Unless you are one of the blessed few, the time will come when you have to leave Cambodia. Chances are, you’ll be departing from Phnom Penh International Airport. As a connoisseur of departure lounges (memories of Nairobi still leave me in a cold sweat, only to be relieved by thoughts of heavenly Singapore), I’ve cast my critical eye over the newly upgraded facilities at Pochentong.
You’ll have already agreed a price with your tuk tuk before setting off, so you won’t need to have one of those cringeworthy discussions outside the terminal which provide entertainment for the gathered Khmer families. It seems that every baby cousin and great auntie likes to wave off the latest family member with a passport, and then wait around for the plane to take off.
Show your ticket to prove you deserve access to the building, then get checked in. As a small airport, there’s usually minimal queues, unless you get stuck behind the person who wants to take 12 kilos of mangoes plus the largest suitcase ever manufactured, stuffed with everything Central Market has available for purchase.
Up the escalators, passport control is now equipped with fingerprint machines as well as digital cameras, and you will be fully recorded as you leave the country. The former $25 exit tax is no longer levied extra to your ticket, so you can’t accidentally forget to have cash on you in order to stay a few more days.
Inside the departure lounge proper, you’ll have a final opportunity to visit some favourite Phnom Penh brands. Monument Books & Toys is there for your last-minute publications, postcards and emergency Barbies. Souvenir caps and T-shirts are available at Bambou Indochine, and there’s still time to pick up a primary coloured Happy Cambodia picture with a smile to stuff in the overhead locker. Pick up a kooky handbags with plastic aeroplanes courtesy of Street 240’s Waterlily, which shares shop space with Smateria‘s more practical holdalls and washbags. Count up your remaining riel (and top up with quite a few dollars) to buy beautiful clothing from Ambre‘s latest collection, including some delightfully cute mini-me outfits alongside the original adult versions. As well as sponsoring the newly ancient busts dotted around the concourse, Artisans d’Angkor sell spices, spa treatments and silks.
Once you’ve exhausted the shops, you may have time for a massage at Amara Spa, which smells significantly sweeter than the smoking lounge opposite. As this is Asia, there’s no need to chain smoke before you enter the building: facilities are laid on for passengers’ final nicotine intake in reasonably comfortable surroundings, with a bamboo motif. For the electronically addicted, the departure lounge now boasts subtly branded TV screens, free WiFi and free 30-minute online sessions at computer stations.
If you’re feeling peckish and can’t hold out for the delights of airline food, grab a bite to eat at Deli Paris, or enjoy a final fish amok at Taste of Asia. The FCC outlet lacks the view and the ambiance of the original riverside venue, but dishes up posh burgers and club sandwich staples alongside liquid refreshment. Coffee and beer are available from around the $2.50 mark at most of the restaurants.
When your flight is called it’s only a short stroll to the gate, but for once no-one is offering you transport to get there. Please remember to take all your personal belongings with you, and double check you’re not leaving your heart behind in Cambodia.
By Abigail Gilbert
Last updated on 25th July, 2012.