Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Bangkok to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 11th January 2012

Phnom Penh...

I'm off to Phnom Penh, the day has arrived and to be totally honest I'm feeling slightly anxious about this part of the trip. If articles and blogs are to be believed then I could be in for a rough time. Scams by taxi drivers are quite widespread across the city - they pretend to understand when actually they don't. Being dropped off elsewhere in front of an expensive hotel where they get paid a commission by the owner - arriving in Pnohm Penh daytime is bad enough but at night, no thanks! Remember, this is just what I've read by fellow travellers, not my experiences - how could it be, I'm not there yet!

Breakfast, fruit and yogurt and coffee before finding an internet cafe with a printer. I had an Air Asia low cost ticket (55 pounds) which meant I had to web check-in and print my boarding pass. Flight was at 3.15pm but I wanted to be early, early enough for a good nose around, well, those who know me also know I like a good airport with a good variety of tarmac action.

There isn't that much packing to do because I didn't take that much and what I did take, well, wasn't worth unpacking for a couple of days anyway. Back to the airport then and finding a taxi or tuktuk isn't hard, infact they find you - taxi drivers have an uncanny knack of flagging down a perspective fare from quite a distance. I'm shocked to learn of a 130 percent price hike compared to getting here. "Traffic jams, Bangkok bad", mutters the driver. I don't suppose we were stationary for anymore than 10 minutes all told - traffic jams indeed!. If this is a traffic jam, lets show this character the M25 or the A406 or even Long John Hill at 5pm.

The station is new, so new you could eat off the floor. The line for the airport is on the third floor, and that's where passengers get the tickets. Finally on the last leg to the airport and some great opportunities to snap the Bangkok skyline from this elevated train ride which also passes beside slums. Not huge slums as is well documented in cities like Mumbai or Rio, but communities that have been forgotten, passed by in the rush to capitalise on a booming Asian economy.

Air Asia check-in is surprisingly smooth. I half expected a Ryan Air situation - have to pay extra for this and that, but no I am good to go after just a few minutes of labelling bags. Now here's a challenge. try saying 'Suvarnbhumi' after a few too many drinks.That's the name of this airport which clearly is relatively new. Bright, spotlessly clean in all departments and plenty to see on the tarmac! Flight 3616 is late quite a lot late. 1515 departure time, and 1515 still sitting in the terminal. Which means by the time I get to downtown Phnom Penh it will be dark - I'm not liking that prospect at all.

Airborne at 1630 for the 1 hour flight across to Phnom Penh, the grand capital of Cambodia. It's a country steeped in history and has suffered conflict. Just Google 'Khmer Rouge' to discover some recent gruesome history. Immigration at Phnom Penh has been documented as being quite straight forward, and indeed it is, refreshingly so. First get your visa - fill in a simple form and hand over your passport with 2 photos. No photos, no problem, just look straight ahead and 'Youv'e been framed' to coin a phrase. Next wait to be called forward, hand over your $20 and go to passport control. There you have your documents examined, fingerprints recorded and off to get the bags.The whole process done in 30 minutes. The airport is new, smart but quite small, probably room for 3 or 4 sizable jets at any one time. 

So, here I am in a strange place reputed to be on the dodgy side and it's nearly dark! Perhaps the airport information can get me a place to stay, I don't really fancy wandering around in the dark looking like an obvious target for a spot of criminality. Of course, it wouldn't be dark if the flight had been on time. Joining the queue at the desk there seems to be some debate with backpackers about getting transport to Sihanoukville. The last bus was an hour ago. "I'm going there tomorrow", I casually mention. For about 90 us$ we can hire a taxi and get there tonight - done deal, count me in. Four of us, me, a girl from Bristol with her Spanish boyfriend and a chap from Sweden all cram into, well lets just say a middle aged looking car, and thus begins quite a scary ride south along National Highway 4.

But before getting going, we all need to get out and into another car, a newer version and with air con. It's some kind of wheeling dealing between the taxi drivers - but I'm glad of the significant upgrade. Another stop slightly further on - it's a ciggy break for our new driver. An opportune moment then to stock up on drink and snacks as there is a cart selling such goods - 1 us$ for a bottle of water. Off we go then, averaging a speed of about 30 mph. The road is crowded with carts, bikes, trucks and anything else that can be constructed to transport goods and people. Hundreds of people line both sides of the 3 lane highway waiting for anything that will transport them home from factories - mini buses so overloaded noses are almost against the window and trucks with people standing, crowded like shoulder to shoulder. All this overcrowding is clogging up the highway with it's rather precarious 3 lane system. It's an overtaking lane with trucks vans and of course fast cars on both sides jostling for a space in the third lane. It's scary watching drivers attain head on narrowly avoiding a crunch, even scarier when our driver attains the same position, very scary indeed! Horns  blowing, head lights flashing and tyres screeching, as much as I want to, I didn't dare nod off!

Added to all this there are motos and cyclists weaving against the flow riding without lights or just one light as is the case with many vehicles. The chaos and mayhem finally subsides about 50 minutes into the journey with just the odd overloaded truck or minibus to pass and even as the road narrows to 2 lanes there is very little to worry about now and it's quite possible to relax, even catch a nap. Nothing of any significance to see along Highway 4 in the dark. An occasional cluster of lights, a makeshift garage perhaps along with a few huts dotted around. Not far from Sihanoukville as a road sign suggests. The driver turns down a rather small road, bumpy, obviously lacking in upkeep. First thought here is the driver is going to stop in an obscure location and demand more money to finish the trip - that's a well known nighttime scam not just in Cambodia, but Vietnam aswell, and nothing much can be done! Not the case this time thankfully as Sihanoukville looms ahead. The deal is to drop us in the town, but for an extra $5 the driver will drive on to the area known as Victory Hill, renowned for it's variety of accommodation and nightlife. A few steps along the rickety street reveals guest houses either side. Green Mood looks reasonable from the outside, and lets say has a rustic charm on the inside. Well, what do you expect for 3.35 ukp per night! Actually, it's quite adequate - running water, electricity and Wifi. It's a double room with a ceiling fan and the bed is quite comfortable - good night!

My Photos of Cambodia are here...

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