The Cynical Traveller

Phnom Penh Hostel

I thought I was so slick.  After I arrived at the airport in Phnom Penh from Siem Reap, I had charmed my way onto the casino’s free bus to downtown, rather than pay for a taxi or tuk tuk. Feeling a tinge of remorse, I thought the least I could do was throw a few dollars in a slot machine as a thank you for the free ride. The free bottles of water and the air conditioning were a nice escape from the oppressively humid mid-day heat of the Cambodian Capital anyway.

It was about check-in time at my hostel, and I had turned the $5 I had dropped into the slot machine into $20 though, so I cashed out my winnings. Headed toward the door feeling like I had just pulled the greatest swindle ever. Exit the casino, and start negotiating with a tuk tuk driver. My luck was about to turn.

While I am talking to the driver, I start feeling this heavy pressure pushing against my back. I turn and look behind me. Someone driving an SUV has hit me. A police officer, I am not sure if they were a government employee or working for the casino, orders the driver to pull over and out of the vehicle. He begins screaming at the driver, and pointing at me. They argue.

I raise my hands in a shrug like gesture and just say “I’m fine. I’m ok.”

Not wishing to be involved or witness whatever was taking place, I quickly jumped in the tuk tuk and headed toward Paul’s Backpack Hostel in the center of the Riverside district. It had decent 3-5 star reviews on sites such as and the price was affordable for a private room.

When I arrived, another bad sign though. I had booked and paid for a private room for one night, but the receptionist seemed to have no idea why I was there. Eventually he understood that I had reserved a room, but tried to charge me. Thankfully, the email receipt was enough to convince him I had already paid.

A walk up a few flights of hot, and filthy stairs to the room. My second thoughts began getting the better of me, but I continued to fight them off. I entered the stuffy windowless room, just wanting to relax after a long morning trip from Siem Reap. As I looked around, the situation grew less attractive.

A cockroach hanging out in the toilet. Mold and decay in the corners of the bathroom. Despite a sign in the front of the building advertising hot water, there was only a cold water tap on the shower. Holes kicked in the doors.

“It’s only a ten dollar room, I can deal with it for a night and find something in the morning,” I tell myself repeatedly.

For some reason looking at the worn and shabby blanket on the bed spark a sense of further investigation. After seeing what appeared to be blood stains on the sheet, I thought there must be bed bugs. At this point, I couldn’t say I was surprised.

I decided I would pick up the mattress and check around the corners and seams to see if I could find any bugs. I’m on my knees, eyes still adjusting to the low light of this dank room, trying to find any further signs of the traveler’s worst hitchhiker. After maybe a minute or so, as if it had been camouflaged, something much much worse came into view.Used Syringe

I think it was the blood I noticed first. Then the needle, and the syringe. In shock and staring in disbelief, I drop the mattress back down onto the frame. Grab my bag and go back downstairs once again to the clueless man working there. Used Syringe

“I’m not staying here” I told him as I threw the key down on the table.

No reaction.

“Do you want to see why? Come with me and I will show you.”

We both go upstairs to the room, and I tell him to pick up the mattress. After he does not appear to notice the used syringe and needle, I point it out to him. This is when I also noticed the additional needles, one of which still looked to be partially full. He begins grabbing them. Bare handed by the sharp end.

I’m screaming for him not to do that, but he either can not understand or does not care. My hands up in the air in revulsion, and backing away from him out of fear he might stick me with them. He casually throws them in the plain trash can in the closet of the room.

I’ve seen enough and as quickly as I can I am outside on the street and looking for a new place to stay. Casino karma was not yet done kicking my ass this day though. More to come.

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