ENTERTAINMENT IN PHNOM PENH
Some discos, karaokes and nightclubs are found in the large hotels. The National Dance Company has reassembled and performs periodically. Backpackers like to hang out at the bars, cafes and guest houses that are geared for them. There are gambling halls and brothels around. More than 1,000 prostitutes work in Phnom Penh ‘s Tuol Kork red-light district. As of the late 1990s Phnom Penh had two 24-hour casinos. One was gaudy red-carpeted monstrosity built on a converted oil tanker. Some places offer elephant rides. See the shooting ranges outside Phnom Penh. Many of the movies shown in Phnom Penh are Hong Kong action films shown at video rooms. A calendar of events may be obtained from the tourist offices. Also check out the Phnom Penh newspapers such the Phnom Penh Post and Cambodia Daily, the Lonely Planet Books, notices set up at travel agencies and guest houses, and posters put up around town. Keep in mind Phnom Penh can be dangerous at night. Many tourists stick close to their hotel or take a taxi to and from a specific place.
Erika Kinetz wrote in the New York Times, “The respectable side of Phnom Penh’s night life consists of drinking, drinking, and then drinking some more. Tourists flock to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (363 Sisowath Quay, 855-23-724-014; www.fcccambodia.com). Actual journalists tend to drown themselves in the strong margaritas at Cantina (347 Sisowath Quay; 855-23-222-502), a grungy Mexican joint on the river. For martinis, go to Metro (Sisowath Quay at Street 148; 855-23-222-275), a sleek, modern place with some of the best drinks in town. If you must dance, Riverhouse (6 Street 110; 855-23- 220-180) offers throbbing bass and a slightly ghetto vibe. [Source: Erika Kinetz, New York Times, September 19, 2008]
“And there’s no better way to honor Phnom Penh’s riparian soul than with a sundowner at Maxine’s (71 Tonle Sap Road, Chruoy Changva Peninsula; 855-12-200-617). In an old wooden house that is slouching into the river, Maxine’s has a ramshackle authenticity that, at least for now, seems immune to the city’s rapid modernization. Afterward, if you happen to be in Phnom Penh on the first Friday of the month, follow the surreal swirl of drunken expatriates to Elsewhere (175 Street 51; 855-23-211-348), which has tables tucked into the trees around a small swimming pool.
“For a pampering facial, try the spa at Bliss (29 Street 240; 855-23-215-754; facials, $38 to $45), but if you want a massage, head to Health Care Center Master Kang (456 Monivong Boulevard; 85523-721-765), which has a utilitarian ambience but some of the best-trained masseuses in town. Start by sticking your feet in a pool of hot herbal water that looks like mud. The aromatherapy oil massage ($15 for one hour) involves piles of hot towels, up to 20, stacked on your aching back. The forceful foot massage ($10 for an hour) can’t be beat.
Theaters in Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh offers a number of cultural sites and place to relax and enjoy oneself. They include Chaktomuk Hall, south of the Royal Palace and along the riverfront, where dancers perform traditional Cambodian dance. Independence Monument, near down town, is the site of many ceremonial events. It adjoints a long mall that streches east toward the riverfront, where it meets Hun Sen Park, near the Naga Casino Resort Complex.
Chaktomuk Conference Hall (at Preah Sisowath Quay, Sangkat Chaktomuk, Khan Daun Penh) is designed by renowned architect Vann Molyvann, this venue was originally opened in 1961 as La Salle de Conference Chaktomuk. Earmarked for redevelopment as a restaurant in 1991, it was brought back into use as a theatre in 1994 following the devastating fire at the National Theatre. The Chaktomuk Conference Hall was completely refurbished in 2000, primarily to provide international-standard facilities for conferences. Subject to programming it is still utilised from time to time as a theatre venue, but only for special programmes organised directly by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.
The fan-shaped Chaktomuk Conference Hall in Phnom Penh is one of the mainstays of Phnom Penh's public architecture. It is the architectural beauty and its relation with the tradition that attracts numerous tourists to visit the place. It has now become one of the important and major sightseeing in Phnom Penh. The conference hall-theater is used for conferences, lectures and occasional performing arts activites; The auditorium has a total of 592 seats with retractable writing pallets. The performing area has an irregular-shaped stage with overhead pipe grid for suspension of masking, lighting and soft hangings and a spacious backstage area.
SHOPPING IN PHNOM PENH
Most of Phnom Penh's largest shops, galleries and the stores with English-language books are found in the downtown area around the higher end hotels. The best places to shop for souvenirs, gifts, and interesting items are the markets. The selection of goods as you might guess is not as good in Phnom Penh as it is Bangkok and other Southeast Asian cities but still alright.
