Well, after two weeks in Cambodia, here are Tien’s Rules for Surviving Cambodia:
(1) Moto drivers are *not* hitting on you. 1/3 of their approaches will be stylistically indistinguishable from Western come-ons, but honestly, they just want you to hire them, and are of the mistaken opinion that following you for half a block or murmuring seductively while circling you on their moto is the best way of convincing you to do so.
Really, they’re harmless. Incredibly annoying, but harmless.
(2) Moto drivers have NO sense of direction. They also don’t know the town, despite being taxi drivers by profession. Don’t assume he knows where even the biggest tourist attraction is (even if he’s nodding); look at his face to see if he *really* understands.
If you wind up in the middle of nowhere with a moto driver who obviously hasn’t a clue (this seems to happen about 50% of the time, even with precautions), tell him to stop, pay him off, and flag down another moto driver. Eventually you *will* get a guy with a clue…and at 50 cents a pop, you can afford to go through two or three before getting to your destination. Don’t panic; the world is full of motos, and in daylight, you’re safe–the muggers only really come out at night.
(3) Ignoring someone in Cambodia isn’t rude; just a sign that you aren’t interested. Meeting someone’s eyes–or any sign other than blank disinterest–means you’re a potential customer, in which case you’ll NEVER get rid of them.
Failing to observe this rule scrupulously will result in endless harassment by moto drivers, who will fall on you instantly at the slightest sign of interest. (This also applies to amputee beggars.)
(4) Don’t bother with friendly conversation with vendors/moto drivers. They’re just trying to get you off your guard. Other service providers, etc. are fine.
(5) Don’t get fazed when even a decent hotel mysteriously turns off your electricity, removes the toilet paper from your bathroom, etc. This is Cambodia, after all.
In general, while I think the Cambodians have done a phenomenal job of rebuilding their country from the rubble left over from the Khmer Rouge and subsequent Vietnamese invasion, I’m not particularly fond of Cambodia. Phnom Penh isn’t very interesting–the only real gem in the area is the National Museum, which has stunning artifacts from the Khmer Empire. Unfortunately, I’m pretty much deaf to both history and art, and sculpture isn’t one of my crafts, so it didn’t do much for me…if I hadn’t been sick for the last week, I’d have gone to Saigon by now.
I also went to the Tuol Sleng (Holocaust) Museum; but I’ll talk more about that later. I found it underwhelming, but I think that was because I initially found it overwhelming, and simply shut down.
Moving on: in a nice compromise between bus (slow, grueling) and plane (fast, expensive), I’ve discovered that you can get to the Vietnamese border by boat! and, better yet, the boat leaves at a decent hour in the afternoon, so I’m forfeiting my 6am bus ticket to catch the afternoon boat to the border, and will catch a pickup-taxi from the border to Saigon. This cuts a 10-hour grueling bus ride down to about a 3-4 hour journey by boat and taxi (the Vietnamese pave their roads–fancy that!).
I’m a little nervous about finding a taxi on the other side, and finding a guesthouse in Saigon, but I know (intellectually) that that’s absurd; I’ll be met by 10,000 hotel touts and about 4,000 taxis at the border.
To Saigon tomorrow!