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Day 49 – Someone Doesn’t Know How to Spell Where He Is (Nom Pen?)

April 21, 2010

Dateline: Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Cambodia (and roads in between) – Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It’s gotten to the point where I have to check the calendar for the day. Not the “date” but the “day” as in “Sun,” “Mon,” Tues”—those days. Today (Wednesday) I made the journey from Siem Reap and headed down to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city.

It was not exciting. That means today you get to rest your eyeballs. Take a break from the words words words of this current (former?) lawyer. It’ll be short. It has to be.

A minibus picked me up from Angkor Western Lodge, my home for the past four days. I, along with a mix of Khmer and foreigners, got dropped off at the Siem Reap bus station where we all boarded a large bus bound for a six-hour trip to Phnom Penh. The bus had air conditioning (not a given). Cost of the trip: $5. I have a hard time with math, but it’s hard to believe they’re making a profit carrying the 25 or so passengers.

That five bucks also confirmed to me that the guys at the Green Banana/Western Lodge in Siem Reap were taking me for a ride. When I asked how much a bus ticket would cost through them they said it would be $8. That’s a pretty high mark up. I feel much less bad about stiffing my driver his tip. I’m ready to give my dirty look now.

The bus was mostly comfortable. The seats reclined but if you went back all the way you got to know the person behind you in ways usually reserved for kids and Santa Claus. I know because I checked before I leaned my chair back. I also know because the Korean lady did not check.

Her seat was broken and would pop up instead of staying leaned back. That meant every time she decided to recline, she’d whip her chair backwards just barely missing my kneecaps. I had just enough room so I didn’t complain. The Khmer girl next to me, however, thought it was hilarious. She’d laugh, I’d shrug. Then it’d happen all over again.

I did see one thing on the trip that made me feel a little better about Siem Reap and the oppressive salesmanship. While waiting at the bus station waiting to leave, another bus pulled in for a pit stop and to drop of a few passengers. The riders, all Khmer, piled out and headed to the bathrooms and to grab a bite to eat.

Like locusts, the locals descended on the bus door. They waved at people who were still at the top of the steps, asking if they needed a ride somewhere. Ladies in those round, pointy hats ran up and shoved snacks and fruit into the faces of riders who wanted to go to the bathroom. A guy on a bike with an attached portable steam pot, complete with coals and stoker, rolled up to sell dumplings.

The Khmer passengers had to adopt the same dour, apathetic faces I’d seen on many a tourist. They’d wave and try to move past. They’d ignore the sellers. One or two would buy something, but most just walked past.

The sales pitch was a bit different. Less persistent, with no kids, just adult on adult action. You could tell, though, where the kids got their sales style. It was nice to know that they treated their fellow countrymen with the same earnestness and eagerness that they did tourists.

When I rolled into Phnom Penh a tuk tuk driver said he’d take me to any hostel for $2. “Good price,” he said.

I laughed and said, “Good price FOR YOU.”

He looked hurt and said, “No.”

He ended up taking me for one dollar.

As I hit the hostel I realized I’d probably overpaid. Ah well, another lesson learned. I am getting better at this, though.

How’d I pick my accommodations? It was the first name I remembered from the guidebook when the driver asked where I wanted to go. Just another day on the road.

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