Erika Kinetz wrote in the New York Times, “Bargains abound in Phnom Penh. Looking for affordable gems? Go to the backroom of Mr. Sit Down (116 CEO Sihanouk Boulevard; 855-12-805-4-28), where Hoeu Sareth’s solid workmanship, simple designs and shiny Pailin rubies have enticed expatriates for years. For women’s clothes, go to L’Armoire (126 Street 19; 855-23722-310), a sweet boutique that sells well-cut dresses from the designer and owner, Alexandra Barter. Ambre (37 Street 178; 855-23-722-310), housed in an old colonial mansion, carries men’s suits and fancy dresses. And before lugging your bags back to the hotel, pick up at least one all-cotton krama, a traditional checkered scarf used for everything from holding babies to bathing. You’ll find a great assortment (about $1.50) at Psar Tuol Tom Pong, a k a Russian Market, at the corner of Streets 440 and 163. [Source: Erika Kinetz, New York Times, September 19, 2008]
New Shopping Malls in Phnom Penh
AFP reported: “Inside the recently opened Aeon Mall in the heart of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s first mega shopping centre, shoppers and curious residents flock to see the latest Levi’s and Giordano handbags, snapping selfies in front of a giant Christmas tree. It is a common scene across much of Southeast Asia but was previously unimaginable for many in Cambodia where around 20 percent of people still live on less than $1.25 per day. [Source: Agence France-Presse, December 20, 2015]
“But while poverty remains entrenched, a fast-growing middle class and elite are increasingly looking for local ways to spend their cash. “I am glad we have such a modern mall in Phnom Penh. It shows the city is growing,” says 20-year-old Bopha, a well-heeled university student who said her family made more than $1 million in a recent land sale. Bopha said she used to have to travel to Thailand and Singapore for her shopping trips but that was now changing. “Their cities are crowded with high-rise towers. I think we are heading in the same direction to be like them,” she beamed.
“The $200 million Japanese-built mall is just one of dozens of new shopping complexes.” but all the window shoppers are custimers. “Strolling through Aeon Mall, Seng Seat, 60, says most of the products remain outside her budget. “The price of some clothes and shoes at the retail brand shops is too expensive,” Seat said. “I just had a look at the price and left immediately.”
Markets in Phnom Penh
Tuol Tum Pong Market (Mao Tse Dong Boulevard) is also known as the Russian market. Covering several city blocks and so-named because of the prevalence of items from the Eastern Bloc in past times, it has a good selection of Cambodian silk items as well as stalls that sell vegetables, antiques, CDs, fabrics, jewelry, carved handicrafts, ceramics, marijuana, Vietnamese-style clothes, shoes, tools and other items. A word of caution though: you need to sharpen your bargaining skills as the prices here can be outrageously high. Don't confuse it with the O'Russei Market.
Tuol Tom Pong Market is located at the corner of St. 440 and st.163, south of Mao Tse Tung Blvd. It is the best place in town for souvenir shopping, having a large range of real and fake antiquities. Items for sale include miniature Buddha's, silk, silver jewelry, gems, video, and a host of other goodies. Clothes such as T-shirts, trousers, jackets or shoes are very reasonable. There are also a large number of clothing outlets and on site tailors and seamstresses can make alteration quickly. The food and drinks stalls are a good place to take a refreshment break between the bargaining.
Psar O Russei is not to be confused with the Russian Market. This market is located in a huge yellow-bleached house looking like a shopping mall from outside next to Capitol Tours, east from the Olympic Stadium and closed to the Monivong Blvd. It features all kinds of products focusing on luxury foodstuffs, costume jewellery, imported toiletries, second-hand and new clothes, and some electrical devises. Once you enter it you'll find a kind of labyrinth with hundreds of small overloaded stalls. It's worth popping in if you want to experience an older Khmer-style market.
Central Market (Phsar Thmei, on Monivong Blvd in central Phnom Penh) is said to be the best Phnom Penh market for browsing and is known for its gem and gold stalls, used clothing and openly-sold ganja. Housed in an old colonial building with circular buildings and yellow domes, it is the cleanest and has the widest range of products for sale. Opening hours are from early morning until early evening. It is located in an area that was previously a swamp that was used to accumulate runoff rainwaters. The market building is a beautiful one, a spectacular instance of Cambodian architecture.
