When travelling with a group, it is always easy for arguments to arise regarding preferred activities or ways to spend a free weekend. After a busy first week working in a Phnom Penh, our TEFL group however, seemed to all be on the same page when it came to organising some downtime.
After a group dinner at a local BBQ restaurant, we were shepharded on to Dusk til’ Dawn, or the Rooftop Reggae Bar Phnom Penh as it’s more commonly known– exactly what it says on the tin, and a phnomenal way (pun intended) to really relax for the first time together and experience great music, views, and our first taste of the nightlife of the city. Curfews at 9pm during the week don’t exactly allow for more than a rebellious tipple on the riverside before racing back to accomodation before the security guards fall asleep, but I feel this restriction allows us to make the most of the weekends, and in a way this week it feels like we’re actually settling into a (somewhat) normal working routine.
The delicious cocktails at the Reggae Bar were exactly what was needed by all after a tough week, and after a bit of chatting and dancing we proceeded to hop the nearest tuk-tuk to check in to our accomodation for the next 3 nights.
The Mad Monkey hostel in Phnom Penh is one of the primary spots in the city for backpackers, with honestly probably the cleanest shower facilities and tastiest restaurant menu I’ve seen since arriving in Asia. Shared dorms, every nationality imaginable wandering around the reception area and rec room, and likeminded working-travellers just chilling for the weekend, it really allowed us to feel like we were finally taking a break and allowed us to revert to ‘traveller-mode’ again.
The popularity and widespread reputation of the Mad Monkey for Western backpackers and travellers such as ourselves really showed as I ran into a girl I know from college back home in Ireland whilst trying to find my way up the windy and confusing staircases one night. The rooms are very strangely laid out, but it’s fun trying to find each one if you don’t mind a bit of trial-and-error – and the artwork around the walls is brilliant to look at too if you do get lost!
There are nightly beer-olympic style games in the ‘Rooftop Sunset Bar’, and plenty of other bars, nightclubs, and Western-style restaurants around within walking and tuk-tuk distance that also appealed to us. I was particularly excited to see the Costa Coffee, and directly opposite it stood a large branch of Domino’s Pizza!
The staff were excellent, the menus were yummy and nicely varied (albeit slightly pricey), and the rooms were spotless, well-cleaned and spacious. We were particularly happy when they didn’t seem to mind us hanging around in the resturant area for hours on the Sunday, I’m sure they’ll be sick of seeing our faces before the end of our stay in Cambodia!
Only a 5 minute walk up the road from the Mad Monkey, I was thrilled to find the Nataraj Yoga Hub Cambodia, where I attended classes both mornings of our stay. Both the Ashtanga and the Regular Flow classes I attended were great, and the open-terraced balcony looked out over a beautiful courtyard garden.
I didn’t mind paying the rather pricey drop-in rate of $9 in order to get a proper class or two in though – self- practice is great, but difficult to accommodate regularly whilst travelling and staying in shared lodgings.
Koh Dach Island
Our Saturday was spent cycling the length of Koh Dach Island, or ‘The Silk Island’ as it is known to the locals. This beautiful, quiet and picturesque length of land was exactly the break we needed from the madness of both the city of Phnom Penh and the backpackers’ hostel, and we were treated to a visit to the house and workshop of a local lady who showed us exactly how she wove and made the silk products, one long scarf she told us taking ‘three to five days’ to complete. The ferry out from Phnom Penh port cost a mere 500 Riel, (the equivalent of $0.25), and it took us smoothly over the Mekong River to dock silently at the other side, alongside a haul of dusty motorbikes and one or two old cars which drove straight off the boat and onwards to their island destinations as soon as we thumped gently into the bank.
We rented bikes for $2.50 for the day from Phnom Penh Bicycle, which meant we had the island to ourselves to explore. I’d definitely recommend the bike rather than the motorbikes – much quieter, more peaceful, and really helps you feel like part of the island as you pedal forwards over the barely-used dust tracks and pathways.
It was so tranquil and relaxing to traverse the dust tracks and wave at the excited local children who saw us as we passed, the palm trees, strange bone-thin cows and local vendors giving us a true insight into what life here is really like. As we continued on and found ourselves immersed in beautiful countryside, greenery and blue skies, I really had several glorious moments of smiling peacefully and thinking;
‘This is why we travel’.
After a long afternoon we stopped for refreshment at a French Hotel/Pizza place where the fresh stonebaked veggie pizza was honestly the most deliciously mouth-watering thing I have ever tasted! Rooms there go for $70 dollars a night between 6-7 people, which we worked out would cost us about $12-$15 each to share for a weekend. Definitely returning here some weekend soon, because it was literally paradise on earth – and there was a pool!!