We Signed a Lease!

Phnom Penh doesn’t have a lot of public green space to enjoy. The green space that does exist consists mostly of sharp crab grass lawns completely exposed to the elements. In fact, with the exception of Wat Phnom in the far north of the city center, I can’t think of a single space where you can take a stroll beneath a grove of shade trees.

Vientiane wasn’t any better in this respect, and we might not have given in much thought at all if we hadn’t just spent time enjoying Kuala Lumpur’s amazing (but also rapidly shrinking) urban forest reserves and green spaces.

Fortunately, there are a handful of large public playgrounds in Phnom Penh, which is a departure from Vientiane. When it’s too hot to play outside, kids can play at any number of fairly amazing play space offerings scattered throughout the city, for a fee or the price of a beverage.

As far as outdoor playgrounds go, the two largest that we’ve found so far are adjacent to Wat Phnom, and this one at Wat Botum Park near the Royal Palace.

Noe really wanted to ride this thing.

Until he didn’t…


This guy will be walking on his own any day now. Any… Day… Now…

A lot of people like to remind us of the old adage, you spend the first year trying to get your kids to walk and talk and the next 17 trying to get them to sit down and be quiet.

Well… We get it. But, like Noe before him, it makes life so much easier once he’ll be able to do both. Right now, all he wants to do is crawl everywhere (home, restaurants, trash-covered sidewalks), and when he wants something he’s in this phase right now where he screams his head off instead of using the baby signs he was using three months ago but has conveniently forgotten.

We’re in no rush for our kids to grow up, but a little walking and talking would be a welcome development at this point.

Looks like we’ve said goodbye to the rains until next year, and temps are finally hitting that dry season sweet spot. Another awesome late November evening to be walking along the river.


Hmm… If by “Coffee Weather” Starbucks means 80 degrees and sunny, then yeah, I guess. Maybe an iced beverage would have been better suited for the Cambodian “holiday” season.

We pass this bright red double-decker bus bar every morning. Noe’s really been wanting to check out “that coffee shop” and today his wish came true. Not only that, we sat on the top deck. It may have blown his mind.

Riley liked it too, just in a different way.

Just before the start of festival week, an independent agent Lori’s been in contact with reached out to her regarding a rental property. The way she described the property made us certain that we’ve already viewed it, so we initially declined.

Yet, she persists, insisting it was not the property we’re thinking of. She sends us a handful of interior photos and a pin. It appeared to tick all of the boxes for us, and the place looked very nice based on the photos. But the pin made no sense at all. We asked for clarification but only got the same pin.

With festival time upon us, most of our leads had dried up for the time being, leaving us spinning our wheels in our temporary digs. At that point, we were quite anxious to view the place, but there were a couple of snags.

For one, the unit wouldn’t be available to view for another 10 days (the Saturday following Khmer Water Festival).

Two, the current tenants wouldn’t be out until the end of December (six weeks from now).

Not ideal, but without many other options, we felt like we didn’t have a whole lot to lose by viewing it.

In the meantime, Lori and I wandered the neighborhood of the unit a few times trying to match up the custom windows in the photos with buildings we passed — to no avail.

To us, the location of this place was an absolute mystery. I was still convinced it was the same place we’d looked at a couple times but passed on (or a different unit in the same building).

Lori stuck to her guns, pointing out that the kitchen windows are completely different.

Saturday after the festival finally rolled around. We met the agent at a restaurant, passing a nondescript alleyway on our way. I mentioned to Lori that I hadn’t noticed the alley before and that we hadn’t been down there.

Coincidentally, this was the first viewing (of two dozen) that we brought the boys. We followed the agent back down the same alley we’d just past where we met up with the landlord who unlocked a heavy iron grate and in we went.

And up…

…and up…

…and up…

It was a bit of a slog up four flights of funky steel framed steps to the unit, but we were blown away by the unit itself, which occupied the top two levels of an old shophouse (what is referred to as a “duplex townhouse” in Cambodia).

It’s all recent construction with an industrial-meets-French-colonial-meets-Khmer-shophouse vibe, tucked back in a funky network of alleys occupied by a mix of Khmer, French, Japanese, Italian, Indian, Syrian, and Chinese.

