What’s the Catch!?

With the 7 Makara property out, and lukewarm feelings about our #2 & #3 picks, we hit the ground running—again—on Wednesday.

But not before nearly getting plowed over by the tourist brigade. Here come the barang!

His dash decors adds a nice touch. Really livens up that space.

Found it! First Cold Brew in PP.

If you ever need a shave, this little alleyway is your place, apparently. Nothing like getting shaved with a straight razor on an active city street.

On Day One of our house hunt, we viewed nearly a dozen 3-bedroom properties. What we didn’t realize at the time was, we’d essentially viewed all of the available 3-bedroom units in our search area and within our budget. This became evident as we reached out to more and more agents.

Two days later, it’s clear we have three choices: Expand our search criteria, move forward with one of the properties we’ve already viewed, or wait and hope more properties come on the market soon.

There are three areas we’re willing to consider tweaking our criteria: Budget, distance from Lori’s work, and number of bedrooms.

Increasing our budget or including the BKK2, BKK3, and Tuol Tom Pong (Russian Market) neighborhoods doesn’t seem to gain us any additional properties to view at the moment. So, we decide to check out a number of two-bedroom units in the hope that one of them might be workable.

The first unit is in an older high-rise that is attached to a newer high-rise with a rooftop pool.

It’s a nice unit, but not spacious enough for a two-bedroom. Our thinking is, if we are going to make a two-bedroom work with our family of four, it has to be a fairly spacious two-bedroom unit, maybe even with a bonus room that we could turn into a third bedroom.

The next property we view is also nice, but surrounded by active construction. If I can’t sit out on the balcony and have a conversation with Lori, it’s an automatic no-go.

We also view a newer industrial style unit in Tonle Bassac. Size-wise, it may have worked, if not for a half dozen or so baby-unfriendly features — chief among them, the narrow plank over a fish pond you must traverse to access the building, and two, sections of small rocks in lieu of flooring in the unit itself. You know, for that outdoor garden touch, indoors.

In addition to be quite small, the next place has too many issues to list. But the kitchen and next door neighbors are pretty big ones.

This is the extent of the kitchen. There may have also been a mini fridge in the living room.

And, of course, the ominous vacant lot next door. There are also two other high-rises going up a block away, which doesn’t bode well.

When we arrive at this next property, we think we’ve finally found our place!

By this time, Lori and I are having fun (if you can call it that) playing a little game called, “What’s the Catch!?”

Every property that’s met our criteria so far has had one giant catch, usually revealed at the end (or after hours, in the case of the 7 Makara unit). It’s becoming so frustrating that all we can do is try and put a positive spin on the experience and make a fun game out of it.

Our agent preps us ahead of time for this next place (usually not a good sign, but sometimes the issues are only minor for us).

He warns us that, if you can live with the entrance, this place is perfect.

We’d heard that back at the Riverside property on Day One with the five flights of stairs.

If stairs are the only issue, then we can deal. It’s usually a combination of factors or — the catch!

This property is also in Riverside, on a busy road. But for the right place, we can make it work, certainly after having a much better understanding of the current market realities for 3-bedroom units.

We enter through a small door next to a convenience store and begin ascending several flights of stairs.

No problem. We can live with this.

About half way up, we come to a landing where a woman is stirring something steamy in a giant pot over an open fire. We skirt the wall to avoid the flames.

No big deal. We’ll just have to teach the boys to be careful.

Up we go.

We reach the top of the old building and step out into the daylight. We’re here, yeah?

The agent motions up a nearly vertical set of stairs leading to a door. Oh, up some more?

Okay, we can deal with this, right? Noe can climb these. We’ll just have to carry Riley, and our stuff. And probably Noe on the way down. But it’s totally doable.

We finally enter the unit and are blown away. It’s so nice! Gorgeous kitchen, lots of space. THREE-BEDROOMS. Under budget, and…

Not one but TWO huge terraces on different levels with an awesome downtown view. I’m already imagining myself barbecuing up here and the kids spending their free time playing outside on the huge patio space.

Which only leaves one question!:


While on the upper terrace, Lori notices the razor wire dividing this property with the next, and asks the agent, who lives next door?

The agent says he didn’t know. Lori notices the tiki decor and asks if it’s some sort of restaurant. The agent says he really doesn’t know but will find out for us.

Back down at street level, we tell the agent we’ll talk things over and get back to him, then head off on our own.

Lori and I really like this last place. Sure, the entry’s a little rough, and there are some stairs to contend with. And Mama Cambodia’s open fire to shimmy around. But it is everything we want in a place and more. And under budget!

But we can’t help but wonder who the neighbors are. So, we walk around the corner of the building to investigate. We cross the street, peer up towards the two large terraces of the unit, and see this:

11 Happy Backpackers. “Party Hostel.” “Rooftop Bar.”

No worries. Maybe it’s a quiet little party hostel with only a few rooms. Like, a Boutique Party Hostel? Maybe the rooftop bar is around the corner from the unit? I bet we wouldn’t even be able to hear it, right?

We enter the lobby and are greeted by a large banner behind the front desk:

“Biggest hostel in Phnom Penh with most awesome rooftop in all of Cambodia.”

Still in denial, we ascend the stairs to the rooftop, in, what is one of the raunchier and more ghetto hostels I’ve been in in a long time.

We arrive at the rooftop, and make a beeline to the back of the outdoor section to the last table, which is covered in used happy balloons and roaches (the marijuana variety, not the creepy crawler, though I’m sure there were plenty of those about as well). We peer through the fencing and confirm that the happy hostel rooftop bar shares a wall with, what was for a fleeting moment at least, our top housing pick.

I read through the reviews of the rooftop bar, which all seem to support the notion that this is one loud and crazy rooftop bar, with one reviewer going so far to describe it as “the loudest, shittiest rooftop bar in Phnom Penh, whose only redeeming quality is that it doesn’t close before midnight.”

Hot, tired, and demoralized, we shuffle our way in silence to the riverfront. We’ve been looking forward to returning to this part of town as it was where we spent the bulk of our time in 2012. We have fond memories of grabbing a drink at the historic Foreign Correspondents Club and staring out at the Tonle Sap, and the Mekong beyond.

Thinking a visit to the FCC would boost our spirits, that’s where we headed. Only to find:

Closed for renovation. Perfect. Just perfect.

We make our way across the street to a bar overlooking the river to grab a couple of beers. Just then, I realize we don’t have any money. I ask Lori to order and run down to the street to use the ATM. I open my wallet and suddenly remember I hadn’t moved my debit card back to my wallet after walking around alone in the dark to scout out the property in 7 Makara.

I quickly call Lori to tell her NOT to order the beers. But too late. Did they open them? Of course they did.

They’re ice cold at least. And already open. Maybe they’ll let us do some dishes in return. Or, we could make a run for it.

Fortunately, I found a wad of Riel in one of my pockets, and between the two of us, we were able to barely scrape together the bill with about $0.05 to spare.

There is one more property we’ve been wanting to view today on our own but haven’t been able to get in touch with the manager to figure out exactly where it is. On our way back to our temporary abode, we receive a message that it’s a three-bedroom unit in the same building we’re currently renting an Airbnb apartment in.

When we get to the building, we find the manager who sends one of his staff to show us the unit, one floor below where we are currently staying.

The kitchen is wide open (not ideal with the kids), but has everything we need. It’s got two balconies, is within our budget, and a short walk to Lori’s work. And, it has three bedrooms.

Could this be that our Phnom Penh home was literally right under our noses all along?

(To be continued…)

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