Phnom Penh Weekend

It’s safe to say, things haven’t gone the way we hoped in finding an apartment here in Phnom Penh. By the end of our first week, we’re feeling drained and a bit discouraged. On the eating and drinking side of things, however, our luck has been just the opposite, which is good since our kitchen is nonfunctional at the moment.

There are more great restaurants, bars, and cafes than you can shake a stick at within walking distance of our current place. Since we have no clue what the future holds or where we’ll be living next year, next month, or even next week, we’re trying to take full advantage of what’s in a stone’s throw distance.

The folks over at Hops Craft Beer Garden heard we were moving to the area and went and opened up a tap room and play area a few blocks away from our apartment. Well, maybe they didn’t open it just for us, but it sure seems that way.

Noe loves this place, and so do we, so everyone’s happy. Except for Riley. Riley’s pretty hard to please these days (when he’s not stuffing his face, that is).

Hops’ German biergarten-inspired plates are a wee bit pricey, so we just come here for the craft beer, which is pretty good.

We feed the kids a picnic dinner we bring with us and get back to the apartment just before bedtime. After the kids go down, we’ll then have a nice quiet meal together.

Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of delivery, since it’s only a buck more than eating at the restaurant and we have dozens of choices to choose from. When we do eventually find our long-term housing, that will likely all change. But for now, it’s a system we’re happy with.

A Few More House Viewings

Friday brings more viewings! After reaching out to an agent that Lori’s employer recommended, they finally get back to us with a property we haven’t yet viewed that meets our criteria.

This property has three-bedrooms, is in the desirable BKK1 neighborhood, has a huge terrace, and is within our budget. Awesome, let’s see it!

We are told to meet the agent at a minimart and discover that the unit is right above the shop. Okay, no problem.

To access the unit, you then have to walk through the landlord’s garage and up some stairs. Okay.

We ascend the stairs and are greeted by a gigantic rooftop terrace. Very nice. Let’s see the house!

The house is a bit dated, but very nice. It reminds us more of what we were accustomed to in Laos than any previous property we’ve viewed in Phnom Penh so far. High ceilings, a well-equipped kitchen. Lots of space.

So…what’s the catch?

We notice at one point that the rear window shades are drawn and the room is very dark. We peak out but can’t see much. An alleyway, perhaps?

There’s a side door leading out to a utility area that we haven’t explored, so we have a look.

Suddenly, we hear a clanging sound. Then, the sound of a power saw cutting through metal. Then more clanging, followed by the sound of metal pipes falling on metal pipes.

What is going on? Are the neighbors renovating a house? Is there a machine shop nearby?

We head back out onto the huge terrace to investigate, turn around and look up.

Oh. Now, that’s a big one.

“What do you think of the house,” asks the agent.

The house is very nice. We have much to discuss.

The afternoon brings more aimless strolls around neighborhoods we hope to find something in. An old shophouse! Why haven’t we viewed any old shophouses??? There are hundreds all over the area we’re looking in. They don’t need to be updated. An old Khmer style shophouse would be just fine.

We wander around and jot down the phone numbers of three we find along the way.

We liked this one and contacted one of the agents immediately to see if we could get more info. Five minutes later, we learn that it was a recently closed restaurant with two bedrooms on the upper floors. Lori and I decide to pass.

I was stunned to find out that that was the case with a lot of these old shophouses. They often only have two functional bedrooms with a completely non-functional ground level (unless you have a car, a bunch of motorbikes, or hope to startup your own little business — hence the name, “shophouse”).

Aeon Mall

Fresh out of properties to view and neighborhoods to stroll within our target area, we decide to checkout nearby Aeon shopping mall, in order to get a sense of what sort of Western housewares we can hope to find in Phnom Penh.

There’s a huge supermarket on the ground floor that could almost double as a North American supermarket chain, but for a few key differences.

Like the “big black chicks,” for example.

I’m pretty impressed by the mall on the whole. While it’s still a far cry from the mega malls of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, there’s certainly more on offer than any shopping center in Laos.

Like this place…

And, supersized baby changing rooms…

…though, I can think of few worse things than having to change a kid here when this room’s at capacity. Riley, hurry up and get potty-trained, already! For Pete’s sake, man, you’re almost 13 months old!!!

Now, that’s a party.

I love my family, but no thank you.

Busy Saturday with the Boys

On Saturday morning, Noe is finally reunited with some of his books that have been packed away for the last five weeks. He’s a pretty happy guy.

Then, it’s off to Farm to Table, where he’s about to get even happier. This day’s off to a pretty great start!

Not quite walking yet, but we can tell Riley really wants to. Come on, buddy! It’s only a matter of time now.

After breakfast, it’s off to explore Russian Market. In the interest of getting a bit more airflow on a humid morning, we get an old-fashioned remorque to take us there. This one comes equipped with a small child keen on torturing Lori for the entire 15-minute ride there.

I think we’ll be sticking with auto-rickshaws for a while (they don’t have extra space for the driver’s little sidekick).

Vientiane had it’s fair share of sprawling local markets (Kua Din and Talat Sao are worth exploring on a Saturday morning), but Russian Market is the first we’ve visited in a very long time that feels like what a big city local market ought to feel like: tight, cramped, and absolutely packed with anything and everything imaginable.

The automotive section is probably our favorite.

