Open my eyes. There’s still light just before we land, and I gaze out the window, onto the country I have chosen to live in. It looks… Asian, from this altitude. It looks scarcely populated. It looks like Ireland with palm trees and paddy fields and tiny golden temples.
The plane lands. Get bags. Get visa. Get ready. I walk out to a blast of humid air and eager locals calling out the single most heard words by white people in Cambodia. I am instantly privvy to something one must placidly accept and constantly shut down while living in Asia; the tuk tuk drivers. After getting asked an approximate 100,000 times if I want a tuk tuk, I meet my man Sarun, a lovely, slightly heavyset man made of smiles. Sarun speaks good English, loves to ask questions, and to this day is seemingly delighted to see me every time we meet. He is my first Khmer friend.
Phnom Penh airport is about 40 minutes out of Phnom Penh, and my friend Aimee’s place is the same distance out on the other side of town, so my introductory drive is long. Night has fallen, and my first impression of the city is based on the little I can see and the plenty I can smell. The first thing I pick up on is the rubbish. There’s a lot of it on the side of the road, strewn here and there by the shops they front, and by people walking by. The novelty of fairylight-covered shacks lining the streets, selling exotic fruits, ornate wooden furniture and delicately prepared flower arrangements, disguises the inherent poverty of the country more visible by day. The strong stenches occasionaly molesting my nose do not. To be blunt, there is shit and rot by the road, and they remind you where you are.
I find myself in Sarun’s funky, rickety tuk tuk, contemplating what I sense as we reach the half-way mark of our trip, and am struck by a second, equally frightening realisation. All around me are bicycles, mopeds, tuk tuks, rundown trucks and vans… and the biggest Toyotas and Lexus and Audis and Volkswagons money can buy. It doesn’t hit me immedietely; Having lived in the US and Europe all my life, my eyes are accustomed to huge, gas-gusseling SUVs, getting bigger by the year. Seeing them in such striking abundance in a developing country, however, hits me like a right smack across the cheek. What are they doing here? How can they be afforded? Is that a PORSCHE CAYENNE?? Yes. Yes it is. I later find out that as there are ostensibly no rules of the road in Cambodia, save one; the larger your vehicle, the more right of way you have. This makes driving a “moto” or moped hilariously tough here. People also drive on EITHER side of the road, but that’s all for another post. So is the reason for these vehicles being here in the first place.
We arrive at Aimee and Fred’s sequestered little home, and I thank Sarun for the long drive. In Cambodia, tuk tuks are a little different to Bangkok’s three-seater go-karts. Here, Khmers simply construct a rickshaw-like contraption and attach it to a moto. I can only imagine how rough an hour and a half-long drive can be for Sarun.
Aimee’s place is stunning. A wide open space, made entirely of dark wood, it has an spacious feel, complete with big bay doors, wide steps down to a garden and a beautiful swimming pool, and a big lovable puppy called Ella. It’s great to see them again, and we quickly catch up, get talking about the Nina and Marc Cambodian plan, and wash the night down with homemade Sidecars. It’s an early night, for in the morning my brilliant Nina arrives. It’s been 12 days since I’ve seen her, the longest time we’ve been apart in the two years we’ve been together. Needless to say I can’t wait to have her goofy ways with me again.