I wond’r why there’s pork in my porridge? Three days in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Our base in Phnom Penh: Manor House, was an absolute delight. Being a true boutique hotel it had just 12 spacious and clean rooms, of which most were empty, meaning we got a great personal service for the entirety of our stay. Not only was Manor House walking distance (for the brave) to all the main sites, my number one priority in life was also met; their food was top notch 🙂

For breakfast I opted to dive head first into Khmer cuisine, by trying their version of ‘porridge’, which is better described as rice and pork soup. Although a little odd to have first thing, is was bursting with flavour and did “give me energy for the day” as the menu promised. Just as well seeing our first day proved to be suitably cram packed, despite being a little jet lagged: We were off to immerse ourselves in ancient Cambodian history at their National Museum.

Jonny eating Khmer porridge
Day 1 – The National Museum of Cambodia

Fortunately we opted to go with the optional audio guide as part of our visit, as there was little to no information available on signage throughout the museum. A number of pieces were beautiful and it was interesting to hear the stories behind them, although there was a distinct lack of variety. There’s only so long one can remain interested, when repeatedly browsing through the same statutes of Hindu Gods over and over again. 

National museum of Cambodia
At least I was able to provide a bit of light hearted entertainment: by begrudgingly accepting a flower from a women seeking donations, then placing it back in the vase where it came from and pretending to pray in the process, to the bewilderment of everyone around us!

Day 2 – The Killing Fields and Genocide Museum

Our second day was to be a rather somber affair, as we visited both the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum, commonly referred to as S21. Again we opted to pay extra for the audio guide, which was brilliantly narrated together with witness accounts. 

Bracelets of hope at Cambodia Killing Fields
Corridor at Genocide Museum S21
Although it was difficult to learn about the sickening acts of torture and murder carried out under Pol Pott’s Khmer Rouge regime; we recognise the importance of remembering what happened, in an attempt to avoid it reoccurring again in the future.

Day 3 – The Russian Market

We decided to spend our third and final day pottering about in the Russian Market. As expected it was heaving with Cambodian trinkets, high quality knock off goods and lots of edible delights. We had no choice but to grow accustomed to a barrage of “Hey lady, hey mister, t-shirt two dollars”, every time we turned a corner. 

Despite our patience growing thin, Joella successfully purchased some brightly coloured trousers and skirt, with the help of my epic bartering skills (my Scottishness shone through). Pulled pork bao, fries and cocktails by the poolside kept us happy for the rest of the afternoon. 

Joella trying on skirt at Russian Market
Although we found Phnom Penh intense at times; we soon warmed to it’s contradictory vibe – hectic yet chilled out, and not to mention the friendly and courteous people that live there. 

Next stop, Siem Reap!

I wond’r why the monk especially wanted to sit next to me? – Our journey from London, UK to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Following a lovely send off by Joella’s family the previous two evenings, we were now getting up at the crack of dawn to make our escape. Mike, Joella’s dad took us to Brentwood where James then drove us all the way to Heathrow – thanks guys, best chauffeurs ever!

Joella, Jonny and James at airport
As we tearilly kissed the UK soil goodbye, our minds soon turned to the marathon journey ahead of us:

  • 3 separate flights
  • 2 stop overs
  • 6 time zones
  • 21 hours of travel

From London to Abu Dhabi our flight was uneventful, although Joella would probably argue I was a tad overexcited about being in an A380 for the first time. We watched as many films as we could possibly manage, in amongst the usual juggling of tiny dishes while trying to eat aeroplane food, without getting it on ourselves or elbowing our fellow passengers in the process. 

A380 flying
Our second flight begun with a stand-off between me and a monk, probably not how you want to start a flight.

I intended to sit in the window seat, with Joella in the middle, and the aisle seat taken by one of many monks on our flight. Apparently the monk didn’t want to sit next to Joella, and instead was keen for me to be his neighbour. At first I laughed it off and tried to sit down, but then a lady in front of us also got involved and offered me some stern words in a language I’m not currently fluent in. At this point we decided to keep the peace, and sit in accordance with the Monk’s wishes, this must surely be good karma or something. We later learned that monks are not allowed to ever be in close proximity to women. (Picture of monk below for illustrative purposes only)

Cool monk on plane
Rather than getting any food in Abu Dhabi, we’d decided to save our money and wait to eat on the plane. It was only once we were boarded that a horrible thought struck me – it was 11.30 pm local time and 2.30 at our destination, there may not be any food for some time – nooooo! The next half an hour could easily have seen me arrested by an Air Marshall based on how I was acting: I kept looking up and down the aisles, tracking all the air hostesses movements in an attempt to see if they were preparing food. At one point I was caught intently staring, as a number of passengers were being handed what I thought were the special dietary meals, they were actually the children’s colouring in books. Joella laughed, I felt even more distressed. Fortunately we were fed shortly after, and I managed to avoid any further suspicious behaviour.