The dark-yellow Phsa Thmei (New Market) is also referred to as the Central Market, a reference to its location and size. It was constructed from 1935 to 1937. The Art deco building is shaped in the form of a cross with a nice central dome. And has four wings filled with shops selling gold and silver jewelry, antique coins, fake name-brand watches and other such items. It also offers electronic items and there is also plenty of secondhand stuff that you can buy here at an affordable rate. The gateway to the market is lined with hawkers who sell different kinds of tidbits.
Around the main buildings are stalls offering Krama (checked scarves), stationery, household items, cloth for sarongs, flowers and second hand clothes, usually from Europe and the US. For photographers, the fresh food section affords a lot of opportunities. There are a host of good value food stalls on the structure's western side, which faces Monivong Blvd.
Whoever loves to browse endlessly through small yet enticing shops, will find the Central Market (Phsar Thmei) in Phnom Penh an enchanting place. The jewelry found in the interior of the market and some of the gold ornament that you will find here are really unsurpassable in design and style. Getting to Central Market (Phsar Thmei) and then going back to your hotel is easy as there are plenty of transportation facilities near the marketplace. A taxi stand can be found at the northwest corner of the market and the southwest exit will take you to a bus stand.
The name "Phsar Thmei" means "New Market" but in English, it is commonly called "Central Market". This may cause some come confusion because Phnom Penh also has a "Phsar Kandal" close to Wat Unalaum and the Riverside. That name would translate in English to "Central Market"In the northwest corner of the market is a taxi station for cars direction Battambang, Siem Reap, Kampong Cham, Kratie etc. The bus station is in the southwest corner.
The four wings of the yellow coloured Central Market are teeming with numerous stalls selling gold and silver jewellery, antique coins, clothing, clocks, flowers, food, fabrics, shoes and luggage. Around the main buildings are stalls offering Kramas (red and white checked scarves), stationery, household items, clothes for sarongs, flowers and second hand clothes, usually from Europe and the US. For photographers, the fresh food section affords a lot of opportunities. There are a host of good value food stalls on the structure's western side, which faces Monivong Blvd.
Phsar Kandal (close to Wat Unalaum and the Riverside) is the newer Central Market near Tonle Sap. It name translates in English to "Central Market" but it should not be confused with the older, more popular French-era market, New Central Market.
Old Market (Phsar Chas) is a local market that is not geared to tourists. It carries such items as fruits and vegetable, second hand cloths, hardware, motorcycle parts and religious items. In the late afternoon food vendors and fruit sellers set up mats along Street 13 in preparation for the evening market. The dinner rush hour makes for a confusing, dirty potentially photogenic scene. Located on the river at the south end of the Old French Quarter, Old Market is a popular market for local people but attracts some tourists as well. It is one of the most crowded markets in the city.
The northern end of the market is mainly geared to the the locals selling vegetables, fruit, meats, clothes, home appliance stuffs, etc. The shopping streets in the surrounding area house a number of galleries and boutiques, each with its own style, collection and specialty. These boutiques and galleries are more comfortable air-conditioned shopping venues with quality items to sell. For food buffs, Old Market is an ideal place to try some local cuisine. There are several small food stalls offering tasty but sometimes unhygienically prepared food. To stay fit you should try the dishes at the street side restaurants and pubs at the Old Market area. Though the Old Market closes after the sunset officially you will find many of the souvenir vendors at the south section of the market till 8 PM.
Starting from morning till early evening, the south side of the market near the river becomes alive with hawkers and vendors selling souvenir, silk and a wide variety of Cambodian handicrafts, textiles, statues and curios. If you wish to plunge in to the heady excitement of shopping in Phnom Penh and feel the pulse of the city, you should definitely visit the Old Market! It offers a glimpse in to the rich cultural traditions of the region, It is easy to spot this bustling market area along the river bank in Phnom Penh. You only have to get near the south end of the Old French Quarter and you'll be greeted by the sights and sounds of this popular market! For the best experience, visit the market when it opens in the morning. The place begins shutting down at sunset, but the souvenir vendors at the south end of the market are open way in to the evening, beyond 8:00pm. The market area is choc-a-bloc with art galleries, bars, mssage parlors, inexpensive eateries selling delicious local fare.
Orussey Market(centrally located block away from Monivong Boulevard) is also much more geared towards locals than tourists; hence you will not find as much in the way of souvenirs as the other markets mentioned. A huge array of foodstuffs is on offer including the wet market with fresh meat, poultry and seafood. Other items in abundance include house ware, hardware and electronic goods. The shops in the market generally sell essential items rather than souvenirs. That is why, tourists do not take much interest in visiting this market. Still, it is a good place to interact with local people and get an idea of their food habits and daily life.
