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Michael’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 12 Jun 2007

Location: Phnom Penh and elsewhere, Cambodia

MapI finally had a chance to relax on my first weekend alone in Cambodia. Friday night I went on a sunset cruise with new friends from the NGO community. Saturday morning I went to the big Central Market to get some dress pants and a Khmer phrasebook, but also to people watch and practice speaking. It wasn’t much different from a Thai market, except cheaper-quality goods and more people missing limbs. You also get a sense that shopping for fun is something new here, as is having a little extra money to do it.
Then I took my laundry to reception at my hotel and they promptly told me that their prices were too high and I should go down the alley and have it done there. I negotiated the price down to $2 for 2 pounds, at the same time wondering how laundry done in such a dirty alley could possibly come out clean (it did).
Saturday night I had dinner at the pub by my hotel, where I eat almost every night. The Irish owner serves meat pies and chips (French fries) for $5, and two cans of Beer Lao for $1.25. Met some friends for drinks at Metro Bar, a chic air-con place with wireless internet and espresso martinis, but realized I must be getting old when they went out dancing and I went home to bed. There’s definitely a difference between being 24, fresh out of University, and single in Southeast Asia (as I was in 1999) and being 31, in grad school (read: in debt), and married. Lucky me, though: when my friends were sleeping late, I woke up Sunday morning and decided to get out of the city.
I opened the guide book and chose the farthest city I could go to and return from in one day: Kompong Chhnang. The 3-hour bus ride was no surprise after rural Thailand, except more naked toddlers running down the aisles (in Thailand they’d have some cute outfit and gold bangles on in public, even if their parents were poor). As soon as I got off the bus, a friendly motorcycle driver approached and offered to be my guide/driver/translator for the afternoon for $5. Sometimes you have to recognize a good price and not bother to bargain. I’ll let the pictures tell the story…