Khmertrip – Stage 4: The Capital Phnom Penh and the bar shooting

Written by Frank on December 1st, 2009

© Frank P. Schneidewind




The old flyers on the hotel’s door and in the lobby were replaced by laminated ones over the last years, but they still carried the same message . To avoid shootings and police intervention, all guns or knives, narcotics and IV drugs were illegal. The smoking of happy herbs (marihuana, cannabis) equals cigarette or cigar smoking here and is presently not being punished by law in Cambodia (this changes eventually or has changed by the time this is published)

Us two had a wonderfully safe sleep as I always had, when staying here. Even back then, when full auto salvos of gunshots woke you up at night. Fired from various trigger happy dudes battling something out in front of the hotel on the streets. Occasional grenade sounds at night or explosions from mortar shells did indeed sound eerie in the years prior to the millennium, it’s much more peaceful nowadays there. guns and machine guns in private hands still outnumber academically educated citizens by far in Cambodia, but a case of Coke is no longer costlier than a 24-case of hand grenades, like back then. Cambodia appears peaceful now, but the scars and relics of the 30 years of war are visible clearly in Phnom Phen.

The Monivong Boulevard, the Norodom Blvd. and the Sisowath Quay mark the touristic area’s North-South main traffic arteries. All major shops, hotels, restaurants are located along these roads and any tourist does well if he can use these as orientation lines within this City. On Monivong, we witnessed a cinema being decorated with a new ad, those were still hand painted here and cinemas are plenty across town. A lot of manual labor is involved, when they take those giant posters up or down.

We were communicating in an Internet cafe with friends back home or were taking turns guarding our special motorbike outside. Blue and red colors are reserved for military here and this bike ‘s plates signaled anybody, that we had close ties with the local Command Center or the Military Police, it repels highly corrupt regular Police very effectively and gets you a bit more respect from traffic rowdies in SUV’s or Limos.

Police in Phnom Penh love foreigners for their usual quick payments of many US-$ bills for marginal violations of totally senseless traffic rules. They just love to charge for example, when you steer a bike on these often dusty roads with the headlights on in daylight. To operate one with 5 people on it at night with no lights at all doesn’t see to get noticed by the coppers. With Military plates, you are well protected anyhow! The cops hate you, but not stop or mess with you.

The armed forces are the ultimate power here!

All day we spend running around with our borrowed VIP-bike, this dude guarded it personally with his impressive AK 47 Kalashnikov assault rifle for half a $ or 2.000 riels on the sidewalk around the central market, only slightly more then the mass-parking in a moped corral elsewhere.

The Psar Thmei or Central Market is a landmark in northern Phnom Penh, crossroads for many travelers as buses and taxis operate from here almost nationwide. It’s a 1930’s colonially inspired structure with countless dealers flocking the hallways inside and out. Slightly raised prices for tourists, but they carry an excellent selection in sizes! They have everything under the sun in terms of merchandise here, well worth a visit for anyone.

The Russian Market is even less organized, smellier, cheaper and hotter. The food stalls here are highly recommended to avoid for all friends, send people you hate here for the infections, that may mess up anyone’s trip badly (just joking :)). It’s not prejudism, but experience – and not one foods tall in particular, but all of them here

The famous Wat Phnom flanks the northern inner city with his park and large roundabout. It also sits on a hilltop and marks the highest elevation here. Here at the roundabout is also the bar located, where we will meet the sweet Miss Sophea later again.

The timing was perfect and our short wait at the pool table there was not boring. Our Sophea was introduced by some hidden DJ and the tunes were cranked up. We dropped the queues in a flash and grabbed our drink, whilst rushing to an empty table right by the stage to get a good close-up view.

We were lucky and got a table between the dance pedestal and the toilet and dressing rooms, so the girls always waited next to our table to time their turn when the acting dance team was done, our eyes flew back and forth and their hot bikini dances were neat and decent.

The bar wasn’t full, but Khmer (Cambodian) dudes filled the stools in front of the bar and some tables, they were talking with each other or watching the dancers. No other foreigners were here.

The blue dancers heated their performance really up and yellow dressed chicks lined up for their turn at our spot.

The glittering butts came really close to us when suddenly a series of gunshots from the bar area made us jump up and take cover. We couldn’t spot the shooter and felt pretty uncomfortably, the DJ in his cage didn’t react much and continued his job. His coolness and his towering position was a good sign. Without a detachment of my namesake Trevor and his US Marine Corps friends or similar units, I was just checking alternate escape routes . Escape and evasion does beat hurting and bleeding at all times!

Stefan herded quickly all dancers into the back toilet room and I tried to assess the situation, hidden from behind a large concrete post.

The situation deescalated quick, when every second guest was pulling a gun from the waist or holster and aimed at the shooter, who stopped firing when he looked down the double shotgun barrel of the bartender, aimed at his face! He was then disarmed and taken outside by other armed guests, but Stefan was celebrated by the girls, as if he would be the hero of the day.

Mercyfully, they lined up for another pose with me. We discovered that they obviously had lost control of their bladder themselves during the incident, when we looked again at these pictures much later on a  real monitor .

We decided to call it a day here, paid and rushed down Norodom Blvd. before all gun smoke settled. Back to the hotel to change T-Shirts and spent the rest of the night much more peacefully at the Foreign Correspondents Club, upper floor from where one can overlook the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers merging and the traffic on Sisowath Quay. Here my favorite journalist, Mr. Peter Scholl-Latour, sat often, when he was in town during the really wild years. I revisit here every time, when in Cambodia’s Capital Phnom Phen! Their steaks are awesome!

On the next morning, we returned the borrowed bike to my old buddy, and headed out to Sihanoukville with the G.S.T. Bus from Phsar Thmei. 14.000 Riel or 3 $ and a half for the 3 hour ride on blacktop all the way, one stop in the hills halfway. Other buses operate too, but I have reasons to use the G.S.T. one. They even claim to have insurance as per the sticker in the windshield!

The trip was smoothly and without any incidents, the driver must have tapped his air horns about 10 times every Kilometer. But we arrived safe and sound, one stop was being made at a refreshment post at half way point.



7 Comments so far ↓

  1. What wp theme u use?

  2. jack says:

    your blog is hardcore .  that skined dog is freaky.

    • SIAMPEDIA says:

      Yes Jack, we were equally shocked to witness things impossible, where we grew up. However, we like to show reality without exaggerating it and not a single pic is staged or prepared. Thanks for your comment


  3. Bernd Graf says:

    Thank you very much for this reports from my beautiful cambodia! Usually do not like to read english language reports… but difficult to find very good reports only in german. All the best for you and your lovely son/family from Dresden – SBZ!

    • SIAMPEDIA says:

      Dear Bernd! Thanks for your comment and especially that you have undergone the efforts to understand it. We have a much larger reader base in English, as we address travelers globally. Thanks for understanding and best regards to Dresden, the finally free and beautiful city 🙂