First Presence in Cambodia

Independece Monument, Phnom Penh
Our arrival in Cambodia marked some significant achievements for us. It started the last section of our long journey after being freed from the three-year-working contract in Ambon. As you can read in the previous postings, this long journey began when we traveled before to Maros and Makassar in Sulawesi. Then the second part was to Kuala Lumpur plus Singapore while we were leading two consecutive tours. And now when we put our first step on the Khmer's land, our personal trip abroad had just begun.

Frankly to say, this also became our first visit to a country poorer than ours. Cambodia's income per capita was roughly half of Indonesia's. Their local currency Riel, however, was about three times better in value than Indonesian Rupiah. Interestingly, Riel is used along US dollars for most transactions in Cambodia. In fact, USD is more prominent than Riel itself. There is no coin money so Riel plays the role of cents. Let say if we buy something cost 1,5 US dollars using a 2 dollar note, we will get 2000 riel in return (One US dollar is roughly considered as 4000 Riel). They must have put many examples of transactions for their Math problems at school, I guess.

A corner view of Phnom Penh streets with its typical messy electric cable.
A fine example of French architecture building in Phnom Penh.
Not so many high-rises in Phnom Penh but this new tower.
After getting stamped in at the immigration, we straightly walked out the Phnom Penh Airport's gate, trying to avoid any transport traps as there were no any public transports available from there. There were none in the downtown either. So for transportation options, it had only got hired vehicles like car taxis, motorcycle taxis, pedicabs, and tuk-tuks. Just outside the gate, we easily found motorcycle taxis offering their service.

We had quite an excitement when on the motorcycle as we saw all people driving on the right side. Cambodia was the first drive-on-the-right-side country we ever visited after all. But the biggest fun we had was because we rode the bike three-on-one. Nothing really new with this concept as we also had this kind of attitude in our country. Still I was a bit afraid of getting caught by the police coz we did it on a main street! But then after seeing some others also performed this action, I was convinced that no police would gonna stop us whatsoever.

Riding three-on-one with bags was really achy. Thanks to the short distance from the airport to downtown, otherwise we would have got cramped. Entering the downtown area, the driver didn't seem to have any idea where our guesthouse really was. Many of them were from villages and came to the capital city just recently so they did not know much about the city details. Rather than having three-on-one any longer, we chose to hop off somewhere in the downtown. Then with a map, we could find our way to the guesthouse by our own.

One mode of transports in Cambodia; a pedicab.

Some of the tuk-tuks we found were in unique design like this one.

Not having public transports in town resulted the high cost to move around in Cambodian towns. Alternatively, travelers could rent vehicle just what we would do later in Siem Reap. Different situation applied for lodgings in Cambodia which are so cheap. Really, this was one of the good things in that country. What we had for our accommodation was an inexpensive guesthouse cost under $10. Yet it gave us a big comfortable room with TV and internet access. Located on the 3rd floor without lift was its only drawback.

After having some break, we went out strolling along Sisowath Quay until reaching the front yard of the Royal Palace. Here was the assigned meeting point with our first Cambodian friend Vannak. He was also a couchsurfer like us. As he had promised long before we came to Cambodia, he brought us to a food stall and treated us food called Num Pang. It was a kind of baguette with meat and vegetable inside. Simply, Num Pang is a Cambodian sandwich. But what made us curious about this food was its name as the word 'numpang' means something in our language.
Eating Num Pang
Vietnamese-style of food stalls with its short seats
were not uncommon to be found in Phnom Penh.

At night, we walked back through the Independence Monument, which was very iconic landmark. Cambodia got its independence from France in 1953 but then suffered from many devastating civil wars afterwards. Therefore, other than ancient temples, visitors in Cambodia may also have a unique experience of 'horror tourism' by visiting places like the Killing Field and Genocide Museum. Unfortunately due to lack of time, we didn't go to those terrifying places in this trip.

Other than its history (ancient kingdoms and modern civil wars) and its culture, one of the reason to visit Cambodia was for its wild night life. Many sex tourists (mostly westerners) saw the country as an alternative destination to the neighbor Thailand. Uninterested in those kinds of things, we chose to return to our guesthouse and had enough rest to prepare ourselves for tomorrow's exploration throughout the capital city of Cambodia.

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