11 September – Siem Reap – Phnom Penh
The alarm goes off at 5.40am. Which it didn’t really need to, as I was already awake waiting for it.
It tends to happen like that, when the early start follows a not so early night; well, not as early as I promised myself.
I think it was that whole ‘last’ night thing. That, ‘not wanting it to end’.
And then when you finally set the alarm, and it tells you that it’s set for five hours and nowhere near as many minutes as you’d like, it’s just not a great feeling.
I then feel like I sort of just doze through the night, waiting for the inevitable….
Packed up and downstairs by 6.00am, and Kheng is already out the front.
He’s very bubbly. I’m not. But I do love his energy.
We’re quickly on our way, and the streets are pretty quiet. But there are a few about, and it reminds me of Vietnam.
Food vendors are already doing their thing, there’s quite a few out exercising and doing laps of a local park, and there’s even a guy walking his three cows across the six lane airport road.
Like Vietnam, I love the sights of early morning, as well as the cool and refreshing nature of the clean air.
It’s just a pity about the time that this actually occurs…..
We get to the airport in just under 25 minutes, and scanning the carpark out the front, I can only see a couple of cars there.
I’m not even convinced it’s open yet.
Lanmei Airlines, who we’re flying with, (who I found by accident, and had never heard of before), advise you to arrive at least two hours prior to departure time. They also state that check in closes one hour before the flight.
This all concerned me somewhat, even though I was pretty sure it shouldn’t.
Said our goodbyes to Kheng, and headed inside.
Queued up, behind no one, to check in, and then found our way to security. Three minutes after walking through the front doors of the airport, we were standing in the departure lounge with our first real decision of the day, where to sit?
Fortunately none of the five seats already occupied really appealed, so bypassing them, we picked a couple close to the window, so I could watch planes land and take off.
Or maybe just watch them sit on the tarmac, waiting for passengers to arrive.
This could be a long, and slow, hour and a half….
We sit, play with our phones, write a few notes, check out the one gift shop and the one clothes shop, and watch a guy clean some of the terminal windows.
Half an hour later, things have picked up, and there’s now almost 20 people here.
Seeing as I’m yet to see a plane return to the ground, or leave it, I turn my attention to what I assume is our plane waiting patiently on the tarmac.
There’s a maintenance guy in the cockpit. Well, actually, only half of him is in the cockpit. The other half is hanging out the window, while he cleans the windscreen.
Not sure I’d ever thought about it before, but I don’t think I even knew their windows opened.
Hmmm, learn something every day…..
Having checked out only two of the three shops, Lisa gets up to see what the food place has.
And, like all good airports, they do expensive stuff that shouldn’t be that expensive.
She ends up turning $10 into four $1 notes, as well as two pineapple juices.
(There you go, I can now finally move on from those $2 orange juices from the other day.)
The girl serving asks Lisa if she’d like to have it here, or if she’d like to take away. Lisa finds this rather amusing, as regardless of where we drink theses juices, we’ll still be in the same room.
Savouring the pineapple juices even more than those $2 orange juices; okay, haven’t quite let it go; things start to happen with our upcoming flight.
A female pilot, two female flight attendants, along with two young male flight attendants, who could pass as the female flight attendant’s kids, arrive in the departure lounge.
Geez, I must be getting old….
They head out through the doors and over towards our plane.
Another older guy turns up a minute later and makes his way through the same doors. While he looks pretty official, he is a little more casually dressed, so I’m hoping he’s not just taking advantage of the open door.
But the fact that he’s wearing a lanyard, makes me feel he should be there. Lanyards always make you look more official….
Bit under an hour till flight time and there’s now around 30 waiting with us, and I have no doubt that they are still checking passengers in.
I’ll know better next time…..
Finally, after more sitting and waiting, as well as licking the inside of my pineapple juice glass, boarding begins.
It’s all rather painless, and there’s no shortage of room with the plane only a bit over half full.
Fortunately I have a window seat, and while there’s not a huge amount to look at, there is something to actually look at on the window.
It’s a rather large green grasshopper, and he’s peering into the plane!
At times he looks like he’s waving to me, and at other times he looks like he’s tapping on the window.
The thought crosses my mind that maybe he’s trying to tell me something, which is rather concerning on two counts.
One, that he might know something about the flight we’re about to embark on, and two, that I’m actually thinking that a grasshopper might be trying to tell me something…..
We get pushed back at 8.07am, and as we taxi towards the runway, the kids rush through the safety demonstration.
Onto the runway, and my grasshopper mate is still looking at me. I don’t know how long he’ll be able to hang on for, and I start to have concerns for his safety.
Not to mention my mental wellbeing….
