Another Win For No Guidebook Travels … In Phnom Penh

Sitting on top of the “fast” boat to Phnom Penh, the wind ruffling my hair, Miss M beside me busily cleaning the deck with our last wet wipe, I realised that we were not very prepared for our trip to Cambodia.

Once again, we were traveling without a guidebook. And once again it was more a matter of poor planning rather than any hard-core travel ethos.

We travel with a toddler. We really should at least know where to get medical assistance when we travel. Geez.

But there we were, buzzing noisily down the mighty Mekong River, bound for Cambodia.

Our hotels were booked, giving our schedule some structure. And we were due to meet friends that night for dinner.

Oh, and I had to get a new visa for Vietnam.

That free and easy schedule turned into a crazy whirlwind. But everything just seemed to work out. Again.

We keep experiencing this “working out” thing so now we just seem to expect it.

And so, with very little information at hand, we got our Vietnam exit stamps and Cambodian visas. The boat guys organised it as part of our ticket price.

We got also to our hotel without fuss. The tuk-tuk driver who approached us knew exactly where the Diamond Palace II was. (Many thanks to for hosting us on our Cambodia trip. Hotel reviews coming soon.)

We asked the hotel staff where I could get some passport photos done and within an hour of arriving in Phnom Penh, I was watching myself get Photoshopped. For passport photos!

We were then whisked off to the Vietnamese embassy by our tuk-tuk driver so I could apply for a new visa.

It was all so easy we decided to extend our errand to include a visit to the Killing Fields, Choeung Ek, before dinner.

By this stage, I was worried that Miss M had had enough of traveling. Over three days, she’d spent seven hours on a bus, another seven hours on a boat AND done a boat tour to a floating market in the Mekong Delta and a xe loi (bicycle trailer) tour of the Vietnamese border town of Chau Doc.

This evil parent decided she’d be fine to be dragged out to dinner that night. And she was mostly fine … once our group walked out of the recommended restaurant and found a place capable of actually taking an order and delivering food within 1.5 hours. (NEVER dine at Khmer Surin if you’re in Phnom Penh.)

To reward Miss M for her patience, we decided the next morning would be dedicated to the PLAYGROUND.

(Which just happened to be next to Wat Phnom, so we kinda had to check it out too.)

On the way back to our hotel, we noticed a little eatery a few doors down that had no English writing on the signboard.

I hatched another toddler-unfriendly plan. Oh my, I am so evil.

We walked up to the no English sign place and examined their cooking stations.

“Are they worms?” I asked Darling Man, pointing to a pile of worm-like things heaped up on a hotplate.

“Dunno,” he said, helpfully.

We decided we’d try some, even though neither of us know how they’d be served.

On the other side of the eating place was another cooking station containing stacks of white discs.

nom kachay

“What do you think those are?” I asked Darling Man.

He said he thought they looked like a type of rice cake that is available in southern Vietnam.

We decided to try those too.

Both dishes were FANTASTIC! And the home-made sauces made these dishes even more exquisite.

We worked out that the worms were actually short soft noodles called lort cha. (In Siem Reap we tried some that came served with a fried egg).

The rice cakes, stuffed with chives, are called nom kachay. (Or sometimes kochay or num kachay).

The karchay/korchay was so good I forgot to take a photo!

After we gorged ourselves on fabulous Khmer street food, Darling Man took poor little Miss M down to the corner to eat a bowl of pho.

We needed to get her fed because the next item on our schedule was getting to Siem Reap.

We had decided to forgo the six-hour bus trip to Siem Reap to give Miss M a bit of a break. We hired a car, thinking it would be much more enjoyable. (And at US$70, it was only about double the price of the bus.)

The drive started well, but four hours in Miss M finally had enough. The last two hours were a bit tiring for everyone – a bit of whining cured by songs, a bit whining cured by stories, a bit of whining cured by snacks, a bit of whining cured by milk … we all had headaches when we arrived.

*The fantastic kochay and lort cha place we found in Phnom Penh was at #21, Street 178, near the riverfront area. Don’t miss this place when you’re in Phnom Penh!

7 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.


  1. Too bad you had a long wait at Khmer Surin. Were they busy? While I wouldn’t call them “fast”, I don’t think I’ve ever had too slow a service as to have wanted to walk out (and I actually do walk out of places that are too slow…) Oh well, I’m glad the lok cha made up for it. There used to be a lady selling it from her cart almost every afternoon as I walked home from work. Lok cha with a bit of beef and a fried egg on top for $1. Oh, you yummy afternoon snack, how I miss thee!
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    • Barbara says:

      Lok cha/lort cha every day sounds like a very dangerous prospect, James.

      The wait at Kmer Surin was just ridiculous. We could not get anyone to come near us or even meet our eyes. Very poor form. It was a stunning-looking place but when you can’t even catch a waiter’s eye to order water … unbelievable!

  2. i keep thinking of that worms song, LOL. but what an adventure! miss M is certainly a very patient kid. i’d have been whining, too…
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  3. Nancie says:

    Now that you have tried the “worms” I’d go for them 🙂 I’d say Miss M has turned into a pretty good traveler. I’d have been cranky too, on the last leg.

  4. Those worm noodles look awesome! My guess would have been bean sprouts!
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    • Barbara says:

      I thought they were sprouts at first, but they didn’t have the green seed bit on one end. They were awesome, but to be honest, it was the home-made sauces that made the dish so tasty. The worms themselves were a bit bland when I tried them before saucing them up.

  5. You guys are so brave! I’m a Type A planner so when we travel I have my guidebook tabbed and highlighted and cross-reference against online sources. I wish I could let all that go sometimes and just be free! But the panic attack I’d have might not be worth it…PS Miss M is a trooper!
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    • Barbara says:

      I used to travel like that, but I found I had my head stuck in the guidebook all the time. I used to be jealous of people who said they just wandered around and explored places. I discovered the joy of “exploring” type of travel the time I didn’t have enough time to do all my research before I left. Now I am a total convert. And if I don’t read the guidebook, I have no idea what I’ve “missed”. 🙂

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