Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Learning the ropes of backpacking in Phnom Penh.

Tried to catch as many winks as we could on the flight from Singapore to Phnom Penh. I've always anticipated the window seat for the cloud formations never fail to surprise, as if trying to convey a different message each time. But the novelty of snapping take off shots with the plane wings unfortunately died off last summer. It sapped me a little to realise how I don't feel all excited to belt my life to the Captain taking me 32423852 ft above ground. Instead, you see me morphing into a wifi-leech when I do cheap travels because I swell in happiness and excitement as my phone, with overwhelming social media notifications whenever I am in a wifi zone.

This was it. Here we are. Our first mission was to find a Tuktuk to our couch host's place without getting ripped off (Tip: always know the market rate before getting on and if possible, load google maps to your destination and continue using the offline map) with your lost-in-transition fresh faces. Everything was amazing - the gravelled streets, unhygienic street stalls, water puddles outside the shophouses that probably breed dengue if not malaria, and motorcyclists who were ogling at us so blatantly.

I have bad omens with small lanes. It kills me slowly whenever the Tuktuk driver goes into the back alleys, just to turn around and give me the face of either legit or pseudo confusion, I am always so prepared to grab my 12 kg backpack and do a 100 m Olympic sprint. But this time, we were lucky, call it beginners' luck. While I stuck my head out of the Tuktuk's shelter to spot my host's apartment, he spotted us - as if spotting a sore eye in the 'spot the difference' game. 

Dropped our backpacks and half-giggled, half-shat in our pants when we realised there was only one king sized bed. Dug within ourselves to find the purpose of our trip: see things, learn, meet new people. Reckoned worrying about sleeping space wasn't on our to-do-list, cast aside our worries for the night, for that night. Took our travel guides that Ping meticulously picked from the library and flipped through it more diligently than when we were preparing for our finals. And so, this marked the start of walking into the wrong lanes, aimless walking, throwing tantrums and loud grunting that we didn't even bother to hide.

Royal Palace


As if getting lost with an obnoxiously big map marks the start of the trip, when we got to the Royal Palace, it was closed for the day. But we did witness how the vertical rays of the evening Sun beats down on the gold pleated Royal Palace till it meets us horizontally. 

Local communal style dining

We met our host for dinner and he brought us to a really local place for local delights. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the communal style; how I could cross my legs with my stinky socks just hanging above my bowl of noodles. Yums. 

Day 2 

Beginners' luck didn't run out, the host's place was just a few lanes away from the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. And yes, by feet, we got there. Well the thing about traveling in this region is that you need to be ultimate zen mode to not rip off the hair of the constant annoying Tuktuk drivers and their "Tuk Tuk. Cheap price. Where you go? It's very far!". Even after I pulled my trademark annoyed thick eyeliner face and voice of three octaves higher "no thank you. I say no!" (Tip: don't bother paying USD6 for the guide because they were merely reading off the boards but I do feel bad saying this because I mean, everyone is just trying to earn a living. BUT IF you are really doing cheap travels, these are the nitty grits that you should save on.) Seeing how positively hearty everyone in town was, it's hard to believe that behind those barbed wires laid a generation of misfortune and turmoil. 

Left the place with a heavy heart and headed to Russian Market to meet my sister's ex boyfriend before making our way to Choeung Ek killing fields. Grabbed the elephant pants not because we wanted to jump on the bandwagon of being typical southeast tourists, but we needed longs to cover our sinful knees before we headed to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat the next day. 

My apologies for not being able to fully express myself in words for the whole genocide museum and killing fields experience. But I think the pictures will suffice. They get to me, every single time. 

Probably due to the post-examinations stress and mutated prions, I was down with sore throat and high fever even before I boarded the flight. But when panadols fail, bring out those beers. But try not to scare your host in the middle of the night; sitting upright with a pale face.

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