Gabriele Orlini

Phnom Penh, between smiles, illusions, and fake dollars

The first day of the Cambodia journey: from the capital to the wilds of Mondulkiri, discovering a country and its people.
Mekong River | © Gabriele Orlini, 2019

This post is also available in: Italiano

Cambodia Journals | Phnom Penh, 25 August 2019

It has happened many times in recent years that a story began on the banks of a river: whether it was the Rio de La Plata in Argentina, the Niong in Cameroon, the Lulua in Congo, the Orange in Namibia, or how could we forget the Chao Praha in Bangkok.

After almost 30 hours of travelling, 3 planes, 4 airports, suitcases lost and then found, a double currency used at random that you never know how much you are spending: the call of the river was stronger than anything else; and before anything else, having left my bag in the room that will host me for the next two nights, I walked in the direction of the majestic and peaceful The Mekong, from as far away as Tibet, passes through the capital Phnom Penh before continuing its slow existence through Vietnam and spilling, after 5,000 km, into the South China Sea.

With its 1.5 million inhabitants, Phnom Penh is the capital of a growing Cambodia. With strength and determination, it wants to leave behind its bloody history: from French colonisation to genocide by the Khmer Rouge less than 50 years ago.

Fake dollars
Fake $100 disbursed by the Bank of Canada ATM, Phnom Penh Airport | Cambodia

The illusion of a city

Arriving in Phnom Penh deludes you. And at the same time, reassures you.
To get around, you put on ‘Southeast Asian city mode‘: heavy traffic, smog, dirt, and green and elegant areas coexist in serene harmony.
Friendly, smiling people are capable of seriously questioning your ‘gruff’ attitude as a westerner who has moulded his character with the idiocies of social networks, and now finds himself bewildered, at times helpless by so much… helpfulness.
And it is these occasions that allow you to put on the brakes, and return to being what you are and not what you would like to be seen to be.

I took lodging in a ‘working-class’ neighbourhood where for a few dollars they guaranteed me a (dirty) room, with a private bathroom (next to the bed, more private than that), and a fan. Forgetting, however, to mention the beasts that roam the area at night. However, I can count on the many massage parlours in the area, which for only $5 promise to take the stress of the long journey away.
Another $5 and add pleasure.

Last note of the day: before looking for a currency exchange at the market (they are the best, no doubt about it), the Bank of Canada ATM at the airport dispensed me with $100 worth of counterfeit, the ones named Supernotes.
They are perfect, identical in every way, except for one detail: with much irony and ridicule, on the front, the banknote bears a small inscription…COPY!

Text: Gabriele Orlini 
Original text in Italian - In house translation
Phnom Penh, Cambogia
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