Chatper 21 of our Short Travel Stories series takes a look at Cambodia and Phnom Penh. If you want to read more about these stories, please click on the menu on the Short Travel Stories section. Want to share yours? Contact us or comment below!
Chapter 21: Tuk Tuks In Cambodia
I arrived to Phnom Penh on a bus from Ho Chi Minh. It was a six-hour journey on a Giant Ibis, a luxury bus company operating in Cambodia.
Throughout most of the journey it was getting dark, so I couldn’t appreciate the scenery as much as I would’ve like to, however I could notice it was poorer than Vietnam. I could see these empty vast lands, with barely some rice, atypical on South East Asian countries. The sides of the streets were full of a reddish dust, and I got this feeling of misery.
I had heard bad stories from Phnom Penh; all the backpackers repeatedly said it was a dangerous and dirty city where I should just spend a night. I had a friend living there though, so I was gonna spend three days.
Being Latin (with no offense to my fellow ones), I couldn’t really imagine this city scaring more than others I’ve been to back home, but still I got down from the bus paying more attention to my backpacks and not really trusting the “tuk-tuk” drivers.
My friend had given me her address, and I met two girls on the bus, which were going to a hostel in the area, so we decided to split the fare.
“Don’t pay the “tuk-tuk” more than three dollars. It’s actually two, from the station to my place, but since you’re a tourist, he’ll charge you three”, my friend had said.
We got into the “tuk-tuk” and left the girls first. When they got down the driver asked for five dollars, they insisted on two, as I had warned previously, but he kept on going with five, until they offered three. He wouldn’t accept though, he wanted five because we had a lot of backpacks. They insisted on three and said I could pay the remaining two. Fair enough I thought.
The thing kept going and going. I didn’t want to intervene, since I still had to be taken to my friend’s house and it wasn’t my time to pay.
Eventually they got down, grabbed their bags and went into the hostel’s lobby. The driver followed them and they freaked out and started shouting at him in an incomprehensible English accent. He went in, so the girls called the security guy and the manager.
I was a bit shocked, the situation was getting out of control, and I didn’t know if I had to stop the driver, try and convince both parts to reach an agreement, or tell the girls to just give him the two extra dollars.
Both the manager and the security guy pushed the driver out of the premises and asked him to leave. Then, one of the girls threw a one-dollar bill to the ground and shouted: “Take it so that you don’t starve!”
The man, almost in tears, reacted with pride ignoring the incident and leaving the bill on the ground. Was that really a “dangerous” man? I doubt it.
I stood there, cold.
On one hand, some say: “If I spend one extra dollar here and there I end up spending hundreds”. Others would argue that: “An extra dollar for them might be the difference between feeding their family that day, or being hungry and desperate”.
An endless argument indeed, but what matters is that for two stupid dollars, two girls humiliated a local and I allowed it.
For the rest of the journey I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened. I got down at my friend’s place and gave him three bucks. He didn’t say thanks nor he complained.
I felt ashamed of myself when I got into my friend’s.
I gave him that extra dollar to “calm” my conscience for being a witness to a humiliating act and not saying a thing. What a coward.
And so, the two backpackers that went all the way to Cambodia to “open their minds”, turned two dollars into a weapon capable of dehumanizing and denigrating an individual. Cheers to mind opening experiences. And I just stood there and watched. Cheers to the stronger personality I have developed whilst traveling.
We come to their country, devastated by war and cruelty, and most of us behave as if we were superior to them because we have more money or education, all that because we were lucky to be born somewhere else.
We believe ourselves superior, hence we humiliate them treating them like dogs, playing with their hunger, demonstrating that all the education and all the money have accomplished nothing else than making us behave as if we were in the Middle Ages.