We live near Psar Toul Tom Poung – other wise known as the Russian Market. Most westerners (or whiteys or whatever you want to call the 20,000 expats living in Phnom Penh) seem to live in the BKK area – at least that’s where most of the NGO workers seem to reside. The riverfront is for tourists, and BKK is for expats – that’s seems to be the opinion of a lot of expats here. But we didn’t want to stay in either of these places – the riverfront is pretty gross at times, and noisy all the time, and its hard to escape the touts and beggars and the unrelenting call of tuk-tuk drivers as soon as you even look like going outside. At one hotel we stayed at, tuk-tuk drivers would yell out through the lobby as soon as we opened the room of our door to head down to breakfast. The best and the worst of Phnom Penh can be found along the riverfront, so its a place we rather visit than reside in.
BKK – or BBK1 if you want to get technical – is a leafier (but not exactly leafy) suburb, not far from the riverfront. Here there are an abundance of restaurants and cafe’s, some really great sports bars, spas and gyms, bottle shops and boutique guesthouse, along with a lot of apartment buildings. There is a lot of services here geared towards the cashed up expats, making it the suburb of choice for whiteys. But as we soon realised, BKK is really just a less-shit suburb, not a “must-live” location
So we ended up renting an apartment just past Psar Tuol Tom Poung – commonly called the Russian Market. When you look at the maps of Phnom Penh that are included in the various tourists guides given out around town, our place just makes it onto the grid. There are quite a few westerners out here – a sup ising amount really, but it really does feel like we are living in a Cambodian neighbourhood.
We chose our apartment because it was cheaper than anything else we had seen, and it was so much nicer it was almost beyond comparison. We have a bedroom apartment with three bathroom, fully furnished (including a couple of flat screen tv’s and new furniture), in a small apartment building with security guards and even an elevator, all for $530 a month. That even include cable tv and wifi. One of the cable channels seems to be a dubious operation which shows what must be pirated movies. About 20 of the channels show football non-stop. By the highlight is our front balconies – the perfect spot to watch the monsoonal storms roll in through the afternoon heat above the rooftops of the city.
When we moved in, I thought there wasn’t much around Tuol Tom Pong, but each day we are discovering more and more. It turns out there are some great restaurants, cafes, a pub, so many fantastic shops (thanks garment factories) and of course the Russian Market itself. The Russian Market has to be my favourite market in South-East Asia (and believe me, this is a part of the world not lacking in markets). The market takes up an entire city block, and is best described a labyrinth with a low roof, where (if you can deal with the heat and sometimes, the smell) you can find just about anything you want. The market is massive – it took me a while to figure out my way around – and I will get to that in a separate blog post soon.
The Cambodian Children’s Fund executive office is just up the road from our house – which is where both Asha and I work. In the area there are many good places to eat – and we are finding more and more all the time. We have even recently found a brilliant massage parlour, operated by the similarly named “Cambodian Kids Foundation”. But again, this place is so good it will get its own post.
So we love our life in the suburbs. Its great to feel at home here. To see the same kids hanging out in our street, to have our tuk-tuk driver Deth (and lets face it, one of our best mates) just around the corner, and to start to feel a bit less like a tourist (albeit not really like a local) is a pretty special thing.