I guess some small part of me felt like it wouldn’t really be a trip to Cambodia without a stop at Raffles Le Royal. Between the Elephant Bar and the beautiful swimming pool swaddled in greenery in the middle of the complex it would be hard to imagine a setting more befitting a colonialist. You can practically feel the pith helmet resting on your head when you order a cocktail and kick back before sunset.
While I did make my obligatory stop at the Raffles, it was not under such relaxed and tranquil circumstances as a sundowner on the deck.
Two nights in Kep, had been plenty. E and I were both overdosed on relaxation, and we wanted to get back to the action of Phnom Penh. Villa Romonea arranged a driver for us and after a bit of haggling, we were on the road, bound for the “big city.”
Once back in PP, we returned to River 108 and were given a non-river view suite for our one night stay. I had booked a flight to Vientiane, Laos the next afternoon.
Upon arrival at River 108, I did one of my habitual availability scans for NRT to USA flights on the date I would be leaving Tokyo. I had booked a United Global First flight from NRT-SFO and a p.s. flight onwards to JFK, but wanted badly to avoid a long trip on UA metal. To my shock and delight, ANA had opened up a First Class seat on their Boeing 777 NRT-SFO. ANA is very stingy with their First Class inventory, and beyond that, they have two versions of first class. This NRT-SFO flight was equipped with the “First Square” product, which is ANA’s brand new, top of the line, flagship seat. Naturally, I was adamant I get them on the phone and swap over to NH 8.
As this was during the dark days immediately post-merger, I couldn’t get an agent on the phone. Every 20-30 minutes, my phone would lose the connection and cut out. After a few hours messing around (and having to resort to using the desk clerk’s cell), I finally made the changes. I confirmed everything online and mentally patted myself on the back for my vigilance.
E and I were pretty beat, so we got some awful hotel room service before heading out for the night. Our first stop was Sharky’s Bar, or as you would hear from the tuk-tuk “shokee bah?” I think we squabbled over a 25 cent discrepancy in the fare before hopping out and going to grab a beer.
Sharky’s bills itself as the oldest rock bar in South East Asia. They usually have live bands, although on this particular night, they did not. The beers were very cheap, but the crowd was 90% sexpat losers and Cambodian hookers. I could see E was uncomfortable and wanted to bail. After I finished my beer, I left some riel on the counter and we split.
Since I am a journalist, and I had recently watched The Year of Living Dangerously, I suggested we go to the Foreign Correspondents Club or “FCC.” Although it is more of a hub for all westerners these days than an actual journalists club, it seemed like a good place to project my inner Guy Hamilton…I had my olive drab BDU pants on with the cuffs rakishly rolled up, I hadn’t shaved in at least a month, I felt entitled.
The FCC was fairly crowded when we arrived, and we posted up at the bar and ordered Angkor beers. I checked upstairs on the roof patio and found it totally empty. The last time I had been at this bar it was Halloween 2009, they had a costume party, one of the stranger places i’ve spent Halloween.
We debated approaching various people at the bar, but nothing came of it. Then this tall, leggy brunette with piercing blue eyes wearing short cutoff jean shorts slid past the end of the bar. She took a chair a few stools over from us at the bar, ordered a beer, folded her legs up and started looking over a map. I liked her at once.
I asked her if she wanted to join us for a beer since it would beat drinking alone. She told me “maybe later,” which I took as “leave me alone.”
I went back to my beer and my conversation with E until about 15 minutes later I heard from my left
“hey, do you know anywhere around here to get something to eat?”
We were at a restaurant, so it seemed more a rejoinder to conversation than a genuine question.
“We might be able to figure some place out, why don’t you have a beer with us and we’ll discuss.”
This time she must have thought “why not?” and she moved over and joined out conversation. Somewhere about 15 minutes after she joined us, E got up and said he was going to the bathroom. The girl who we will call J, asked if E was angry for some reason and every few minutes would say that she thought he was angry she had joined us and that she didn’t think he was coming back from the bathroom. I assured her he would be back and that there was no problem.
Then eventually, I got a bbm from E that he had indeed left. He said he didn’t want to be a 3rd wheel and had gone back to the hotel.
I told J that she was indeed correct and that E was gone. We finished our beers and decided to go looking for something to eat. We were walking in the general direction of a seedy club called Heart of Darkness. We discussed our families back home, halfheartedly looked for food and when we found ourselves in front of the bar, mutually decided it would be better to go have some drinks and forget dinner.
I got the first round, she got the second. We discussed how this rated as a kitchy, divey, borderline dangerous dump of a bar vis-a-vis Apocalypse Wow! In Saigon. I thought Heart of Darkness was substantially nicer and less hooker filled (which was shocking in light of it’s reputation for hosting shootings) but J preferred Apocalypse Wow!
Somewhere between our third or fourth round, J suggested we make out because “it might be fun.” You don’t have to twist my arm. From here, we ended up in a tuk-tuk. We couldn’t go back to River 108 because E was sleeping there. For some reason, the option of going to her hotel never even crossed my mind. At 2 or 3am after a number of cocktails, the most sensible thing I could think of was
“Raffles Le Royal please”
“You’ve got to be kidding me! It’s a 2 dollar ride maximum”
“Raffles ve’ey big hotel”
“So what! You are going to charge me more because it’s an expensive hotel!?”
“Three dollars or i’ll walk you goddamn crook”
And with that we were off. I won’t say this is the first time I have checked into a hotel after 2am with a friend, and I always wonder what is going through the desk clerk’s mind. They must gossip as soon as the lobby is clear.
The room was beautiful, as the rooms at the Raffles are, and breakfast was included in the room rate. I didn’t get a chance to have a drink at the Elephant Bar on this stop as it was closed when I checked in and I didn’t want anything to do with a cocktail before noon the next day, however, I did make sure to dip my foot in the pool and take a mental snapshot of my post-colonialist paradise before making for the airport and Laos.
Raffles Report Card [More photo at the end]
Pros: Great rooms, beautiful pool, good food, nice gym, top service, Elephant Bar is nice, very good location.
Cons: Not directly on the river, tuk-tuk’s will rip you off because they know it’s an expensive hotel and think you are therefore “rich.”
Verdict: If my budget allowed for it I would never even consider staying elsewhere. I know there is a new Sofitel in Phnom Penh, I am not even slightly interested.
ADDITIONAL HOTEL PHOTOS