Thursday, July 28, 2011

Europe Guest House - A Home Away From Home in Phnom Penh

Finding accommodations during a trip is always a tricky thing. I lose sleep over it, and I take days checking out reviews: Lonely Planet, wikitravel, tripadvisor, even guest comments from Agoda. But you see, even the best laid plans can turn a bit dodgy. I once followed a Lonely Planet recommended budget guest house and ended up staying in a hostel that subs as a girlie bar and brothel. I was well taken cared of, but it was a bit unnerving finding my entrance where heavily made up girls were dressed in skimpy dresses. This was Phnom Penh before its face lift. The hostel still stands there, and though I had fond memories of my stay, I should have researched better.

Fast forward to 2011: I carefully read through review sites. I've narrowed down my list to 6 places, two of them have since been demolished in the Boeung Kak lake area (the capital's former backpacker joint). For this leg of travel, I've booked a room at the Green House in Beung Tra Bek, at the southern part of the capital, upon arrival from Bangkok. For my return from Siem Reap, I've finally decided on "Europe Guest House" - one of my most satisfying decisions.

Nope, Europe Guest House is not your run-of-the-mill, fly-by-night accommodation. It's classier than that, but neither is it a seat of boundless opulence. It's a family-run guest house located in a relatively quiet street just a block from the riverside. In my qualitative criteria, this little gem makes a lot of checks.

The guest house is situated at Street no. 136. If that doesn't mean anything to the unfamiliar, it's a block away from the beautiful promenade along Sisowath Quay (Phnom Penh's Roxas Boulevard or Queen's Walk), right in the heart of the city. It is a very central location, but far removed from the noise of the busy riverside promenade. In fact, it's just 2 blocks away from Sokha Komar Tep's bus terminal and Mekong Express' terminal (these terminals aren't really bus garages, but side streets near their bus company's main offices where these buses depart and arrive). It's a measly $2 tuktuk ride from the bus stop. There's a 24-hour convenience store right in front of it - named Smile Shop; the Central Market (think Saigon's Ben Thanh Market) is 4 blocks away and easily reached on foot. There are local eateries surrounding the area, including the delectable and cheap Restaurant 126, right at the corner of Street 13.

If you're the curious type who wants to check out local produce, the Kandal Market is even nearer. Turn left from Europe Guest House until you reach Sisowath Quay to find the beautiful (newly developed riverside) promenade directly facing the Tonle Sap, the great river running here all the way to Siem Reap up north. The Tonle Sap is a direct tributary of the great Mekong River, in fact the Tonle Sap merges into the Mekong less than a kilometer from here (at the promenade fronting the Royal Palace).

KFC is nearby if you don't want gastronomic experiments and would rather have a "sure thing" - a 2 piece chicken with rice, fried egg (yup, a Khmer variation of the combo meal) and rice will only cost you $2, the cheapest meal to be had along the touristy Sisowath Quay where I've had dinners at $6, and where my first tuktuk driver took me to a supposedly inexpensive restaurant that had $8 courses (are they friggin' crazy?)

Europe Guest House's amazing location is even bolstered by very comfortable beds, spotless rooms, fragrant smelling bed sheets, new pillows, clean towels; cable TV on LCD screens; rooms that boast of both electric fans and new split-type AC's; dry bathrooms with non-dripping faucets and hot water; and (for my room) a window-balcony. I loved just looking down from my 3rd floor room (well, it's actually the 4th floor), observing the bustle of activity from down below. From where I stood, I could see Street 136 terminate into the Sisowath Quay. In the gradually dimming afternoon light, I marveled at the changing hues illuminating the river. Just beautiful!


The guest house is owned and managed by Mr. Seng and his wife, a Vietnamese-French couple who, some 5 years ago, decided to move to the Khmer capital from Paris. They have been blessed with a lovely daughter named Isabel and another one's coming in the next several months. It was even such a pleasure to meet Seng's parents who's vacationing from Paris. C'est magnifique, indeed!


Though the guest house can offer coffee or tea and some short orders, there's no provision for meals which is fine since restaurants abound in the area, some open as early as 6AM and close in the wee hours. They will arrange airport and bus pick-ups for you - at the lowest possible cost ($2 for bus pick ups, $7 for airport transfers). My airport pick up from Green House cost me $12; my bus transfer cost me $6. Spot the discrepancy? LOL. Europe will also arrange visa requirements for Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.


