Big Brother is watching you . . .

We arrived at Kompong Cham, to be greeted by a moto driver offering us a free ride to Speam Thmiy Guesthouse. Now, i dont normally pay any attention to touts but my decision to in Kratie actually found me a decent little place to stay, so after confirming with the driver that we’d take a look but if we didn’t like it we would still be entitled to our free ride, we hopped on. At first glance Speam Thmiy appeared to be a decent enough choice : $4 for a room with 2 big beds and a balcony overlooking the newly constructed Japanese bridge spanning the Mekong. However, whilst we were sitting on the balcony admiring the view and deciding where to go for lunch, a woman and her (maybe 10 year old) child appeared. they seemed to be lingering about for no apparent purpose and kept peering into our room (we had left the door ajar)

At first i thought i was just being paranoid when i got the impression that they were waiting for us to go out in order to try and steal something from us, however I wasn’t the only one who was a little suspicious about the situation. Our suspicions rose even further when we noticed that the woman was carrying a set of keys and that one of the key fobs attached to the keys had our room number on it : room 201.

Now I appreciate that someone at the guesthouse needs to be in possession of a spare key in case we were to lose ours and thata spare key may be given to a cleaner/maid so that she may change sheets and towels during the duration of our stay. However, this lady was clearly not a cleaner or a maid and was not even making the effort to pose as one, as none of the props required were to be seen within the vicinity. Moreover, we’d only just checked in so all cleaning and preparation of the room had alraedy been done prior to our arrival.

Of course the lady and her son professed not to be able to understand English when we asked them exactly why they were in possession of a key to our room. Funnily enough, the member of hotel staff didn’t speak any English either but after 10 minutes of attempting to get our point across, he finally gave us the key that the lady had with her. However, we still felt uncomfortable as it begged the question : how many more ‘spare’ keys are in rotation and how many people’s hands have they managed to find their way into? So, we checked out, less than 15 minutes after we’d checked in!

As if this wasn’t a bad enough introduction to Kompong Cham, i also felt a little uneasy about the fact that we were being constantly watched. The moto driver and his friend who dropped us at Speam Thmiy were waiting for us outside when we checked out, and less than 10 minutes after checking into the Nava Hotel the other side of town, they were banging on our room door demanding money for our supposedly ‘free’ ride. Maybe I was a little rude to them, informing them rather aggressively, “I know you’re trying to scam us and we’re not having any of it!” before slamming the door in their face, but i’ve got no time for people who lie and try to deceive people as blatantly as that pair did!

When we eventually sat down for lunch at Hao An Restaurant, we were watched constantly by the two girls who served us our fruit shakes, and interrupted by another moto driver wanting to know how long we would be and attempting to sell us rides to various attractions and discounted bus tickets to Siem Reap (how did he know we were heading to Siem Reap? I’m hoping it was just an estimated guess . . ). Moreover, at the end of our meal, we spotted 2 or 3 more moto drivers who had approached us earlier on in the day, lurking in the shadows and waiting for the moment we paid our bill and got up from our chairs.

Maybe these people are so desperate for money that making tourists feel safe and allowing them their privacy becomes very unimportant. Either way, I wasnt comfortable about wandering around Kompong Cham by myself and as Kotoe was perfectly happy sitting in cafes and drinking iced coffees all afternoon, that’s what i did too.

Photo is of Japanese bridge spanning the Mekong at Kompong Cham.

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