Getting fancy in Phnom Penh

We planned this trip with the “backpacker lifestyle” in mind, but once it started, we quickly became flashpackers. If this term is new to you, a flashpacker is someone who brings their technology with them and often chooses boutique hotels over dorm rooms…but probably still carries a pack on their back.

This definition fits us to a T. We really had no choice on the electronics, anything we wanted to take from Ethiopia had to be brought with us…laptops, external hard drives, ebooks, phones. Though to be honest, most of these are so old I’m fairly certain a thief would look at them and decide nothing was worth their time. But we do buy a sim card with unlimited 3G in every country, because having Google Maps tell us where to go has become indispensable.

We’ve also never stayed in a dorm room, but with two people, that’s just a practicality thing. Why pay $5 per person for a dorm bed when a few dollars more can get you a private room (usually with your own hot shower, air-con, and fridge)? Though I have to admit, our upper limit on room cost has continued to rise (with the exception of Sen Monorom!).

In Phnom Penh we’ve upped the limit once again, paying the most we’ve ever paid – $27 a night (split between two). We looked through our options and found numerous, cheaper choices, but we kept coming back to photographs of The Artist Guesthouse. It just looked so inviting, so we figured, why not? We had originally planned four nights, but we decided to add two more after Sen Monorom because we loved it so much!

We chose a loft style room and were pleasantly surprised to find a bath with a separate shower, as well as Jay’s Diner down below. The room was incredibly spacious – for the first time we could Skype in separate rooms! Most of the city was shut down due to a holiday that no one knew enough to tell us about, but the owner was a wealth of knowledge on what to do in the city. And the diner served great food (you’ll soon see why that was convenient!).

The Artist GuesthouseJay's Diner

Our first full day in Phnom Penh involved a lot of wandering around – trying to find minibus offices that were all closed thanks to the holiday. We serendipitously walked into a travel agency that happened to sell the very same tickets we were looking for at the exact same price. But that afternoon, we did make it to the National Museum of Cambodia.

We were pleasantly surprised by the museum. There were a lot of really great pieces from Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. You weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the actual museum, but you could take some of the central courtyard.

The National Museum of Cambodia 1The National Museum of Cambodia 2

The following day, we saw twice as many sites : ) Making our way through both the Royal Palace and Wat Phnom. The palace was actually a compound filled with buildings, statues, and gardens. It was pretty picturesque, but also ungodly hot. The temperatures in Cambodia have been an improvement from Vietnam, but it’s still a lot for a girl from Minnesota to handle. Wat Phnom was a short tuk-tuk ride away, but we chose it over the other temples in the area for its unique design.

Scattered throughout the first few days we also made our way to a few smaller things like the Independence Monument and surrounding garden, the riverfront, the old French post office, and quite a bit of window shopping.

The Royal PalaceWat Phnom

After our first few days in Phnom Penh, we weren’t prepared for what greeted us when we returned: rain. Everyone we’d talked to always said “Be prepared for the rain in Vietnam, it comes everyday,” but we rarely encountered it. Likewise, despite it being “rainy season” we hadn’t seen it in Cambodia either.

The day after we returned from Sen Monorom, we planned on making our way to the Russian Market to pick up some souvenirs and knick-knacks. We went down for an early breakfast and encountered more rain than we knew was possible. The streets were flooded and the water looked like it’d soon overtake the sidewalks as well. Which is why, long ago, at the beginning of this post I said it was great that our guesthouse served great food, because once we saw that rain, we knew we weren’t going anywhere soon.

Rain in Phnom Penh

After breakfast, we went back up to our room and watched the season ten premiere of Bones. I have to admit, I missed the US in that moment, because it felt like such a normal thing to do. When we peaked outside at lunchtime, we were shocked to see that not only had the rain stopped, but the water had found somewhere to drain as well. The streets were clear, and while we never ended up at the Russian Market, we did find plenty of things to buy in our neighborhood. Phnom Penh post-holiday was like a completely different city once everything was open!

In fact, most of the gifts I’m bringing home for people have come from Cambodia. But be warned, I’m not bringing back much…because as fancy as we’ve gotten, I still carry my pack on my back.

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