First Impressions of Cambodia

In Cambodia, Stories by Nick4 Comments

I’ve put off visiting Cambodia for long enough. Imagine living in New Jersey and never seeing New York, or living in Scotland and never seeing a sheep.

Phnom Penh is a 6-hour bus ride away from Saigon—long enough to appreciate the scenery, not long enough to go stir-crazy. Siem Reap (home of Angkor Wat) is another 6 hour ride from Phnom Penh.

As I’m writing this, I’ve already spent 2 nights in Siem Reap and 2 nights in PP. I plan on visiting the temples for 3 days of the next 5, then heading back to Phnom Penh for 5 or 6 days.

No, it's not a mailbox or a dollhouse.

No, it’s not a mailbox or a dollhouse.

So, what about Cambodia?

It’s like a grimier, wilder Vietnam. And I like it.

You can ride a motorcycle without a helmet. Half of the highways between PP and Siem Reap are dirt and riddled with potholes. The bus ride wasn’t too much different from a roller coaster.

I can’t speak Khmer.

That was a big one. I’m back to square one—ordering food with wild hand gestures. I almost couldn’t believe it, but this morning I ordered breakfast in Vietnamese. It’s an odd feeling to think “Oh great, she speaks that language I barely know!”

The liquor that gets you drunk and turns you into a shredded black bodybuilder from the 80s.

Is it fortified wine or weak liquor? Why is it approved by the “Ministry of Mines & Energy?” Is this a workout supplement? Can I expect to become “charcoal” colored after drinking, or closer to “mocha?” So many unanswered questions.

I’m trying to pick up basic Khmer, but their alphabet is daunting (60 letters? 70?) and I have no idea which tones to use. Also, I want to pronounce everything with an Indian accent for some reason.

Oh yeah, I really miss my motorcycle. Walking 5 blocks, you can expect to be hounded by at least 10 tuktuk drivers (motorcycles with a two-wheeled wooden trailer with seats).

Their wares? Weed, sex massages, cocaine, heroin, just about anything you can think of.

The tourist markets here sell shirts emblazoned with “No tuktuk today, no tuktuk tomorrow.” If they weren’t awful at haggling I would have bought one.

Besides, if I wanted pot I could just go to one of the many “happy pizza” restaurants for a slice of pie covered in herbs*, washed down with a mushroom* shake.

Wake up and chase some rats, you lazy bastard.

Wake up and chase some rats, you lazy bastard.

And balls, is it hot here. At least in Phnom Penh you can catch a steady breeze on the riverfront, but in Siem Reap the air feels oppressive and dead.

To cool off you can grab a Cambodian iced coffee, which somehow feels even stronger than its Vietnamese cousin. The beans are often fried in fat, and glasses contain nearly double the amount of coffee I’m used to.

Food? Pretty damn good so far. A lot of street food is similar to Vietnamese food—there’s pho, banh mi, rice and pork chops, fetal duck eggs…all the classics. I’ve eaten the iconic fish amok (curry with freshwater fish) at a tourist restaurant in PP, but I’m going to reserve judgment until I visit an authentic restaurant…because my first impression is that it tastes just like Vietnamese ca ri.

That’s it for now. I’m off to Angkor Wat in the morning. Talk to you soon!


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