The trip from Battambang to Phnom Penh is a long one. Five hours on a bumpy road passing by seemingly unchanging landscapes of paddy fields. The occasional houses dotted along the dusty highway and massive tractors and lorries zooming by breaks the mundane scene. To help ease the monotonous ride, our taxi was packed with five adults and three children.
There are no restrictions on number of passengers or the fact that children need to be car seats. In Cambodia, as long as you hang on tight and reach your destination, any vehicle works – this includes three-wheelers, tuk-tuks, motorbikes with wooden plank extensions as seats, open roof lorries and bullock carts. So we found ourselves (me, my hubby and toddler son) sharing the taxi with another couple, their toddler and a baby. We were entertained the whole way with baby gurgles and toddler chatter.
Having spent two months living in Battambang’s countryside, arriving in Phnom Penh was a breath of fresh air. A sense of excitement bubbled at the sight of sky scrapers, a MacDonald’s delivery van and the red Illy coffee sign. I was relieved to be back in the city, albeit for a few days.
We checked into an artisty boutique hotel, The 240. Its entrance fresh and welcoming with colourful paintings of animated depictions of Cambodian life hung on the walls and the ceiling. The kind of small boutique hotels that take on the character and charm of the neighbourhood. Apparently, the 240 Street where the hotel is located, has developed into a hip and happening go to offering a selection of fine restaurants, dainty cafes, boutiques and quite a number of small hotels. Old shophouses have been refurbished into nice meeting places. Over the next few days, I spent my afternoons walking the street and making beelines into secondhand bookshops, fairtrade boutiques, jewelry shops and a really good bakery.
The 240’s hotel room although a little small had all the necessary fittings including a small study table and a cozy balcony with deck chairs. The room opens out to a balcony curtained with plants making it a quiet recluse from the heavy Phnom Penh traffic.
Just below the hotel is the 240’s cafe, a healthy and wholesome restaurant serving organic delights. Fresh juices, salads and sandwiches. The cafe takes on the same fresh ambience with natural colours on the walls, planters of grass and fresh flowers as table decor, and furniture made with local rattan and wood. The cafe also carried a fine selection of organic goodies from baby food to handmade soaps. Constantly buzzing with customers, I got a sense that the cafe is a local favourite.
Although the hotel did not have a pool, we were given access to their sister hotel’s pools just a stones throw away. The Kabiki is a family friendly hotel set in a colonial building within a lush green compound. The pool is surrounded by native kabiki trees providing just enough shade for the comfy lounge chairs and cabanas. The Kabiki is situated just 250 metres from The 240 and we enjoyed a quick evening swim with our little one there.
I also visited The Pavilion after reading about it in the hotel’s compendium. Located near the Royal Palace and about 150 metres from The 240, this property is catered for the seasoned traveler looking for a bit of luxury. Its white walls provide recluse for the guests and one would easily walk pass the unassuming heavy wooden door leading into the compound.
A perfectly palm shaded walkway led me into an open courtyard with a beautiful aqua blue pool facing the entrance of what looks like a heritage building. The beautifully refurbished villa was reportedly the Cambodian royal family’s home in the mid-twenties. I was treated to a massage at the Pavilion’s Spa, a small intimate spa with signature massages. After the blissful massage, I lazed around in the daybed while enjoying a steaming hot cup of ginger tea while the sun rays danced on the pool.