When we visit other countries – if we do not have any friends or anyone else who come and pick us up at the airport, taxi drivers are among the very first persons we usually interact with after the immigration officers there. For the convenience of the travelers to Cambodia, Phnom Penh international airport has a taxi stand just outside the airport building. Even if you are a first time traveler like me, you won’t miss it by all means – it is not just the only stall right outside the airport building but also a crowd of taxi drivers surrounding it.
It is called ‘Association Taxi International Airport’ and you do not need to bargain the taxi fare like in Bangkok airport and you won’t meet any airport staff ‘in uniform’ like I met at the BKK ariport – when I asked her for the direction to the public taxi stand, she said, “I have a taxi and you can pay 650 Thai bahts. Right?” and gave me the wrong direction when I refused her taxi offer because I thought that the price was a bit more expensive. (Later I found out that it, indeed, is more expensive because a taxi driver at the public taxi stand asked me only 500 bahts. On my way back to the airport, I took the meter taxi and it cost me less than 300 bahts for the same trip.)
The Phnom Penh airport taxi association charged you a fixed price – $ 9 for the trip to anywhere in Phnom Penh from the airport. The airport is about 7 kilometers outside of Phnom Penh. They do not ask you to pay the fares first but they will give you a receipt and assign a taxi driver for you. After getting lost in translation with the Thai taxi driver on that morning in Bangkok, I was so glad that the taxi driver I got at Phnom Penh airport could speak English very well. But I still made sure that he did know the place I had to go. He said – “Yes, I know that building. You know your office building is quite close to the river.” Before I arrived here, as I checked Phnom Penh map on line, I saw Phnom Penh Center where my office locates just next to the river. This time, I knew for sure I could trust a taxi driver’s ‘yes, I know’. I could enjoy the landscape of the new land through the taxi window for the first time. The road from the airport to the town is one of the major roads of Phnom Penh but the road is very narrow compared to the main roads of many other countries. The traffic is heavy and chaotic – big SUVs on the narrow traffic lanes and hundreds of motorcyclists coming in from all directions. But not like Bangkok traffic where all the vehicles stand still for hours, the taxi could move forward slowly. I was using every given opportunity of the slow traffic flow – observing the people, their wearing style, building designs, remembering the unique road names – first I read – Confederation de la Russia (Soviet Russia Federation road) – then the road across is Mao Tse Toung road, the next road coming parallel is Jawaharlal Nehru road and so on, (You could guess by seeing the road names– even if you are the person who does not know anything about the government of Cambodia and the country’s history, the ruling party might be somehow ‘leftwing’ influenced one and the country might be once somehow associated with any of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism at some point in its past.) and reading every name of the stores and the road signs – all I could read from the taxi.
Even though I enjoy the view and there was traffic, I thought that the taxi could drive a little faster and I did not get why the taxi was getting back again on to Russia Federation road after turning in Mao Tse Toung road and getting out from Nehru road. I have the reason not questioning to the taxi driver – I just arrived here a few hours ago and he is a resident here. At least, he knew the direction and traffic better than I am.
When I called my supervisor from BKK, he said he would wait for me at the office. My flight would arrive at 4:00 pm and he said – the trip from Airport to the office should not take more than 45 minutes including the traffic. Now, I was already for two hours on the taxi but it did not seem I could arrive there anytime soon. While I was still thinking about to ask him how long we still needed to drive, he asked me first– you know the traffic is bad – “pay me extra 3 dollars”. Without a second, I said – “oh, yes, I will”. But he did not answer my question how far we still needed to go. There was silent for a few minutes. He had been very vocal along the road – and seeking even my very personal matter – “How do you think of Phnom Penh so far?, Are you single or married?, Do you have friends in Phnom Penh?, Are they “Boys”?, Do you have boyfriend?, etc.” Even though I was getting annoyed answering to his consecutive questions about my personal stuff and I thought they were not coming in a proper way, I answered all of his questions out of courtesy. But I was a bit anxious that I might be late and the office might be closed when I arrived there. And then, he spoke to me again but this time in a broken English – “you know, 12 dollars and add and…. total 15 dollars.” I did not even know how he calculated and for what he had to add more. But I was getting realized the motives behind he driving up and down the roads in a circular motion with a slower speed than the traffic allows him. He wanted more money. But his ambition did not even stop just there – he has already looked ahead – “You know it is getting late now. Your boss might not wait for you. If you could not find him at the office, I can take you to your hotel. You just give me another $ 5.” (I was holding a $ 20 note for the taxi fare. Apparently, he wanted to get it all.)
I was mad at him. And it was a kind of funny though since I already saw his tricks were coming. But I made things straight, “$12, that is.” And asked him to drive faster. He stopped asking more and driving around and drove straight and faster.
It was very unfortunate that the first Cambodian I got to interact during my first hours in Kingdom gave me bad first impressions at that moment. However, I knew I could not generalize based on a single encounter and I could not draw the conclusion that everyone else might be the same and a bit tricky. I was glad I did not let my cautious mind rule over my interaction with that driver. Normally, people, especially when they travel to a country/ a place for the first time, they turn to be more cautious than they usually are.
When he dropped me off at the office, I did not feel anymore I got cheated because he checked with me first even to take that extra $3 the amount I agreed to pay him – “Is that ok if I take $ 12?” I asked him – to take $ 15. And I also let him know how I felt as a very first time visitor to Phnom Penh after seeing his manner. He looked sorry and he apologized me when I told him his manner made me feel a need to put in a more cautious manner to interact or trust Cambodian people anymore. And then, he even offered me to give a free ride to the hotel if there is no body else in the office – which I did not need. So, the two and a half hour trip (around the town) ended up with the fare of $ 15 – $ 6 up from the initial price. However, that $ 6 made a huge difference – it made him happy and it helped me keep my trust on other Cambodian people, which was about to lose. It cost me just a few bucks extra but what I got out of this scenario was “trust”. I did not need to put myself in a cautious manner which would make me reluctant to go forward and trust people here anymore. Everyone else, after him, I came to know in Cambodia including Tuk Tuk and Moto Dup drivers and street vendors are very sincere and attentive. I am glad that I did not lose trust in that driver so that I could truly see and feel the beauty of other local people who are very nice and sincere to me.