Cambodia – Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville

I’m currently sat on a bus en route to Sihanoukville. The 5 minute taxi journey to the bus stop from the airport was a flat rate of $9, the 6 hour bus journey was $7. Cambodian economics.

Everything is priced in dollars over here. The only time the local currency (Riel) is used is when giving change for amounts less than whole dollars. Although after witnessing the condition of the local bank notes, I think I’ll be adopting a tipping policy with those ones. That, and the fact that it still all looks like Monopoly money to me means they could be handing be 2p notes and I’d be none the wiser.

I’ve just been for a piss in a toilet that was 4 feet tall at the back of the bus. Whilst appreciating the interesting array of muscular spasms this induced in my back, I amused myself by watching the road hurtle past through a hole in the floor.

The little I’ve seen of Cambodia thus far (an impromptu shanty town that has sprung up around the highway to the airport) is very 2.5th world – relatively impoverished, but not completely destitute. On a bus of 50 people, there are only 2 other white dudes, with whom my only interaction thus far has been for me to say “hello”, and receive an AMOG attempt in return, whereby one of them attempted to insinuate that the fake Luis Viton bag belonging to the lady sat next to me was in fact mine. Hilarious.

Almost everyone on the bus is talking on their mobiles nearly continuously -there must be some cheap-ass tarrifs out here. About 7 different mobile phone operators attempted to foist SIM cards on me upon arrival, but there’s little point seeing as I’m here for such a short time.

I got into a conversation with a freelance photographer in his 50s with a dour countenance on the plane, who’d been here a number of times. He’d had work published in the Telegraph and Times, so I’m guessing he was fairly good at his job.

He filled me in on a little background information. As is expected, scams are rife – of especial note seemed to be one where a bare chested lady with a baby indicates that she has no milk, and coerces you to go into a convenience store to buy some formula. After having the most expensive one in the shop forced on you for $16, she then promptly sells it back to them for $8 as soon as you are out of sight.

Last time he was here, his objective was obtaining pictures of the local, glue-sniffing addicted teenagers. A local lady apparently buys it in bulk, apportions it into bags, and sells it on to them. Such a generous soul.

He’d been to Sihanoukville last year, and told me it was a shit hole. Although I can well believe this, he also told me the bus journey here would be hellish, and in fact it’s relatively pleasant as compared to some Asian public transport I’ve been on (barring the toilet experience). From his general demeanour and lack of anything remotely resembling charisma, I would guess that some of his favoured pastimes involve watching paint dry, so I’ll reserve judgment for myself until I get there. I’m hoping I meet some interesting characters to hang out with, since alcohol is firmly off the cards. 72 hours of depression is bad enough when surrounded by the creature comforts and friends of home, but it’s a little too much of a stern test of my mental fortitude to want to engage in again whilst travelling alone.

We’ve just made a brief stop to partake of such delicacies as overpriced water, and whole eggs on a stick, which the locals seems to be delightedly tucking into.

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It’s going to be another 4 hours at least until we arrive I think, so I’ll employ the usual long distance travelling strategy of disengaging all higher brain functions, and drooling slightly whilst staring blankly out of the window.

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