The Amazing Race

Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
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Trip End Apr 08, 2006


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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Sunday, April 24, 2005

One wakes the same as every other day, sometime soon after 5.30am, sweltering because of the heat trapped in the mosquito net. The whirl of the overhead fan a reminder that it is yet another scorcher outside. Enjoying one of the few homely comforts, vegemite on toast, one makes the most of limited downtime to catch the latest from the outside world by watching cable news. The lady reading the regions weather gives confirmation that the day will be no different from any other. 38 degrees. Again. Outside and the full brunt of the heat smacks you round the head like a left hook from Evander Holyfield. Opens the gate, and every Khmer male in the vicinity shouts at you, as if he were sitting there waiting for you to exit the gate. Moto! Moto!

Racing up Monivong Boulevard, the breeze cools one down somewhat, until the air-conditioner in the ACE staffroom proves the godsend one needs at the early hour of 6:30am. The day is relatively straight forward. Planning, Classes, and a quick jaunt down 51 or 63 to grab a bite to eat with some friends. Along the way one can't help but laugh at the site of the many naked children walking by the supermarket and shops on Sihanouk Boulevard. However the smile is wiped from the face when an old woman bent almost at right angles pulling a cart with who knows what inside is sited.

A day with few or no classes is entirely different. One can afford the luxury of sleeping in until 7am, but that fan and the moto's outside make it impossible to go back to sleep. A quick consultation with the invaluable "Eating and drinking in Phnom Penh" guide, a few sms', and breakfast is organised. Somewhere different, yet again. Well, we want to do a bit of shopping at Psar Tuol Tom Pong, aka the Russian Market, so why not try this cafe located amongst the slums nearby. Artwork on the walls, yellow colour scheme, and beautiful friendly waitresses who have been given the opportunity to work after being abused. What a fantastic place. There's no point frequenting the favourites, like The Shop, or Java Cafe (even though it has the BEST chocolate milkshakes in the world), because hidden away in every ramshackle back corner of this city is yet another cafe just waiting to surprise. Will the ice coffee be good? Or will it be a boring hot instant coffee with a few ice blocks thrown in. One never knows.

Friday and saturday nights offer some variety, although occasionally someone will organise a party for something different. Drinks can be downed at many of the western managed pubs around town, but seven weeks is ample time to get to know all of them. If too many beers are downed early on, people head to Elsewhere for a swim to cool off. I don't know what it is about this city, but it does something to otherwise sane people. At home, people can be a little shy to break out of their social circle and meet new friends. Here it is quite the norm to go swimming with 20 people you've only known a few weeks, in your underwear! After drying off, there is a choice between two places: The Riverhouse Lounge or the Heart of Darkness. The Riverhouse is set on the second floor of an old colonial building overlooking the Tonle Sap River. Expats and Khmers who KNOW how to mix play a set of hip hop and breaks for those wanting a dance. The air-con makes the dance floor bearable like any other back home. Needing a break, and one can chill on the balcony and have a chat while the motos and tuk-tuk's zoom by below. It's a good, fun place to while away the time until the sun rises.

But did I mention a second? The Heart of Darkness. Everything that the Riverhouse is not. A dark, seedy place located on 51, in a relatively dodgy area of town. Guaranteed bad music, bad mixing, and bad characters. But it's not far from Elsewhere, and sometimes at 2am the Riverhouse seems just a little too far away. A dance party with 15,000 people can be one of the most awesome experiences, but a dodgy bar with a terrible dj who is obviously a "lifer" (see below) is beyond being just a headspin. The music is so loud and bad your brain stops working. The rich Khmer girls are there for one thing, well, two really, and the scum of western society are there to provide. This place is the arsehole of the earth. And it's time to go home.

THE AMAZING RACE
Otherwise known as the Ginger Monkey cyclo challenge

I always said that if I was to be on a reality TV show, it would be the Amazing Race. Well, that hasn't happened, but something close has. Last night was another, and my first, cyclo race around Phnom Penh's bars. 30 cyclos, 60 people, 6 bars, 6 challenges. Upon leaving the Ginger Monkey bar and restaurant, each team is given two things - the ever reliable "Eating and Drinking in Phnom Penh" guide, and a clue. "You may find a drunken monkey in this drunken bird." The Frog and the Parrot? Freebird? The Pickled Parrot? 3 bars, three different directions. Which one? My intuition proved successful, and we were one of the first teams to reach the Pickled Parrot. The challenge? To count the fish and tell the owner their names. Then we're given the next clue. "Rainbows and condiments". This was our downfall. We'd partnered up with another team, and we decided it had to be "La Marmite". Surely that's the condiment. Fifteen minutes later we rock up, and I race into the bar to show the clue to one of the bar staff. The young Khmer guy looks at me like I've come from another planet. "I'm sorry sir?". Shit. I walk outside, shaking my head, and Louise looks at me like she's had an epiphany. "The Salt Lounge". Rainbows and Condiments. It's Phnom Penh's only gay bar! We head back down Norodom, passing a few other cyclos headed for La Marmite, and we're glad we weren't the only dumb people in the race. And thus the night goes on. At each bar we have a drink, and complete a challenge. Phnom Penh is alive with with cyclos and green t-shirts, and barang's in a rush. We wind up back at the Ginger monkey some three hours later, very drunk, and a semi respectable 17th out of 30th. Good job. And lessons to be learned for the next race...

a lifer (noun) - as put forward in Amit Gilboa's cult classic, "Off the rails in Phnom Penh". There are two types of expats in Phnom Penh. The first, an adventurer. Someone who has achieved success at home, but yearns to see the world, and winds up in the former French colonial capital. They are captivated by the place, and want to stick around a little longer than the three days it takes to see the sites. A lifer, on the other hand, is the term given to a westerner, generally male, who for some reason, finds it difficult to enjoy life in their own country. They come to Phnom Penh for cheap thrills. They will never leave.
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