My hubby and I took advantage of the free seats offered by Airasia and booked ourselves free flights to Phnom Penh and Siam Reap. It was a 8 days trip and we left on 3 July 2006. We have never been to Cambodia and thankfully, my travel agent friend, Elizabeth arranged for someone to meet us at the airport. Mei was there when we came out of the arrival hall. She is Malaysian and had been in Cambodia for two years working in an orphange. She is a missionary and we could see that she is very comfortable speaking the Cambodian language. The moment we turned out into the main road from the airport, we were bombarded by the the sights and sounds of motorbikes. Well, as we all know, motorbikes are meant for two people. But take a peek at the photo. Four adults on a motorbike and see how comfortable they were! There was even room for a green basket of groceries in front of them! Necessity is indeed the mother of all inventions!
My initial reaction to Phnom Penh was not very enthusiastic. Asia Hotel, our hotel for 2 nights (supposedly) was located near the main market and bus depot (we found that out later). After Mei had checked us into the hotel, we placed our baggage in the room and went out in search of sustenance. Remember we flew in by Air Asia and the food being sold up their in the sky weren’t that great and at exorbitant prices too. We walked past the Russian market which a guide book had apparently stated was worth a visit but …. Nay! …. not for me cos’ I could smell the market from a mile away and it ain’t a pretty picture as it was quite filthy.
We hurriedly walked away (or rather I desperately pulled Andy away) and went into a supermarket. Surprise of all surprises! … It stocked all kinds of imported stuff from America, UK, Australia, etc. My favourite Malaysian snack was even sold there but at three times the price in Malaysia. We wanted to try some local food but alas, all we could see was baguette sandwiches sold by small stalls and bicycles scattered all over (see above pic). It seems to be a very popular food in Phnom Penh. But the houseflies buzzing all over the food kind of turned us off and after walking round and round for 20 minutes, Andy decided to go for a burger….. yup….. thank God for western influence….. burger in Phnom Penh. Hungry as I was, I am not a great fan of burger, I opted for a cup noodle…. even though it’s right at the bottom of my list of least favourite food. Well…. when you are hungry…… even cup noodles can look appetizing… which unfortunately did not taste good at all. Not sure of the security in this city, we decided to go back to the hotel around 8 pm. My stomach was still growling from hunger. Then I remembered Lian Ai (a fantastic cook & baker) had given us a walnut banana cake which flew all the way from Kuala Lumpur with us. My….. the cake sure tasted fabulous with my 3-in-1 Nescafe. As I was not enchanted with what I had seen so far, I suggested that we leave for Ho Chi Minh City the next morning instead of spending another day in Phnom Penh. Seeing the desperation written all over my face, my beloved lovingly agreed and we went down to the reception to check on the availability of bus transport there. We were told that we could get seats on the 07.30 am bus at the fare of USD8 per person. We made the booking and spent the rest of the night watching the 65 channels on their TV. Yup….. a third world country having 65 TV channels from over the world! …
Next morning, at 07.00 am, someone from the bus company came to pick us up from our hotel. Expecting to see a van or a small bus, we were taken back by the sight of a a cart attached to the side of the motorbike (…it’s as posh as you can get and a large dose of polluted air to breathe as well…) and after less than 10 minutes ride, we arrived at our destination. It was a guest house favoured by backpackers for its cheap rates. As we still have time to kill, we decided to go to a coffee shop just 50 metres away from the guest house. Andy ordered a bowl of noodles but I could not stomach anything cos’ the place was pretty filthy with dirty-looking dogs and cats everywhere scavenging for crumbs. It would be very comforting if only I could put my feet up on the chair as well. I pestered Andy to finish his noodles at a superhero’s speed so that we could leave the place pronto. We went back just in time for the bus to depart.