Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Constipated Farang, Paying Confusions and the Rebirh of Phnom Penh

Tonle Sap

Phnom Penh - The beleaguered capital of Cambodia takes the backseat from the more illustrious Siem Reap up north, and rightfully so. The capital is grappling with bad rep - limited attractions, corrupt police officers, overpricing of everything with regards to tourists. The list could go on.

But PP is slowly gearing up for greater things. Let's take Sisowath Quay, for example. Some two years ago, the promenade was nothing but a forgotten piece of riverside where boat dwellers poop. These days, the promenade boasts of a tiled walk way, benches, palm trees, manicured lawns and street lamps. If this was a face lift of sorts, they sure did a hell of a great job.

But let me not get ahead of myself.

Bangkok, though short, was a sweet return. I woke up at 8:30 and headed straight to 4 Sons Restaurant for my sumptuous breakfast. I can't deny I always look forward to my meals here. By 11:30 AM, I was already carrying my luggage for my check out of Lamphu House. I summoned the counter for a taxi, a little pricey at 450 baht (meters usually fall to 230 baht so even with a toll fee of 80, Lamphu's rate is still on the excessive side). It was then hilarious that despite a hefty taxi fare, the driver didn't take the highway.

Suvarnabhumi was a balm of fresh air, except that when I finally queued for Immigration, it was the usual horrible queue of a million people huddled together like sardines. It was a wonder why after 4-5 years, the airport authorities haven't come up with a solution to fix this travesty. Things are not supposed to work like this. At least not in an airport as gorgeous as Suvarnabhumi.


So I was there minding my own business. It was a snail-paced journey towards the immigration counter. Just at my back was a bald pot bellied English guy in his 50's, wearing nothing but an off-white undershirt and a wrinkled pair of shorts. For the last 45 minutes or so, he ranted endlessly like a constipated twat, complaining about "these bloody Thais", "typical Thais", etc. At some point, I noticed the way a shadow was cast in the architecture of the airport's ceiling. It created a dramatic silhouette, and I had to seize the moment. Then suddenly, I heard the British blimp saying, "And it's the saddest when they start photographing the airport." This of course was alluded to my sudden penchant, as though one of his coronary arteries suddenly burst when I clicked my shutter.


Now here's a news for this ugly blimp of a British trash, walking around a public place as though he just came out of the loo: My life is a charmed one, and if I get reincarnated and for some twist of fate suddenly return as him, you can be very sure I would kill myself. I was never fated to be an ugly constipated stool. Finally, if he despised the Thais so much, who told him to keep visiting? Thailand and its population of friendly locals will live well without his undesirable British pounds. What's wrong with some of these Brits? Didn't they grow manners and common decency when they learned to spell their names? If they see Asia as their toilet, spewing condescending commentaries on every thing they see, isn't that sadder than taking photographs of beautiful images?


My flight to the Cambodian capital took 1 hour and 10 minutes. Nothing much has changed at the airport although there seems to be more arrivals. I skipped the visa-on site counter since Filipinos are visa-free. Even the immigration formalities took a couple of minutes without a single question. When I stepped out of the airport, someone was holding my name on a huge cardboard. That was a big relief. It was a long ride to the Green House, a fairly new hotel somewhere in south Phnom Penh I found while researching. Even my taxi was pre-paid (the hotel's manager asked for my credit card details and informed me that $12 has been charged).

The hotel indeed looked and smelled like it has had a few visitors. I booked through Agoda, my first time to do so.


Though this is my 3rd time in the capital, it would be my first time in the area called Beung Tra Bek, which is south Phnom Penh. I booked my accommodations here strictly for selfish and educational reasons. I wanted to know more about this less visited part of Phnom Penh. Unfortunately, the Green House rises in front of a charmless, moderately busy street with nothing to speak of in terms of local color. It is a far commute from the mail tourist drag and from most must-see sights; thus your tuktuk rides to anywhere would cost you an arm and a leg.
In fact, instead of the usual $1-2 per ride, you'd have to shell out $6 for a return. I visited Sorya Mall then took a walk along the new promenade along Sisowath Quay.


