As part of our not-roughing it tour around Vietnam and Cambodia we arrive in Phnom Penh. Our journey from Saigon was ‘up the Mekong’ on a supposedly luxurious small cruiser. Well, to be fair, we did it during the tail of a hurricane so the weather was decidedly cloudy and rainy, everything looking grey and the water muddy. We’ve not done this cruising thing before […and never again? Ed] so we were quite surprised to be herded on and off for visits to fish farms and the like. The highlight of the trip should have been a visit to one of the floating vegetable markets along the river, for which you need to be up around 5am. Our guide, being the type to enjoy a sleep in, roused himself for a visit between 9:30 and 10, by which time the rain had set in and the market closed up. Shall we call it a disappointment?
Arriving in Phnom Penh we were [eventually when our passports turned up] whisked away to the Raffles Hotel. We’d been planning a visit to some of the Cambodian war sites, concentration camps and the like but, to be honest, we rather wanted to see more of the countryside and its people. We hired some bikes and set off across to one of the islands by local ferry, cycling most of the day through fields and seeing the local silk weaving and dyeing.
We tried walking around Phnom Penh but, let’s face it, it really isn’t designed for that. High kerbs, narrow, broken pavements and parked cars everywhere. The local Tuk Tuks are much more sensible and, as we set out to eat, our driver took us where we needed to be, waited a couple of hours each time, and then safely ferried us through the streets. First stop was the Foreign Correspondents’ Club for drinks. The views across the Mekong, with the clarity of light that comes after a storm, was a welcome sight. A couple of cocktails later [we’re getting into cocktails in our dotage] we head off to the restaurant, Malis. Our driver patiently waited and delivered us safely back to Raffles – all for 5USD. For him a fortune. When we arranged our foreign currency in the UK we specified nearly all of it in $1 dollar bills – that’s all you need for most tipping and simple supplies.
So, Raffles. Well we had a strange experience. We arrived in the morning, off the boat, to leave our bags and head off exploring. The manager came over and apologised profusely for our room not being ready. No matter we said. Then the Hotel Director came over, apologised in similar fashion, gave us his personal mobile number in case ANYTHING occurred to us that we might want. And even more he said, as our room wasn’t ready, we would be immediately be upgraded to the Jackie Kennedy suite to compensate. We were presented with our guest form to fill in…and that’s when it all became clear. They had mistaken us for a Canadian Vice President of PWC Accountants – same name. When I raised this, such was their confusion, that they had us cross out the bits that didn’t match and maintained the position right through our [4 day] stay. We were waiting to be ejected into the basement. We guess the guy from PWC was down there instead.
Let’s just say it was smart. Very smart. And, unlike nearly everywhere else we went, they seem to have adopted London prices for drinks. Even the cocktails in Happy Hour were eyewatering…certainly an experience.
Raffles Hotel Le Royal Phnom Penh