Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and the Seven Candles Guesthouse
Above, on the road from Phnom Penh.
Arrival into Phnom Penh was painless; about a half hour from plane to door. The $20 for visa on arrival took less than 5 minutes and our bags were already on the carousel by the time we got there. Outside, the driver set up by Ponheary was waiting. He drove with one hand on the horn and one foot on the gas at 70 mph the whole way. We got there in 4.5 hrs including a stop in Kompong Thom at the Arunras hotel for a bland chicken and water spinach. The scene along the way was endless rice fields, cows, water buffalo, goats, and oddly enough, many people playing volleyball in their yards. Turns out volleyball is a popular sport here.
We arrived at the Seven Candles Guesthouse around 4:30 PM and it was so great to see Ponheary and Lori waiting for us. The guesthouse has expanded and remodeled since we were here in 2007 and greatly improved since David and I were here in 2002. This year they were listed in the Lonely Planet guide as a favorite pick for the neighborhood. The rooms are spacious and spotless, have A/C, small TVs with international cable, mini fridge, nice quality linens and beautiful hand woven silk kramas (Cambodian scarves) hanging on the wall. Rooms in the new wing have enclosed showers stalls in the bathrooms and the others have just an open shower in the bathroom. There’s wifi for a small fee.
There are thoughtful touches like Lori’s favorite restaurant list, two free bottles of water per day, laundry service for $2 per kilo (just leave laundry in basket outside door before 7am and you‘ll have it back same day), comfortable common areas with computers (use your access card), small library for guests, hot water pot in the room for coffee and tea. Our rooms in the back of the hotel were very quiet.
One caveat, this is a guesthouse, not a hotel. What does that mean?It means it’s important to have realistic expecations and know your limitations. There’s no soap and shampoo in the bathrooms. It’s not uncommon to see grasshoppers, geckos, and sometimes frogs in the hallways at night. Yes, there are bugs here, but this is Cambodia. There’s no pool (but I think they have an agreement with a local hotel where if you want you can use their pool for $4/day).
Finally, let’s not forget the good that is associated with this place, the Ponheary Ly Foundation and the Ly family (including all the adorable children) who live here in the house too. Of course, there’s no pressure to participate, it’s just a good place to stay and Ponheary and her brother Dara and sister Marina are excellent licensed guides to the temples of Angkor Wat. Marina has also opened a small restaurant serving wonderful breakfasts (more on that later). Room rates change with the season and availability (as with most guesthouses in Cambodia) so make sure to email and ask for the rate (in general a room is $10-$20 per night).
We arrived to no electricity which happens here in Siem Reap. It usually only lasts no longer than a couple of hours and actually never went out again during our stay. We did our best to clean up a bit and then went out for drinks and dinner with Lori and Lynn, her friend who is here from Texas for a month. We took one of the guesthouse’s tuk tuk’s (guys who have been approved by the guesthouse and are trustworthy) to an alley off pub street called “The Passage.” There, we went to a little Spanish inspired bar called Picasso’s where a decent margarita on the rocks was $3.50. They also have imported wines by the glass all under $4 and tapas to snack on. There is a vaulted brick ceiling over a horseshoe shaped bar. Please note, “Pub Street” where all the tourists go is a zoo and filled with mediocre restaurants. My advice is to get off it and explore other options. There are cute boutique shops in the Passage too.
Lori called the tuk tuk and he came back to get us and take us out on the “boom boom” road to a wonderful new Khmer owned place called Touich. The owner is French-Khmer and has worked in some well known restaurants both here and abroad. The food is mostly Khmer and Thai with some western options.
By this time I’d hit the wall and after 30 hours of travel and a cocktail all I wanted was a bed so I didn’t order anything, but everyone else’s food was fantastic. There were grilled frog’s legs which were a tasty snack. Unfortunately, it was too dim in there to get good photos of the food. Lori’s favorite, the “pork chop over glowing embers” was a HUGE grilled pork chop served on the bone; it looked like a Flintstone dinner. I had a couple bites and it was excellent. Mom ordered eggplant with ground pork which was absolutely fantastic. Portion sizes are pretty big for here. Lynn had Tom Yum Gai soup, vegetarian fried rice and ordered a tofu vegetable dish which never came and eventually showed as a Khmer mixed vegetable salad which was pretty good.
Touich is located behind Wat Enkosai Preah and is worth the trek out by tuk tuk. Have your hotel call for directions 092-808040. Also, have your driver stay, because getting back can be a pain. We bought our driver dinner. The “boom boom road” is a heavily pot holed unpaved dirt road and at this time of year was a muddy track with the potholes were the size of small swimming pools filled with water. The driver navigated them expertly. We got back and I was done, asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.