There was also a misunderstanding regarding a supposed "prepaid" airport pick-up. When Iinquired about it, I was advised by Mr. Prak Chanty, the hotel supervisor, that this service has to be prepaid - here's the exact correspondence: "We would like to reserve taxi for you and for your convenience, we require booking amount from you for taxi fee is US$12. In this case, we need your Credit Card Number, CVV and Expire date for charging on this advance payment or you can call your person who live in Phnom Penh come to The Green House to pay the booking amount." I mean, if I knew asomeone in PP, would I really need my hotel to book a taxi for my airport pick-up? It doesn't quite add up, does it?

Anyway, I sent my credit card details and immediately got a reply from Mr. Chanty who replied and I quote, "Now, we have charged $12 only from your credit card and we made taxi arrangement for you." Unfortunately, upon arrival at the hotel, the car driver demanded that I pay him before I left. I balked. As far as I know, it has all been prepaid. I was told that my credit card has been charged. Why do I pay the driver again? The counter guy said the hotel will pay the driver, but I will have to pay the hotel. Huh? I was TOLD by the supervisor my card had been charged - that's what "prepaid" means! Anyway, he gave me a credit card transaction I had to sign - so what the heck, i signed. I just hope this isn't redundant charging. If there is a confusion somewhere there, it wouldn't come from my end.

First order was to buy my bus ticket to Siem Reap for tomorrow. I got an expensive Mekong Express seat that departs the terminal at 7:30AM.

That night, I booked a tuktuk to take me to Sorya Mall (PP's still most popular mall). I navigated the chaotic and congested bowels of the mall, went up the top floor to check out the cinema, but these were temporarily closed. From there, I asked my tuktuk driver Mr. Heard (yup, what an unusual name) to to just take me to Sisowath Quay. It had started drizzling by the time I was deposited to the Night Market.


To be very honest, I was quite surprised finding a well appointed promenade overlooking the Tonle Sap. The strip has been transformed into a cobbled walkway adorned with palm trees. Benches were scattered everywhere and locals are found enjoying their new leisure haven. Since it was past 7 already, I looked for somewhere to eat and found Bojangles Bar and Restaurant. I ordered Sweet and Sour Chicken which was sumptuous but pricey at $4 or Php180. That doesn't even include the $2 coke. I had to rush to an internet cafe ($0.75) to mail my hotel in Siem Reap for my pick up at the bus station. I was a bit anxious. What if they aren't able to read it before my 1PM arrival the next day? That done, I took a leisurely walk and found a DVD shop where, at $1.50, I found 30 - yes, THIRTY - foreign DVD titles.

PP has finally faced the challenge of keeping up with the continuous boom of Siem Reap. Many buildings are under construction and old places are being given facelifts. If this keeps up, PP would surely pull more tourists into the capital instead of the usual transit tourists and sex tourists. You see, for the longest time, most travel books have regarded the capital with a degree of precaution: scamming touts, corrupt policemen, hookers at every corner, beggars being run by syndicates, etc. The picture wasn't palatable.

Before meeting my tuktuk driver for my ride back to the Green House, I bought a few things to stuff myself with - a cob of sweet corn, a spiky fruit that I had been munching when I was in Indonesia (the name escapes me), a baguette and an apple turnover at the Blue Pumpkin (that would constitute my breakfast tomorrow morning) and a kilo of some of the sweetest lanzones I've ever tasted.

The last time I took a bus to Siem Reap, I was almost amusingly manhandled by an overeager and overly amorous Khmer girl. Tomorrow would be an interesting day.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

The Green House, Beung Tra Bek, Phnom Penh - attentive staff, fast email replies to queries, far from the main tourist drag, misunderstanding regarding prepaid transactions.

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