Despite all of my pre-trip worries and stress the flight to Phnom Penh was extremely uneventful. Total time from home to Cambodia was about 26 hours, with stops in Seattle (3 hour layover) and Taipei (3.5 hour layover). The layover times turned out to be a bit long because all our flights were on time and the weather cooperated, but I took into account the possibilities of late flights, holdups at connecting airports, etc. so all in all the choice of a few hours layover was a good one. The longest stretch was 13 hours from Seattle to Taipei, which sounds much worse than it actually was. We flew premium economy on EVA Air on this leg. This was our first time on this carrier, and we were very impressed with the quality of the flight and the amenities. The cost difference from economy to premium economy was not too steep, and it gave us the equivalent of first class seats on any domestic US flight. We were able to sleep fairly comfortably for about 7 of the 13 hours thanks to roomy seats with a decent amount of recline, earplugs, and Ativan. We were served two restaurant-quality meals at the beginning and end of the flight.
We arrived in Phnom Penh a bit tired but not hammered, at least until we crashed hard that evening. We had transport lined up from the airport to our hotel ($15), so our driver was waiting for us once we got through immigration and customs. We plan to stay at the very posh Frangipani Royal Palace Hotel for three nights (~$77/night which includes a nice breakfast). This was a bit of a splurge but we wanted to be comfortable while getting over jet lag, and we are familiar with this area of Phnom Penh from our last trip. The hotel is in a good neighborhood, the King’s palace is just across the street.
We were in Phnom Penh in 2016, and the city now seems much more crowded and hectic than before. It’s not just our imagination, the locals confirm that there has been a lot of change over the past couple of years. There are many more vehicles and a great deal of construction compared to a few years ago. We counted over 30 construction cranes from the rooftop of our hotel. The air is also highly polluted. I suspect that it is primarily from the increased vehicle count, but also possibly from increased industrial activity.
We took our passports to a travel agency on Thursday (the day we arrived) with the hope of getting a 30 day visa extension by the end of the day Friday, which will give us a total of 60 days that we are allowed to stay in country. We will see whether hope meets reality. The plan is leave for Kratie on Sunday to begin our counter-clockwise circuit around Cambodia, assuming that we get our visa extensions on time. If not we will need to spend a few more days in Phnom Penh.
In the course of trading emails about trips in the Cardamom Mountains we came in contact with a very nice gentlemen who used to work there in the forestry department. We met with him over lunch and got some great insights about the country, plus a few travel tips.
Phnom Penh update January 19, 2020
We got our 30-day visa extension from 2 World Travel. It was expensive ($80 each for expedited 1-day turnaround), but it saved us a few extra days in Phnom Penh on the front end of the trip, and it saved us from having to return to PP after 30 days to extend. Now we don’t have to return to PP until March 16.
We arranged a private car from PP to Kratie ($90 through Cambodia Private Car). This is much more expensive than a bus or minivan, but at this stage in our lives we don’t usually go the chicken bus route unless we have to (been there, done that). It’s faster, more comfortable, and you are able to take WC breaks on your schedule instead of the bus driver’s. Our vehicle was a Toyota Sienna with a John Elway dealership sticker on it. Go figure.
We are glad to be leaving PP. It’s crowded, noisy, and polluted. After only a few days we both have a cough and sore throats. Hopefully the air quality will be better in the countryside.