Street Photography
in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 28th February, 2012


I flew from Koh Samui back to Bangkok for one evening before leaving Thailand for Cambodia. I got into the official taxi queue at Bangkok airport and got what must be Thailand's worst taxi driver.

He couldn't drive straight, wanted me to go to another hotel which was double the price of mine, didn't want to use the meter and wouldn't stop trying to sell me stuff despite me having to pause my iPhone all the time.

I got cross with him, I told him that he sees me, I'm white, I'm probably rich and new to traveling, I haven't heard these scams a hundred times before, I'm easy pickings. I told him I knew the game; bugger off and just drive. I wanted to relax and listen to my music.

He drove to Nana metro station and asked which street my hotel was on again. My hotel was no where near Nana and by that point I had him running the meter. Him being lost was his way of making more money. I read out the hotel name and address and it didn't register with him. I showed him google maps on my iPad with the hotel pinpointed and he said he couldn't see anything on the screen because his vision is so bad. I got out of the taxi and marched into the metro station.

I took two trains. When I switched trains to make my connection security demanded to search through my bags. I spent the second train ride listening to a Dutch girl explain to an American female friend how she was cheating on her boyfriend back home with some man 14 years older than her.

There was a third train that I needed to catch but I couldn't find the station. I had to flag down seven taxis before one would take me for the last leg of my journey. I finally got into a cab that would take me. We drove for about five minutes before the driver hit the brakes, jumped out and took a piss right in front of me against a wall on the side of the street.

I had arranged to met a friend in town at 7:30pm. I arrived at my hotel at 6:30pm and to my relief, she was standing at the entrance and was staying at the hotel as well. I was so happy that I'd not have to deal with any transport issues in Bangkok till the next morning.

We had a nice evening chatting about our travels, eating some street food and drinking outside the hotel while watching traffic go by.

The next morning I got a cab for £3 to the airport. I was so amazed the driver didn't try to screw me over. He really just drove me there and charged me accordingly. The flight was short and uneventful.

Arriving in Phnom Penh airport I didn't have any passport photos for my visa so I had to pay $2 extra to magically not need any. They didn't bother writing out the last four characters of my last name in my visa. I bought $100 of Cambodian money and jumped onto a toktok.

Normally when I ask people here how much something costs their first response is "Which country are you from?". I religiously reply Belarus and explain how whatever I'm buying is x-many-days salary back home. Drivers and hustlers spend a lot less time trying to sell me stuff; when I used to say I was from Canada they'd follow me to the end of the earth.

My toktok driver was impressed with my English and how American I sound. I explained I had an teacher from the states for three years at my school in Minsk and I love American TV shows.

The sun was setting during our drive to my hotel. I looked out at the busy traffic of mostly motorbikes and very few cars. There were large groups of people doing outdoor group exercises with the theme music from Street Fighter 2 blasting off huge speakers. At the airport a woman handed me a 3D map of Phnom Penh. It pointed out the major attractions as well as advertisements for night clubs boosting how great all their hookers are and a message asking tourists to not shag the local children.

Along the drive to my hotel pieces of my driver's toktok fell off and he lost the ability to change gears. It turns out he worked at my hotel until a week prior and had just become a toktok driver. He fashioned some wires and rocks together to get the gears shifting up to second; we then motored along to my hotel.

Phnom Penh has a river front which makes for easy navigation and geographical referencing around the city. I had a lovely street food meal for $1.50 and spent the rest of the evening in a shesha cafe going over the travel guides on my iPad planning the next few days of my trip.

The next day I walked around Phnom Penh taking in the major tourist attractions and absolutely loving the street photography on offer. I kept my iPhone headphones in my ears so I could listen to music as I photographed the street life and ignore people trying to sell me stuff.

I had some nice chance encounters with the locals. One evening I was in a shesha cafe again taking a photo with my tripod. I showed it to a local couple sat next to me as a way to start a conversation. The guy was impressed with my photo and asked what my settings for it were. Unbeknownst to me he had a Canon 5D but hadn't explored low light photography as much as I have.

I only ever stayed in Phnom Penh for a few days but I honestly wish that every moment I spent in Bangkok could be traded for Phnom Penh. It's just a really nice town and it's the kind of place I've been searching for this whole trip.


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