Friday, November 14, 2008

SE Asia Day 7: Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh

I arranged for my bus to Phnom Penh with the front counter at the hotel.  I was a little surprised at how nice the bus was.  It was $10 for what would be a six-hour trip.  The bus was nearly empty.  Out of forty seats, there were only five passengers.  I took a seat near the middle of the bus, opting to bring my pack on with me.  I was ready for a nice smooth ride into Cambodia.
Then, the Koreans showed up.  They were two Korean businessmen and they came right for me.  I began to wonder if I was a Korean magnet.  I thought that since there are about forty empty seats on the bus, there would be no way they’d sit near me.
And then they did—right in front of me.  I wanted to take my stuff right then and move away from them.  I wasn’t keen of the idea of listening to these colleagues chat in Korean for the next six hours.  However, I decided to give a chance.  The bus started and began heading out of town.
Then, one of the guys got on his cell phone.  He made a short call, and then he started e-mailing.  For those outside of Korea, you’ve hopefully been spared the sound effects found on most Korean phones.  Many Korean phones have a standard feature where every button pressed makes a huge sound.
This sound can be a vocalization of the numbers being pressed.  Another common one is a water drop sound.  By default the sound is on high.  Okay, all that to say the guy started texting away with a loud water drop sound every time he pressed a button.  I could hear this even though I had my headphones on.
So, I headed further back on the bus and enjoyed myself all the way to the border.  At the border, we handed over our passports.  Then, the bus started to drive off!  I started freaking out a little bit because the driver didn’t give back our passports.
Turns out they have this deal worked out with these border restaurants.  Since the visa process can take some time, they allow buses to take their passengers to these border restaurants to wait until the passports are processed.  Its semi-secure since the border crossing is pretty remote.  So, I had some lunch until they showed up with our passports again.
When I got into Phnom Penh, I stubbornly refused rides from the persistent tuk-tuk drivers and chose to walk to the hostel I had chosen—Sunday Guest House.  My first impressions of Phnom Penh weren’t good.  It was a place of stark contrasts:  shiny clean Range Rovers driving by land mine victims begging for money.  The streets were dirty because of the runoff from the monsoon.
I put my things away and headed toward the national museum before it closed.  The museum housed artifacts of the Khmer Empire.  The handiwork on the statues was pretty amazing.  Unfortunately, pictures weren’t allowed.
After that, I walked around the river front.  What I saw reinforced the impression I had read before I got to the country—that the ruling party in Cambodia is more interested with lining their own pockets than helping people.  There was nothing as far as I could see in social services for the street kids or land mine victims, yet these luxury apartments and hotels were springing up along the riverfront, and someone is making enough money to afford these luxury imported SUVs that are rolling around.  I don’t know enough to say that it was corrupt, but it definitely has that appearance.

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