Every trip has its new experiences. I try to be mindful of my first impressions as it points to my preconceptions.
This is the first trip I have been on where e-visa was an option. One applies for it online to the Cambodia government, including a scanned photo, they then send you back your approved visa – it looks just like another passport page with your photo on it – and ask you to print two copies of to bring with you.
The second new experience was that as part of the customs border crossing they did a pupil scanning and electronic finger printing of all digits- first the 4 fingers on your right hand together, then your right thumb, then the four fingers of your left hand together, then you left thumb. It felt very unnerving actually. I felt like a criminal or like it was a warning that I might experience some violence where my body parts would need to be identified. Nothing like starting a trip with an imagination going into overdrive!
Generally in developing countries, once through security, one is immediately surrounded by people wanting to take your bags, by people begging and by taxi drivers clamoring for business. Not here! It was very calm. I was also struck by the orderly driving, clean streets, lots of motorcycles, not many bikes. Really quiet. It was Sunday. Apparently Sunday is the only day anyone has off- all factory workers work a 6 – day week. There were many families out riding the one motorcycle. Didn’t see any animals on the street- no chickens, no cows, no goats. It reminded me quite a bit of Indonesia or Singapore. And just as humid.
Our Hotel:”The Plantation”
Our hotel is right in the middle of Phnom Penh, within 10 minute walk from the river, the Presidential Palace, the restaurants etc. And you would miss the entrance if you weren’t looking for it. It is called “The Plantation”. The front entrance is REALLY unassuming. It looks like barely a driveway to a store front- like maybe 15 feet across. But then you walk through the doorway and you discover a well-disguised quaint hotel! I was so surprised!
To get to the reception desk you walk through the doorway and around this picturesque courtyard with a sunken “wading pool” with plants growing in the water. En route there are couches and chairs and coffee tables to lounge in. Once at reception we were met with glasses of passionfruit juice as we waited to get our assigned rooms. We were then led by a bus boy to our rooms. Mine is on the second floor and my balcony overlooks the pool and yet another courtyard. Our room rate includes breakfast.
I was very surprised at my room. Bright, open, spacious, and simply decorated. The floor is all black tile which is lovely and cool on the feet. There is a big fan on the ceiling or the option of air conditioning. The bed is a canopy style bed with mosquito netting over it and pulled back with ribbons. There’s a “couch” but it is really a raised flat area with some pillows on it about a foot off the floor. There’s a desk with a flat screen TV that faces the flat bed couch area. The bathroom is European style- sink in one area, toilet in its own room, a shower in its own space. No bathtub. The shower is like an outdoor shower or pool shower- there’s a wall that creates the “cubical” but otherwise the shower-head just goes over the black tile that is everywhere else in the room. No cupboards or drawers. A small open “closet” with a few hangers in it and a bench for the suitcase. Free wi-fi. Voila. Simple yet elegant really.
I was not ready for a nap. So as soon as my luggage arrived I put on my bathing suit and headed to the pool.
The pool is surrounded by little open air cabanas. Each cabana has two “beds” that are on the floor of the cabana. Each bed has a pillow and a towel. It is amazing how relaxing it is just to see beds all around a pool! It is like it is calling out to you to “Come cool down, relax, unwind!” The water was lovely. It was overcast and began to rain a bit while I was in the pool. Also lovely. Behind the pool there is an open air restaurant where we also go for the breakfast buffet each morning. Considering we are in the city, it is remarkably quiet and serene.
My first Khmer Massage
As lovely as the pool was, eventually I got out because… I had scheduled a massage for 3 pm!
There’s a very simple “spa” here with AMAZING prices. Once I read about the prices in the book thing in my hotel room, there was no way I wasn’t waiting on this one!! Get this:
Energizing Khmer Massages (Dry)
“An energizing ancient Cambodia therapy- smoothes the body’s energy flow and clears the mind with soothing sleuk toy tea.”
Legs and back 45 minutes $15 (yes your read that right)
Head, Back and Shoulders 45 minutes $15
Whole Body – Short 60 minutes $15
Whole Body – Long 90 minutes $27 (WHAT?!?!)
I was escorted to a little sitting room where they brought me a cool cloth with something in it that smelled really good. That was for my hands and face. Then they brought me “sleuk toy tea”. It is made with ginger and sleuk toy leaves. Very tastey. Slightly medicinal but more like spicey green tea. Being the tea granny that I am, I thought this was an awesome way to ease into a relaxing headspace!
Then my masseuse asked me to follow her upstairs. The room was green, had two massage beds in it, a sink and a shower onto the black tile floor. I guess if you want to wash off the oils? Beats me. I didn’t have a shower.
She gave me light mint green coloured scrubs to put on- the pants were Capri length. I looked like a green nurse! And then I was to lay down on the bed. My “dry” massage was done through my green scrubs. Never had that before.
45 minutes later…
My body had definitely experienced “ancient Cambodia therapy”!! My goodness. Most of the time she was on the bed with me. Using her legs, her elbows, her feet, her whole body weight to dig into my muscles, stretch my muscles, contort my muscles in all sorts of positions I have never done before. And what incredibly strong thumbs! Man. I figure at this price, I am going to try to make this happen more than once. I may just float off the plane when I get back home!
And then I was escorted back downstairs to the waiting room and given more “sleuk toy tea”. Welcome to Cambodia!
Foreign Correspondent’s Club
Our host took us for a walk down the street to the “Foreign Correspondent’s Club” for dinner. This is a restaurant on the riverfront that served as a place for journalists to meet during the tense period after 1993. Our walk took us down a street with no cars- apparently the only road without cars in Phnom Penh. And then past a park where there were many families having night picnics! We ate on the roof with a lovely view overlooking the river- at night. There were boats on the river all lit up. I had Pad Thai and a “lemon lime bitters” drink. The drink was like lemon lime juice but with some fizz. Better than sprite, not quite as juicey as lemonade but close.
I sat next to our host. This was a good move because he talked and talked and talked and all I had to do was ask questions and work very hard on concentrating on what he was saying… jet-lag was definitely settling in. It was hilarious to watch our team. You could tell everyone was having troubles focusing- eyes fluttering, heads bobbing, postures shifting trying to stay awake. Our host did his job and kept us up long enough that when we got back to the hotel it was pjs and sleep.
Tomorrow, reality hits.