We caught the bus in from Ho Chi Minh City and arrived in the middle of Phnom Penh at around 4:00pm. The area in Phnom Penh where the bus dropped us wasn’t very impressive and not a great start to our Phnom Penh experience. As soon as the door opened we were set upon by the tuktuk drivers trying to get our business.
I’m not one to be told what to do and I certainly don’t like pushy people so the irritating tuktuk drivers just succeeded in making me belligerent. We grabbed our bag and headed up the street to find an air-conditioned coffee shop to sit down and catch our breath.
Not a coffee shops in sight and one of the tuktuk drivers was riding along beside us trying to convince Michelle to travel with him. We needed some money and I wanted a coffee. So as we passed an ANZ ATM I stopped and withdrew some money. Bugger the ATM only dispensed $100USD bills so now we had plenty of money but no change. We couldn’t expect street vendors and tuktuk drivers to change a $100USD and if they could we would probably get a fist full of Cambodian Real. Something we didn’t really need an we had no idea of its value.
In the end we found a sweltering bakery where the dinning room was a fish bowl and the air conditioning wasn’t working. I left Michelle and the children there and headed down the street to find some change. I couldn’t shake the tuktuk driver he was outside and now driving against the traffic to follow me. I needed to give this guy the slip as he certainly wasn’t getting my business. I walked a way down the street trying to deter him and located a computer store that sold some cheap power packs. I brought one to get some change and headed back towards the bakery. It looked like I’d stayed in the store long enough for the driver to park the tuktuk back at the bus stop. Great he’s given up so I spoke to a couple of tuktuk drivers further up the street and arranged for them to follow me. But as I did the first driver re appeared and tried to cut in on one of the drivers. In the end I had to tell him to piss off. He became a bit abusive but he did leave. Now we could ride in peace to the Velkommen Backpackers our home for the next four days.
On the second day we meet Ray as we walked along the Mekong riverside he seemed nice enough and offered to take all of us to the killing fields for $15 which was $3-$5 cheaper than the tuktuk drivers outside the Velkommen Backpackers quoted. Ray was great, his English was quite good and his nature pleasing but as with many of the drivers he was quite pushy and after the trip to the killing fields offered to give us a sight seeing tour along the river for an extra $5. I told him to head straight back to the hotel so he dropped the price by $3. So we drove the extra 2km along the riverside in peak hour traffic, not exactly a sight seeing tour. Then he stopped 500m from the Velkommen Backpackers and suggested we take a few picture of the Mekong. We didn’t have the heart to tell him we walked to this spot the night before.
Before we hopped back into the tuktuk he negotiated his services for the following day and suggested that I pay what ever I felt was reasonable. That was a winning tactic and he had me hook line and sinker.
So the following day Ray drove us to the Russian Market, S-21 (the Genocide Museum) and the Central Market, dutifully waiting at a predefined location and looked after some of our gear. So when it came time to pay him we of course payed the full $20 for a day hire and gave him a tip to boot. Which I think made his day. We were meant to leave the following day so I told Ray we wouldn’t be needing his services any longer.
The following morning we didn’t leave PhnomPenh because Michelle was admitted to hospital with food poisoning and a nasty cut on her head where she had fainted in the bathroom. Michelle and I took a taxi to the hospital but I found my way back to the Velkommen Backpacker on a tuktuk. The ride back cost $4 but I wasn’t certain the driver actually new where I wanted to go. Eventually I made it back after giving him some directions via Google maps.
For the next two days we travelled in and out from the hospital 7 times. For every trip I used the same driver a Cambodian who did’t speak any English but with the help of a few friends we communicated enough to arrange times and pickup locations with a degree of certainty. Each time we arrived at the hospital he would point to a location where I could find him and he would wait. Sometimes for an hour and sometimes for three, but he would always be there. On the final day I had to send him to the hospital by himself to pickup Michelle. I would have loved to go and get her but Natasha and Ben had become quite sick overnight and I though it best to stay with them. I showed him a picture of Michelle and told him what time to collect her via an alarm set on my iPhone. He seemed to get the idea and headed off. Michelle told me he was waiting at the designated gate and waved to her when she appeared. Each time I paid him $10 for the round trip but in the end I tipped him very handsomely and gave him a new Jacket. The jacket was a little big but he seemed to wear it with pride.
Surprising I don’t even know his name and I’m not sure he knows mine but my experience of Phnom Penh wouldn’t be the same without the tuktuk’s and this special man.