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Homeless loiterers in Phnom Penh

Posted: 2007-06-04 12:22:23, Categories: Travel, Cambodia, Cycling, 818 words (permalink)

Armed robbery attempt in Phnom Penh. In Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, I met Päivi and Santeri, two Finns who describe themselves as homeless loiterers. Three years ago they decided to give up their careers in Finland and start a new life together, traveling around the world and stopping where they feel like staying. Now they had parked in Phnom Penh for an undetermined amount of time. Santeri was an old friend of mine, but I met Päivi for the first time.

Päivi and Santeri were renting a room in a guesthouse, so when I arrived I took a room in the same place. Then we went to their favourite Chinese restaurant for a dinner. I was actually surprised that Päivi and Santeri seemed to go almost always to the same two restaurants, one for breakfast and the other for lunch or dinner. Occasionally they bought something to eat from a supermarket, but that was limited to cold meals only as there wasn't any kitchen in the guesthouse. If I had stayed several months in the same place I would have certainly tried to learn the local language and seek for local friends, but Päivi and Santeri didn't do that either. They seemed to be happy by simply having each other.

I spent nine days in the city, and as you might already guess the visit was not packed with sightseeing. Mostly we were just discussing various things, walking around, listening to music, eating and sleeping. I did check out the Royal Palace and the Toul Sleng museum, which documents the atrocities of the infamous Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970's and functioned as a torture prison at that time. I had also plenty of time to take care of a few errands, such as getting photos printed and sending them back to people who had kindly hosted me or otherwise helped me earlier during my trip. I found the right stall at the Orussey market to deliver the photos taken at Kompong Khleang.

The travel advisory of the Foreign Ministry of Finland warned about armed robberies in Phnom Penh. I didn't feel unsafe or threatened at any time, although I didn't push it by hanging too many nights out in bars. The most ferocious armed robbery attempt was the one in the picture above. The kid was trying to sell us flowers, but we were bad customers and didn't buy anything. Then he peeled all the petals off his two remaining flowers, left them beside us and went to the river to play. We gave one of the stripped flowers to a water bottle salesman, and when the kid came back he attacked Santeri with his plastic knife. Both were laughing.

A funny detail one cannot miss in Cambodia, especially in the capital, is services featuring "happy" or "lucky" in their names. Cambodians themselves smile and laugh quite a lot so maybe it's their trick to get grumpy westerners a bit happier too. You could stay in Happy Guesthouse, or maybe you'd prefer Big Luck Hotel or renting an apartment at Nokor Lucky? Surprisingly, McDonalds is not in town (!), so you cannot treat your kids to their happy meal, but you can try Lucky Burger instead. Alternatively, there are plenty of pizzerias, such as Happy Phnom Penh Pizza, Happy Herb Pizza, Special Happy Pizza, Pink Elephant Pub and even Ecstatic Pizza. Their happy meals are quite different from those you could get from the previously mentioned well-known fast food chain. ;-) For self-catering, there's always the convenient Lucky Market and Happy Chef products.

Need a visa extension? You might consider applying in Lucky! Lucky! Visa Services, which also rents motorcycles, by the way. Lucky! Lucky! Two or Happy Travel and Web might also help. For the Internet, there's an even happier option: Happy Happy Net. Don't forget to smile if you have your photo taken at Happy Photo Studio — if you feel sad have a drink first at Happy Beer Garden. However, I'm not sure if you can get Happy Beer there.

After some happy days with Päivi and Santeri, I started cycling back towards Thailand. Unlike my friends, I still consider Finland my home and have booked a ticket for a Bangkok-Helsinki flight on June 10th. While pedaling through the Cambodian countryside, already on the way from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, I picked up a new habit. Instead of buying soft drinks or water bottles I stopped at watermelon stalls. The melons sold for 0.05-0.20 euros depending on size and seller, were tastier and cheaper than any canned juices and about the same price than equivalent amount of bottled water, plus there was one less plastic bottle left behind. Another nice natural alternative was sugar cane juice, straight from the press, served with ice.

(Photos of the Big Luck Hotel, Lucky Market and Lucky! Lucky! Visa Services were taken by Päivi and Santeri.)

2 comments

Comment from: erte [Visitor]  
home sweet home is waiting :)
2007-06-04 @ 16:08
Comment from: [Member]
Check out also Päivi’s and Santeri’s article about their life in Phnom Penh!
2007-08-31 @ 03:03

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