In a past review, I covered the Pickled Parrot, a bar in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Now, I’ll tell you about the hotel that sits atop the ‘Parrot, the Tonle Sap Guesthouse.
More and more tourists are discovering Cambodia, an exotic and mysterious nation that seems to bridge the centuries with its Angkor Wat temple in the city of Siem Reap and rich culture from the Khmer Empire. But while the majority of tourists do visit Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, a good number make their way down to the capital city of Phnom Penh for a stay. I’m not a city person, but I actually lived in Phnom Penh (affectionately called ‘PP’) on and off for a couple of years, and found it to be heartwarming, balanced, cultured, and quite enjoyable.
But my stay there started a couple of years before that, as a tourist backpacking through the region. Arriving hot, sweaty, and tired in a strange and unknown city, PP, I was directed by a friend to stay at a place called the Pickled Parrot or, as it’s truly named, the Tonle Sap Guest House.
Much to my surprise, the street that the ‘Parrot was on, 104, was packed with beer bars covered in neon and blasting music where young women worked as hostesses, trying to draw in foreigners. So I was shocked that there was a hotel on that street, and almost didn’t notice the Pickled Parrot because there was no good signage (or maybe I was distracted!)
Walking in, I saw a bar with some salty dog expat and Australian tourists, all drunk on beer or something stronger despite the fact that it was before noon, but no signs of a hotel. There wasn’t even a front desk!
I went to the bar and asked where the Tonle Sap Guest House was, assuming I was in the wrong place. The nice bartenders smiled and told me that the rooms were upstairs, and they checked me in right at the bar!
They led me upstairs, through dark and treacherous stairwells down hallways with windows screened in, the neon and music from outside finding their way in. They brought me to the room and handed me a key old enough that I don’t think it really locked anything except in theory.
At it’s best over the years, the Parrot was simple and low-priced ($20 per night!), but there were no bed bugs, snakes, or dragons in the rooms. It’s an old building with no charm, except maybe the same way an asylum might be prettied up for an arriving guest. They obviously fired the maintenance man a long time ago, but it is cleaned every day. There’s one creaky double bed, a mini fridge that may work, an air conditioner, ceiling fan, old wooden desk, wardrobe, TV from the 1970s, and autilitarian shower.
The lack of charm and niceties is part of the appeal of staying at the Parrot because it is safe. Every person that enters has to come through the bar, and they carefully regulate who comes in to keep strangers, solicitors, and exterminators out.
When you stay at the Parrot, you’re getting a real taste of Phnom Penh history post-Khmer Rouge, and sitting down at the bar for some good food or a beer, you’ll meet an interesting lot of characters – including a lot of ex-military types or even UN soldiers that were in Cambodia after the war. The guest house is also located only steps from the riverside quay, the main community center in the city where you can stroll around and get a sense of the city and see and meet new people.
It’s worth staying at the Tonle Sap Guesthouse just for a couple of nights for the experience!