The closer I got to the center of Phnom Penh, the more I felt that the city had sold out. I know every developing nation wants paved roads and tall buildings and big business, but there used to be something unique about Phnom Penh. It was edgy, there was a hint of danger. It wasn’t an easy place to be. Now i’m sure the average tourist would still feel rather uneasy walking around most of the city after dark as it’s still not the most aesthetically pleasing place on earth, there’s a lot of decay and garbage and it still seems a bit seedy, but it’s not the same.
Cambodia should have taken pride in being one of the few countries on earth to have no fast food franchises of any sort. instead, they have invited KFC in, and it’s just the beginning. It may be my faulty memory, but in 2009, I remember nearly all transactions being done in Cambodian Riel. This time through it seems nobody wanted Riel only USD and all the ATM’s I visited only allowed withdrawals in USD.
My favorite hotel in Phnom Penh is the Raffles Le Royal. It’s the grande dame of Phnom Penh and has been expertly restored. If you’ve seen The Killing Fields, this is the hotel the last foreigners and journalists were holed up in after the country fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975. However, we were on a budget, and the Raffles was three to four times as expensive as the River 108.
As you might have guessed from the name, the River 108 is located on Street 108. The streets are on a hybrid grid layout in Phnom Penh. It’s a very central location. The hotel is right off Sisowath Quay and walking distance to almost everything save for the Foreign Correspondents Club.
The lobby is small with the check-in desk on the right side. All of the staff were absolutely super. My last day at the River 108, I wanted to change a United flight from NRT-SFO to an ANA flight that had just opened availability in First. Since this was still in the immediate United/Continental post-merger period, the wait times were absurd. Due to spotty cell reception with my US #, all my calls were being dropped before I could ever reach an operator. The front desk clerk let me use his Cambodian cell phone to make the call and incurred the charges on his cell #, with the provision that I would pay him back. Top notch, friendly service. On the left side of the lobby are the stairs. There are two floors of rooms in this boutique hotel. Each floor features a sitting area in a nicely appointed common area.
As I was unsure if E was coming or not, I had constantly been going back and forth via e-mail with River 108 changing our room from 1-bed to 2-bed. By the time I got E’s message that he was coming, it was too late for a river view suite with 2 beds, so he was stuck in a roll away cot. The river view “suites” feature an entry walkway with a toilet on the right, the main room has the bed and desk. There was free wifi, a minibar, and telephone. Near the bed, there is a separate shower room with a bathtub and an excellent shower. The best feature however was the very large terrace with views of the Mekong.
Since I had a few hours to kill, I dropped my gear off and went walking along the river in search of a cafe. I found a pleasant place to sit and ordered a $1 Angkor Beer. NOTE: In Cambodia they sell both Angkor and Anchor beer, which are pronounced the same. They are both swill, but I prefer Angkor.
Around the time E messaged me saying he had landed and would meet me at the cafe, the guy at the table next to me started talking to me. “Pete from Pattaya” as we would come to call him was some sort of Australian construction worker in Cambodia on holiday. He was very clearly a sex tourist and looked every bit the creepy part. He told me all about his “flash hotel” which was running him the outrageous price of $30/night, then launched into a speech about why everyone needs to visit Pattaya in Thailand…for the hookers of course. You meet some shady characters in South East Asia.
In between disturbing stories, I glanced up the shoreline to see the massive new 5-star hotel development on the opposite shore. It will totally destroy the skyline of Phnom Penh and the atmosphere along the river. A total abomination, but money wants what money wants.
Shortly after E arrived we were able to disengage from Pete and walk around town a bit more. The hotel’s location was a big feather in its cap.
River 108 Report Card
Pros: great location, nice staff, free breakfast at the adjoining restaurant (top noodle soup), great balconies overlooking the river, room service, free wifi
Cons: Small hotel, not much in the way of amenities, no spa/pool/gym, etc…
Verdict: If I wasn’t planning to stay at the Raffles I would absolutely revisit the River 108