Cambodia: It’s “Phnom”enal!


Here we are—the first official post from Cambodia! It’s currently 1pm on Saturday and I finished a morning of running errands to the market, visiting the bank, and eating the most delicious noodle lunch with a fresh iced coffee. There is so much to share with you, I barely know where to begin. It’s probably best to start with the beginning.

The very beginning.

The flight from Chicago to Phnom Penh that went horribly awry…. but really not that bad.

“Hold up, Kim.” You say. “How do you pronounce that city? Phnom Penh?” Well, that’s a good question. We’ve come to determine that, phonetically spelled, it’s “Puh-nom Pen”, with the “puh” at the beginning being very slight. Got it? Good. Now, to the flight!

The route:
Chicago – Vancouver
Vancouver – Guangzhou, China
Guangzhou – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

We flew to Vancouver, Canada from Chicago on Air Canada without a hitch. Once we got there we found that our flight to Guangzhou was delayed… 9 hours. Due to inbound weather in China.  We would miss our connecting flight to Phnom Penh, and would have to stay in a hotel in China. Not only that, but the China Southern airlines personnel didn’t believe we could fly to Cambodia and stay there for 9 months on a business visa. There were about four hours of intense “if you can fly” conversations happening between us and them. I had to give them scanned pdf copies of our school contracts, emails between me and my principal, and even show them websites that said “Yes, you can purchase a visa on arrival and extend it once it country”. It was certainly an exercise in patience! Regardless, we were allowed to fly. Once we got out of Vancouver, the flight to Guangzhou was seamless.

We arrived in China at around midnight, and were set to fly out at 9am the next morning. After a nauseatingly long wait at passport control—in a corral with the thirty other passengers who had to be put up in a hotel—we were loaded onto a bus with chochet seat covers blaring Chinese pop music and whisked out of the airport into the empty streets of China. I honestly feared we would never make it back to the airport. After a seemingly endless bus ride, we arrived in front of a massive, Las Vegas-esque hotel. At this point, we were beyond confused, and just accepted it all as “Ok. What’s next. It’s all good.” We learned a few valuable lessons in Kuwait to not let the unknown and the nonsensical bother us. Life is much more enjoyable that way!

The hotel was surprisingly luxurious. I have to hand it to China Southern Airlines, they took really good care of us.

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Our hotel in Guangzhou, China. We felt like high rollers in a Vegas casino.

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The early morning view out of our hotel window onto Guangzhou, China. Look at all the green!

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The hotel had a “Western breakfast” that China Southern included in our stay. At this point, we were loving this layover! If you notice my plate though… the idea of a Western breakfast also includes noodles, rice, egg rolls, greens, and savory pastries. Sean played it safe with a banana and hard boiled eggs. Me? I stuffed my face with the unknown. One of my favorite things about the buffet was a large sign that said, “Caution: Do not eat too much spicy food on empty stomach. Will cause sickness.” Didn’t stop me! After thirty hours of transit, it hit the spot.

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Our hotel in Guangzhou. Told you it was large-scale!

At eight in the morning we loaded on the airport shuttle bus. We had no problem checking in, and before we knew it, we were landing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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I still love looking outside to the view of tree-lined streets, temples, blue skies, and lots and lots of smiling people. This picture was taken on the roof of our hotel in a nice district of the city. We stayed in a hotel for two nights while we looked for an apartment. I have been glowing ever since.

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Since parts of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam were once occupied by the French as ‘French Indochina’, there is a lot of French architecture, cuisine, and language that remains.  Many of the government documents are in Khmer and French. (The Cambodian language is Khmer, which is actually pronounced “Kmai”. Check out this fantastic pronunciation website: http://www.forvo.com/word/khmer/#hu ) Anyways, the architecture of our hotel felt very French. Also, most every place makes great espresso, coffee, and pastries. Francophiles, come visit us!

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The patio of our hotel, where we had breakfast. Again, look at all the green!

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The hotel, Anise Hotel, had these pots all over, which I loved. They were floating flowers and tons of iridescent fish!
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After successful apartment hunting, we rewarded ourselves with a smoothie and a beer. You don’t have to guess which of us had the smoothie.

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One of many temples in Phnom Penh. This one is named Wat Langka. Wat means ‘temple’.  It was established in 1442 as a meeting place for Cambodian and Sri Lankan monks, which is how it got its name. It is one of the oldest temples in Phnom Penh.

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Me in front of Independence Monument, a significant landmark of the city. It is the center of a massive roundabout that I dread ever having to navigate when I’m behind the wheel…
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As we were walking around the downtown of Phnom Penh, we jumped inside the nearest cafe to avoid the rain and have a late lunch. I took this photo because I love all of the shrines that are in every establishment you will ever visit. (The small building in the back, surrounded by the flowers.) You will often see food and drinks, like a pastry and a cup of coffee, at the base of the shrine as an offering.

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The food was spectacular. I love Asian food, and Cambodia doesn’t dissappoint. Oh, and the cost? This bowl was $2.50. The beer was $1.

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This is a picture from our neighborhood. We live in the Toul Tom Poung district, which is a quiet neighborhood with a fantastic market named the Russian Market. It is called this because Russians used to frequent it in the 70’s. We found a place with a great price and a lot nicer than the apartments in the other neighborhoods. Let’s take a look at a map of the city…

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We’re not too far from the school, and only a $2.50 tuk tuk ride to the riverside. In Toul Tom Poung there are great markets, spas, cafes, and quiet streets. BKK is really popular with expats, and as a consequence it’s pretty expensive to live there, and there are touristy-shops and foreigners everywhere. I hope that doesn’t make me sound snobby, but one thing I liked about Kuwait was that we were the only Westerners, like, everywhere. It felt so exciting and romantic to walk around the whole country and be surrounded by the unfamiliar!

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A street in our neighborhood. The guy on the right is selling fresh pineapples, already peeled! If you notice his hat and scarf, it’s a popular thing for people to wear here if they are working outside all the time. It prevents sunburn and heat exhaustion.

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The roof of our apartment. Not bad, huh?

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Looking towards the river.

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We spend a lot of time on the roof. Wouldn’t you?

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Sometimes it feels like an infinity pool…
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Here’s the interior of our place. We were just getting settled in when I took these pictures. It came fully furnished!

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The living room and balcony. Every morning I keep waking up and asking Sean, “Is this real?”

My next blog will be about the Russian Market and all it has to offer. The winding passageways, smells, sights, sounds, it is a sensory overload. I can’t wait to share it with you.

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Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Cambodia: It’s “Phnom”enal!

  1. Sean, very nice. Phnom Penh is said to be heavily invested by the Chinese government. What will your mix of students include?

  2. Ted & JoAnne

    Sweet! We’ll be especially envious when winter rolls around here.
    Look forward to many more posts from the land of eternal green.
    Ted & JoAnne
    PS. We’re looking at installing a greenhouse for a respite in winter, but it will be a pale imitation of the tropics.

  3. Mickael Berteloot

    Hi there ! I know it’s a 4years post but i find it useful ;). We are a french couple and we’re arriving in PP in June; we’ve starting our researches about our accomodation (where to stay, price, neighbourhood,…). Four years after (if you’re still in the same flat !) what do you think of your neighbourhood near Russian Market ? In other words what are the pros and cons of living there ? By the way, how did you find your place ? Thanks for your response ! Mike.

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