The best part about picking Europe GH (I presume is a homage to their former domicile - France) is Seng, the owner. If you email him tonight, you will get a prompt reply the next day. No anxious waits for confirmations. He will offer you services they can arrange for you (on email), leave you to read them, then you won't ever hear him pitch these packages until you seek his opinion or help! My tuktuk pick-up at the bus terminal (from Siem Reap) for example was a very kind guy named Banh. When my first tuktuk driver didn't show up on time for the city tour I earlier arranged, Seng dealt with the non-English speaking Banh, negotiating for us a ridiculously inexpensive (half-day city tour and airport transfer) rate that saved me some $7-10. I explained my intended itinerary while Seng dictated this to Banh. If that isn't a red carpet service, I don't know what is.


The clear thing is, I've found my "permanent" home away from home in Phnom Penh. It's actually one reason why I am already making plans for a future revisit (en route to other places like Battambang, Sihanoukville, etc.)

For those who are interested, this Khmer area also has 2 video shops nearby (your European titles and hard-to-find documentary DVDs can be found there). Best of all, the Phnom Penh Night Market is within the same block, along Sisowath Quay. This night market features a party-like atmosphere, a "tiangge" a la Divisoria; ambulant vendors selling weird fruits, corn on cobs, very sweet lanzones and pungent Durians. At the center of the Night Market sprawl, that happens only on Sunday nights, is a stage where local performers dance the hip hop (if a tad under rehearsed, but a compelling watch nevertheless) of "Back Seat" or Bruno Mars' "The Lazy Song".

A room with a magnificent view!

The guest house foyer where you can have your bittersweet coffee.

Mr. Seng and family

Down below are images from my window overlooking Street No. 136 at different times of the day. Phnom Penh names most of their streets in numbers: even numbers for horizontal streets on the map, and odd numbers for vertical. The big streets are named accordingly, i.e. Sisowath Quay, Norodom Avenue, etc.


What's wanting in the area are internet cafes. There are a couple of internet shops along Sisowath Quay, but they close early - at 10PM. One night, I had to scour the area at past 10. I found one at the Khmer Royal Hotel along the main strip. Though expensive for non-guests, I had to check my mails - to the tune of $2 per hour when the going rate should be $0.75 an hour even in Siem Reap. This is a curiosity. Internet cafes have mushroomed in most places that I've visited in Asia - even in laidback Vang Vieng or Jaisalmer, but in Cambodia, the cafes close down early. And there's not a lot of them around. If you're carrying your laptop around (something I never do), then Europe GH has unlimited wi-fi connection!


As I am writing this, Europe GH is ranked number 2 (out of 93 guest houses and B&B's in PP) in TripAdvisor's ranking. Moreover, in the French Travel Site,, Europe GH is ranked no. 1 -

Here is Europe GH's address and contact number:

Europe Guesthouse
NÂș. 51Eo, Oknha Inn (St. 136) Across Street 13 just one block from the riverside (Sisowath Quay)
12204 Phnom Penh

* Tel 023 6918 883
* HP 092 763 078


Check their website for updates and rates:

Before I left Khmer Royal, the concierge asked me why I didn't stay with them. "We have 24-hour internet, free for our guests", he said. I just smiled. I was quite pleased with my guesthouse. I was in my perfect place. I wouldn't have it any other way.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

From my window, you already see the Tonle Sap ("Great River") and the Sisowath Quay!

Smile Shop, a 24-hour convenience store just across the corner.

Sisowath Quay at dusk. Tranquil river.

Sisowath Quay bathed by the warmth of street lamps.

A favorite place of mine. A small temple facing the river where locals offer tulips, incense, etc.

My tuktuk driver Banh, he with the kindest of faces. Ask Seng to contact Banh for you if you're in the capital. His number is 0975119660. To show me more of the city on my way to the airport, Banh took the elegant streets of PP where tuktuks weren't allowed. Saw pretty parks and majestic buildings. At one point, a policemn tried to stop him, but he just kept on driving. LOL

My tuktuk

Sugarcane juices: quite a popular drink in the country, from PP to Kampong Thom to Siem Reap.


Ola said...

It is hard to find good and cheap place to stay at when you travel, and additionally it would be nice or rather essencial that it is clean:) You had luck!

eye in the sky said...

Europe GH isn't really a budget hostel, more middle-of-the-road fare, but neither is it an expensive joint. It's really a perfect place that balances everything that a tourist should require when visiting a city.

Just got an email from Seng, Europe's gracious owner. Lisa, the second little angel, should be "coming out" anytime as I write this. The family's now in Battambang with their relatives who all flew in from Paris.

Good luck and congratulations, Seng and Mey!