After a day of two of self-exploration around Phnom Penh I decided it was time to take a tour. I wanted to see the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. I heard that it was possible to rent a bike there and peddle there, but after biking all over Siem Reap when viewing the Angkor Temples I had had enough of sweating to the tourist sites of Cambodia. It was in the upper 90s each day with high humidity.
Read part I of this adventure here.
Prem came around the next morning at breakfast and cheerfully greeted me and asked where I wanted to go today. I told him I was ready to see the Killing Fields Monument. After we toured the sad mass remains he then wanted to take me other places, but the emotional impact of history exhausted me, and I just wanted to return to the guesthouse.
Staying at $5.00 guesthouses is convenient and cost-effective, but at some point one does start to hanker for a warm shower, a soft bed, and air-conditioning for a couple of days at least. I wanted to spend my last night or two in a hotel in Phnom Penh. I thought this is where Prem, and I would part company because I mistakenly thought he worked for the guesthouse. He had been so eager to take care of me that I worried how he would take my departure from the guesthouse.
The next morning, the day of my intended departure to a hotel, Prem waited for me as usual at the tables in the common area of the guesthouse with his usual smile. He asked me where I wanted to go today. I told him I had some bad news. He looked perplexed and asked what it was. I told him I wanted to leave the guesthouse and stay at a hotel.
I thought the hotel word would be like a four letter one to him, but it had the opposite effect. He thrust his hand up in the area and nearly screamed “I WILL TAKE YOU THERE.” He said he knew of a great place with hot water, soft bed, and cool rooms. He then asked if I wanted to go right now. I tried to calm him down saying I had not even packed. I told him I had not for sure made up my mind. I left to take a shower.
When I returned a new crop of people had turned up at the hostel. I struck up a conversation with a couple from Britain. They had actually met two Americans that I had met in Thailand, so we talked about them and shared travel stories. Each night the guesthouse sponsored a booze cruise on the lake at dusk. I had already done this once, but the new crew invited me to go with them, so I decided to stay another night. I told Prem that I wanted to stay another night and go to the hotel tomorrow. He seemed disappointed, but he said he would pick me up tomorrow.
When I ordered lunch from the dude at the guesthouse he asked me when I planned to move to the hotel. I told him that I had not made up my mind and secretly wondered how he knew that I wanted to leave. Later in the day another guesthouse worker said he was surprised to see me since he thought I had left for the hotel. I grabbed a paper and half expected to see that the headlines would read “American to move from guesthouse to hotel,” since it seemed to be such big news around Phnom Penh.
I went on the booze cruise around the lake and sat up on top of the boat and chatted with my new friends. We stayed up on top for several hours and continued the party.
At one point two Cambodians that I had never seen before climbed up on top and started to give me a sales pitch on the hotel. They told me there were nice hotels in Phnom Penh. At the moment I was having a good time drinking with new friends, and I did not want to be bothered by the hotel business. I returned to my new friends, but they interrupted us again telling me that the hotel had hot showers. I thanked them and tried to resume my conversation, but then they told me the hotel had air-conditioning.
My British friend broke in and tried to help me out and told them that I did not want to talk business until tomorrow. They said “OK, no problem.” I continued talking and again they broke in and said the hotel was only $15.00 a night and had comfortable beds. My friend and I through our hands in the air and the two Cambodians broke out laughing and said they were only joking and then left.
I think this episode with the hotel illustrates the same two points made in part I of this saga. Cambodia is a really poor country, and every dollar that is spent by tourists is significant to their economy. The guesthouse owners and Prem were probably both given kick backs if they were able to take me to the hotel, which they eventually did, so it had been in their best interests for me to move to higher priced lodging.
The motivation is not all about money. Cambodian people were incredibly accommodating. As soon as I desired something they wanted to take care of it right away to almost a zealous degree. When we were partying on the top of the boat the Cambodians at the guesthouse kept bringing beer and food up there to us. They were very pleased we were having a good time.
My one regret about my time in Cambodia is that I did not get to know the people in the guesthouse and Prem a little better. They were so incredibly nice and helpful that I wished I would have reached out to them more. Instead of treating them as friends I just let them serve me, which they were more than happy to do. It pains me that I do not even have a picture of Prem. I hope our paths cross again, and I can rectify this wrong. The Cambodian motto is “see you again,” so perhaps I will.
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