Not a Party in Cambodia

Alison and I got to Cambodia early today (Tuesday); we’re staying at the Raffles hotel in Phnom Penh. This hotel is really nice – apparently the Raffles chain is super amazing, though I’ve never stayed in one before. This place has the feel of old colonial French Vietnam combined with old-school military dormitory. It’s nice, and relaxing, and yet kind of awkward.
Getting to the hotel was pretty easy, as we’d had a car come for us. But the streets were crazy – lots of motorcycles, toyotas (literally, only toyotas), tuk-tuks and bicycles. Kind of what I expected. But nobody walking on the street. And no foreigners. Hmmmmm. Maybe that should have been my first cue.
Alison was immediately put off and her first reaction once we got to the hotel was “I’m staying right here”. I, of course, want to go out and explore some temples! So after a nap and some food and sorting out my laundry situation etc, I decided to head out for a walk to the temple that is about three blocks away. Then I figured I’d walk over to the riverside, which is just a few more blocks.
Exiting the front gates to the “hotel compound” (guarded by two not-too-friendly men), I’m immediately set upon by three guys – two with motorcycles, and one with a tuk-tuk, all of whom want to give me a ride. Even though I’m out for a walk. One of them follows me for awhile and eventually I dispatch him by taking his name card. After I leave him the tuk-tuk driver keeps following me and chatting me up. I walk all the way to the temple with this guy following and not taking “no” for an answer. (Walking through a road-side eatery on milk crates, and then a couple people who’d set up some stuff for sale.) Eventually he gives up when I tell him I might be looking at temples and things two days from now, but not today. I swear he will be at the front gate that day…
The temple I visited was a small temple on a 27-meter-high circular hill. After braving the traffic (basically, you walk through the fast-moving traffic and don’t make any sudden moves), I reached the path which goes around the hill. I didn’t get very far until I was once again set upon by a couple would-be drivers, who I dispatched with a wave and without looking up. Soon thereafter I was joined by a few small children asking for change, and then a little further, one of them took an old blind man by the (one) hand who was an amputee, and he held out a bucket for change. Not too much further, and the tuk-tuk driver found me again and started chatting some more. Then a few more kids. Argh!
I realized at this point that I was a stranger in a strange land. I don’t really have any clothes with me that don’t scream out “Westerner”. I was wearing black pants (yeah, and it’s hot here, so sue me), sneakers, a “Game Developer” blue T-shirt, and a PlayStation baseball cap. I was trying not to look up and catch people’s attention, but on my whole three-block walk to the temple, around it, and back, which took about ten minutes, I was solicited for change or rides perhaps 20 times. And I thought San Francisco was bad!
I punted once I reached the temple. Decided to come back to the hotel and do some email. More solicitations and dodging traffic and arguing with Mr. Tuk-tuk and his friends at the gate. Finally I just rudely walked away. Perhaps I’ll venture out again when Jason shows up, that’ll make it a little easier. Actually, tomorrow Alison and I will fly to Siem Reap, where Ankgor Wat and the Tomb Raider temple Ta Prohm are. I’m sure that will be an interesting experience. For now though, I’m going to sit here in the hotel with my goddamn latte and my feet up on the table and do some work.
I’ve always been frustrated by this whole “walled compound” thing. But right now, I’m glad it’s here.