Archive | 11:44 am

Mission: Impossible (Can I open my eyes now . . . . ?)

5 Apr

Suspense! Thrills! Political intrigue! Sex! Romance! Dragons! Goblins! Royalty! Yogurt! A smoking gun! THRILL to daring motorcycle action and escapades. WONDER whether our hero will escape from his imprisonment. GASP as he walks the tightrope of success. And remember, he does all his own stunts. And there’s a killer soundtrack, too.

Some of you have said that this blog reads more like a travelogue and less like an adventure. Maybe… feels like an adventure to me.  But let’s see what I can do. No promises, mind. But let’s see if I can put together a mixture of Hustle (bartering and scams), Burn Notice (yogurt, spy with shaved head and soul patch), Lost (for obvious reasons) and Taxi Driver.

DSCF2829OK. It’s not smoking. But it is pretty cool, and the exhaust fumes must make it a little smoky, at the least.




If you recall, we left our hero arriving in Phnom Penh, in search of the British Embassy. And so here are more tales of derring-do, of exploration, of steps into the unknown….

I didn’t plan to be here now – and I didn’t plan to stay as long as I am. But I like this city. The people are friendly, although the constant hailing by tuk tuk drivers and moto taxis is getting wearing. (The tuk tuks have morphed again, by the way, into a motorcycle and ornate trailer combination). Some recognise a gentle shake of the head, but others want to engage me in a discussion about why I am happy walking, what sort of tour they might take me on, and in one encounter I am desperately trying to forget, extending an invitation to engage in activities that would make me a person of interest to the Cambodian police, if not Interpol.

Anyway, to explain. In the UK, anyone who wishes to hail a taxi may do so by indicating this to an approaching vehicle by the raising of a hand. The driver of this vehicle (which has been deemed suitable for public transport by virtue of having been issues a licence) may then choose to stop or choose to ignore you. A similar system operates in Cambodia, although in this case, anybody who owns a vehicle, be it a motor bike or a tuk tuk, may hail a passerby by raising a hand (or honking a horn or yelling ‘tuk tuk sir’). This vehicle is deemed suitable for public transport by virtue of it having wheels. The prospective passenger may then indicate his or her interest by a nod or a shake of the head. At which point, half a dozen prospective vehicles will descend upon you.


I was met off the bus by (as I had hoped) someone who promised to take me to a guest house. Unfortunately, the guest house wouldn’t let me stay without a passport. As I set off to the police station to ask them what I should do, I decided to get a second opinion. Into the Lazy Gecko, no questions asked (apart from ‘what’s your passport number’) and $3 a night saved into the bargain. AND the place is recommended as helping the local kids. So now I’m flying under the radar, off the grid….

Which is a reminder to me to not give up, by the way. To keep going. To look for more options. It seems this whole episode has been about that – never giving up, keeping on going, one small step at a time – because there is a way through whatever stands in the way… a way to look at it differently and find a solution.


So, a wander around Phnom Penh – the river here is the Tonle Sap, which feeds the Mekong in one direction and the Tonle Sap lake in the other.


A wander through the streets leads me to Wat Phnom Penh – the temple on the mount built by Mrs Penh. It’s a temple (complete with monkeys) but ‘mount’ is a bit of an exaggeration – in a spirit of naming that would not be out of place on the Fens, the mount is 27metres high. Legend suggests that the temple was built by Mrs Penh to house four Buddhas she found in the Mekong. Stranger things have happened.


And time to relax and watch the sun set over the temple behind the hotel…and over the Royal Palace. Nice.



An attempt to visit the Royal Palace is thwarted by the fact that it’s closed. Another day for that one, then (looks like I will have plenty) and I am off to the market in search of items to replace things I have recently lost – flip flops, wallet, passport holder….


And then a long walk to the Russian Market. In the process of getting lost, I make the traveller’s mistake of reading the map while walking…. straight into wet cement. That’s not making them very happy. The Russian Market (so called because the ex-pat Russians favoured it) is a warren of small lock ups and stalls selling just about every thing imaginable, from foods that would normally cause us to call Rent-O-Kil to all sorts of arts and crafts, haberdashery and lots of silk. There are souvenirs of every description, perhaps even a couple of Uzis. Don’t think there’s a Mig-21 in there, but it’s not impossible.

