Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Arrived Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, 02 March 2007 8:00pm

I couldn't really sleep on the flight from Taipei to Phnom Penh. Happily, it was a short flight, but now I'm almost done with the first of the books I brought. The flight was pleasantly unevenful, and my e-Visa meant that I could skip the two lines to get a visa and then pay for the visa. I'm sure it saved me a solid 10min of waiting. Customs was also a breeze.

My flight was 10min early, and Jessica's was a little late, so I ended up being the one who waited for her outside of the arrival area, rather than vice versa. It was still nice that our flights were so close together.

All of the ATMs here want to give me USD rather than Cambodian Riels, which kind of defeats the purpose. Jessica ended up testing her new ATM card and then immediately changing the bill it gave her at the Bureau de Change.

Half a dozen people waiting at the airport approaced me, offering to give me a ride to my hotel (or to some other hotel. One driver told me that the FCC was "not so cheap" and that I could get a room for $14), but after a few passes through the arrival area, I found the driver that the hotel had sent. I think this is the first time I've had someone waiting with a sign with my name on it.

Traffic is about as crazy as videos on the internet would lead you to believe: cars, trucks, vans, scooters, motorcycles, bicycles, tuk tuks (motorickshaws), and the odd cyclo (bicycle rickshaws) weave in and out, blithely going the wrong way down a divided road if it suits them. Meanwhile, pedestrians wander along and across the roads seemingly at random and generally oblivious to the traffic. It's all happening slowly enough that it's not outright suicide, but it's still pretty disconcerting. It seems to work, though.

Our hotel is pretty nice. We can see the Tonle River from our balcony, and the room is spacious and pleasant. The hotel has both a restaurant and a bar (both basically open-air), and we ended up eating lunch at the restaurant and then drinks and dinner at the bar. Normally, I'd feel guilty about that, but we're both pretty exhausted after the solid day of traveling to get here.

We're trying really hard to stay awake until a reasonable hour to set our clocks properly, so we fought off the urge to nap and went over to the National Museum (1 block away) and looked at historical Khmer statuary. I wish we'd noticed the benchful of guides for hire near the entrance, since it would have been nice to know about the contextof the pieces. The courtyard garden at the Museum is beautiful, and we sat there, looking at the lotuses and koi for a while.

We went back to the hotel to ask where Jessica could get a Vietnamese visa, and they contacted someone who said he could do it in just one day and didn't need to take Jessica's passport. Oh, and it would only be US$74 (which is less than I paid in SF). Sound too good to be true? Yeah. It turns out that since it was already Friday afternoon, the earliest the process could get started was Monday, and it would actually take three days, not one. Oh, and Jessica would need to give them her passport. And it would cost more. Since that was what we expected in the first place, we ended up asking them to do it. We'll go off to Siem Riep, and hopefully it will be waiting for us here at the hotel by the time we return.

I had a package waiting for me at the desk. Backstory: The day before I left, I started packing my credit cards and money, and I discovered that one of my cards (the one with the best foreign conversion rate) was missing. My credit union couldn't make me a card the same day, since it was a Visa, so I contacted Visa's emergency card replacement service, and they arranged to send a card to Cambodia, but warned me that there was no way DHL could get it there before Monday. Apparently they were mistaken. I'm really impressed with Visa, and with DHL. I only beat this card here by a handful of hours.

After arranging the visa and picking up the Visa, we did a walking tour around the old Royal city. We saw a few monuments, but didn't end up going into the temple (which was under construction), or the palace (because I couldn't see how to get to the one part of it that's open to the public).

I'm surprised by the lack of stores selling cold beverages. In other places I've traveled, most blocks would have a store with a refrigerator full of soft drinks. I'm going to have to be careful about dehydraion.

Local beers: Tiger and Angkor are both pretty standard light lagers. Tiger is slightly sweeter, and has a clean finish, while Angkor has a touch of hop character. The ones at the FCC bar tasted fresh, and were very refreshing after a hot, dusty afternoon of walking.