I caught the Giant Ibis Night Bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. It was the only night bus that was recommended by the locals (and the only one that has not yet had an accident).
I booked the bus online and paid by credit card. The price was US$15 for the bed and US$1 for the credit card / on-line booking fee. I booked online so that I could make sure that I reserved a single bed (not a shared double). I found out afterwards that I could have bought it at my hotel for US$12.
The bus left promptly at 10:30pm and arrived promptly in Phnom Penh at 6:00am. I was impressed.
I had an upper single birth which provided very little head room. I couldn’t sit up. Next time, I will get a lower birth which has 3 times the head room. There is nowhere to store any carry on luggage – so you have to use it as a pillow or find somewhere for it in your bed.
I took a self-made bottle of whiskey and coke with me just in case I had trouble sleeping. Surprisingly, I slept well and didn’t need to take any of it.
We disembarked at the Giant Ibis office near the river. This was about 600m from the Golden Noura Villa Pub & Restaurant where I had booked a room for 4 nights.
As usual, the Tuk Tuks are waiting for you… I declined several offers and feigned to walk away. “One dollar” shouts one Tuk Tuk driver. I turned and showed him the name of my hotel. “Oh! To go there… two dollar”, he says. “one dollar!” I reply. “OK” he says and off we go.
For general information about prices, travel money, SIMcards, Visa Extensions, etc please read my post on Siem Reap.
This is the Capital City – and, like any Capital City, you pay the higher Capital City prices.
WHERE TO STAY:
The consensus on the internet is that the best place to stay is in the Tourist Centre is the area bounded by the Mekong River to the east, Preah Sihanouk Blvd to the south, Wat Phnom / Road 94 to the north, and Preah Norodom Blvd to the west.
The centre of the action seems to start at the riverside and go back between 118th Street and 172nd Street. This is where you will find a wide selection of cafes, bars and budget accommodation. The Red Light district (in this part of town) seems to be in and around 136th Street.
Golden Noura Villa Pub & Restaurant:
I booked the Golden Noura Villa Pub & Restaurant online. They were situated next to the Royal Palace and had a 50% discount on the rooms in Expedia so a Double with king bed, aircon, hot water en suite, free in-room wifi, and Cable TV was US$12 / night. At that price, I didn’t muck around… I booked 4 nights through to Monday am.
When I booked the night bus, I was expecting to arrive in Phnom Penh at 4:30am after a night with no sleep – so I booked the hotel from that night so that I could check in early and get some sleep on arrival.
I had my bags in hand as I walked into the hotel foyer. The worker doing the tables ignored me. Even though they advertise a 24 Hour Reception, there was no-one else there to greet me. I parked my bags inside and sat down outside at one of the newly deployed tables and worked until 8:00am.
I went back in and approached the person now sitting behind the reservation desk. I showed him my e-booking but he seemed perplexed about whether or not I had a room. I asked where I could safely leave my bags until I could check in. I then asked for the toilet. The receptionist couldn’t have been more indifferent if he tried… NOT A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION.
I went for a walk, had breakfast, did some work and returned at 10:30am. The manager was now there and he asked to check my booking – which we did. Now I realised why the man behind the counter had ‘played dumb’ earlier… as I had not turned up the night before, the hotel had re-sold my room even though I had booked and pre-paid for 4 nights. In my opinion, even though they don’t know that I am turning up in the early hours of the morning, they shouldn’t have done that. My fault for not confirming my booking?
I checked my e-Booking later. My e-booking tells me that I do not need to confirm my booking as it is already confirmed.
The Hotel was, now, over-booked and the manager needed to sort me out a room in his Hotel or transfer me to another one. They, obviously didn’t have a room to give me immediately and I was too tired to argue. He didn’t know whether or not he had a solution until his guests checked out – so I had to wait until 12:30pm to find out and 2pm until the room became free. I sat down in the restaurant area and did some more work. In the end, he gave me a ‘free upgrade’ to a larger room – because he had to – it was the only room free!
Expat Long Term Rentals:
One expat that I met lived a 15 minute Tuk Tuk ride away from 172nd Street (about US$2-3 each way). He lives in a nice area of town and pays US$450 / month for a new, fully furnished, 1 bedroom, western design apartment that comes with a common Gym and Swimming Pool. His total utility bill (including electric) comes to under US$50 / month.
He said that 2 bedroom apartments in the same building were going for US$550.
He also said that he had negotiated them down from US$550 to $450 during the build phase. When it came to move in they invoiced him at US$600 less US$150 discount. His lease comes up for renewal every 12 months. You can guess what’s going to happen…
The going price on the street for bicycle rental is US$1.50 / day for a basket bike and US$4 / day for a geared mountain bike. I suggest that you bargain these down to no higher than US$1 and US$2.50. Bargain lower if you want to rent them for more than a couple of days.
Otherwise, a Moto will cost you about US$0.50 for a 5-10 minute ride depending on traffic (upto double that at night). Double that for a Tuk Tuk. If there are 2 or more of you, take a Tuk Tuk.
