On the 23rd of July we landed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
And we immediately ran into a bit of trouble…
Our first stop in any new city is always at an ATM, so we can collect some local currency and actually afford the journey out of the airport… So of course here we expected that we would be able to easily access the Cambodian currency through this medium, and we set about attempting to withdraw Cambodian dollars from the ATMs just outside the airport.. But. As it turned out… that’s just not a thing that could be done. And there’s a very simple reason for this.. The primary currency in Cambodia is not the local ‘riel’.. It’s US dollars..
And what we have since found out, is that it is one dollar notes specifically that you want to be carrying around with you…
But regardless, a short and confusing debacle later, we had found a Tuk Tuk (Cambodian Tuk Tuks vary slightly in design from Thai Tuk Tuks, but none the less appear similar and serve the same basic purpose) and we’re ready to make it into the town of Phnom Penh. But we couldn’t leave until our driver had safety briefed us – warning us to hold on to our belongings tightly whilst riding in the Tuk Tuk, in case motorcycle thieves drove up alongside us and snatched things from our laps during the drive. And then, he told us that we were “very welcome in Cambodia”, and we set off; We left the airport, and we entered the country – which from ‘point blank’ was obviously going to be an interesting one.
We spent a total of 4 nights in Phnom Penh and unlike in Thailand, our days here were not just filled with sight seeing and touristic adventures. They were also extremely educational, historical and eye opening. Cambodia has been very different from Thailand for us, in that we have really been learning here, and have been experiencing the culture and the people in a way that Thailand – with it’s highly developed tourism industry – just didn’t provide. And only after having been in Cambodia for a few days have we realised this.. In Thailand we saw beautiful things and had a wonderful time. But we didn’t meet the locals. We didn’t hear their stories. We didn’t learn the history. It was different. It wasn’t worse. It was just very different. And it was probably because we stayed around central areas and popular spots in Thailand that this happened. But it has meant that the experiences we have had in Cambodia have been all the more unique. And it means we’ve got to have a taste of both the tourist world, and the real world during this trip.
During our ride from airport to hotel we saw the broken sidewalks of Phnom Penh, we had children approach our Tuk Tuk, holding babies, and putting their hands out for money. We experienced the lawless driving of this nation, with motorcycles and cars skipping across lanes and weaving haphazardly around one another at intersections. We noticed the lack of international chain stores, like Starbucks and McDonald’s – giants that set root in every existing marketplace around the world, but that couldn’t grab a hold here. And we saw immediately, that this place was definately still developing. We have seen many beautiful aspects of Cambodia during our stay so far, but right from the start, it was clear, that this country is not yet complete, it’s still on it’s way. And it’s struggling.