Wireless in Cambodia

By | November 13, 2005

I’m in Phnom Penh International Airport for the first time in 15–odd years, and it’s remarkable. They’ve recently renovated it from what it was before, but I’m guessing they’ve been through a few changes since I used to come here to visit the isolated regime of Hun Sen, the then People’s Republic of Kampuchea. He’s still The Man, although he long ditched the ‘Kampuchea’ moniker for the old, lovely name of Cambodia, free of some of the connotations of Year Zero, The Organisation and Pol Pot. It’s a peaceful country again, although problems remain.

Anyway, the airport is now a beauty. I’m gulping a cappuccino on a concourse that would be the envy of many departure lounges, tastefully done to feel a little Cambodian, but with all the things an international traveler would expect: overpriced dutyfree, a good bookshop, a monastic calm, existent (but crappy) WiFi. It’s a long way from what I remember: One conveyor belt, walking to a Russian airplane across the grass-pocked apron, ill-fitting uniforms, international phone lines in single digits and double-digit-hours of waiting for a free one, and a sense that the Khmer Rouge could be fanning out from the treeline on the airport’s edge at any moment. Only the hordes of well-wishers beyond the airport lobby remind me of what it was like before, when the rare flights would take off for obscure fraternal destinations in the Soviet Bloc and half of Phnom Penh would turn out to see who was coming and who was going.

Down to reality: I probably won’t be able to post this in time as the WiFi’s so slow the logon page hasn’t loaded yet, and my flight has been called. (True; it’s coming from a cable connection in Saigon transit lounge.) I should have gotten suspicious when the cafe manager asked me to try an old WiFi prepaid card she said an earlier customer hadn’t been able to use before his flight took off. I think I might be in the same boat. Still, I’m not complaining. It’s great to be back.

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