As the plane picks up speed, he can hold on no longer. Although I’d like to think that he jumped off of his own accord.
Plane now slightly lighter minus my grasshopper, we take of at 8.16am.
Apart from a rather disheveled and tired looking girl who changed seats mid flight, and was then told to return to her original seat by one of the female flight attendants, thus resulting in a bit of a stand off that looked like it could get out of hand, it was all a pretty non-eventful flight.
Which is always good, and really, how much can go wrong when you’re in the air for exactly 30 minutes. Yep, we landed in Phnom Penh at 8.46am.
Quickly off the plane and into the arrivals hall to wait for our bag. Well, Lisa waited while I took a toilet break. Once I returned, it was Lisa’s turn, and as she did, the baggage carousel sprang into life.
A couple of seconds later the first bag appeared, and at that moment a long held dream finally came to fruition. Yep, it was our bag! Never before has our bag ever been out first. It really was a special moment, and it meant that we would be out of the airport in record time.
Had I not had to wait till Lisa returned from the toilet…..
Lisa finally back, and we walked out the front doors at 9.02am, which almost makes me think we should have driven since we only took off 46 minutes ago. But not quite….
As soon as we did walk out the doors, we were approached by a guy offering his tuk tuk service.
Aaaargh, now if you’re approached by someone offering to ‘help’ you like this at HCMC airport, you politely decline their offer. If you don’t, it will result in you paying far more than you should.
But here in Phnom Penh?
I don’t know. I can’t remember reading anything about such rip off type things!
Willing my brain to work harder, but failing miserably, I then decide that if I can’t remember reading anything about potential scams, then there aren’t any potential scams here at the airport.
“Okay, how much?”, I nervously ask, after telling him our hotel is near the Royal Palace.
“$10”, is the reply, which I think, from memory, is a couple of dollars more than it should be.
I offer him $8, to which he promptly responds with, “No, $10”.
I quickly give up. I mean really, is it worth the effort for a couple of dollars?
And anyway, it’s only the price of a couple of orange juices. Or maybe just one, depending on where you buy them.
Yes, I know….. I really am trying.
We follow him to his tuk tuk, but it’s not a tuk tuk like we’ve been in before. It’s one of those little enclosed things, that kind of look a bit like a beetle. Well, they do to me….
I’m pretty sure Trinity had mentioned what they were called when we first met up in Siem Reap, but my memory for important stuff isn’t that good.
Anyway, he seems like a nice guy, and we’re soon in his tuk tuk and out into the Phnom Penh traffic.
There’s a lot of it. And as we go, there’s even more of it.
It’s crowded, congested, and noisy. It’s also very hot, and it reminds me a lot of HCMC, but just with less bikes. Yep, I think I already like it.
And while sitting on the back of a bike is always a great way to get around, a tuk tuk is also pretty good.
You’re exposed to it all a lot more, and you feel like you’re more a part of the whole thing. But you can also be a bit on show, and we felt that way for a little while when we spent a few minutes next to another beetle looking tuk tuk, with an older couple in the back. I’m not sure what it was, but they seemed rather enamoured with us. Or perhaps just me, which is probably understandable…..
We continue on, and it occurs to me that I have absolutely no idea where the airport is in relation to the city itself. I also can’t remember how long it’s supposed to take.
We turn down one road, and it seems this is car repair street. Repair place after repair place, most with car front ends stacked three and four high right up against the footpath.
I love how this sort of stuff happens in this part of the world, and once again, it reminds me of Vietnam. In particular, HCMC.
Yep, I think I’m really going to like Phnom Penh.
On we go, and apart from watching the numbers that the streets are known by, and seeing that they are getting closer to ours, I still have no idea where we are.
Finally we turn off the main road and down what looks to be a quieter street, and up ahead I recognise our second choice, and now replacement, hotel.
As I pay him the $10, we receive the hard sell on further tuk tuk services, which while understandable, I’m not really in the mood for.
Apart from visiting Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields, we don’t have any real concrete plans while we’re in Phnom Penh. So seeing as he’s trying to conjure up some business, I ask him for a price for the only plans we have.
Thirty dollars is the amount, apparently, and while I can’t remember exactly what a fair price is, $30 seems a bit higher than I thought it should be.
Politely declining his offer, and bag retrieved, we headed inside to check into our home, the G Eleven hotel, for the next three nights.
Check in done, and then up one flight of stairs to our room, which has ‘VIP’ above the door.
Ooooh, excitement builds, and continues to do so….., until we open the door…..
And there, in front of us, in a fairly old and tired looking room, are two, what look like concrete mortuary slabs, with a stainless steel frame in between, and the mattress on top.
