4 December 2009

Phnom Penh's Post Office Payola

The room is dark and the floor and walls are bare, the concrete is cracking and dirty. The elderly lady startled as we walked in. That might have been at the sight of two foreigners, or it might have been that anyone had walked in at all.

We had some trouble getting here; the moto-drivers were confused, they didn’t know of this place and they wanted to take us across town to where all the tourists go. But this is where we wanted to be, for this is a suburban Post Office and our task would surely be a simple one; we only needed stamps to send Christmas cards overseas.

Little is simple in Cambodia, though, and several visits to Cambodian post offices that didn’t have any stamps at all had prepared us to expect problems.

Recovered from the shock of having customers, the postal clerk shuffled up to the counter. That we had a fistful of letters seemed to confuse her, so she called for reinforcements and another lady of a similar vintage appeared from the shadows.

This clerk knew exactly what we needed. Swiftly she weighed our envelopes, calculated the postage and presented us with the bill. She was demanding more than US$25 to post just a few cards overseas. Surely she was mistaken. No, she assured us, her beady eyes narrowing, this was no mistake.

Quickly we left- sans stamps- and took a motorcycle to where all the tourists go: Phnom Penh’s Central Post Office. There we were speedily processed and the stamps were issued at a third of the original quoted price.

So why was the lady at the suburban post office charging so much? Was she was simply mistaken? That's possible but more likely is that our postal clerk had smacked her lips in anticipation upon seeing a couple of aliens and tried to gouge some extra dollars to supplement her income. We could be wrong but I don't think so, it was her beady eyes; no matter what country you are in they give people away every time.


  1. Hi there! That's a fascinating story. I would never survive in those circumstances. I'm glad you've got your wits about you.

  2. Hi Sally,

    Yes, we agree...one definitely needs their wits about them when out and about in Phnom Penh.

    We really look forward to seeing you on the blog again soon.

    Ann : )