Thursday, April 1, 2010

Returning to Phnom Penh

First impressions of Cambodia I always find amusing. Upon landing back on familiar turf I was quickly entertained by the usual, but still extraordinary, number of people necessary to process the tourist visa.

First, there is always a man just pointing (at nothing really) and generally getting in the way. Then the first booth - give the man your passport, photo and visa form... He may try and get a quick dollar or two if you haven't got a photo (or may also try anyway if you have remembered your a photo but look gullible enough to give it to him anyway) ... Then move on to the long desk where no less than 8 people sit in a row stamping and writing on your passport... Wait in a huddle with everyone else at the end of the long desk until the 10th, or so guy tries to call your name and flashes your terrible passport photo to the crowd.

Move to the immigration desk, hand in your passport with the brand new visa and the other form. Have picture taken (because even if you gave one in about 15 minutes ago its probably already in the bin).
Move on to the uninterested customs guys and give in the customs form and then wooossshhh you are in the dirt and baking heat and tuk tuks ahoy to whisk you to town. Be on your toes or you will experience corruption before you even leave the airport!

STAY - A fantastic place to base yourself placed in a perfect spot right by the independence monument.

After negotiating the hoard of visa officials it was time to make myself at home again in Phnom Penh - If only for a week or so. Luckily this was pretty easy to do thanks to my friends at Knyay.
Knyay (it means ginger in Khmer) is a fantastic restaurant which serves a perfect range of Khmer food which has been refined for western tastes (even serving vegan food) and it is shortly due to open a unique guest room called STAY. The concept of STAY is the luxury "home from home experience". The one apartment guest accommodation is located right next door to the restaurant (great for a handy dinner or just pudding or just drinks...!). The STAY experience is yet to open to the public (!) but I was invited to try it out.
Although not yet finished I can thoroughly recommend staying there when it does open soon. The decor is faultless and the peace and quiet (which in PP is a huge rarity) is fantastic. The bathroom is modern and very unique with its brushed concrete walls and floor, a huge back lit mirror and an amazing "rain" shower. The living space very large with beautiful features both old (like the traditional khmer floor tiles and the retro air vents) and new (the lightboxes which echo the 1960s architecture)... ahhh. Right near to my old house (by the independence monument) too so perfect location!!
Jet lagged I quickly made my way to one of my favourite markets - O'Russei - for some truly intense heat and to immerse myself straight into Cambodian chaos. Part of the market's charm is the way in which you can get utterly lost for hours on the upper floors never quite managing to find your way out without a serious challenge.

Dehydration struck and so after negotiating over some bits and pieces I had to get out. Part of a Cambodia experience should be for all the cyclo ride - if only to support the mainly ancient men who sleep and live in their cyclos and who are extremely poor by most standards. I didn't really use cyclos when living in PP but they are always around the markets and given that I didn't have a moto helmet and wasn't prepared to risk a non-insured medical emergency it seemed like a good solution to get me to street 240 ASAP for a drink in one of my favourite haunts (basically an expat street of boutiques and bars).
Given the dwindling numbers and the poverty of the cyclo drivers (small documentary by the BBC on this here I'd recommend a ride -you certainly experience the traffic chaos from a new angle....

1 comment:

David@iCAN said...

Hi Michelle, we hope to welcome you back to K'NYAY Khmer & Vegan Restaurant in Phnom Penh again soon! Lots has changed since you were last here ... we will soon open our new bar K2 as well! Keep in touch, David, Run & Sern