I've been walking around with my guarded face on. Not my "come near me and I'll stab you in the eyeball" face. No, not that bad. Just my more versatile "come near me and I might make unkind comments about your appearance" face.
With waist-high piles of trash everywhere and urine dripping from the footpath, dimly-lit central Phnom Penh is not the most inviting place in the world. Not that it's dangerous either, but it is *ghetto*, at least. The constant stream of touts is tiring too, but more than any other place I've been to, the grotty end of the sex trade here leers out like a plumber's crack.
Dingy workshops are lined with plastic chairs, which are filled with working girls. Everywhere I go, tuk-tuk drivers ask if I require "Tuk-tuk? Ladies? Massage? Boom-boom?"
"You want jungle boom boom?"
I don't know. I really, really don't know.
It's not as if my chastity is being threatened, but christ, Phnom Penh couldn't look more skanky if it tried...
Even an *Australian* tried to con me here, claiming tales of woe, stolen wallet, hasn't eaten all day, family will wire him some money, but needs $20 USD to get that money because um... Western Union fees... can't call his family, consulate won't help... consulate needs $20 USD...
It *was* a first, though.
Bangkok, on the other hand, had cleaned up all shiny. Downtown Bangkok is an utterly modern hub of offices and shopping malls, criscrossed with zippy subways and skytrains. The more... "flavoursome" old alleys were left for the tourists.
Not many downright scams, just tolerable levels of overpricing, and the seediness was contained (relatively speaking) to the seedy parts of town.
Down there, the traditional shows were still on offer. Ping pong et al. The "et al." turned out to be quite a considerable menu (that's a literal menu, printed and laminated) that touts shoved in my face. I didn't quite see what all the "et al." were, though - my friend Nicola, who was tasked with defending my virtue, beat back the pimps, touts and ladyboys with great success. "No" most certainly meant no.
But that's okay - you can find out on Wikipedia (work-safe, naturally). Ah, sum of human knowledge indeed.
But the grim face is not just because of the dirtiness. It's because Phnom Penh could, and did get skankier. 20 minutes after I arrived, looking for a hotel with my backpack on:
"No thank you."
"Massage boom boom?"
"No thank you."
"Boom boom? Small? Very small, very young!"
I'm pretty sure I was getting offered child prostitutes in broad daylight, on a busy street in the respectably touristy part of town. There're signs everywhere for the government's anti-child prostitution programme. Clearly, it's got some way to go.
(Still on my way to Hanoi. Getting closer, at least.)