26 January 2012
First full day in the capital, I squirt some air in the troublesome tyre and head off to the bike shop to get things sorted. The bike shop's closed for Chinese New Year. I thought I'd got away from all that. I'm told it'll be open again on the 26th, which isn't too bad - I'll just be here three days instead of the planned two.
Phnom Penh's a bit like a cross between Vientiane and Saigon - the former a sleepy spies'n'NGOs capital village, the latter a moto-filled grabby capitalist gimme yer money free-for-all. Fortunately, PP's towards the VTE end of the scale.
I manage two tourist sights, but otherwise lie low, exploring the city on foot, eating a bunch and resting when I feel the need. The long hot pitstoppy day up from Kampot definitely took it out of me.
The first of my tourist sights is the Tuol Sleng Massacre Museum. Formerly a school, this group of buildings was used as a Khmer Rouge prison and torture facility before prisoners were sent off to the so-called 'killing fields'. In the time the Khmer Rouge were running the show - less than four years - 17000 people went to their deaths from these former classrooms. I find myself distracting myself with the pattern of the floor tiles, the patina of the paintwork and the sunlight glowing through the slatted shutters. Khmer visitors, shuffling around in flipflops and talking noisily, make me wonder if the place is having any emotional impact on them at all. Khmer tour guides keep saying 'they' to refer to the Khmer Rouge - and I think 'we' would fit just as well. I decide I'm done with the place when I see Bou Meng - one of only seven who made it out of Tuol Sleng alive - signing overpriced books for name-tagged group tourists. Opposite his seat are photos of the Khmer Rouge leadership who imprisoned him. What kind of a living hell is that?
My other tourist sight is the National Museum. Old stuff, in cases. Some pretty cool Angkorian era Ganeshes and Shivas. I follow it up by heading to the Foreign Correspondent's Club, itself essentially a tourist site, for an overpriced dessert.
Just as I'm about to head to the bike shop on 26th January, a bike tourist who's travelled all the way from Germany accosts me. We chat for a while, but I'm pre-coffee and stressed about getting bike shop business done, so I'm not tuned in. I think his name was Patrick. He's headed down to Sihanoukville and then into Thailand via Koh Kong like Justin and Emma.
This time, the bike shop goes smoothly, once I elucidate which members of staff have some English and know about their shop. I get my bottom bracket replaced for US$15 (would have been ready to pay more for a better unit, but maybe Justin got the last Shimano one, as he said he'd paid US$40), buy four new tubes (1.375in, US$3 a pop) and get a new minipump that's better able to cope with Schrader valves than the one I bought in Decathlon in Shanghai in 2004. They give the bike a very cursory check over - the mechanic spots the flat, but says nothing about my filthy chain.
7km, 15.8km/h, 0hr26min, 4779km