Postcard From Phnom Penh

By Thomas Keyes
Sept. 22, 2011

I've just arrived in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, on the Mekong River. I came down from Vientiane, Laos on a 26-hour bus ride for $75. I assume that a flight would have cost $300, plus baggage overweight fees, with long cab rides to and from airports. There were two buses, the first a sleeping bus, with full beds, and the second a sitting bus. We left Vientiane at 7 PM, changed at Pakse, Laos at 7 AM the next day, and reached Phnom Penh an hour late, around 9 PM. I took a tuktuk, or autorickshaw, straight to the Hang Neak Hotel, near the intersection of Sihanouk, Monireth and Nehru Avenues.

I hated to leave Vientiane. My room was so comfortable and the streets are so placid and fashionable that I could have spent years there, if I had not had to contend with visas. They allow no more than 3 months on a tourist visa.

My room in Phnom Penh is fine. I reserved it at Lonely Planet.com. I noticed that if a room has a desk, Expedia declares it, and this is LonelyPlanet's reference. For me, a desk is a sine qua non. I've had too many of those rooms that are deskless. That leaves me nothing to do. Right now, in addition to producing my own writings, I'm continuing to study Hindi, which I began in India. I have absolutely no interest in anything shown on television or played on radio.

Unfortunately, my neighborhood is very depressing. Every street is lined with gray, dark little shops, so jumbled and chaotic that you can hardly guess at what the merchandise is. Many of them are automotive though. Out on Sihanouk, the main street around here, there is a veritable sea of motorcyles, both in motion on the street and parked all over the sidewalk. There are also hundreds of motorcycles for sale on the sidewalks in front of showrooms.

The air is full of dust, and the lower reaches of the atmosphere, down to the sidewalk, are steamy and foggy.

I've come across a couple of modern malls, but they seem to have little more than clothes, gym shoes, cell phones, electronics and fast food. If you are looking for practical things, like stationery, hardware or sewing goods--need a tablet, a screwdriver or a zipper?--forget about it, or hire a tuktuk man for about $8 to go circling around looking.

KFC is here, and I saw Swensen's and some other western eateries. I'd be dubious about eating in any downscale local restaurant however.

Most of the cyber cafes around here are dark and hot, and lack scanners and printers, but I've managed to find a good one.

So far, I have just a month on my visa, butt I'll be seeking an extension. At such time, I will plan an outing to Angkor Wat, which is a fair distance from Phnom Penh. I'm supposing there are tours available.

Most Cambodians don't speak English, and many of the ones who do speak understand only limited utterances.

The writing system is completely different from Lao's. The Cambodian language is also called Khmer. Apparently, people around here are Buddhists.


About the author Thomas Keyes: I have written five books: ELEMENTS OF GRAMMAR and A SOJOURN IN ASIA (non-fiction); A TALE OF UNG, THE ENNUNMENT and GVAGMA (fiction).

I have studied languages for years and traveled extensively on five continents.

Visit my website here.

Email: udikeyes@yahoo.com

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