Polls: Indonesia or bust
Vail CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of travel stories from local resident Luc Pols, who is traveling through Southeast Asia.
Well, here we are, the first stop on the 2008 quest. Phnom Penh is as I remembered, just more cars and more motorcycles, including the “tuk-tuks,” which spells more pollution, but beyond that … still Cambodia … still Southeast Asia.
The last time I came here I arrived by boat, the one my friend Peter Franke and I bought in Stung Treng and subsequently resold. I must tell you that back then, after three days on the Mekong River, our arrival was a bit more dramatic, a bit more exciting and glamorous than the present one where we just arrived by big plane at the airport. However, every trip is different. Also, my first re-encounter with the Southeast Asia bribe system was immediate. I had packed my visa photos in my checked bag (I know, quite smart), but by paying a “$1 fee,” my visa was granted without a photo.
The first thing that one notices upon arrival is the odor. Some people are quite turned off by this, but for me it is a “welcome home,” at least most of the time! The strongest smells were in Bangkok. With all the street vendors preparing their food curbside, it is such a local folklore … such a dramatic switch from Vail and the U.S., that I had no choice but to stop and linger to take in those smells and the local scene and to jump into this society once again. Quite exciting!
We’re spending the next couple of days here to get over jet lag and to find the best way to get to the temple complex at Preah Vihear, right at the border with Thailand, which supposedly recently opened for tourists. But more about that in later reports.
I am staying at a nice hotel with a pool for about $38 per night, including breakfast. I have stayed here on four previous occasions and it is not disappointing ” it’s comfortable. No visit here is complete without a stroll through the Central Market, at least that is what it is called by Westerners. While the literal translation is New Market “even though it is almost 70 years old ” the locals call it the “Rich People’s Market.” I am not entirely certain whether this is because of higher prices or greater variety. Partly covered and partly open with four separate wings, it is a delight for all foreigners to try their hand at bargaining. By nature, I am not very good at this, I must admit, but this environment has forced me to become more adept. Why pay $10 if you can get it for $3? That is the big question and it is definitely something to live for … if you are a shopper!
On previous visits, I went to the “Killing Fields” of Pol Pot infamy, so I am skipping it this time. Instead I stroll along the river waterfront, check out the restaurants and bars and watch people. Even the magnificent palace complex, as beautiful as it is, holds no more secrets for me, so I just relax.
Three days of this is enough and I head to Sihanoukville, one of the best of the few beach resort in Cambodia, about a five hour bus ride from the capital. I find my old hotel, check in and make my way to the beach, not so much for the sun as for the langoustines (small lobsters). I bargain and pay about $2 for half a dozen. The shellfish do not disappoint. What a dinner and, especially compared to Vail prices, what an incredible bargain. That certainly is one of the attractions of Southeast Asia ” it is still affordable. Compared to Europe with its very strong Euro, this is paradise for the cost-conscious tourist. I am spending five days here reading and laying on the beach, before heading to Angkor Wat.
Please tune in again in a week for the next installment of the trip. If you have any suggestions or comments, you can reach me at email@example.com. I can’t promise that I will answer all of them, but I will promise you that I’ll make an effort.
Have a travel essay you’d like to share with Vail Daily readers? E-mail High Life Editor Caramie Schnell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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