Phnom Penh Trip Part 4: Sunshine over the Tonle Sap River

Phnom Penh Trip Part 4: Sunshine over the Tonle Sap River

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I was right about being tired. I slept like a log and didn’t wake up until mid-morning. I strolled along the river on Sisowath Quay and fell into Paddy’s Place, a not very Irish bar that does good food. The river here is actually the Tonle Sap, many people mistake it for the Mekong. The Riverfront is to the east of the city and the Tonle Sap runs down along the Riverfront from north to south. Just as the Sisowath Riverfront area ends, by the Royal Palace, the Mekong and the Tonle Sap join forces. Sitting outside here watching the traffic go by is a great way to kill a couple of hours. I set up the laptop and here we are. I find that people are always genuinely fascinated to see someone actually writing on a laptop, rather than just flipping through Facebook or tweeting away on Twitter. It is not unusual for people to ask me what I am doing. When they hear that I am writing they are intrigued, when they hear that this is my living, they are flabbergasted, such is life, it was always the same during 25 years on the road as a musician. I got talking to an Aussie bloke who was making his way across Southeast Asia on the trip of a lifetime. Two months visiting all the places that he had read about as a kid. When I think that I have been doing this for 7 years, I realise just how lucky I am.

Sothearos Boulevard is quite run down with loads of massage parlours.

A Faulty Tower and Fawlty Towers

The morning over, it is time to go in search of another hotel. I could do with finding one with a bath tub, my legs are telling me it’s time. I really need to start doing my homework better. I am used to wandering into any hotel in Phnom Penh and finding a cheap room. Not this weekend, it appears. I had read on the internet of a hotel in a different part of town to where I had been before, and thought it would make a change and give me new things to explore. Sothearos Boulevard is right to the South of town past the Royal Palace and the Independence Monument. I had no sooner set off in a tuk tuk than the heavens opened in one of those truly Asian biblical showers. The driver jumped off and put the plastic sides down, but a fair bit of me was soaked, not as much as the poor driver who was completely dripping. He dropped me off at the hotel and I went to the reception to be informed that all the nice cheap rooms were booked but they had some rather nice expensive rooms available. Unfortunately, these were about three times the price that I wanted to pay. I sheltered from the downpour then jumped into a tuk tuk and returned to the part of town that I know. I managed to find a room in the Cozyna Hotel right on the Riverfront for $20.

Facing this hotel is the island that sits between the Mekong and the Tonle Sap Rivers. The unfinished building that dominates the island has been pretty much in the same state of development for years. Legend has it that this is truly a case of a structure built on sand. Local story tells that the Cambodian developer who pumped millions into it, pulled the plug when he realised the foundations were unsafe, and so it remains, the largest white elephant in the country. Originally planned to be a high class casino and hotel resort, it now looks as though it will never be finished.

The casino built on Sand, dominates the landscape as tourist and working boats sail along the Tonle Sap and into the Mekong.

My hotel experience turned out to be a thoroughly Asian affair. As I said I really needed a hot bath, so I paid an extra $4.00 for a room with a bath. I checked in and went to my room to relax, I turned on the TV and went to run a bath. No plug! I phoned down, “Hello room 109 here I need a bath plug, please”. I then had an interesting conversation with the receptionist who seemed to think that I wanted an electric bath. Eventually a plug was brought up. I started to fill the bath and then realised that there were no towels in the room. I phoned again and informed the receptionist. “Which room Sir?” “It’s 109 again.” Towels were brought and the guy disappeared just as I realised that I had no hot water. When I phoned down for the third time the receptionist asked again, which room. I replied, “I bet you can guess,. really, can’t you?” A guy came up to the room to look at the lack of hot water. He held the hot water pipe for a full 5 minutes, and surprisingly, this had no affect! When, after half an hour, they finally admitted that the hot water was not going to arrive, I asked to be moved to another room. I then got the full Asian explanation. “It is the same in every hotel in Phnom Penh, Sir. None of the hotels have hot water.” They actually believe that people are going to accept this explanation. I pointed out that this was about my 6th visit and I have had hot water on every other occasion, including the previous night at Bag End. Eventually a solution was found. A man arrived and gave me $4.00!

Good fine a fine wine and an evening breeze, bliss

In the evening I went out and found a delightful little restaurant on the Riverfront. I ordered the chicken on skewers and a glass of red and waited….and waited….and waited. The wine arrived after about 10 minutes and the meal a full half hour after that. A few years ago, I would have been on the point of walking out, but Asia does teach you to chill out. If I had have left, I would probably just gone somewhere else and sat with a glass of red waiting for dinner. So I stayed where I was and have to say, I’m glad I did. The food was excellent.

Karma Restaurant on the Riverfront, slow service but worth the wait

I strolled along the riverfront and bumped into a Dutch guy that was on the bus from Saigon. I joined him at his table and we chatted. The children selling lucky Buddha wristbands and other such stuff, were out in numbers. It is hard to ignore them, but you cannot give to every one of them. One small boy who looked about 5 but informed me in good English that he was 8, finally broke my resolve. Three wrist bands for a dollar, I only wanted one, but I gave him the dollar and he went away happy. The next one was more persistent and quite rude. He ended up keep pinching my back until I told the security guard to do his job and get rid of him. As the little mite finally strolled off, he flicked me the finger and said “fuck you”. . . again in perfect English.

Following a highly successful 25-year career as a singer/songwriter and musician, Keith pulled out of the rat race and moved to Southeast Asia in 2008. First living in Thailand, he moved to Cambodia and then relocated to Ho Chi Minh City in early 2013. He started the Saigon Districts website, turning it into the fastest growing site in Vietnam. After careful consideration, he decided to cover not just Vietnam but the whole region that he loves so dearly. Keith has had work published in magazines and websites in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and Asia. He has written for the BBC and has appeared on TV and radio in many different countries. His great loves are music and travel, but he writes on a whole range of subjects. is a labour of love as Keith travels round the region garnering subject matter. Read more about the website here.