But, the bed is, a little surprisingly, very soft and comfortable. It’s also so big you could probably sleep five on it.
We check the bathroom, and it’s….. umm….. ordinary. Very ordinary. A rocky spa bath that you need to be very careful with how you get in and out of, with a shower above that would work well if you were the size of a very small four year old.
The sign above the safe also doesn’t instill a lot of confidence, but we end up deciding that seeing as we’re only here for three nights, we’ll suck it up and just enjoy the adventure.
We head downstairs and out for a walk, heading in the general direction of the river. We pass a few tuk tuk drivers and one is rather keen to try and do business with us. While somewhat pushy, he seems nice enough, so dismissing his ideas of what he thinks we should do, I ask him about a trip to Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields.
He thinks for a moment, and then replies with a price of $15.00.
I know she won’t admit it, but I think at that moment Lisa was pretty impressed with my earlier decision with our airport tuk tuk driver.
“Can you take us tomorrow?”, I ask him.
“Yes, what time?”, he replies.
“9.00am?”, thinking that I don’t really want to get up too early, but also mindful that too late and the heat will become a factor.
“Yes, 9.00am good”, he says.
Wondering how we were going to meet up, not to mention how we were going to recognise each other, that issue is quickly solved by our driver.
He takes our photo, and I then I take a photo of his tuk tuk.
It’s at this point that I think we learned something. Written on the side of his tuk tuk is Frangipani Villa Hotel. And we are standing across the road from the Frangipani Hotel.
Hmmm, I do believe we may have just learnt something…..
We continue on and soon get to the river, which is good, as it means we were going the right way. For some reason I have this mental picture of the layout of Phnom Penh in my mind, and I feel like I kind of know the place. Apart from where the airport is….. But that never happened for me in Siem Reap, where I felt I never really got my bearings. Interestingly, Lisa did, and that rarely happens.
We turn left and walk upstream along the esplanade. It’s a nice open space, and while the river looks like I expected it to – bit dirty looking – it’s all very pleasant. Lots of boats around, and even kids splashing about in the water.
We walk up a bit, and then decide to do something about the heat, and the fact that it’s pretty close to lunchtime.
Down a side street, hoping to find a small local place, and we quickly find something that looks promising.
And it was. Lok Lak beef and rice, and noodles with vegetables and egg, along with a couple of Cokes. And a fan to help deal with the heat. All up, $6.50, and pretty happy with the whole thing.
Lunch done, we head back to the river and walk some more, with a vague plan to see if I can find where our boat to Vietnam leaves from. I find the area, but not the exact location, but it doesn’t matter, as they are sending a tuk tuk to pick us up on the day.
So in the end, I’m not really sure why I was trying to find it…..
The heat is becoming a problem, as too is the tiredness from our early start, so we head ‘inland’ and then walk down the road a block back from the river.
We pass some jewellery shops that offer money exchange, and then notice a girl opposite that also exchanges. A quick check of xe.com says the current rate is 68.5 cents, so we head over to see what she is prepared to offer.
68 cents! Which I find amazing. And seeing as our hotel wants to be paid now, as well as the fact that money just seems to be flowing out of my wallet here in Cambodia, we exchange $200.
Now really hot, really tired, and just pretty much knackered, we head back to the hotel for a much needed recovery session.
On the way up we stop to pay the hotel bill. Total is $106.08 for the three nights. And yes, he wants the 8 cents.
$106 handed over in USD notes, and then I try to work out with my now very much struggling brain, what 8 cents is in Riel. He says it’s 1000 Riel, which doesn’t sound right.
I know we are talking a handful of cents here, but if he’s going to be petty over 8 cents, I can be just as petty as him. And anyway, if there’s a fair chance I’ll be dealing with prostitutes and everything else that comes with that, tonight, then I ain’t paying more than I have to.
With the help of Lisa, strangely, I hand over 500 Riel. He now owes me about 4 cents, but I’m prepared to put my pettiness aside, for now.
Weird little interaction done, we head up for that rest. And rest we obviously needed, as we slept for nearly two hours.
Back outside around 3.00pm to have a look at the next block down from the hotel to see what else is in the area. There’s a school, and not much else, and I’m now starting to doubt my decision on where we’re staying.
Back into our street and we find a small coffee cart, so sit and watch the goings on with a couple of iced coffees. It’s actually not a bad people watching area.
Round the block in the other direction, and ahhh, now this is interesting! Sandstone sculptors and wood carvers. We stop for a few minutes and watch. It’s fascinating, and their attention to detail, not to mention their skill at pulling it off, is amazing.
Continued our aimless walking, bought some paracetamol for 3000 Riel, and then got asked by a footpath barber if I’d like a haircut.
