BootsnAll Travel Network

I was Punk’d by the Cambodian police.

It’s been amazing as I’ve traveled through Southeast Asia how culturally different all these countries are and yet so close geographically. I mean, imagine driving eight hours south of Madison. Firstly, why would you want to, and secondly, you’d be in, uh, a cornfield. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind and I’ve traveled too fast to really get a feel for Vietnam or Cambodia, I think. I’m back in Thailand now, at a beach on Koh Chang and it is, inevitably, raining. Maybe God just doesn’t want me to get skin cancer. Thanks, dude.

After Vietnam and the Mekong delta, my friends Zoe and Rich and I, a British couple I was traveling with for a while, headed into Cambodia via the slow boat. Though the geographical barrier was just a river, it was amazing how different the people looked and acted. Laos is so laid-back, Vietnam was kind of a shock to the system with all the hubbub and Cambodia reminded me of Africa – a little bit of a wild frontier, people approaching the buses to sell fruit and other food, lots of little stalls set up on the street. Very raw feeling.

Got into Phnom Penh, the capital, and were dropped off in the backpacker ghetto, and I mean ghetto. All the other places I’ve been, the tuk-tuk drivers will say things like “Lady, need tuk-tuk?” And when you say no, they say “Something?” implying drugs and sex – whatever you want, I’m assuming. Here in Phnom Penh, they dispensed with formalities entirely and would wave bags of weed at you as you walked down the street. Ever-present as well is the 8-year-old-kid mafia, bands of mostly adorable little girls roaming the traveler areas selling photocopied books, bracelets and assorted other junk. “Lady, you buy!” No thank you. “You buy later!” They’re super-sharp and a lot of fun to chit-chat with about their lives. In Cambodia they have a particular talent – they ask you “Where you from?” and then they tell you the capital city. They know more country capitals than I do, that’s for sure.

It was during an interaction with these adorable little tykes at Angkor Wat that everything went a bit Pete Tong – that’s cockney rhyming slang for wrong. Who the f!@# is Pete Tong, anyway? But I think it’s funny. So we were eating lunch at the park and were positively swarmed by these little girls selling bracelets and figurines, and I reached into my purse to pull out my wallet – wallet go bye bye! Only had about $12 cash in there, but I also had my $20 Angkor Wat admission ticket and a little notebook that I like to think of as a junk drawer for my thoughts and email addresses etc. – irreplaceable. I was understandably upset and (wrongly) assumed one of the little street punks had deftly reached into my purse and taken the wallet while Zoe, Rich and I were all distracted by the bracelets. We said as much to the kids, like “We know you took it, shove off,” that kind of thing. I said they could keep the money, just give me back the notebook and the admission ticket, which the admissions people would have made me re-buy. It caused a minor uproar in the restaurant, which my motorbike driver overheard – we’d each hired a little scooter to take us around the site all day – and he was like “Are you sure you lost it here?” I was pretty sure, I said. The only other time I had my wallet out all day was when I had to show the ticket at the first temple, and then I put it back in the purse, or so I thought. I had little hope of ever seeing it again, though.

Moto man disappeared and then reappeared about 20 minutes later, saying someone had found the wallet on the ground outside the temple, where I must’ve dropped it, and turned it in to the police – yay! He even said the admission ticket and the money were still in it. So I sheepishly apologized to the kids, we went over to the police station to collect it, and here is where the Punking began. I was like, “Do you have my wallet?” And thus ensued 20 minutes of them acting cagey and using my faithful moto driver as an interpreter. They want you to describe it, he said.

“OK, it’s white and blue and it has the same pattern as this purse and a little handle. Do they have it?” Well, he said, “How much money was in it?”

“Um, I already told you there’s $10 USD in there (all the ATMs in Cambodia spit out US money – crazy, eh?) and some small amount of riel (their money). You already told me how much was in it when they found it,” I said, getting a little edgy.

The police thought it was hee-larious that I was unsure of the exact amount of riel in there, and I started to think this was turning into a shakedown. This whole time, they had neither confirmed nor denied that they had it; the moto guy was acting like I had to describe it so they could go look for it. Then the cops wanted all my personal details, written by me, in their loose-leaf notebook, including age, where I was staying, what I thought of Cambodia, etc. By this point I was getting pretty agitated, yet trying to keep my cool. “Do you have it or not?” I kept asking. Then, suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I spied, from underneath a baseball hat on the table, where it had been hidden the whole time, my wallet. HAHAHA. Hysterical laughter ensued. They had me write “These are the best police ever!” in the notebook and then pose for a picture with them, me and the wallet. Man, I wish I’d taken a picture too, but I was so happy to get the wallet back that I forgot. So funny, those Cambodians!

Oh, and Angkor Wat was cool, too. Toured around on mopeds all day. I put some pics on Flickr, and may I suggest Wiki for you nerdy types? Also checked out the Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh, as well as a former high school that the Khmer Rouge used as a torture chamber. All very grim and depressing. Pics on Flickr if you’re interested. Now, after parting from Zoe and Rich in Siem Reap yesterday, here I sit next to the beach in a stupid Internet cafe cause the weather sucks. Just a few more days here until I depart for India on the 5th. It better be sunny. xx


2 responses to “I was Punk’d by the Cambodian police.”

  1. Dane says:

    Great story! Can’t believe that you actually got the wallet back. Never would have happened in America I bet! Oh, what serves as entertainment for some. SicK! Admire that you got to see Angkor Wat! One of the disappearing wonders of the world. Good for you taking the whirlwind so that we back here can live vicariously through you. Stay dry!

  2. Katy Williams says:

    Dude! Sounds like you’re still having a great time. I’m jealous of all of the beautiful India textiles you will be buying 🙂 The Cambodian police story is pretty funny. I can totally see you getting red-faced, but keeping your cool. Hilarious. When are you coming back? ARE YOU coming back? :Take Care! xoxo Katy

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