I find a cafe for solace. Unfortunately, this cafe is playing an album entitled ‘Tim’s most hated songs played on Tim’s least favourite instruments’. It may not be a killer soundtrack, but it’s certainly a soundtrack I might get very cross over. I actually like saxophone. Dick Parry (he of Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ among many other things). Chris White (Dire Straits and far too much other stuff to mention). Even Raphael Ravenscroft (‘Baker Street’). Clarence Clemons of Springsteen’s E Street Band. Or Wesley McGoogan (who?) on Hazel O’Connor’s ‘’Will You’. Or Tracey Martin. But NOT squeaky, parpy cheesy saxophone renditions of my nightmare song titles. ‘Without You’. ‘Seasons in the Sun’. ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’. ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon’. ‘The Last Waltz’. The only thing that could make this worse is a sax version of ‘Top of the World’. Right on cue, here it comes. And in the inimitable words of Monty Python…. ‘RUN AWAY . . . .’. (Readers note – there’s a spelling mistake in the first line of this blog. I meant to write ‘sax’. Sorry. And while I’m on it, I  think I meant to write ‘Romans’. Or, at least, Italians. They might have been from Milan. Or Turin.

My feet are sore, so it’s a moto back to the hotel for me. I’m not sure whether to close my eyes or keep them open as the driver crosses busy roads and weaves in and out of traffic. Going the wrong way down a dual carriage way is a sure fire heart stopper too.


At last! I can visit the embassy!  The moto driver drops me somewhere nearby – he obviously doesn’t really know where he is going. I’m learning fast though – pick a moto driver that’s shorter than I am so I can see where I am going. Not sure that’s a good plan as he weaves into the opposite lane of traffic in order to turn left, crosses the flow of traffic and drives up the opposite carriageway. Road signs here are at best advisory, and at worst challenges to the driver’s chutzpah. I’m gambling quite a bit on the fact that the moto driver wants to stay alive too – I really DO hope that’s a valid assumption.

In a true demonstration of security, the embassy isn’t where the map says it is. After making enquiries at a hotel, and wandering round looking for Union Flags, communications arrays and helpful signs saying ‘British Embassy’ I finally find a likely looking set of huge doors. With ‘British Embassy’ written in friendly letters on the front. It’s a bit of a seedy area though – all the other embassies are the other end of town. The security guard asks for my passport. I shrug. He laughs. They divest me of anything electronic, including the electronic copy of my passport… eventually, they decide to trust me, as there’s no way my Kindle is getting into the embassy.

So, options. They;re not going to send me home (hurrah!) but i can either get an emergency travel document today for $151, or a passport produced in Hong Kong for $256 (owch!) including courier fees. The emergency document is tempting, but they need exact days for each country. I am not even sure which countries I will be visiting yet! So it’s a passport for me, then. Only problem here is that it might take 6 weeks. Or maybe 3. Good job I like Cambodia then!

So, another hair raising tuk tuk ride in search of passport photographs. (Well, it would be hair raising if I had any). They manage to get the background right, but I look like a goblin or a refugee from Deep Space Nine.

Then off to the bank. Checking my balance reveals that I don’t have enough to pay for the passport. Resigning myself to more time in Cambodia, I retire to fill in the form. Slowly memories filter back through my head. Memories of my last bank balance. Calculations of the exchange rate. Certainty that I had more money in my account than that. Hold on. Although most ATMs do a currency conversion – this one doesn’t. But it doesn’t have a £ sign. So it displays it in dollars! With trembling hands (think it’s the effect of the moto journeys) I punch my PIN in and retrieve the right amount. Another dash across town and I slam the necessary documents onto the counter. A brief moment of panic when the girl behind the counter asks me to get the photograph countersigned – I helpfully point out that in fact she knows me better than anyone else in Cambodia. She smiles. She takes the forms.

So, the wait begins. Suspense. The unknown. 3 weeks… or six? Well, it’s put a bit of a crimp in my plans, but I’m off up country to visit Angkor Wat,  and anything else I can find. River trips! Trekking! Boat trips! Scuba diving! Ancient temples! A chance to be Indiana Jones AND James Bond!

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