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Welcome to Cambodia

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Note:  I have no pictures from this part of our travels.  For some reason I wasn’t thinking about the camera.

Four weary adults and three kids flew from Bangkok to Phnom Penh. 

The immigration process was hilarious.  What seemed like thirty men in khaki uniform stood behind a counter.  The energy was high.  The communication was sketchy.  When my turn came, the stern fellow asked for a certain amount of cash, Visa pictures, and my passports.  I handed them over.  My passports were passed along the line of men.  I stood among the crowd of anxious tourists trying to keep my girls from running away and keeping tabs on my passports.  Suddenly, a khaki uniform tapped me from behind and said, “Are these your children?” showing me their passports.  I said yes and he handed me the girls passports.  I continued to wait for mine.  A man who could barely pronounce “john doe” held up a passport and butchered yelled the name to the crowd.  That lucky traveller stepped forward to claim the prize.  We all pressed forward.  Finally, my name was called and passport in hand, I reunited with my parents and Noelle.

The last time I visited, I forgot to have a Visa picture and the only other westerner on the plane gave me one of hers.  She was at least 30 years older than me with salt-and-pepper hair, glasses, and a huge nose.  The passport police never noticed.

Noelle secured two taxis.  My parents rode in one and we were in the other.  Noelle was careful to explain to both drivers that my parents did not know where we were going and that taxi should follow our taxi. 

It was rush hour.  Cars and tuk-tuks so close we could count the teeth of the person beside us.  Bicycles and motos slinking between the tiny passages between cars.  It was madness. 

Once Noelle’s teammate was on her bicycle when a car stopped on her foot!  She tapped the glass and asked the driver to please move forward.  Yikes. 

Transportation is one of the biggest challenges my sister faces.  She lives on a nameless dead-end dirt road.  She has no address.  She can only point and give instruction as the driver drives.  Imagine when she tries to have pizza delivered! 

At dark, we pulled down the bumpy ally and came to the dead end.  And noticed the other taxi was gone.  The driver said, “What?  They don’t know where to go??”  Noelle told him to call the other driver and give him instructions on how to get there.  He said he was lost and couldn’t do it.  So. 

I am left standing in the dark with my two girls and everyone’s luggage.  Noelle and Asher have gone with Mr. Taxi Driver to find my parents and lead them home.  Before she left, Noelle gave me keys to the padlock (!) on her third floor apartment.  A helpful man moves the luggage to the foot of the exterior stairs.  Does he live here?  Will he steal the luggage?  I don’t know.  I see some scrawny chickens, a sleeping dog, and dark houses.  I have no idea where I am. 

We venture up the bazillion stairs.  I assume I’m at the right place but I can’t get the padlock open.  Maybe I need to go up one floor.  The next floor up is dark.  Norah takes off running along the balcony and I hear “PING.”  Norah drops flat on the tile.  A piece of metal scaffold protrudes from the window and across the balcony.  Just at 6-year old nose level. 

Visions of flying back to Bangkok for medical care cross my mind.

But, after much crying (perhaps by both of us), we went back down a floor and managed to get the padlock open.  We were sweaty and thirsty.  I left the girls and went to drag one piece of luggage up.  The apartment was HOT!  After finding fans and lightswitches (and warm homemade pizza and banana bread left by Noelle’s househelper), we felt better. 

Better still when Noelle arrived with my parents!

Wecome to Cambodia.

ETA:  Here is some daytime footage of the bumpy road to Noelle’s apartment. This guy is one of Noelle’s usual drivers so he knew the way. 

4 responses »

  1. Yikes! May I make a suggestion for next time? Consider hiring a taxi service that has a van, and have them meet you at the airport. We recently used Sam the Man to take Jeff to meet friends at the airport, drive us to Siem Reap for a few days, and drop our friends off at the airport. He had a nice van that would have seated up to 8 or 9 passengers, with a separate luggage area, and it was very comfortable for four adults, one toddler, and our luggage. I’m sure he could have fit you all. I don’t know how much two taxis from the airport cost, but Sam probably is more expensive but still reasonable when you consider the hassle (I think $18 for a van from the airport, $9 for a regular car). If Noelle is ever interested, he has a web page at I’ve found that the best way to reach him is by phone–text messages work well.

  2. Oh my goodness 😦 I’m sure just the first of many crazy things that awaited you so far away! Brave is the word that comes to mind!

  3. Now…the version from one of the ‘parents’. 🙂
    Joe and I were in the ‘other taxi’, and remember we had been in Cambodia 2 1/2 weeks before leaving for Bangkok, so we were not totallyshocked at the traffic or fearful for our safety, but the language was still foreign to us. We knew every bit of two greetings, a couple of names and how to say ‘thank you’. I was in the back seat alone with many pieces of luggage and began to feel a little anxious when we passed the taxi carrying ‘my children.’ Yes, it was fun to see our little ones’ faces when they saw Mimi & Poppy passing by…but that was the last ‘fun’ I experienced for the next 30 minutes! Did I mention that it gets dark very quickly in Cambodia? I turned around and no longer saw Noelle’s taxi!
    My dialogue with Joe began to change…much more higher pitched sounds began to erupt [from me]. We knew that the driver knew some English, but he appeared to not understand very much.
    Joe asked if he knew where he was going.
    Joe said that we did not know where we were going.
    Joe asked if he would call the other taxi driver.
    I no longer recognized any landmarks and Joe demanded that he call the other driver. In the middle of nightmare traffic […you know the kind on I-85 at 5:00 PM], I yell to turn around! He stopped the car in the middle of the road; looked at us and asked, quite innocently, ‘you don’t know where to go?’ NO.
    So, he turns down a bumpy road…I am convinced that he is going to dump us out. He pulls over; gets out of the car and lifts the hood of the car. Oh great, we are having car trouble! Then I hear him talking on his cellphone and laughing with a tuk-tuk driver parked on the side of the road, He was pointing to us…his passengers. hmmm.
    The next thing I know, Noelle and Asher are walking toward us. She had guided the other taxi driver to where our driver had reported our location. Yep, she’s our hero! But where is Julie and the girls?
    Our joy was complete when we entered the apartment, joined Julie, Norah and Cedar over pizza and banana bread; laughed and emphathized with Julie’s plight with the luggage and amazed that Norah did not have a broken nose!
    THIS is Cambodia…at least for a small group of Westerners! 🙂


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