My first night in Phnom Penh, a few hours after arrival, I was walking narrow streets near the river and walked into this night market, full with all kind of produce and busy shoppers, probably trying to find some tasty ingredients for good Khmer food. Cambodia is not known for great food, like its neighbors (Thailand and Vietnam), but I had many tasty fish soups there and would love to eat it again.
I walked a lot while visiting Phnom Penh, trying to absorb everything around me at a slow pace. Can’t remember where exactly I took this photo, somewhere on my way to the Russian Market, about 10 blocks north of it.
Tuck Tucks are one of the primary transportation choices in Cambodian cities. They are everywhere and drivers are in your face asking if you need a ride. There are lot of them and all of them need business so they hassle tourists to no end about potential ride. At first it was kind of interesting, but after one week in Phnom Penh it was getting on my nerves. I like to walk the city, observe it at my own pace. It means that at every corner I’d be hassled by Tuck Tuck drivers or motorbike riders asking about if I want a ride. When it happens a few dozen times per day, even so most of them I’d take with humor, some of them were very annoying.
Unfortunately there are no other public transportation options to get from one place to another. You either walk or you have to take a ride in Tuck Tuck. Walking can be somewhat hazardous, it is very hot, there are very few sidewalks, and even if there some, they would be occupied by parked cars or bikes and the traffic on the road is very intense. So walking has its own challenges, even so you can walk most of the parts of Phnom Penh in about 30-45 minutes. To take a Tuck Tuck around Phnom Penh is usually cost somewhere from $2 to $4, you have to negotiate it before you get into it. At first it appears to be very inexpensive, but since you take it almost anywhere you go, it can run up easily up to $16-24 per day. Suddenly it is not that cheap to get around.
Negotiate and clearly agree on the price. One day I was walking early morning around the Royal Palace, minding my own business, thinking about going back to hotel and catch free breakfast. Tuck Tuck driver started talking to me and offering a ride. I declined and continued to walk. Minute or so later he turned around and was driving Tuck Tuck against the traffic next to me asking if I visited all the places in Phnom Penh. I told him that I’m not interested and he should move along at which point I turned into one of the streets. He didn’t have turn to it and I thought I got rid of this guy. A few minutes later I hear him back again talking and asking if I need a ride and asking if I have been to the Killing Fields (they all seems to want to take you there). It was 7AM, so I thought that maybe I can check it off my list and visit it, so I asked how much it would be to go there. Killing Fields are about 7-8 kilometers from Phnom Penh and travel book said that it should be about $10-20 to visit it. This one tells me $15. So I think it is ok and decide to take a ride. This was a mistake. I did not negotiate with him, maybe because I already been talking to him on and off for the last ten minutes, and more importantly didn’t clearly specify that $15 is a round trip. About 10-15 minutes later we arrived at the Killing Fields. Guess what? First question he popped out – if I wanted to ride with him back as well, and that would be another $15. I was cut a little of guard, truly thinking that $15 was a round trip deal. I expressed it to the guy. Back and force. He was not agreeing so I started pulling out $15 cash to pay him for my ride and telling him to go. At this point he started saying “okay, okay, okay” and not taking my money, which I took as agreement for $15 round trip. Not so. Hour or so later when we got back to Phnom Penh and started giving him $15, at which point he started saying that I must pay him $30. There was large crowd of Cambodians gathered around, listening to our verbal conflict. So I had no idea (still don’t) what is the right way to resolve conflict with Tuck Tuck drivers about disputed price of the ride. There were dozen or so of the locals all talking in Khmer, me telling in English that we agreed on $15, while driver insists on $30 and does not accept anything less. I probably could leave $15 and just go away, but being there only for couple days at that point I had no idea what could happen if I did that. So after about five minutes of that spectacle I put $30 on his seat and walked away.
This whole thing left really unpleasant taste about Phnom Penh Tuck Tuck drivers, as I felt he took advantage of me. It’s not that I paid extra $15, not much, its more about being cheated, which is what I felt about that guy, and feeling stupid for failing negotiate round trip price before I took the ride.
On the positive note we had completely opposite experience in Siem Reap just couple days prior to it, where we hired Tuck Tuck driver for entire day for $20, for entire day for that much. Very nice guy. So not all of them are trying to take advantage of you.