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Southeast Asia, here we come!

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Saturday - 19 Jan 2002
Phnom Penh - Cambodia

Adventures with Mr. X

And to think, we boarded our airplane in Bangkok (having just flown from Southern Thailand), totally unsuspecting. We sat next to a Korean man, who introduced himself as Mr. X (names have been changed to protect the innocent). We talked for the whole ride--he is living in Phnom Penh, and owns a used car dealership in the city.

Upon arrival, he insisted on waiting for us through customs, getting our visas, and retrieving our bags, and then took us to his driver and asked him to take us to our hotel. Gary and I are nervously agreeing, because, well, what else can you do?

The ride was--well, just imagine yourself on Space Mountain, but not being sure whether you're going to end up at the ride's official end, or off the track and, say, dead by Adventure Land.

We are in the car, on a dirt road (no kidding, most of the roads are dirt), my furiously writing down street signs and land markers to figure out if we're going in the right direction, and Gary tracking us with the GPS. Quite the pair. I guess it's a good thing I was looking down most of the time--I missed the driver trying to go the wrong way down a large boulevard (I always wonder when I hear of the guys going the wrong way on 128...) Gary shouts "where are you going--where are you going!!???", the guy swerves, and we avert the median by 1/2 car length. Don't worry, Mom, everyone's OK :)

The Sunshine Hotel ("clean, fun, and cheap!" boasts the sign) was, well, clean and cheap (nothing fun about it). It is at the intersection of the four rivers, however, so it is quite pretty. Oh, yes, and quite noisy--apparently horns are the main method of communication. Our first night we walked along the esplanade to the Royal Palace, passing many small children begging, young boys playing our equivalent of hacky sack, and seemingly hundreds of moto hawkers. We finally settled at a rooftop bar, away from the chaos, to have a few cold ones.

Tourists are us!

Our first full day came early, as we didn't get much sleep--the aforementioned horn blowing picks up speed around 11 PM, and doesn't quiet down again until around 4 AM!!

Our first stop of the day was the Royal Palace. It is quite an imposing site among the rest of the otherwise dank city! Our guide was great, and explained a lot of the history and nuances behind the various temples and costumes. Sorry, Bethie, but elephants are no longer in use at the Royal Palace!! The most impressive sight was the Silver Pagoda, where the floor is made of over 5,000 1.125 kg silver tiles. One of the buddhas inside is gold and covered in diamonds, the largest of which is 25 carats...spectacular indeed! The most amazing part is that over 60% of the artifacts that were there were lost during the civil war.

After lunch, we took another crazy ride to the Tuol Sleng Museum, commonly referred to as S-21. S-21 used to be a high school, but was taken over by Pol Pot's security forces and turned into a prison in 1975. More than 17,000 Cambodians and others were taken here and exterminated during this terrible time. If you've ever been to Auschwitz, it's a similarly horrifying experience, but one which has an important story to tell. It's a must-see for anyone visiting the city.

We had dinner at a nice restaurant on the river...but received quite a surprise when Mr. X showed up there!! He sat with us for a while (his wife and driver at another table), ordered us a driver in Siem Reap for a day, and disappeared into the night. Stalker...nice make the call!!

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