Phnom Penh Visa Run 2016 – Part 1
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I’m an expat who has lived in Thailand for a few years. I’m currently staying on a tourist visa in Thailand so I have to make ‘visa runs.’ Far from being an inconvenience, I actually look forward to them as it forces me to travel to neighbouring countries to explore and enjoy the sights. I usually book a couple of nights more than needed and for this trip I spent 4 nights in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
Don Mueang airport, Bangkok. I flew out early afternoon and at this airport they have now separated the domestic and international terminals. The road traffic outside was very heavy and luckily I was early as there was approximately 30 minutes of time lost queueing in traffic outside the airport.
I spotted many anxious people in taxis crawling along at a snail’s pace. If you are flying anywhere from Don Mueang, leave early for the airport is my advice.
I flew Air Asia on this trip as they had the cheapest tickets.
As we took off I managed to snag this pic of the famous Elephant (Chang) building. Built in 1997, it is 32 stories high and was voted number 4 of the World’s 20 most iconic skyscrapers in 2011. The left and middle towers are offices, while the top and right sections are residential. It is located in the Chatuchak district of Bangkok.
The plane journey from BKK – PNH takes only an hour or so. What struck me was how flooded the farmland was next to the Mekong river.
Approaching Phnom Penh Airport. The Mekong river is on the left and Tonle Sap River is on the right which leads to a massive lake.
The skyscraper on the right is the Vattanac Capital Tower and is Cambodia’s tallest building at 39 stories high. To me it looks like a super villain’s pad 🙂
I was getting the $30 tourist visa on arrival and was pretty much first in the queue from my flight. I didn’t have any passport sized photos of myself and was happy to pay the $1 fine like I had done previously.
I was first in the queue and a stern looking official demanded $3 for ‘no photo.’ Welcome to Scambodia 🙂 I know the price was $1 just a few months ago and told the guy I’d check my bag to see if I could find one (I knew I didn’t have a spare). So I simply joined a different queue and was told $3 again. I told the guy straight ‘Why, it was $1 just 3 months ago. I come here many times’ and he instantly looked sheepish.
I ended up paying $2 just to move along but it would be better if they had rules in black and white. For a new traveller arriving at a country to be scammed by immigration crooks is just plain wrong. I’ve had similar experiences at the land borders of Cambodia, where they charge an extra ‘processing fee’ which is just bullshit as the money goes straight in the official’s pockets.
Anyway, no harm done as this is standard for some countries in SEA and I’ve seen it all before. Onwards and upwards…
After a $12 taxi ride from the airport I arrived at my hotel. I chose the Okay Boutique Hotel because I got a good price through agoda. I like the location as is only a 2 minute walk to Street 172, with many inexpensive restaurants, cheap tuk tuks, convenience stores, and a handful of hostess bars too 😉
Okay Boutique is guest friendly meaning there is not additional charge to bring back a lady of the night. I highly recommend this hotel and if you can secure a room for around $35 or less it’s great value (NB. room rates increase steeply Nov 2016 onwards for the high tourist season). The views were great, and my room was very clean and everything worked well (video review coming soon).
Okay Boutique Hotel has a rooftop pool and restaurant/bar on the 14th floor. This is the view and you can see there is a large temple complex close by.
View from the rooftop pool/bar area of Okay Boutique. You can see the national museum straight ahead, and the the Royal Palace starts to the right.
Draught beer is available almost everywhere in Cambodia. There is still no government added tax on alcohol so many places sell it very cheap. You can still find some restaurants and bars with beer at $0.50 for a glass which for a Westerner is practically giving it away!
One of the reasons I like staying near street 172 is there are lots of tuk tuks around that will take you places nearby for $1 (when normally the price is $2). I didn’t realise it but the tuk tuk above gives a free ride to the Angry Birds Bar on Street 130 which is a very good deal if you are watching your pennies.
104 Street, Phnom Penh’s answer to Soi Cowboy.
Some bars here can look completely dead from the outside but once you open the door and look inside it can be noisy and wild with lots of customers. Barfines here are around $10 and short time is around $50 (some girls will go for less).
Street 104 bars. Normally a handful of hostess girls sit on the seats outside, but the hotties are usually inside with customers.
A bar called the ‘Cheers Bar’ was where I took the above photo from and it had draught beer at an amazing $0.75 all night long. They had an interesting lineup of hostess girls, one really liked me and I bought her a drink, one hated me cause I stole her seat, and one was a ladyboy who talked too much and was fooling no one 🙂
Black Cat Bar, Street 51. A former favourite bar of mine but I’ve never seen this bar so dead and it was devoid of customers practically every time I passed. The hostess girls inside didn’t help as they were mostly overweight and much older than I remember before. Maybe it was bad luck and the nice girls were always barfined already?
Shanghai hostess bar, Street 51. This bar was the first of it’s kind to open in Phnom Penh, and many people consider it to be the best. Many of the ladies here are above average looking but you can’t barfine them and they are only there for lady drinks.
On this visit I was put off by the bad attitude some of the ladies at Shanghai. I found some of them to be very snooty, a lot were openly criticising hostess girls from other bars.
Where I’m from if you start talking shit and gossipping it just makes me roll my eyes and cringe inside.
The Shanghai girls of Phnom Penh reminded me of a famous quote:
‘Great minds discuss ideas;
average minds discuss events;
small minds discuss people.’
So I didn’t end up staying in the Shanghai bar for more than a couple of drinks this time unlike previous trips.
Heart of Darkness Nightclub. This long running club first opened it’s doors way back in 1993, and they used to have to close regularly as it was the hangout of many local mafia who would often end evenings with a shootout!
The glory days are long gone as it has now evolved into a gay club, with just a handful of backpackers and freelancer girls mixed in. Everyone goes to the nearby Pontoon club now even though there is a cover charge which Heart of Darkenss doesn’t have. Says it all really.
The Heart of Darkness was the place where many years ago I had my drink spiked by a freelancer. We went back to my hotel and I ended up sleeping for 16 hours on and off.
In the end I was lucky as I had secured all my valuables beforehand and the hotel staff didn’t let the (probably well known) thief out of the hotel without my approval. It shook me up a lot at the time, thankfully this hasn’t happened again since.
The next day. The view from my balcony at Okay Boutique Hotel, a big storm had blown in which is typical of the rainy season in South East Asia. I was on a visa run and had just extended my stay at this hotel so was content to read a few chapters of my current book with the rain beating down wildly outside.
I ventured up to the rooftop restaurant and ordered a Vegetable Amok (Cambodia’s national dish). The portion served was large and the food tasted fine. It cost $6 for this dish.
Finally the rain stopped and I ventured out to street 172, spotting a sleeping tuk tuk driver . The rainy season in Cambodia is much like Thailand and it coincides with the low tourist season and generally runs from May to October.
I visited in September and customers were very thin on the ground everywhere, which I like as you can get practically any seat at a bar or restaurant of your choosing.
Quick guide for other travelallasia.com recommended hotels in Phnom Penh:
- I’ve stayed here many times. It’s good value and recommend it if you want to meet fellow travellers as there is an excellent bar downstairs.
- The ‘go to’ hotel for many repeat Phnom Penh visitors as it is good value, clean and ticks all the boxes.
- A new hotel, the rooftop bar on the 12 floor is amazing. Very good hotel for the money and close by the riverside.
- Trendy new hotel, very popular with more affluent visitors.
Thank you for reading this article. I would appreciate your comments or feedback. Part 2 will be coming soon as well as many more Cambodia videos on YouTube.
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