From Connemara to Cambodia
Day 2 – Tuk-tuk Travel is the Way to Go
After a haze of jet-lagged and broken sleep, we were treated to a strange concoction of dinner foods that combine to create a Cambodian breakfast, topping it off with a further energy boost of coffee so sweet it could pass as hot chocolate if milk was added. The waiter didn’t seem to understand when I askedf or coffee without the added sugar, and I’m beginning to think sugar just exists in every single type of food and drink available here!
Myself and two other interns set out to explore the markets of central Phnom Penh after a bit of negotiating with our tuk tuk driver, as he laughed comically at the suggestion that he take us where we wanted for 4 dollars. He quickly changed his mind when we shrugged and turned to make for another driver, his laugh having a bit of an Ash Ketchem vibe to it as he straightened up and pointed at the vehicle next to him with two toy monkeys hanging on to it’s poles for dear life – something we found ourselves doing after a mere few minutes inside the tuk tuk.
The traffic in Phnom Penh is akin to many other Asian cities – every man for himself, with little or no heed paid whatsoever to any existing rules of the road. If you want to go – you go, and hope you don’t get crossed over or knocked into by another overloaded tuk tuk or motorbike weaving it’s way through to the front of the queue. Similarly, when we disembarked and tried to cross the road to enter the market, we found ourselves pedestrian contributions to the madness as we tip-toed our way across, causing havoc and further beeping – it was easier to just make a run for it and get it overwith quickly.
The Central Market itself is an extremely vast expanse of electrical goods, jewellery, clothes, and food with each vendor following your progress through the stalls, catching on to your every mildly interested glance at a ring or necklace that you’re not actually ever going to buy.
‘Ten dollah? Nine Dollah??’
‘No thank you, just looking!’
It’s worth your while haggling.
As we continued on through the various stalls of fresh (and not-so-fresh) produce and streetfood, it became clear that we were among the only Westerners about at the time, as we attracted many stares and pointed fingers of semi-naked children along the street.
As we were due back to the hotel for dinner with the group, we didn’t sample any of the fried vegetables or fish being consumed by the many Cambodian families seated around the place, but the smells both attracted and disgusted us in equal measure, the tanks of live fish, squid, crabs and other mystery marine-life flailing about helplessly beside their freshly cooked brothers and sisters.
After an hour or two we decided we had secured any necessary items for then and also managed to experience the madness of the markets, so we attempted to find our way back to where the tuk-tuk driver had left us off- instead emerging at a completely different entrance to where we’d begun and haggling down a return price with a different driver.
I inspected my haul on our return to the hotel, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I’d managed to secure myself some ‘real’ Gucci sunglasses, a long patterened sun-dress (recommended for teaching), another shirt-dress, a coffee, a kilo of apples and bananas and some jack-fruit, all for under $20, and that wasn’t even including the cost of the return tuk-tuk journey!
By the time we got back and sorted through our things, it was almost time for the welcome dinner with the rest of the group. We were served around circular tables with a revolving platform in the centre, each dish placed around it containing authentic Cambodian food, from fish and tofu soup to a chicken, peanut and spinach with a gingery sauce. The freshly cooked rice has proven to be a staple of every single meal so far, and apparantly we’re going to have to get used to it as a main source of carbohydrate during our stay here!
Overall it was great to meet everyone for the first time, and afterwards we all proceeded to have a jam and sing song around the hotel swimming pool – the music proving a great way to make connections and put a calming end to the day before orientation started properly.