A looong journey, especially for my suitcase...
31.03.2008 - 06.04.2008 33 °C
Photo: Wat Mohomontrej, one of the many temples in town
So, I’ve made it to Cambodia and even though it’s been less than a week of being here, leaving Europe somehow feels like a longer time ago. Maybe because it is such a different world here. But let’s start at the beginning. I left Hannover by train last Sunday to get to Hamburg, fly to London, Bangkok and finally Phnom Penh. Luckily I checked my e-itinery again just before leaving to find out that suddenly it listed 2 flight bookings for me from Hamburg to London – in with BA, one with Lufthansa at different times. In Hamburg I heard that the original BA flight was cancelled as it was scheduled to go to the newly opened Heathrow terminal 5 where things were a real mess, so they decided to leave it. But that’s good news for me I was told as my luggage wouldn’t get anywhere near it so no high risk of losing it… Then, at the security check I wanted to get one of these little transparent bags for liquids in the hand luggage only to find that out that they don’t give them to people for free anymore but sell them from a machine for €1 for 2 bags – the profit margin would fill every Cambodian (and other) hawker with shame (maybe that’s why a machine – with no change given – sells them)!!! But I shouldn’t complain too much as the nice Lufthansa woman at least let me check in my 7kg overweight suitcase without comment and didn’t even ask how heavy my hand luggage was (10kg rucksack and motorcycle helmet).
Anyway, on to Heathrow with a few hours to spare and chance for some final shopping – got some 50% DEET mosquito gel on offer for 3 bottles for the price of 2. Most places in Germany only had 30%, so I went for it only to hear from the stewardess on the plane just before getting into Bangkok that nobody should buy any liquids in transit or duty free as they’ll all be taken off people again before boarding the next flight (useful tip for the next journey!). But I didn’t wanna let my DEET go, so when sitting in the lovely Bangkok Airways lounge in the shiny brand new airport there, I spread my 3 bottles around my bags, hoping they wouldn’t find them all. And I only lost 1 – bad news for the security check, good news for me at that point cause DEET is hard to get here.
Finally, after about 26 hours net travel time, 31 according to local time, I arrived in Cambodia. Luckily somebody from the programme office here met me and he already had all the visa papers with him. I just needed to sign them and got the visa stamped into my passport within minutes. However, the bad news were awaiting or better not awaiting me at the luggage belt where my suitcase didn’t arrive. After watching the same 2 remaining bags on it make the round for the 5th time and nothing else showing I went to the lost luggage place and got the little yellow form filled in without much complaint as I was really shattered at that point, hoping that I would see my things again some day. Forget the DEET - what a nightmare that would have been to not get anything through!!!
So Pisit (the nice guy from the programme office) took me to town to stay in one of the guest rooms they have for volunteers right above the programme office, where I would be staying for the week here in Phnom Penh. There I met two other volunteers there who kindly offered me a few spare clothes as I was still in my long sleeve top, jeans and trainers when the Cambodian heat hit me. And man, it was (is) hot here – the humidity is not too bad I feel but just the heat. I start sweating the minute I get out – no matter, if moving or not. I think it has become slightly better after the first few days but maybe it was just worse at the start because I was too wrecked from the trip. The good thing is that April is supposed to be the hottest month of the year and then it will get a little cooler, I hope (a little under 30 degrees would be nice…). But already now it rains from time to time which might be the rainy season on the way early, which might mean a little earlier cool down. Let’s see.
Photo: The Programme Office in Phnom Penh
The next day after arrival I met some other volunteers who just were at the programme office for the week as part of their in-country training here (the ones staying for 1 or 2 years arrived already in early March for 7 weeks of in-country language and other training). So I had a full day to recover and it was nice to meet Elise (from the training in Holland) again and some of the others who took me out for breakfast. Guess what I had… Cappuchino, muesli and yoghurt! Well, it was one of the many Western restaurants in town and despite initial worries, I discovered that pretty much anything Western is available – in Phnom Penh at least. It only comes at a price but compared to home, it is about the same or a little less. And all other local things are really cheap. (PS: Foodwise my iron stomach is has been staying strong so far with only the occasional grumbling, which is remarkable compared to the stories of some of my fellow volunteers). After breakfast we went off by tuk-tuk (motorcycle rikshaw for about 4 people and main mode of transport for tourists apart from moto dops, where you just hop on the back of a motorbike, which is a little more scary and I haven’t tried, yet) and explored town a bit. Most streets are numbered here but not in a straight sequence (330 followed by 348), so I still need the map quite a lot. That night my suitcase arrived as well on another plane from Bangkok - all in one piece. And guess where it had got stuck ... London. But never mind, I had really expected a longer delay given the distance.
Wednesday I started my induction programme at the programme office which is mainly meetings with staff from different areas about the project I’ll work on but also support and admin in general as well as culture and health aspects. And I already met my 2 volunteer colleagues who’ll be on the same project as they are on the longer training programme as well and therefore were in town. In between I had time to explore the place on my own and also find all the extra things I’ll need when moving to Battambang, like towels, sheets, etc. This also meant a few visits to the local markets, which a huge, hot and heaving and for now I’ve had enough of them as you really have to haggle for everything, which gets a little exhausting after a while. But the people here are really nice, helpful and friendly and I’m not feeling harassed or too ripped off by them. Also telling them I’m a volunteer and not a tourist sometimes helps to get a better price somewhere between the tourist and the local price…So I did spend quite some time shopping and didn’t have too much chance to check out the tourist sites, yet, but I guess I’ll be coming here from time to time and then I can do that later on in a more relaxed way. There is the royal palace and pagoda, some temples and museums and also the genocide museum in an old Khmer Rouge prison, which I really want to visit. Also, the city is full of little NGO or non-profit organisation – run galleries, cafés and shops, which help disadvantaged people (street kids, disabled, etc.) into work. Been to a few and already bought a bag made from recycled mosquito netting – something different. The city is charming and has a lot of small town athmosphere (they are only now starting to build the first real high rise buildings) but too spread out to explore on foot but after 2 days on the tuk-tuk, I had become brave enough to get on a bicycle and hit the roads myself. It went amazingly well so far – its true that nobody follows any traffic rules and most motorbikes don't have mirrors or lights but it all goes slow enough and people manouvre between cars, bikes, motorbikes and pedestrians in a way that just works out somehow. Just never look what's happening behind... Would surely be an interesting subject for alternative traffic research…
Photo: Sihanouk Boulevard - one of the big streets in town on a Saturday morning- really empty but already shows some of the usual driving patterns... and direction, any type of vehicle, any number of passengers goes
Photo: Sunday lunch time at the Central Market, a temporary 'restaurant' just pops up in between the stalls
Photo: Mhhh, fish, my favourite... in all shapes and forms at the Olympic Market
On Tuesday I’ll move on to Battambang to get settled (need to find a flat) and start working. So today for a treat to relax I went to a small hotel where they have a nice little swimming pool under palm trees and even wifi access. Not quite the local way of life but nice for a little break from time to time as pools and such things are hard to come by here otherwise.