WHERE TO EAT:
I realised pretty quickly that the days of US$1 warm baguette, 2 fried eggs with butter and jam were over. As I walked the streets around my hotel, the cafes were charging about US$3 for the same thing.
I sat in one and had a pot of lemon tea (75c).
I had a veritable feast at another for US$3.50 (the vegetables come free!).
The Tourist Centre is inundated with places to eat from Hawker Stalls to Fine Dining Restaurants.
Mekong River Restaurant:
I got online to look for breakfast ideas. Just down the road, the Mekong River Restaurant was doing US$3 Buffet Breakfasts. I decided to start there.
It was a simple buffet – no meat (of course). Fried rice, fried tomatoes, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, toast, warm baguette, and croissants (that tasted just like bread) with hot coffee, hot tea, orange squash, and lemon squash.
By the time that I’d had my baguette and fried eggs, a croissant with butter and jam, a couple of coffees and a lemon squash, I was replete. And, the reality was that it only cost me 75c more than my breakfasts in Siem Reap.
WHERE TO DRINK:
Just pick somewhere… you have a large selection to choose from.
There are many bars and cafes that have a 4pm-7pm Happy Hour with 50c drafts and ‘2 for 1’ cocktails. But, it is more common to find drafts at 75c.
Some bars run 2 Happy Hours with the second between 10pm and 11pm.
LOCAL CAFES: Hawker Stall Meal US1.50-2.00.
REASONABLY PRICED RESTAURANTS: Simple Breakfast US$2-3. Full English Breakfast US$4-6. Cappuccino US$1.50-2.00. Khymer Lunch US$3-5. Western Lunch US$5-7.
LOCAL SHOPS: 1.5L Bottle of Water 50c.
YOUR HEALTH & SAFETY:
I walk a lot. In Phnom Penh, that means that every 10 meters I get asked if I want a Tuk Tuk or a Moto. The locals don’t seem to understand that, if I wanted one, I would just call for one. After saying ‘no, thank you’ politely for the 100th time in a day, my politeness starts to wear a bit thin. In the end I dumped the niceties and just stuck up a ‘blocking hand’ and looked away.
When you are sitting in the cafes and bars you will get ‘hit on’ every 10-15 minutes by trinket sellers or disabled people in wheelchairs peddling books.
I got ‘hit on’ by a buddhist monk as I was walking. He was clever really… first he offered me his hand in friendship. When I shook his hand he held on to it and gave me a blessing with his beads. Then he slipped a bracelet of beads onto my wrist – as if it was part of the ritual. Then, guess what! He opens a small box that shows a US$10 note in it (to imply that this was the ‘standard amount’) and asked for alms. I told him that he wasn’t getting US$10 from me and that I would gift him US$1. He proceeded to complain so I gave him his bracelet back, left him the US$1 and walked away. THIS IS A SCAM – walk away immediately if this happens to you.
When you come to the reality that there are no rules, then everything is OK.
The traffic looks chaotic but everyone is actually trying not to hit anyone else, so they do slow down to avoid you (and use their brakes as and when they must!).
On my first morning (whilst I was awaited check in time), I took a walk around the streets around my hotel.
I needed liquid so approached an elderly street seller who had water. After a while in places like Cambodia, you try and avoid unnecessary negotiations so in my best knowing, polite, yet assertive demeanour I pointed at a large bottle of water and said “50c”. He said yes immediately.
I got out my wallet to pay. He looked at my wallet and told me to be careful taking my wallet out at night. He said to be especially careful on the road along the waterfront (and, particularly at the bend near the night market) as there are now many youngsters sniffing glue who are known to get out knives, forks, and (sometimes) guns to mug you.
I have been to many places in the past 5-6 months and met many people with my welfare at heart. This is the first time that I have been given such a warning.
I admit that I am not a ‘Big City’ Man. But, having said that, I do understand how some people like Big City living. When you have a job and work in the city, it is a different lifestyle from a Retired Couple.
I try and look at a place through the eyes of a Retired Couple… my eyes saw nothing endearing about Phnom Penh.
One morning I was having my buffet breakfast at the Mekong River Restaurant. It was 8am. There was a drunken tourist at the table next to me. He was shouting over to an asian girl sitting on her own at another table 3 meters away (she looked more Chinese than Cambodian). It was very disrespectful and he was treating her like a prostitute even though she was obviously not. I put up with it for over half an hour and, then, had some stern words with him and asked him to stop harassing the girl. He was apologetic and quietened down for a while. The girl moved tables to get further away and plugged her earphones in. She obviously didn’t want to know.
The guy started up again shouting across the tables at her. Again, I put up with it for a while before I snapped and had even sterner words with him. The workers at the restaurant did nothing.
Unfortunately, these sleezeballs are too common in places like Cambodia. These foreigners come here for one thing: cheap beer and cheap women. The problem is that, after a while, they start to think that they can treat all women the same.
WHEN TO GO:
Dry Season is mid November through mid May.
High Season is December and January.
Monsoon Season is June through October with September and October the worst months.
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