Three bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, 3 outdoor terraces (one in the rear for washing and drying clothes), and one of the nicest kitchens we’d seen.

And, a short walk to Lori’s office, an even shorter walk to the boys’ nursery school, and just minutes from some of the city’s best eateries and coffee shops.

So…what’s the catch!?

Well, the four precarious flights of stairs to access the unit, and rail-less stairs inside the unit, aren’t ideal for a one-year-old and 3.5 year-old.

…but not a deal breaker.

The move-in date obviously sucked, as it meant we’d be resigned to our temporary housing for over a month, until after the new year.

…but not the end of the world, since we did have a roof over our heads until then.

So, we decided to move forward on the property, kicking off the tedious passing around of the contract among four parties (Lori and I, the agent, landlord, and Lori’s employer which had to approve the terms).

More on that later in this post.

With our morning viewing out of the way, we thought we’d go explore another one of Phnom Penh’s local markets. Orussey Market was the next on my list. After an underwhelming visit to Phnom Phen’s famous Art Deco Central Market, I was ready for something a bit more raw and real.

And boy did Orussey deliver!

Lori and I have been in a ton of sprawling local markets over the years, but Orussey’s on another level. If you’re a casual tourist visiting Phnom Penh thinking about visiting Orussey, you’ll probably want to run as fast as you can in the other direction. Say, towards Russian Market, perhaps?

Orussey is legit.

No tourist trinkets here. English? Forget about it. Come with a strong stomach, as the various smells can overwhelm the senses. Combine rotting fish, sewage, and a slaughterhouse dumpster, and you’re somewhere in the ballpark.

And, if you are the least bit claustrophobic, I urge you to reconsider. Not only is Orussey Market the epitome of fire-hazard-death-trap market, with only few tiny hidden exits and piles upon piles of old cardboard stacked to the roof, it’s also extremely tight quarters in some spaces. And did I mention it’s HOT? And this is late November!!!

That’s not to say that Orussey Market isn’t worth a visit. It is! If you like a little adventure in your travels with an element of danger and a whole lot of authenticity, and don’t get too caught up over hygiene, various odors, confined spaces, or being the only non-Asian person in a sea of hundreds, then you won’t be disappointed.

After decades of travel across dozens of developing countries, Orussey still managed to surprise, astound, and confound me. That alone made it worth a visit, in my book.

Leaving Orussey, we head southwest to check out the so-called “Olympic Stadium.”

On the way, we pass a row of shophouses, reminiscent of the shophouse we viewed this morning (pre-renovation).

These days, I like to think about what I would do to update my Khmer shophouse, given the chance. Would I keep the building intact as a single-family residence, or split it up into 3-4 separate flats? Or two duplexes, perhaps? Or demo the entire thing and start from scratch? Oh, the hard questions in life.

A couple of blocks later, we ran headlong into this thing.

Um, where’s the Olympic Stadium? We knew we were close. Just didn’t expect to run into a high-end shopping mall. Can’t go under it… Can’t go over it… Might as well go through it…

That’s one long escalator.

We couldn’t resist riding this bad boy to the top. Could you resist?

Only problem is, once we got to the top, we couldn’t find any stairs or escalators to get between floors, which meant either taking the escalator all the way back down to the ground floor, or taking the glass elevator between floors (which always had a long line. I can’t imagine why…).

You simply can’t visit Olympia Mall without taking a ride on a whirly chair. Well… Riley and I can. But Noe and Lori can’t.

We follow some signs to a “Sunshine Bridge” and emerge from the mall to find brand new high rise condos. And more condos. And more condos.

And, a pretty awesome view of the temple complex next door…surrounded by construction, of course.

A short while later, we arrived at a glass bridge, undoubtedly made by the same Chinese firm that built the rest of the confounding condo complex. With the Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge in China not far from our minds (the one that has the unfortunate distinction of cracking under your feet as you walk), we weren’t keen to spend too much time on this one.

But Noe absolutely loved it (and he’s quite a bit lighter than us…and can run really fast…and daddy was right there (just in case), so we weren’t too concerned).


