Phnom Penh II

Phnom Penh (PP) has moved up much higher on my list of favorite places due to my recent visit.

As I mentioned before, on my prior visit I wasn’t feeling well so only really went out for 1 day in Phnom Penh.

I arrived here over a week ago and had booked 2 separate tickets out but on both occasions I decided to cancel the flights out as I was just having too good of a time in PP.

For anyone who likes to get into a place before it really gets popular and establish a residence/business and then watch its value grow in leaps and bounds over the coming years and decades, I would put Phnom Penh at the VERY top of the list.

I never saw Thailand in the 1960s, or earlier, but I bet it was a lot like Cambodia.

PP is a really neat city. It has a gorgeous downtown waterfront (Tong Le Sap River) location on which the Royal Palace is literally front and center and accessible. There are a few cool establishments that have been developed including the aforementioned FCC Hotel but for the most part it is nothing but little shops and businesses… no grand developments, although I have heard that a Korean company is building a huge resort/casino development somewhere in this area which I expect will lead to continued investment and development in PP. I foresee this area as being an amazing, cool, funky, modern, highly desirable address in the years to come.

Buying or investing here now would be the equivalent of buying some Shanghai or Hong Kong waterfront property in the early 1900s. Not that I expect Phnom Penh to evolve into something exactly like Shanghai or HK… but to invest here with a time horizon of 5-30 years would almost certainly look like one of the wisest moves in retrospect.

So, am I going to? Probably not. I’m very short term minded. I really have no plans to be around in 20 years and even if I am, being a real estate tycoon in Cambodia isn’t something to which I aspire.

That said, I would definitely look at purchasing a little abode given the right set of circumstances. With circumstance #1 being major improvements in the internet infrastructure in this region (something that could easily be cleared up in a matter of months once someone begins working on it).

DISCLAIMER: PP is very early in it’s development… and that’s why there is so much opportunity. But don’t come here expecting all the modernity of Thailand or Hong Kong. There are lots of things that need a lot of improvement. But even since my last trip here two years ago the changes are very noticeable.

When I first came here it seemed most streets were awash in garbage. Not sure what the deal was but obviously waste management was not working well.

There are still issues here. Certain parts of town, especially the market areas, once they shut down for the evening turn into smelly, gross dumping areas. Rats, bats and bugs abound.

As well, as I mentioned previously, poverty is still a fairly noticeable issue here… something that will naturally ease as the economy becomes more prosperous. But there are parts of town where you could end up walking through garbage, avoiding stepping on rats while being hounded by naked children begging for food… so, as I said, parts of this place are far from perfect AT THE MOMENT.

However, the same could be said for the downtown East side of Vancouver. You could find yourself walking through trash, trying not to step on needles while 80lb methheads filter along behind you offering manual stimulation for $10 and feeling lucky if you got out of there without being stabbed.

As with most places, if you know the places to avoid you would never see these spots… but in PP there are a fair amount of areas that the less adventurous type may not find appealing.

However, an average evening for me in PP entailed waking up at one of many beautiful modern hotels, all for under $100/night, some under $50/night, taking a dip at the pool. Working until dinner then taking one of thousands of available tuk tuks for $2 to the FCC or to the Rainhouse (another good place to start the evening with a cool club upstairs) or one of dozens of very good restaurants riverfront for dinner. Then dropping in for a drink at one of dozens of lounges and bars, most filled with nice, beautiful, fun girls who would be thrilled if you bought them a drink for $2. And then carousing about one of dozens of discos from the very modern places like Rock or Spark or to places such as Orange, Heart of Darkness, Martinis or others.

If you don’t mind a place that is just a bit rough around the edges you really should check out PP. And if you have designs on becoming the next Stanley Ho or Li Ka Shing in Asia, investment into PP, and Cambodia in general, will pay off in spades.

I’ll rest when I’m dead… back to Phnom Penh!

So much for that plan. I returned to Bangkok and was only there for a few days when for the 1,800th time, I broke up with my crazy Thai gf and left again! This time for good. Yes, I can actually hear a collective guffaw and a shaking of heads, but this time it is for good, I am sure! I always said, when it got to the 1,800th breakup, it’ll be time to call it quits! 😛

So I ended up spending a few days in Phuket mulling over some travel options and then decided to head back to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the 2nd time in 2 years.

On my first visit I didn’t feel well and so, even though I stayed in Phnom Penh for 5 days, I only actually left the hotel on 1 day… so, needless to say, I didn’t see too much of PP.

I have made up for that on this trip, having spent nearly a week in PP this time and having ventured out and about every day.

There is a lot to like about PP. Prices has to be one of the main positives though. This has to be pretty much the cheapest, livable country I’ve been to. They mostly use US dollars here and it is like going back to the 1960s… here $1 is actually worth something. A tuk tuk ride, $2. A nice meal at a good restaurant, $2.50. Vodka redbull, $2. A shot of tequila, $1. I left my hotel with $15 in my pocket yesterday and didn’t even have any concern that that amount wouldn’t last me easily the remainder of the day… and even if I want to be extravagant!

Another thing really nice about PP is how laid back it is… coming from frenetic Bangkok it’s a world away in terms of leisurely pace and style. Taxis in Bangkok seem to defy all sense of caution as they rip through traffic at 100 mph. In contrast, the average car in PP rarely gets much over 20mph. They could, as there is generally lots of room on the wide boulevards, but they just don’t seem to be in any rush.

The air quality is also great… blue skies and billowy white clouds acquiesce above the gentle flows of the confluence of the Tong Le Sap and Mekong Rivers.

