Today was a hectic and stressful day. We traveled west through Cambodia on the road from Phnom Penh to the second largest city Battambang. However, we almost missed the van due to a misunderstanding and when we finally got to Battambang, our hotel reservation was taken by someone else.
Whenever we book a hotel with a pool I insist on swimming in it at least once if only for five minutes. Feeling that we crossed most of the highlights of our Phnom Penh must-see list, we relaxed in the 252 Hotel’s pool loungers and took a cold morning swim before the sun even peaked through the hotel’s gates to hit our faces.
Maurice swimming, albeit not as fast as he swam at Si Phan Don.
We quickly showered and packed before checking out of the hotel. With less than two hours, we decided to get lunch at Hagar Restaurant, a 15 minute walk away. The restaurant had a simple, clean look and was popular with office workers and a few tourists.
There was a large buffet selection of mostly Western foods with some Cambodian / Asian dishes. The problem with buffets is that they are oftentimes better in theory than in execution. There were some good dishes but overall the food was on the blander side (despite the excellent reviews on TripAdvisor).
Maurice swooped in on the fresh pitaya. He is becoming a bigger fan of them now.
We rushed to eat quickly as we had to catch our van to Battambang at 1:30pm. We walked briskly through the hot afternoon sun, our whole time in Phnom Penh so far has been marked by 100+ degree days. At the gate of the 252 Hotel, we saw a French man waving his hands at us, “Hurry! We’ve been waiting for you!” Maurice and I looked at each other, “But it’s just 1:27pm?”
Yesterday evening we booked 1:30pm Mekong Express van tickets to Battambang. We asked the hotel receptionist who arranged the tickets where we should wait at the hotel at 1:30pm and she said yes.the hotel receptionist told us to wait at the hotel lobby at 1:30pm. Similar to vans in Laos, we were expecting the van to drive around the city picking up passengers from each hotel. However, Cambodia is not Laos. The French man, who revealed himself as the owner of 252 Hotel, explained that we were 45 minutes late. The tuk tuk came to pick us up at 12:45pm to drive us to the bus station. We were all stressed as this was the last bus of the day, we did not want to stay in Phnom Penh one more night and have to cut a night from our forward itinerary.
The owner seemed anxious too but was assertive as he personally picked up our suitcases and brought them out to the curb. Within five minutes, he and one of his hotel staff, a young Cambodian woman, arranged and paid for a tuk tuk to drive us to the bus station as fast as humanly possible and they called the bus company to wait for us. The bus company agreed to wait 15 minutes maximum. They did all of this without us asking them to. We thanked them profusely and were on our way. At the very least we owe them an excellent TripAdvisor review for going above and beyond.
Our tuk tuk driver did indeed drive like a madman. He coursed north through the city streets until he reached a halting traffic jam. His solution? Drive up on the sidewalk, easy!
We finally made it to our van 18 minutes late. Luckily, they waited the extra three minutes as we were rushing through terrible traffic. We did however have to endure the disapproving looks of the locals in the van who presumably sat down and waited at least twenty minutes for us stragglers.
We were fortunate to get the spacious back row where the two of us shared four seats between us. I was able to lay down in fetal position for most of the ride as I ate too much at the lunch buffet and also had general tummy troubles since yesterday. Basically, in the car, I was dying… This was not the first time (Exhibit A: Phuket, Exhibit B: Inle Lake).
After our 5+ hour van ride, it’s only supposed to take 3.5 hours, we made it to our hotel. We had rest stops every 30 minutes along the road. I don’t know why and didn’t ask as we were the only non-Cambodians in that van.
We asked the van driver to drop us off at the point of the road nearest to our hotel the Phka Villa. He graciously obliged. We wandered around with our luggage in darkness, guided by Google Maps and GPS to our hotel. We could not find the hotel where the GPS said it would be. On the same block we saw an unnamed hotel that we walked into. “Is this the Phka Villa?” we asked a man sitting outside the stairs. He said yes and pointed us to the reception. We were greeted by the receptionist and handed him our passports. After a brief conversation we realized this was not the Phka Villa, the receptionist did not have our reservation. He did guide us in the right direction where the Phka Villa is, sort of tucked away from this hotel. We thanked him and walked on.
Finally at the Phka Villa, the receptionist told us to wait as he went to get his manager. Well that’s a weird welcome. The manager apologized profusely to us as he gave away our reservation. Apparently, a Mr. Wang and his wife arrived at the hotel a few hours ago. He insisted that he had a reservation. The hotel manager asked if it was perhaps under his wife’s name and gave him my reservation! His hotel only has 19 rooms and there were no more vacancies for the night. He drove us to a nearby hotel, the Vimean Sovannaphoum Resort that has a better location closer to the river. We agreed to check out the hotel but we weren’t convinced. It’s possible this hotel is much worse and we would end up overpaying for it.
On the way, I explained to this hotel manager that he should learn from this mistake as Wang is the most popular Chinese surname. I resolved to have Maurice make reservations under his name instead to avoid such mishaps!
At the Vimean Sovannaphoum Resort, we were shown a room in a wooden bungalow. It was clean and cute but the bathroom was the tiniest we had ever seen. We had passed by the main hotel building which looked much more impressive. We pulled up our phones to look up this hotel on TripAdvisor, it’s reviews were good but not as great as the Phka Villa.
Maurice asked the Vimean’s hotel manager if we can have a room in the main building. He told us it only has twin beds. We said we don’t care, that’s fine. Then he showed us the upgraded room. There was in fact a king bed (plus an extra twin bed). It was well designed, very big and had a few of the pool area. We said we would take it.
The Vimean’s hotel manager explained that we would have to pay $5 extra per night. Hold on, seriously? Maurice and I pulled out our phones and looked up the price of this hotel room on Agoda. Within one minute, the Phka Villa’s hotel manager said, “Don’t worry, it’s on me, I will pay for the difference between the hotel rooms.” Um excuse me, he better, he made the mistake in the first place and according to Agoda, these two rooms were the same price.
So without further ado, this is the walkthrough of the hotel room in question at the Vimean Sovannaphoum Resort.
Then we left the hotel to walk to the Battambang city center, a 15 minute walk north, across the bridge and then south on the other side. There were many families and young couples hanging out along both riverbanks. A night market was pretty active for a Monday night and served all kinds of barbecued food.
We opted for a restaurant more upscale and vegetarian-friendly. We landed at The Kitchen which was one of the few restaurants still open after 9pm.
At The Kitchen, there were only two other tables finishing their meals and seven attractive young waitresses looking quite bored. Overall, the Western-style food we ordered was dry, I could barely finish the veggie burger I ordered. Since my stomach still wasn’t feeling well, I probably shouldn’t have ordered such a large entree in the first place. We suspect there was only one chef and she wasn’t finished with her training yet. There were way too many waitresses to chefs, although Maurice didn’t seem to mind.
We walked back 15 minutes to our hotel. Tomorrow, we have our only full day in Battambang and we got some rest to prepare for it.