Finally, after crossing the glass bridge of death, we caught our first glimpse of the Olympic Stadium.

As a stadium, I wouldn’t say it’s Olympic in size, but it was cool to see it in use as a recreational space open free to the public. One of the few remaining “green” spaces in a city increasingly being devoured by concrete and steel. No need to look further than Olympic Stadium, itself, as the entire stadium is enveloped in active construction projects.

“Now Open.” Somehow I seriously doubt that.

Another Saturday, another date night. Yeah, yeah, I know. A bit more frequent than our once every six-week target in Laos. But the kids at the ages they’re at have a talent for sucking our energy and bringing us to the brink of insanity. And, sitters’ rates are less here than in Laos. And, there are so many new places to explore. And, we’re in transition. So…

After an awesome dinner at Il Forno, we head to our favorite alleyway neighborhood in town to try out a hidden craft beer bar called Embargo. It was everything I dreamed it would be — no frills, no nonsense, no flatscreens, no pretense. Just a hard to find hole-in-the-wall place serving eight beers on tap from the area’s best craft breweries.

Embargo is a place that couldn’t possibly survive (or even exist) in the U.S. for a variety of reasons, but exists here in Phnom Penh, nonetheless. We order up a couple of flights and make our way through all their entire selection.

Afterwards, we return to the city’s hipster paradise, Bassac Lane, for a beer up top of Jack Saloon.


Tucked down yet another funky alleyway, things haven’t quite started hopping tonight (it’s only 9pm, after all), but they will.

The next morning, it’s off to Tuol Kork — as close as it gets to suburbia in Cambodia. Camburbia, anyone?

We’ve been hearing a lot about a place called Urban Space and thought we’d like to check it out.

First off, we knew Tuol Kork was going to be a haul from Independence Monument, but really had no idea. It’s amazing this Phnom Penh neighborhood is ever mentioned in the same sentence as Riverside, BKK1, or even Tuol Tom Pong (Russian Market). It feels like it’s practically in another time zone.

As far as Urban Space goes, I was expecting a coffee shop with a play area. This place is more like a Kids Zone with a restaurant attached. Taken as a whole, it’s fairly impressive and virtually unparalleled with regards to kids’ places in Phnom Penh. There are multiple levels, a sand pit, outdoor playground, swimming pool, arts and crafts space, and much more.

You can pay for a day pass for the upstairs area and/or the pool, or you can do what we did and grab a bite to eat and take advantage of the playground and sand pit, which doesn’t have an additional fee.

With our boys at the ages they’re at, I have mixed feelings regarding these sorts of play structures.

On the one hand, it’s nice to see play structures using natural and repurposed materials. And the entire structure (which includes a two-level outpost and crow’s nest) is pretty darn cool.

But generally all that wood, metal, and concrete means we can’t just let our 3.5-year-old loose without feeling like we’re hovering. Sure, the city playgrounds are 100% plastic, but they’re also fairly toddler-proof.

Regardless, Noe thought the entire place was awesome.


With a name like that, who can possibly resist???


What about the lease?

We’re happy to report that — after half a dozen lease drafts with input from four parties — on 21 November, Lori and I gathered in a small coffee shop with the landlord and the agent, scratched some ink on some paper, and made things official.

(Lori’s pointing to our future home…not invoking the NFL post-touchdown Holy Spirit…)

Plan on more the details in the new year after we move in. Until then, Big Green will continue to be our Cambo home for the next six weeks.

Stay tuned!

21 Nov 2019

6 thoughts on “We Signed a Lease!”

  1. Glad you finally found a place – best of luck

  2. Hope you are settling in! Looking forward to seeing pictures! I remember moving from the second floor of one building to the third floor of another. Once long ago!!! Hope all is well!


    So happy you’ve finally found a place that’s right for you!! Looking forward to seeing the inside and the four of you settling in..

  4. Shirley Northcraft

    So glad you finally found the perfect home. All those stairs give you a built in fitness center. Neighboring features add an extra bonus.


    • Funny you should say that! Our 4th-floor kitchen window actually looks straight into a fitness center across the alley. And, I’m pretty sure that one of the machines is a stepper.


Leave a Comment