When I first got to Phenom Penh, I had to pay a security guard $5US to change my 200 yuan into $20US. 200 yuan is about $25, so I took a $5 hit. Note that there was an ATM mere steps beyond the customs booth, where I would have been knee-deep in surcharge-less money. But I couldn't get to the ATM because I needed that $20US for my damn Visa.
Welcome to Cambodida.
Got into my hotel late, put stuff away, and prepared to explore. Found a great little bar, had a nice cold ABC porter (why does China lack decent beer?), and my first Cambodian meal: grilled fish in a coconut milk and lemongrass curry sauce, and hot damn was it delicious. A few more meals here and this place is earning a spot on my favorite ethnic foods list.
Now I'm in Phenom Penh, and slowly touring the city. Tomorrow morning I am going to Siem Reap, the place to be in Cambodia, because there's where the breathtaking temples are. I can't wait to get there, and I am enjoying the slow custom pace of seeing this city on my own. While traveling alone can certainly be isolating and boring at times, it also has its benefits, and I like being able to lose an hour in a book shop or read the local English rag at my leisure over lunch.
Seeing so many foreginers here is strange. After living in China for half a year, and knowing every non-Chinese within a hundred miles, to see so many westerners is throwing off my rader. I still look and almost gawk if I see blond hair, and I still can't get used to speaking English to Cambodians; I just expect shrugs, like I get in China when I speak English to Chinese.
There is some really crushing poverty here, people living in public parks and everyone vying for your dollar for a moto ride, but it's made all the worse when you see all the amputees and landmine victims. Things are improving, yes, but good lord, there is such a disparity in wealth.
On that somber note, I'll be going. If my tour of Northern Cambodia doesn't work out, then I will head back to Phenom Penh and try to dip into Vietnam for a little while. We'll see.
Now to find another good beer ...