After learning about the Khmer Rouge and its invasion of Phrom Penh just 30 years ago, I was interested in going there to see what is was like now in 2011. A short and beautiful bus ride from Battambang, I arrived with my new friend from the bus. My Cambodian friend works in finance in Phrom Penh and he commutes between Phrom Penh, Siem Riep, and Ho Chi Minh for work. He tells me that he stays in the same guesthouse every time he comes to Phrom Penh and it is very peaceful and quite. Researching a bit about the good areas, I wanted to stay by the Tone Sap Lake, but later I learn that there is no lake because it ran out of water?
Arriving at the bus station, I look out the windows and see huge stacks of garbage and various papers and food covering the streets. I immediately think to myself, "Why did I come here again?" I just was not in the mood for a big city, especially coming from Battambang with kind village locals and natural beauty. On my trip, I try to monitor my time in the big cities as there is so much beauty in the smaller, "hidden treasures."
Within minutes, 10-12 tuk tuk drivers follow the bus while it comes to a stop and charge the door. I get out of the bus with my friend and he encourages me to come with him as there are many guesthouses where he is going. As we have this conversation, ten tuk tuk drivers all stand around like drooling dogs over a piece of steak. It is ridiculous and annoys me as we only need one driver. I decide to independently see if I can make it to the lake or ask the locals how I can get there-this was a bad decision at 10pm at night.
In the streets, there is more and more garbage, it is super dark, tuk tuk drivers all sleep in the their tuk tuks, there are many drunk guys, handicapp, and everything looks filfthy. Walking the streets, I decide to get a tuk tuk and this ends up being a difficult task. After getting into three different tuk tuks who were either drunk or did not speak English and had no idea of the location. Again, I tell myself this is preparation for India. I take deep breaths and try to engage in mindfulness technique to calm myself down as I just want to get out of the street and into a clean place. This point in my trip was really the first time I really experienced a mild panic attack over the dirt-it is something that is difficult for me to handle, but I use my coping strategies and work myself through it.
I finally found a nice young guy on a motorbike who spoke English, but still he was taking me to guesthouses that looked like dungeons. He said that this area is not good at night because it is full of the tuk tuk drivers coming in from the villages speaking little English and knowing little about the city. We were riding around looking for guesthouses that were not too expensive, were clean to my standards, and were not full. At that moment, I felt highly intolerant to dirt and filfth. Something about the city made my skin crawl and I just wanted to get out of there as we continued to drive the streets.
Usually I ask to stay outside of the tourist area, but in this case I was craving the tourist area! I kept asking him to take me there, but he kept saying it was too far. I did not have a map and I was just listening to locals who were not listening to me-it was frustrating. I just settled with the Sunday guesthouse, which was clean and $8 a night, which is the most I have spent on a guesthouse my whole trip, but it is clean! Fewwww!