Phnom Penh ain’t so bad

Phnom Penh has not been doing so well in the press lately.  Lord knows I’ve had my share of complaints about living here, but my upcoming departure has made me a little nostalgic about Phnom Penh.  It’s not an easy place to love but it’s  been an interesting place to live. I’ll definitely be coming back, and I am hopefully optimistic to see how things change here.   After the jump I’m listing in no particular order some of my favorite things about Phnom Penh.


-Architecture and Khmer Architecture tours: Phnom Penh has beautiful French colonial architecture and perhaps even more interesting is the “New Khmer Architecture” from the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s.  It is well worth your time to sign up for any and all Khmer Architecture tours and find out more about these hidden gems in the city.  This architecture might not be getting respect from some of the people in power and the corporations who are only looking at PP for its land value, but there is a small and passionate group of people (foreign and Khmer) who know about and appreciate Phnom Penh’s architectural history.   As more people learn about this, hopefully some of these buildings can be saved.


Sam Bo! Sam Bo! Sam Bo!


-The National Museum:  Hands down the best museum in the country and getting even better with some rumors of upcoming exhibits and updates to the existing space. And at $3 admission it’s a total bargain.


-Walking in any park or public space at dusk and watching people.  Khmer people love to go to the park at dusk to relax and enjoy the cooler weather.  I generally don’t like crowds of people but you really can’t beat the happy vibes of a Phnom Penh park at dusk.


-Cool handmade signsIt’s a dying art, and yes they are often full of typos, but these signs are really charming.


PS- Whoa! There is a Flickr group of these signs! Awesome!

The amazing friendliness that you get from people in the service industry:  Yes there are always exceptions and yes there are always mistakes, but it this kind of kindness is easily taken for granted.  Below: The waitstaff at La Croisette which are among some of my favorite folks in the city.


-Street vendors and the non-regulated economy: I love that people can set-up shop anywhere and sell anything.  Or that if you need a new broom all you need to do is wait for someone to walk by outside your house and sell you one.  Who needs a giant Wal-Mart when you have everything you need right outside your door?


Day Trips: From PP you can take easy day trips to

Phnom Chiso

The Zoo!


Kampong Luong Silver Village

BarCamp, Cloggers, Unicode, and the increased interest in technology in PP. Below: a scene from the recent BarCamp Phnom Penh unconference.


The shops, restaurants, and business that I’ve enjoyed visiting:

-Sher e Punjab: Perhaps the best restaurant in Phnom Penh on street 130 just off the river.  Do yourself a favor and order the Paneer Makhani.

-La Croisette (mentioned above) has not bad wifi and will let you sit there for hours while you munch on their tasty food.

-The yummy dumpling place (name?) on Sihanouk next to the Coffeemaker.

Bloom Bags (plus I enjoy Diana’s blog too).

Smateria, Boom Boom Room (for music), FCC (cliche I know) for happy hour sangria, Bohr’s Books ( 5 Sotheros Blvd, near street 178).

-The ladies at Sunrise Booking Tours (on the riverfront near La Croisette) have been helpful in getting me bus tickets and arranging cars.

-The new Apsara Khmer “Hi-class Express” 15 person van to Siem Reap. Fast, reliable, safe, and cheaper than Mekong Express.

Have your own ideas about what makes PP great? I’m sure I’ve left things off.  Feel free to add any suggestions in the comments!

14 responses to “Phnom Penh ain’t so bad

  1. Great Post! Phnom Penh is totally full of amazing and unique stuff. It might feel like a tough place to be as a foreigner sometimes, but there’s no substitute for this city’s charms.

  2. Alison! Will you continue this excellent blog after you leave Cambodia? I’d hate to lose your insights and newsy posts on all things archaeological in the ‘Bodge.

  3. Thanks for all your great posts! We will all miss you when you leave Cambodia.

  4. Lime soda, geckos, and the Pavilion Hotel! I have many many happy memories of PP.

  5. Alison – I can’t thank you enough for all of your pictures and stories! That may be as close as I ever get to PP or Cambodia, and it’s wonderful to see the part of the world “on the other side”! I, too, hope you’ll continue your ‘blog, but I also look forward (selfishly) to having you back with us – and I hope we can spend LOTS of time together when you’re home!

  6. Thanks everyone! I would definitely like to keep the blog going. It will be updated less frequently of course, but I’ll keep posting!

  7. I love (and miss) Sher-e-Punjab and Bohr’s Books too! And the staff at the Shop, Cafe Fresco and Rubies, the Russian Market, sunset drinks at Snow’s on the balcony overlooking the river, pizza at Le Duo, lasagne at Pop Cafe, drinks and tapas at Metro, gorging on chocolate at Chocolate by the Shop, shopping at Bliss and Ambre, spying cool round corner apartments with renovation potential…I could go on and on (just moved to Saigon – missing PP!).

  8. I understand your nostalgic feeling, which points to your kind and appreciative personality, but it makes me happy to know that you will go back times and times again; and this itself is such a good consolation. However, as I wrote before, I can’t wait to see again.

  9. come home safe!

  10. Russell Carter

    My time there was so limited. All that you’ve said is wonderful it its own right (especially SamBo, La Croissette, and Cadillac-grilled cheese) , but when you go to anything in PP with your daughter and wife, it’s ALL wonderful….even the absolutely bizarre traffic patterns. Anxiously awaiting your return.

  11. Yes, I miss Phnom Penh after moving to Siem Reap. SR can’t compare with PP for good food, because the restaurants here cater to tourists and therefore don’t have to try as hard. I miss the biryani at Dosa Corner and roast duck noodles from the Chinese restaurant next to Klang Boy. And Orussey Market for great second-hand bags and shoes!

  12. I can’t believe I’ve just come across this blog now when it’s winding up! I’ve been reading over it and there’s some excellent stuff here. When do you leave Cambodia?

  13. Your blog really is a great resource. I just moved to PP, so I’m still very much in the voyeur stage, but am happy to be there. Thanks for all of your information… !

  14. HI Beth- Thanks for the comment! Congrats on setting up in PP! It is indeed a challenging place to live but there are lots of rewards too. One thing I forgot to mention in my original post: if you’re in Cambodia for any length of time it is very worth it to study Khmer. I loved my teacher here is her info: