Hotel Luxury World, Phnom Penh

We all have unique, sometimes strange, travel experiences abroad, some are  funny, others are scary to remember. But this one bizarre travel experience I had during my trip in Cambodia is both scary and interesting. 

A unique learning experience. It tested my courage and resilience how far I could go in adventures. A litmus paper of my survival ability if I would thrive in a foreign city without close contacts. 

It happened one night in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, a not-so crowded Southeast Asian capital. We have spent the night in Hotel Luxury World because we will be visiting Angkor Park the next day. 

Siem Reap is an eight-hour travel from Phnom Penh and we did not take an overnight land trip because we were all girls, too risky, so an overnight stay in the capital was necessary.

Phnom Pehn street in the morning

I was traveling with my two female friends and on the night of our arrival in Phnom Penh we needed to go outside to look for a money changer outlet.

It was already night time. 

Phnom Penh is one place tourists should not supposed to get lost, because of two reasons, locals could hardly understand English, second, pickpocketing seems prevalent. 

But Phnom Penh should not scare tourists too. It has Tuktuk, a form of local transportation like tricycle in the Philippines, which can take travelers anywhere in the city.  It has taxis.  

Tourists will never get lost. It is a capital city with developed infrastructures, and streets are well lighted. But it happened. And on some terrifying circumstances. No local currency in our pocket, and our mobile phones could not access the google map.

No local currency in our pocket

How we ended up getting lost in a foreign city?

The story is as bizarre as the experience itself. That night, we just arrived from Saigon, Vietnam, in a tiring nine-hour land travel, crossing the border, enduring long hours standing in the immigration queue to have our passport stamped for an entry to Cambodia.

We underestimated the circumstances of waiting in the immigration office, and we left Saigon very late, around 9:30 in the morning. 

Our estimate was that we should be at Phnom Penh before 5:00 in the afternoon so that we could still buy Cambodian Riel, the local currency in Cambodia.

It did not happen that way.

We were three brave souls exploring the lesser known side of Asia, no tour guide, no friends in the two countries, nothing to seek help if things will go wrong. But it didn't bother us, we just wanted to go on adventure on our own.

And yes, we left Vietnam without anything in our wallet other than Philippine peso and Vietnamese Dong, currencies that were not acceptable in the country we were entering! Still, we courageously decided to go ahead with our plan!

It was so hard to find Cambodian Riel currency in the first place, we left Manila on the night of January 1, we could not find Cambodian currency in any money changer outlet in Metro Manila, not even in Ninoy Aquino International airport. 

We tried our luck to buy Cambodian Riel in Vietnam but no money changer outlets selling the said currency. Buying US dollar currency didn't enter our mind. And that was a mistake.

Entering Cambodia from Vietnam

So on January 3, we just proceeded to Cambodia as planned without Cambodian Riel in our pocket. We just thought of buying the said currency upon arrival in Phnom Pehn.

When we arrived in the Cambodian border at 12:30 afternoon, that's where the trouble sets in.  The bus made a stop for lunch in a small restaurant. And we could not buy food because we did not have a local currency. 

Despite our grumbling stomach, we endured the circumstances and just consumed biscuits and bread cuts we brought from the Philippines.

Tuktuk ride in Phnom Penh

We met a fellow Filipino in the bus, Reychel Mendoza, she came from Bulacan and worked in Cambodia, she advised us to buy US dollar as most establishments, even transportation in Cambodia accepted dollar currency. She also bought us hard boiled eggs for our lunch haha!

However, we arrived in Phnom Pehn very late! Almost six in the evening and all money changer outlets and banks were already closed. Nevertheless, we did not panic, we just relaxed like real adventurers. Reychel paid half of our Tuktuk fares and instructed the driver to bring us to Hotel Luxury World.

First sign of trouble

We knew then that locals in Cambodia can hardly speak nor understand English, you need to slow down your tone when you speak so that they can process the words and get what you mean. Their local dialect is Khmer, something that was not in our radar to comprehend. 

But Cambodians are nice people, they smile a lot, bow their heads when they greet tourists and try hard to communicate in a broken English. Nonetheless, it was a great learning experience, having been able to learn the local culture of Cambodia, such a fascinating cultural learning discovery.

Hotel Luxury World

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy but you can hardly feel the royal thing in its capital. In fact, it is a great contradiction to what monarchy looks and feels like. Phnom Penh is a bare city and far from a glamorous capital. 

It was plain, quiet and very ordinary. Not a bustling metropolis, no skyscraping buildings, no rush hour, no busy streets.  The common sight in the street is Tuktuk, a tricycle-like vehicle with extended body and elevated floor, similar, but not quite, to tricycles in the Philippines. 

No jeepney, but there are buses and taxis.

After securing our bags in our hotel room, we went downstairs to the hotel concierge to make an arrangement with the receptionists for our bus ticket for Siem Reap city the following morning. But they can only accept US dollar for the ticket fare. 

We were told to look for a money changer outlet outside to have our money converted to US dollar. At almost 7:00 in the evening we’re off to the street for an adventure to find a money changer outlet. 

Lost in the city

It was not still dark but the environment looked dreary. Lots of whistling and prying eyes from the locals. We just dismissed it and pretended we were one of the locals.

We crossed two main streets and made many turns, but all money changer outlets were already closed. Hungry, wasted, exhausted with numbing feet, we crossed more streets, and corners, without any luck. 

Until we agreed to just return to the hotel, and do the transaction on the following morning and probably just eat biscuits again for dinner and sleep. We're dead tired from the long travel!

We turned back and started following the same path, but after crossing several blocks and corners, and streets, we knew we’re in great trouble. 

We could no longer find the street address of the hotel!

We crossed several dark corners, watched by curious locals who whistled us and tried to approach us. We just ignored them.  But after several attempts of asking bystanders, all hopes went into drain as all of them could not understand English! 

We continued walking, stretching our stares across dark alleys and spaces hoping to find a glimpse of Hotel Luxury World but to no avail. 

We're officially lost!

Helpless, tired, anxious, we could not reach out to anyone in the area. We could not ride a Tuktuk because we've no local currency, we tried approaching the police but they too could not understand English. Nightmare! 

For some reasons, our mobile phones could not access the google maps. Tense!

A courageous adventure

Nonetheless, we did not panic. We even found our situation funny and a bit odd. We joked at each other to flip back our shirt to find our way. You know, some regional superstitious belief in the Philippines that if someone is lost, shirt needs to flip back to find the right direction.

We walked in a street where there was enough light so that no one will grab our sling bags. Because pick pocketing in Phnom Penh is also prevalent. 

We asked some locals again how we could find the Hotel Luxury World, but they just shrugged and asked us to translate the words into Khmer or Chinese! Shocks.

We could not search the hotel in the google map, nor reach out to anyone for help. We did not have anything at that time but courage and faith.

Miracle in Phnom Penh street

Tired analyzing what to do next, we just walked slowly, albeit leisurely, chuckled a bit and trusted God we could find our way back to the hotel before midnight.

After crossing another street, we decided to halt walking, we were already tired and wasted, hungry and thirsty.  In a circumstance that seemed hard to believe, we chose to stand in a corner seemed far away from the world we know.  

Then a miracle happened!

When I turned my head left, my eyes popped in amazement! Just three feet away from where we stood, a signage of a Western Union outlet flicked, half-closed, with a bold streamer that reads "Money Exchange"! 

Closing time: 9:00 in the evening, We checked our watch and it was 8:30 in the evening. God is good!!

We jumped off like lost children finding their way back home. Then rushed to the Western Union, which by that time was preparing to call the night off. We exchanged our money to US Dollar. Then stepped outside, thanking God for His immense goodness and kindness and divine guidance.

A night to remember

We're both laughing after walking back to the street, with US Dollars in our pocket, as if we just found a treasure and ready for our next adventure. Such a night to remember. 

We sauntered back to the street to look for a small eatery where we could take our dinner. We wanted to try some local food, Cambodian style of dining, so we chose a small food stall offering local meals. 

We started asking the name of the food. But the lady just shut us with a blank stare with no sign she understood what we meant. 

But she kept on smiling, signaling us to sit down! One customer, who was in a nearby table, showed us her plate containing the same food that we pointed to the lady.

The mysterious food 😃

Having a difficult time communicating in English, the customer just pointed her food without saying anything. My two friends and I exchanged anxious glances again, What food is that? We wanted to ask. But held our tongue. They would not understand anyway.

I was looking for rice, but, oh God! They could not understand the word “rice”, they requested us to translate the word to Khmer, we told them that we're tourists from the Philippines and can't speak Khmer! 

Dinner after lost

Anyway to settle matters, we just ordered whatever food we found in the menu. Even if we have no idea what was that. We’re extremely hungry. No energy to argue with the name of the food.

Then I blurted another dangerous question (because we’re certain they would never understand it. How much per order? I stammered. I could not find any simple term how to ask a price. 

The lady behind the food bin just stared at me with a curious glance. Completely unaware what I meant. Uhmm, I kept blurting. I was searching for any price sign in the menu to point to the lady. My two friends were on the brink of laughing with my struggle.

Until the man, perhaps the husband of the lady behind the cooking bin, showed me his calculator and the price of the food. I breathed comfortably and seated.

We're not annoyed, we’re more than amused with this episode rather than scared. It made the adventure of discovering local culture even more exciting and thrilling. Just imagine experiencing this at one of your travels? Very memorable!.

Finding our way back to the hotel

After this amusing experience of dining, we walked back to the street, and to our amusement and relief, we have finally located the street of the hotel! 

I don't know how we have figured out the "lost street". It just happened. Whatever the circumstances of that night's adventure, only God know.

Finding the hotel at last!

When we retired to bed that night, we just could not stop laughing and sharing stories. I messaged Vangie's sister in England, Maria, via Facebook messenger, on what happened, she was in near panic, deeply troubled with our situation in a country not super popular to be explored.

Lesson of adventure

Being lost in Phnom Penh, so far, is my most unforgettable adventure in a foreign land. A little scary but something also that taught me the other side of adventure, exploring the unknown. 

In order to learn, we need to get lost, undergo a certain type of challenges that strengthen our courage and faith. One should never be afraid of discovering things and learning in the process, it's one way to uncover the wonders of the world.

Breakfast at Hotel Luxury World

"Not all those who wander are lost. From the ashes, a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadow shall spring". - J.R.R Tolkien's Lord of the Ring.

Keep that fire of adventure burning! It will bring you to the farthest corner of the world and discover the wonders of it.

Believe me, we had a great sleep that night, quiet, smooth, undisturbed. woke up at 5:00 in the morning to peep at the window and brought my stare to the farthest corner of Phnom Penh. 

Such a quiet place, no blaring of horns of buses and jeepney or even train. It was a cool early morning with flickering lights below. Beyond the horizon, a misty sky stared at the bareness of the earth, waiting for the morning sun to spread its glow. 

I moved back to my bed. And sighed. Thoughts of our Angkor adventure in Siem Reap took over my mind, completely scraping off the misadventure the other night.

Soon, morning will break off in the horizon and we're off to another adventure. Life is just like that. An exciting adventure! Just dare to go. And share your story to the world.