures, they’d tell me pretty quick. At one point, a guard came up to me and said hello, but that was it. He wasn’t interested in my camera at all. He just had to stand out there on the bridge for hours and hours every day and any distraction was welcome. He didn’t speak any English, and he just contented himself with standing beside me as I looked over the river. I saw one or two fishing boats at work and that was it. I imagine this is where the “mud fish” that I was offered for dinner yesterday came from. Somehow, I expected the river to be much busier than that. From up there I also saw the fast boats that go up to Siem Reap and back. I knew they were in that direction somewhere. I’d looked for them the day before, but I didn’t see them. Now I could see them on the river, but no matter how hard I looked along the river road later, I couldn’t find any road that went down to them. I didn’t see any signs at all either. Perhaps it will remain a mystery. I had read and heard that these boats are becoming less and less popular as the road system improves. The buses are supposed to be just as fast now and quite a bit more comfortable, safer, and much cheaper.
After my small adventure on the bridge, I went back to Monivong to resume my search for this place that offered hepatitis vaccinations. I couldn’t find it, but I did see a medical clinic and I went there to inquire. They said that they were a laboratory, and didn’t offer vaccinations. But then when I left, I suddenly saw the sign. It was in their window. So I went back in and pointed to the big word “vaccination” and the word “hepatitis” in their window. They said they don’t offer those anymore. They just never bothered to take down the sign. I have since learned about a clinic run by a British doctor that offers vaccinations. Perhaps I’ll check it out tomorrow.
I still had plans to go to the Russie Market and take some pictures, but I had had nothing to eat all day and the hunger was starting to get to me. Plus, all this aimless wandering in the traffic was making me irritable.
I did ride my bike over to the Russie Market. Then I headed down into the backpacker area looking for a place where I could leave my bike safely. Nothing jumped out at me and I was getting more and more irritable. Finally, I saw a little restaurant that looked convenient for a cyclist. Nobody was sitting at any of the tables, but I pulled in anyway and asked the woman if they were open. She said they were open, and I locked up my bike and took a seat at a table. This was a typical backpacker restaurant attached to a guest house and they had a menu in English and all the rest of it. I ordered a green beef curry with rice and that meal was the highlight of my day. It was delicious and I savored every bite. By the time I was done, it was getting quite late and I judged it to be too late to go out and take pictures. I wasn’t in the mood anymore anyway. I got on my bike and rode back in this direction. I finally got up the energy to pop into a place to get a haircut, but they sent me packing. I don’t know why, but I think they were telling me that they only did women’s haircuts. They didn’t cut men’s hair. It’s possible they just didn’t want to deal with a foreigner. Either way, I still have my longish hair. I stopped off at my neighborhood mini-mart, bought a can of beer and a bottle of water and went back to the Shining Star.
After my experience at the restaurant, I was starting to see the advantages to staying in backpacker ghettos. At least staying there, you are surrounded by good places to eat and lots of places to sit and relax. Out here in normal Phnom Penh, life isn’t quite so simple. At least, it isn’t so simple when you don’t speak Khmer.
When I got back to the Shining Star, they told me that the key to my room was up in my room. They didn’t have it at the front desk. I went up the stairs and found that the stairwell, the hallways, and the rooms were all flooded with water. I thought there had been an accident and I worried for the gear that I had left in my room. But then I realized that they were just cleaning and being very free with the water. They were just finishing up with my room and three women were in there either mopping or scrubbing. I stood in the doorway for a few minutes while they finished up. They were having a pretty good laugh at my expense, but I didn’t mind. I did mind, however, when they started asking for money. I shut the door on them and went to take a shower. I got all lathered up, and then just like that the water stopped flowing! I eventually got a tiny trickle and I had to cup my hands and rinse off a handful of water at a time. Ah, well.
One interesting aspect of my day was the purchase of a paper called the Phnom Penh Post. I think it comes out twice or three times a month. It was very interesting to read. It had real articles on Cambodia. I read the whole thing cover to cover and it gave me a much better feel for the country. I also bought the Cambodia Daily, the paper that I saw the super-businesswoman reading. It was okay and contained lots of wire service international news articles.
In a way, reading the papers intensified that odd dislocated feeling. The articles were all about big and important things and about people doing interesting and involving things. It made me feel rather at loose ends, wandering around Phnom Penh with my silly bike and all its flat tires.