The shops at Orussey Market generally sell foodstuffs, household items, electronic goods and hardware. It is located at the heart of the city just one block away from one block away from Monivong Boulevard, one of the main avenues and shopping centers in the city. The market is housed at a closed, big square. The structure, painted with white and blue feature many colorful knickknacks.
A huge array of foodstuffs is sold including the wet market with vegetables, fresh meat, poultry and a wide variety of seafood. The range of household items include utensil, cutlery, crockery, dinner set, bed sheets and soft furnishing. At Orussey Market you can shop for electronics goods at a surprisingly cheaper rate than other places. The range include video games, calculators, electronic watches, torch, radio and toys. Bargaining is allowed at the market.
One traveler wrote: “The streets around Orussey teem with life. The whole area comes across as one massive bazaar as the market spills out to the adjacent buildings and beyond. Rubbish, potholes and chaotic traffic are de rigueur while goods are packed and unpacked everywhere. This is a place of business, not a tourist market. That said, some of Phnom Penh’s oldest guesthouses are also to be found in the area, catering to some very seasoned budget travellers. In true local style, vendors of the same goods have monopolised sectors around the market. The northern end of Street 113 is lined with shop after shop selling similar textiles —most also offer basic tailoring services. The stock includes a large amount of patterned synthetic fabrics as well as heavier cotton materials.
RESTAURANTS IN PHNOM PENH
The best restaurants are generally located in the large hotels, and hygiene is something to consider when choosing a place to eat. Cambodian food, French food, French-Cambodian food, Chinese food, Vietnamese food, Thai food, Japanese food, Indian food, Korean food and other international cuisines are all available in Phnom Penh. Kentucky Fried Chicken—the first Western-style fast food— didn’t arrive until the late 2000s. As of 2012 there no McDonald’s in Cambodia. There are pizza places that deliver however. The markets and the numerous small restaurants and food stalls around them offer soups, meals and snacks. The food is good but risky healthwise.
According to Philip Shenon of the New York Times, many of the good restaurants are a holdover from early 1990s when new restaurants sprung to feed the U.N. Peacekeepers. Shenon recommends Swiss-owned La Pailote (opposite the central market at 130-53 234th street). The Sofitel Cambodiana Hotel provide suggestion of restaurant that are good, hygienic and safe. Also check lists of restaurants in the Phnom Penh newspapers, the Lonely Planet books and other guidebooks.
Phnom Penh has a vast range of restaurants to suit all pockets and tastes, from noodle shops and market stalls to sophisticated, pricey Western places; even guesthouses often have small restaurants offering Western style fare, including American breakfasts, and Khmer and Chinese dishes. Many of the restaurants catering to tourists and visitors line the riverfront dining and shopping area near the Royal Palace. Street 278 (near Independence Monument) and Boeng Keng Kang 1 is dotted with local and foreign restaurants. Budget restaurants and relaxing bars can be found along Street 93 next to the Boeung Kak Lake, an area popular with backpackers.
Erika Kinetz wrote in the New York Times, “Khmer cuisine is not for the squeamish: garlicky crickets, black beetles, crispy tarantula and chopped chicken bits with bone. Fear not: there’s barbecue. At a curbside plastic chair at Sovanna Restaurant (2 Street 21; 855-12-840-055) order dishes, like fresh-grilled squid, shrimp, beef or pork (small plates, 8,000 riels, or $1.96 at 4,168 riels to the dollar; big plates, 16,000 riels). [Source: Erika Kinetz, New York Times, September 19, 2008]
“For solace, find your way to Friends (215 Street 13; 855-12 802-072; www.streetfriends.org) , where you can take comfort that your lunch is being served to you by rehabilitated street children. Despite the nation’s galloping economy, about a third of Cambodians still live on under a dollar a day, the United Nations Development Program has said. The fruit shakes ($2.50 to $3.50) are fantastic, as are the tapas-style entrees, like grilled fish fillet with salsa verde ($3).
“The French ruled Cambodia from 1864 until 1953, and whatever else you have to say about that legacy, they did leave behind good cheese. If you are in the mood to live large, go for the foie gras ($17) at the elegant La Résidence (22-24 Street 214; 85523-224-582; www.la-residence-restaurant.com). Otherwise, head to La Marmite (80 Street 108; 855-12-391-746; entrees $7 to $13), a scruffy bistro that offers better food than most of its more expensive cousins.