Our last stop over, in Bangkok, was relatively straight forward, and we managed to successfully source our boarding passes for our next flight. Although our intentions to really embrace the local cultures on our adventures came to an abrupt end before we’d even got to our destination, as we stopped in past Starbucks for some coffees.

After a short 90 minute flight from Bangkok, we’d finally arrived at our destination: Cambodia’s world famous capital – Phnom Penh. Being completely honest, we’d never heard of this place before planning our adventure, but are now glad to say we’re now slightly more worldly and slightly less ignorant! 

The last leg of our journey required us to acquire a tuk tuk (technically they’re called remorques in Cambodia and consist of a moped attached to a separate carriage), to take us to our hotel. After reading Lonely Planet in amongst other research, we were expecting this task to involve long queues in the blistering heat, fighting away potential pickpockets while trying to negotiate a fair price for the ride with unruly drivers trying to rip us off. Thankfully the reality was a lot easier; a friendly chap asked if we wanted a tuktuk while we were in the soothing air-con of the airport, told us it was a flat fee of $9 as confirmed by all the signage, and even carried our bags for us.

We found our first ever tuk tuk ride to be as thrilling and dangerous, as at least I had hoped for. There are next to no obvious road rules, and drivers happily drive up and down whichever side of the road they like, paying no attention to traffic lights or road signs. The air was awash with petrol fumes, while our ears were buzzing to the sounds of the constant horns blaring all around us. But despite all this, we soon felt relatively safe, thanks to the slow speeds and general courteous nature of all the drivers – possibly more so than the UK! After 30 minutes of twisting our necks in every direction to take in as much of our surrounding as we possibly could, we arrived safely at our hotel.

Tuk tuk in Phnom Penh Cambodia

 I wond’r where our passports are? – Packing for our S.E. Asia and Australia adventure

It was 10 days before our escape, and everything seemed to be falling beautifully into place; we had some lovely tenants lined up for our flat, most of the laborious DIY chores were done and I was beginning to enjoy being unashamedly unemployed, or I was until being rudely woken (after 8am –  I know, how dare she!?) by Joella:

[spoken loudly with mild anguish] “Jonny, where are our passports – I can’t find them anywhere...?”

At first, my immediate thoughts were to ignore the evil demon seeking to end my well deserved slumber – but alas no, she continued with her inquisition:

[shouted at a deafening volume, threateningly] “Seriously Jonny, I’ve looked everywhere and I still can’t find them, where are they?

I replied with all the helpfulness and intellect I could muster so early in the morning: “I don’t know, you had them last“. This retort proceeded to go down like a shit sandwich. She stormed into the bedroom, denied that she had them last and demanded I get up to help her look. This is when I realised that we may have, quite possibly, properly lost our passports. As in we might not have been able to find them ever, ever again, or at least until after breakfast.

After jumping out of bed slowly crawling out of bed like a sloth, we proceeded to frantically search our enormous[ly tiny] one bed flat from top to bottom. Following 3 hours of looking, including in the fridge and oven, no luck. Nothing. Not even a note to say they’ve left, or a ransom letter to say someone’s taken them.

At that point we came to realise we’d better get on and book ourselves an appointment to source some new replacement passports. Annoyingly the passport office doesn’t provide a one day service for lost or stolen passports, just a one week fast-track option (though I’d argue one week isn’t really that fast), and the first available appointment was on Monday, 8 days before our scheduled departure. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, so we booked our £212 slot and sourced the forms from the post office down the road…

Annoyingly, a countersignatory is required when applying for a replacement to a lost or stolen passport. While thinking through which poor soles we’d bully into helping us, we discovered that apparently a ‘Compliance Executive’ at a national regulator isn’t an acceptable profession, but journalists, travel agents and photographers are (thanks Sam for trying though!). But on following up with the ‘journalist’ option, I learnt that “my mate who writes some blogs” probably doesn’t qualify him as one. Whatever, get with the 21st Century! Instead I’m left to rely on Joella’s cousin who’s a teacher – cheers Liam!

It’s amazing how a form designed to be so simple can cause such terror and confusion to those completing it; mostly due to the importance – we’d have no second chance if anything was incorrect, plus there’s always the cost implications too – no refunds are ever possible, for whatever reason. But the form doesn’t help matters either e.g. Some sections asks for surname first, and others for first name. One of our countersignatories got so worked up that they forgot their job title and work address!

Despite paying for the appointment and (probably) successfully completing the forms, I never truly accepted that we’d properly lost our passports, so refrained from reporting them as lost. Just as well: While searching for something completely unrelated (my camera charging cable, and yes, I did find it if you really must know), I caught a glimpse of something deep maroon, shimmering in the early-morning sun that was streaming through our bedroom window. With a jolt of excitement I lunged forward and lifted the muscat coloured items high above my head in celebration – our passports had returned, hallelujah!

Oh the shame! I soon felt a little sympathetic towards Joella’s embarrassment and accompanying remark towards my point, that we’d need to update everyone: “I wish we’d properly lost them now‘. But ultimately we  had our passports back – happy days, our trip was still on 🙂