When I removed my hat to show him, he laughed and quickly gave up.
Found ourselves back down by the river about 4.30pm, and as it’s now cooler, there’s a lot more around. As well as lots of food and drink vendors.
Picking one who has what I’m after, we sit on the river wall and just take in everything around us. It’s colourful and vibrant, and there’s so much going on, with people feeding the birds, playing games, taking photos, and just generally enjoying exactly what we’re doing.
Yep, so far, I really like Phnom Penh.
We end up having a couple of beers each, yes, even Lisa, and then head back towards the hotel. Getting Lisa to where she’d be able to find the hotel, I headed off with a shopping list of beer, water and soap.
Round the block and I find a little mum and pop run place.
Through hand signals and gesturing, I finally get my point across. The old guy finally sorts me out with a few beers, a large bottle of water, as well as a can of Coke. It took a bit of time, so I decide to give up on the soap.
He then tries to work out the total cost, and that seems just as difficult as the supplying. Mum then comes over, looking rather frustrated with his efforts. Pushing him to one side, she takes control and I’m soon handing over my $4.00. It was all pretty funny, and I loved the interaction. I think mum and pop even enjoyed it. Especially when I gave them a heartfelt ‘arkoun’. (Khmer for thank you).
With a slightly bigger smile on my face, and liking Phnom Penh even more as time goes on, I head back to the hotel to have a shower in quite possibly the worst shower I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.
You really shouldn’t have to kneel down to do it.
Outside, with sore, and probably still dirty, knees, we head off in search of dinner. Down the street that runs beside the Royal Palace, which we’ve avoided so far, seeing as there’s a barricade across it with a sign that says ‘no entry’; but seems that only applies to vehicles, as no one stopped us.
Down near the river again, but not really sure what we’re looking for, we just walk. We eventually end up back in the street the hotel is in and find a place over the road that’s full of locals. Not sure what food they do, but we’re going to find out.
We end up with something that looks like chicken wings; but should probably just be called chicken bones; spicy meatballs, that while initially are really nice, but then the spicy bit kicks in and tries to destroy your tongue, and fried mushrooms that look like calamari. All served with some dipping sauce, herbs, carrot and cucumber.
Oh, and of course, a couple of beers. Which I think they had to go and find.
Well, in the end, it was food. Not great, but not all together awful. But I think the experience was more the highlight.
Seven dollars poorer, tongue somewhat recovered, and a pile of chicken bones that didn’t look that much different to before we ate them, we headed off back down to the river.
Just past the Royal Palace there are several food vendors set up. Including one that specialised in fried tarantulas and other things that you’d normally run away from.
With no great desire, which translates to absolutely no desire at all, to sample the various delicacies on offer, we continued on after a brief look. I would have taken a photo of said offerings, but because I don’t pay for photos; vendor’s sign stated photos were $1; I went without.
Over the road and now next to the river, we found our beer lady from earlier. Actually, it was more that she found us. Seems we already have a relationship. I like that.
We ended up only having one, as a swarm of flying bugs made things a little unpleasant.
Back up towards the area where most of the bars and food places are, and then around the block, but not really finding anything that appeals. Although we could have purchased ‘weed’, if we so desired.
Once again on the road that runs parallel with the river and we pick a place that does 50 cent beers. But only till 9.00pm, when they jump to $1.00. And of course it’s now after 9.00pm. Doesn’t matter, I’m sick of walking.
Sitting there on the footpath, just watching the world do its thing, our weed guy returns.
“You want weed?”, he asks. Quickly followed by, “The good stuff, the green stuff, I show you”.
Kind of funny, but at the same time, the area just doesn’t give off a terribly pleasant vibe.
Unless of course you want weed.
One beer each, and before any more drug offers come our way, we head off back towards the hotel. Drop into a Circle K for supplies of beers, Cruisers, peanuts, and because I can look for it and eventually find it myself, soap.
And then, for the first time this trip, and for any other previous trip to this neck of the woods, we get charged 9 cents for the plastic bag that we need. Quite surprised by that, but it’s probably not a bad thing. Was a good strong one, too.
Finally back to the hotel for the usual beers and note taking. Along with checking Trip Advisor, of course. It had been a long day, but a good day, and yep, I really like Phnom Penh. I hoped I would before we got here, but several people I had spoken to implied they weren’t fans.
Perhaps I’m being more openminded because of that?
Not sure, but I’m happy to be getting the opportunity to experience it for myself.
Another big day ahead of us tomorrow, and a day that I’ve been both looking forward to, and dreading, since the planning of this trip began.
It’s a day that I think more or less needs to be done, if you come to Cambodia. So yeah, not really because I want to, but more because I feel I have to.
I think it’s important.