The fast boat takes 5 hours along the Mekong to get to Phnom Penh. This includes the border admin which is extremely smooth and efficient. We opt for the back section of the boat, which is open on all sides. Besides enjoying the fresh air, it gives greater freedom to take photographs. The trade-off is that we sit on a slatted wooden bench and after an hour, we are squirming around changing which butt cheek we are sitting on to relieve some of the pain.
Fortunately there is enough happening on the river to keep me entertained taking photos. That is, until we get to the wider part of the river, where the distance to shore is too great and my 70 – 200 lens is not long enough to get sufficient detail. The light gets harsher and flatter as we head towards mid morning, so there is nothing to do but put the cameras away and lie on the deck to pass the time.
We dodge the plethora of tuk tuk and taxi drivers waiting the boat’s arrival, and walk out onto the road to negotiate a fee for our transport. We count ourselves fortunate when an older man who speaks near perfect English offers to take us for $3 on his tuk tuk. On arrival at the hotel, he offers us his business card ( yes a tuk tuk driver!) and we negotiate a fee for him to fetch us and drive us around the various sites we want to visit tomorrow. We agree to his $20 quote. He will be at the hotel at 8 am to fetch us, he says. His name is Lucky.
Our 3 star, Princess Hotel, looks and feels like a mansion after our 1 star abode in Chau Doc. I can hear the tune to Twilight Zone playing in my head when the receptionist tells me the password for the free wi-fi is Lucky2012!
The river-front area beckons, with its wide boulevard, restaurants and coffee shops, so we make our way back there after settling in at the hotel. We find a place to eat and sit down to people-watch and observe. It’s not long before we start to feel uncomfortable without really knowing why. The place feels sleazy without it being obviously so. It’s obvious that tourists flock to this area and the supply of loud music, food and drink is plentiful. It seems, though, that many local people make use of the river front facilities too, so there is a good combination of travelers and locals around.
Never once in Vietnam did I feel afraid or threatened, yet here I find myself clutching my backpack close to me and looking over my shoulder. I get “accosted” by a man wanting to know if I am alone. He swiftly loses interest when I tell him that I am traveling with my boyfriend. We wander around taking photos and decide to walk back to our hotel. It’s a fair distance but we are in no hurry and we find that walking the streets is the best way to become familiar with a city.
As we move away from the river front, the landscape and energy changes. This is a city of contrasts as becomes evident when we walk past the old market with designer, boutique stores on the opposite side of the street. Soon we get to the street that our hotel is in. It’s large with two lanes of traffic either side. Both sides of the street are lined with department stores and boutique shops. It’s feels like I have landed in a downscaled version of 5th avenue.
Imagine my delight when, as I start to get weary and desirous of being at our hotel, we encounter a deliciously decadent patisserie and coffee shop called Tous le Jours.
Three times LUCKY.