But there are some negatives here… at least for me. Firstly, I have switched hotels 3 times now hoping to find one with a decent internet connection… while most hotels here offer wifi, the internet connectivity for the entire city seems to be atrocious. Download speeds mimic the pace on the streets and dozens of times throughout the day internet traffic appears to halt completely. And so, for this reason alone, I won’t be staying here too much longer… it’s too bad. If it had blazing internet here I could see myself hanging out here for weeks or months at a time.

Another semi-irritating thing here is the amount of UN type people and NGOs. NGOs are, for the most part, despicable and repugnant as they smugly drive their obscene Land Rovers and Lexus SUVs around town, going from conference to conference, patting each other on the back, mainly expounding about how it is important that a place like Cambodia doesn’t use cheap coal powered electricity generation and instead uses expensive, inadequate solar or wind power instead. This, and most actions of these NGOs to help ‘regulate’ Cambodia only serve to stifle an already incredibly small and poor economy… a topic for yet another conference in the future, no doubt.

Which brings me to another unpleasant side of PP: poverty and general street begging. Very few cities in the world have any type of street-begging. The only cities I have seen that have a significant amount are Vancouver, Mumbai and Quito. But PP has quite a bit as the country is still early in the process of recovering from the brutal, genocidal communist regime of the 70s which halved the population of Phnom Penh alone.

Other than those three things though, Phnom Penh is really nice. Like I said, if they can fix their internet problems you’d find me sitting many night of the year at the open air bar at the Foreign Correspondents Club overlooking the river banks.

Speaking of the FCC… that is an absolute must stay hotel… what a great vibe and great style. It is actually one of the cooler places I’ve ever been. You kinda have to be there to understand what I mean… but it is just really cool. If ever in PP you have to go. Another really cool hotel is called Villa Langka. Super trendy and nice with a fantastic pool… just try to ignore all the NGOs sitting around the pool and restaurant tapping away at their laptops while they try to make the world a “better place�.

For nightlife seekers, here is an excellent itinerary:

9pm FCC for dinner (try the wood fired pizza) and drinks
10pm Saunter upstairs to the open air lounge at the FCC and see what new female tourists are in town that evening – just smile and nod and act like you give a damn as they regail you on this or that temple they’ve been up since 6am touring
11pm Walk over to DV8, a nice little bar full of girls all too happy to talk to you. Some of them are really beautiful… and most are really sweet. Something kinda lost in a place like Bangkok now where many girls have lost a bit of that sweetness… alternatively to DV8 you can take a tuk tuk to 104 street which is home to about 10 bars.
12pm Pay the bar fine ($5 per girl) and take 3 or 4 girls with you… they’ll know all the good spots to go and will no doubt be a blast to hang out with
12pm There are numerous spots to go at this time… the locals like Orange… it is pretty good but it is very local… you won’t see any gringos in there… which is of course a good thing… but if you want to be amongst foreigners, check out Heart of Darkness. Also, Martinis is kinda a cool little bar area. And there is a big venue called Spark. There is also another odd place full of Chinese people and mainly Vietnamese working girls, oddly enough. As much as I like China, and as I have noted before, Chinese people have NO clue how to party. They can’t dance, at all… usually just flailing about and chain smoking and looking weird. So, while it is an interesting place to see, I’d skip that place…

It’s a small city so very quickly you’ll get to know everyone… I already appear to be quite famous…. It’s a great vibe here. And man, if you are white and have a little bit of money (like $50 even), you live like a king here. Every girl loves white men… and they don’t seem to care how old (I’m talking 80 years old is no problem!), fat (400 lbs? No problem!) or ugly (I’ve seen guys with faces full of warts walking hand in hand with a local young beauty down the street!) you are! It actually is pretty much white man heaven here… if you are fat, old and ugly but still want to have an unbelievably beautiful 18 year old girlfriend, go to PP.

I’m not too fat, old or ugly yet but I’ve already got a girlfriend here… she is beautiful and one of the sweetest girls I’ve ever met…. Named Avy.

I’m telling ya, if they can get this internet connectivity problem sorted out, I’ll be a regular in PP.

Lastly, in regard to safety, if you are a watcher of Western “news” programs you no doubt think that the world is a very, very scary place full of plagues (AIDS!! Watch out!!! You’re gonna die if you make love!), terrorists (people in caves in Afghanistan are knocking over skyscrapers with jet aircraft! really!!!) and violence… but if you live in the real world you know that all that is hype and for the most part, just downright lies and misinformation. When I was in Cartagena, Colombia, hanging out with my Colombian girlfriend and her friend, they asked me, “Why do Americans think Colombia is dangerous?”… I couldn’t give them a good answer except just to say, “well, they’re idiots”. And the same goes for here… I mentioned to a few people I was in Cambodia and got the instant, reflexive, programmed, “is it safe?” response. The answer is, simply, yes… completely. Turn off your TV and do not listen to anything your government tells you. I was asked by a woman from New York I met in Aruba about all the places I travelled.. she asked me, “I would never go to most of those places… have you ever been in a situation where you feared for your life?”… I paused… “No… not that I can think of. Oh, well actually, one or two times in New York.”… I think she thought I was kidding… the next day I had to spend the night in NYC on a stopover… I reflected on our conversation as I made my way through the swarms of heavily armed militia, barking dogs and out into the bone chilling weather through to the rundown taxi who ripped me off and spent 20 minutes trying to find the airport hotel as we drove through Jamaica, NY through various neighborhoods complete with burned-out abandoned buildings, barbed wire fences, crackheads and unfriendly looking gangster dudes. I quickly reached over and locked my door as we came to a stop at a stoplight and just said to myself, “just get through this… just a few more days and I’ll be safe and happy in places like Cambodia or Laos.”