We poke around the Tuol Tompoung neighborhood for a bit, before it’s time to head to Noe’s school for a Halloween / Khmer Water Festival / Autumn Party.

The party starts at 11am. Knowing time is of the essence with naps, we make sure to show up on time. Which, of course, means we’re early.

It also means, Noe gets the sandbox all to himself for a bit.

Leave it to the French to organize a nursery school party complete with a Zombie Bar (think scorpion bowl cocktails at 11am) AND a middle-aged French punk band.

We had to leave before the band started (in true French fashion they were quite late…and our kids needed to nap (apparently French kids don’t nap…or they take their naps very late…because they stay up very late…not sure how they still get up and arrive to school by 8:15am.))

But we did stay long enough to get caught in a torrential downpour.

After nap time, we think it might be nice to take a walk around some of the more touristy sections of the neighborhood. There’s a pub street that faces a large Buddhist temple that looks interesting.

Now, how a tourist pub street ends up outside of one of the city’s most revered temples, I have no idea. It can’t be easy for the monks to meditate in there in the evening with the music thumping and drunk people screaming into the wee hours.

We find a rooftop bar overlooking the street with a view of the temple and $0.75 draft beers (that’s my beer, though I know what you’re thinking… and no, he’s not driving).

Moments after our beers arrive, we hear the unmistakable sound of balloons being filled. Uh oh. 3… 2… 1…

“Buhyoon!!! Mommy-daddy! Yookit!”

Happy balloons. Of course.

I tell Noe, it’s not what he thinks they are. That they are mommy-daddy balloons.

He doesn’t buy it and of course he wants one.

It would be a simple thing to ask the lady for a virgin balloon, filled with air rather than happy gas. But happy balloons are so pervasive here in Phnom Penh, it’s best just not to go down that road.

One of the many considerations we face on a daily basis raising young kids in Southeast Asia.

Moments later, the bar fills with the aroma of happy herb, as the five young backpackers at the table behind us pass the bud around.

We down the rest of our beer and make our way down the three steep flights of catwalk stairs with the kids.

But hey, $0.75 beers.

First Cambodian Date Night

Back in Vientiane, Lori and I cherished our date nights. Every six weeks or so, we’d reach out to a small handful of trusted babysitter-nannies and would step out for a few hours on our own.

Now, with two boys, and Riley at a challenging age (for Riley — Noe was quite a bit more chill at 13 months), that time on our own has become even more sought after.

Securing long-term housing here in Phnom Penh may be our top priority, but finding a handful of trusted babysitters is close behind.

Through Lori’s work and personal contacts, she’s got a couple of promising leads that we are eager to try out on our first full weekend here in town.

We’ll ease them in at first, putting the boys down for bed ourselves before the sitter takes over the watch. Fortunately, neither of our boys seems to care if they wake up and a stranger comes in to comfort them.

The first time we have someone new, we’ll usually give Noe a heads up. And, inevitably, Noe waits about ten minutes to make sure mommy and daddy are gone before needing to “use the potty.”

It’s worth noting that Noe rarely has to use the potty right after he goes down for the night on a regular night — only when he knows a sitter is in his midst. We think it’s out of curiosity more than anything. He’ll do his business and go right back to bed. As far as we know, he’s never taken advantage of the situation, which is pretty incredible to us.

Our first Phnom Penh date night takes us to nearby House of Scott in Chaktomuk. We enjoy a fantastic dinner of seared Ahi and pork loin before heading down to BKK1 for drinks.

Per the usual, Lori picked the places for our date night, and, per the usual, they did not disappoint. She wanted a redo on our failed first BKK1 rooftop experience with the boys. We didn’t return to Amigos this time around, but try out Elephant Bar down the street instead.

We are pretty impressed with the place, but are quickly learning that dozens of these places have popped up all over town in recent years.

The “floating” slate tile bridge over the pool is pretty sweet, though (and oh, so not baby-friendly).

Second Sunday

In the morning, we grab breakfast at ARTillery. As the name suggests, it’s a funky/artsy little place down a funky/artsy little alley in the funky/art district. There’s a local place for rent across the street, but, alas, it’s a one-bedroom unit.

ARTillery is close to where we stayed during our first visit to Cambodia as backpackers, so we take a stroll over to the old neighborhood. With the transformation the city has seen in the past seven years, we’re pretty surprised to see our nondescript guesthouse still up and running.

This is where we based ourselves in Phnom Penh in 2012, only long enough for Lori to get over her tropical bug and for the two of us to get our Vietnam visas. If the visas hadn’t taken three days, Phnom Penh very likely might’ve turned into a one-night transit stop.

Now, we’re living here for the foreseeable future.

We step inside the restaurant to have a look around and are even more surprised by how little has changed. To us, it looks like nothing has changed. A time capsule of sorts in a rapidly changing city.

The rest of the street, however, is absolutely unrecognizable.

In 2012, this was a busy, gritty, and shadeless little thoroughfare, packed with aging guesthouses and dodgy local eateries. Now, nearly every lot on the street is a constructions site, a vacant lot, or a recently finished upscale boutique this-and-that.

Three days, then Noe’s back at home for a week for Independence Day and Khmer Water Festival (gotta love all them Cambodian holidays…). Which, also means we’ve got three days to nip this house hunt in the bud before everything shuts down for the next 10 days. And that all of course means me, since Lori starts work back up on Monday.

The heat is on!

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