7 Mar 2008
Okay Guesthouse, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
A$12.80/£6 night
11°33'33.50"N 104°56'5.66"E
1 room


Not feeling too well when we arrived in Cambodia we took the recommendation of the bus company and checked out the Okay Guesthouse. The idea was just to stay here until I was back on my feet, but when Peter started looking to arrange a motorbike tour I was going to go back to Sihanoukville or another beach location to wait for him. When he left, even though I was feeling better, I still didn't feel up to a 3 hour bus ride, and even though I'm sure I could have found something that was better value or with in-room internet, I couldn't even be bothered to go hunting for somewhere else. It was clean, safe and full of people if I wanted to talk. To summarise, Okay by name, Okay by nature.

We took the room with all the bells and whistles - big, hot water, ceiling fan, air conditioning, cable TV, a couple of surprisingly comfortable chairs and a street facing, opening window (hence the bars on the windows) with fly screens so you could open them without fear of being eaten alive by mozzie's. The guesthouse is something of a rabbit warren which, by my reckoning, has around 90 rooms, although few seem to have windows with natural daylight - many face interior corridors or have none at all. 'Rooms' go all the way down from the one we were in to mattresses in corridors with a curtain for $1 per night. Naturally, we had the most expensive but I don't think there are many in the $US12 category - and no, that A$12.80 isn't a mistake. Only a few years ago the Aussie dollar was being called the South Pacific Peso and we were getting 46c to the greenback, now we're getting about 93-94c. Woo-hoo!

The two large single beds were fairly comfortable, the pillows were so-so. No toiletries were supplied, not a problem as we have our bar of soap and shampoo, but we'd have had to do a quick run to the shops if we hadn't, and we had to ask for toilet roll on arrival and then for each subsequent roll.

Rooms weren't automatically serviced daily - once you have a room nobody enters it without your permission. Good policy really, but it would have been nice to have know when checking in that we had to ask for it to be cleaned. On the first day, it was too late by the time we found out so we just got clean towels. We always make our beds anyway so it was no hardship. After that, we asked for it to be cleaned as we went out and got fresh towels and sheets, but surprisingly not toilet roll. You still had to walk through the lobby/dining room with your small, very conspicuous pink roll, meaning it was every couple of days.

The guesthouse seems to have reciprocal arrangements with all of the bus companies coming into Phnom Penh from Vietnam, Thailand, Sihanoukville and other parts of Cambodia - the guesthouse sell tickets and tours, the buses push you towards the guesthouse. I still can't decide if the staff were just being eager to help or doing the hard sell on transport and tours, but booking through them was no more expensive than booking elsewhere and most buses would pick up at the door, reiterating the reciprocal arrangement.

There is a huge dining area in the lobby which always seemed full. For most travellers this was their first stop in Cambodia and the prices were cheap - until you got outside and found the same food for $3 instead of $4, although I doubt most people bothered as most only seemed to be in Phnom Penh long enough to go to the horrendous Killing Fields and the gruesome Toul Sleng museum (no, we didn't). Peter ate here the first night and was not very impressed by the portion size or standard, and ate elsewhere after that.

Everything is done on an honour system. Each room has a book - literally a small notebook - kept in the dining room, and every time you have a meal or drink you write it in your book along with the price and sign. As you check out, it's all totted up along with the number of nights you've stayed and there's your bill. It's such an openly trusting system, I doubt very much that anyone would abuse it. The dining room also had a big screen TV which was tuned to CNN in the early morning and after that whoever got the remote control could put whatever they wanted on. After the morning breakfast rush, which lasted until well after lunchtime, anybody could pick one of the collection of hundreds of DVD's - films old and new (but all English) and put it on. Even bearing in mind that very few rooms had a TV, I was surprised at how many people sat watching films. There was also a collection of books - mostly well thumbed travel guides - that others had left behind.

External doors were locked at 11pm, but 2 security guards were there to open them for anyone returning later. The thing I liked best about this guesthouse was it's 'guest' policy. Each room had the standard Cambodian notice about sex with anyone under 18 being illegal, but it also had a notice warning that many 'escorts' have been known to drug and rob tourists. There was no restriction on bringing a 'guest' back to your room, but she had to have her national ID card which was checked before she was allowed entry. The second part of this rule was that you had to personally escort your 'guest' off the premises so that the guards could be 'assured of the safety of both parties'. And it wasn't pretend - I saw someone trying to bring a girl in who didn't have her ID card and no matter how hard he tried (or how much money he offered) she wasn't allowed in.

The location is pretty good - down a quiet side street just off the far end of the main riverfront area - not the central, trendy cafe-filled part of the riverfront, which is about a 20 minute walk, or the port which is a further 15-20 minutes. It's just a couple of minutes walk to the Royal Palace complex and the International Courts which are in session as I write this. There are 2 small shopping malls with small supermarkets and ATM's within a 5 minute walk (in different directions) and the Central Market, which really is the town centre, is a good 30-40 minute stroll but a very interesting one, as you pass by dozens of old colonial buildings in various states of repair - from fully renovated beauties to derelict mausoleums and everything in between - those currently being renovated and those who's renovations have been long since abandoned.

On reflection, in the unlikely event that we should ever have to overnight in Phnom Penh again, we probably would stay here again. I'm quite sure there's better value out there, but this is more than adequate for a night or two, and a lot of buses will drop off and pick up at the door.

UPDATE: Two days before we left, I put in a bag of laundry - supposed to be ready that evening. Not ready - in the morning. In the morning, not ready, this evening. I put over a kilo of laundry in and got 600g back. A pair of knickers (I only have 3) a bra (I only have 2) and my sexy socks. The bra and knickers could be replaced easily enough, but the socks may not be replaceable. They were a take-home from when I had my back operation. Toe to thigh, tight surgical stockings. I need them for long bus journeys or flights or am left with feet the size of Christmas puddings for a few days, and I've only ever seen knee length ones in shops and pharmacies. I got into a horrible fight with the owner, who was convinced we were trying to get money out of him - I suppose people had tried it on before, but it was odd that it took an extra 24 hours to get the laundry back, indicating that somebody knew that there was a problem.

The next morning he sent a manager up to our room to try and sort it out. I tried to keep out of it - I was so angry with the way the owner had spoken to me I didn't want to get involved. The manager said I could get a new bra and pair of knickers on the market for $5. I pointed out that for that much money it wouldn't be a Triumph bra that cost $49 in the sales, but stressed that my concern wasn't so much the underwear but the stockings which were of no real monetary value but possibly irreplaceable. I left it to Peter, who got quite a bit more than $5 knocked off our bill. We have had laundry items go missing before, usually knickers, but have always been able to get them back when the staff do a hunt, or find them ready in a bag waiting for me to come and pick them up. Mistakes happen, I accept that occasionally items are and always will get lost, but I was treat with contempt. No way we'll be back there.