“Cambodia was once famous for its peppercorns, which look innocuous enough but pack significant heat. Kampot, a sleepy river town about three hours south of Phnom Penh, was once the center of Cambodia’s peppercorn farms. Today, nonprofit groups are working to revive the trade. The sweetest way to savor this history is at the Chocolate Shop, the city’s first and only chocolate boutique (35, Street 240; 855-23-998 6-38). Order a palm-sized slab of dark chocolate encrusted with crushed Kampot pepper ($5). It is as sweet and as hot as the tropics themselves.”
Well-Known Restaurants in Phnom Penh
The Corner Restaurant and Bar serves mainly local Khmer Food. Fresh fruit shake and juices specialties for this hot month from Oct to May. It is located at the first floor of Mittapheap Hotel, corner street 174 next to Wat Koh high school and Pagoda.
Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia (FCC) has a famous international bar and restaurant where journalists still meeting. It is located on the second floor of a beautiful old Colonial era building with open balcony providing a spectacular, sweeping view of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers. The FCC kitchen offers a good selection of nicely prepared contemporary, modern, and mainstream western dishes as well as some of the best wood-fired oven pizza in town. Also displaying photo shows and exhibitions. Fresco Delicatessen on the ground floor. Upper price limit. St. 363 on the riverside.
Java Cafe and Gallery is an international cafe and restaurant genially set in a nice gallery ambiance. They offer a brilliant selection of coffees, teas and muffins. Nice selections of salads, sandwiches made to order on homemade bread, fajitas, lots of veggie dishes and all-day breakfasts including omelettes, pancakes, French toast, muesli and more. Indoor gallery seating and airy balcony seating overlooking the green park and the Independence Monument. Changing art and photo exhibitions. WiFi Hotspot. St. 56, Sihanouk Blvd. (Near to the Independence Monument).
Lemongrass is an authentic classical Thai and Khmer food restaurant with dishes at reasonable prices. Shop house sized restaurant with pleasant indoor seating. Fairly large selection of dishes. Very good preparation. Good selection of vegetarian offerings. Good reviews from patrons. Located on Street 130 just off the riverfront.
Food and Drink in the French District of Phnom Penh
Joseph Freeman wrote in the Washington Post: The more visible and thriving aspects of the French scene in Phnom Penh are, not surprisingly, food and drink. There are so many good French restaurants and bars here that singling out a handful is difficult, but a few stand out for their distinctively French ambiance. [Source: Joseph Freeman, Washington Post, January 23, 2014]
“In the gloomily lit Dodo Rhum House, a few blocks west of the river, the slim and occasionally surly Frenchman who runs the place can be found behind the bar, cigarette hanging from his lips, languidly pouring drinks. French and other expatriates stand around sipping flavored rums (I always get passion fruit) and smoking, indoors and out. Not far away, L’Absinthe Bar sells cheap beer and varieties of the strong potion for about $5 a glass, depending on the quality. It’s on Street 51 in Phnom Penh, a strip of rowdy backpacker bars and clubs. The mood is more laid-back at L’Absinthe, where I always seem to see a little dog running around.
“I’ve eaten at most of the restaurants: Comme à La Maison, the fittingly named Open Wine and Armand’s, where the Franco-Cambodian owner, Armand Gerbié, pours cognac into a pan and theatrically flambés your $20 steak tableside. In 2012, Gerbié told AsiaLIFE that his performance was “an old-fashioned French thing.” It certainly delivers. The first time I went to the bistro, which is improbably located next to a park where anti-government protests typically occur, charming accordion music was playing on the sound system. Gerbié, whose slick black hair gives him a commanding presence, flitted from table to table, having brief conversations in French.
“While I like Armand’s, I prefer Chez Gaston, a small and less expensive restaurant on an unassuming block near the river. I discovered it while wandering around town in my first month here. A collection of small tables looks out onto the street. The menu is written on a chalkboard. The owner, who isn’t named Gaston, buys little birthday presents for diners. On Valentine’s Day, he presented couples with roses.
“When I eat there, I order a bottle of Bordeaux, the onglet à l’échalote (hanger steak with shallots) and maybe a chocolate mousse. I celebrated my 30th birthday there, and when an event seems to call for a certain special dinner, my first thought is: Chez Gaston. The restaurant is coming up on its fifth year. At the end of the meal, the owner pours free shots out of an unlabeled bottle of what tastes like homemade black currant-flavored vodka. If he’s in good spirits, and the dinner is festive enough, he leaves the bottle on the table. When you arrived at the airport, the paper to fill was written in French and Khmer,” he told me in an interview. “When you go to the hospitals, the forms were in French.”“
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
Last updated August 2020