Phnom Penh City Guide

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]nce considered the gem of Indochina, Phnom Penh has not lost its provincial charm. Old world French architecture channels a sense of bygone era while the streets bustles with tuk tuks, roadside vendors and colourful busy markets. With a growing number of NGO (non governmental organizations) and expats, the city’s restaurant scene is starting to come into its own. Here’s how to spend a delicious (and cheap!) weekend in Phnom Penh.

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The poshest breakfast in town:

Located in the ground floor of Arunreas Hotel, Khmer restaurant is an upscale French number complete with white linens, a trendy playlist and local staff who can switch from halting English to effortless French—Cambodia was, after all, once a French colony. For just US$12, sit down to a free-flow breakfast (available from 6am to 10am daily). You can order eggs done in fancy Benedict or Florentine styles, tuck into muesli and yogurt with tropical local fruit or have a go at the plethora of perfect golden brown pastries lined up buffet style (we recommend the orange blossom brioche and apple turnovers). There’s also a Cambodian option of Kuy Teav, a comforting Chinese style pork or prawn rice noodle soup. Bonus: there’s free WIFI.

#163, Street 51, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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A first of its kind rum distillery:

Phnom Penh might be the last place you’d expect to find local artisanal rum. But the abundance of indigenous sugarcane grown in Cambodia had to go somewhere. Samai Distillery is run by two Venezuelan guys—Antonio Lopez De Haro and Daniel Pacheco. Production is small so pick up a bottle when you have a chance—this is probably the only place that sells it. Swing by on Thursdays for a distillery tour and when night falls the warehouse-like space morphs into a buzzing bar with a mix of expat crowd and young locals. The tasting flight (US$12) offers a sampling of four different types of Samai rum.

#9, Street 830 Sothearos Boulevard, Tonle Bassac. Tel :+855  2322 4 143

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Unfussy Fusion:

The Tiger’s Eye South African chef Timothy Bruyns’ big personality matches his bold southeast Asian riffs in the food. Expect adventurous flavours in dishes like raw cured tuna with a somtam dressing, banana heart and hot basil; or a smoked duck breast with lemongrass and yellow curry. The understated restaurant sees a wood heavy décor and a relaxed  vibe.

49 Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh. Tel: +855 17 876 382

 Get around by tuk tuk:

Each ride costs an average of US$2 but the more adventurous can pillion on motorbikes for just US$1. Negotiate the fee before you hop on.

Drink like a local at these 3 bars:

*The average cost of a cocktail is US$5.

Elbow Room: One of several tiny watering holes clustered on Bassac Lane, a narrow alleyway off Street 308, this cosy den offers a speakeasy vibe, a hip hop playlist and kick-ass craft tipples. Order the Yuz Ya Head, a frothy drink of jasmine tea infused rum, sesame orgeat, pressed lime, and creamy coconut/ yuzu foam.

#35, Street 305 Phnom Penh. Tel: +855 78 890 617

Elephant Bar: Located in the colonial-esqued Raffles Hotel, this elegant bar is practically an institution in the city. Order the Femme Fatale, an iconic cocktail concocted for Jackie Kennedy during her visit to Cambodia circa 1967.

#92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh, Sangkat Wat. Tel: +855 23 981 888

Bouchon Wine Bar: One of the most popular French wine bars in town, Bouchon recently moved to larger premises to accommodate a much larger crowd. Decent selections of French quaffs aside, try the espresso martini as the pick-me-up for a long night of partying.

#3 street 246, Phnom Penh 12206. Tel: +855 77 881 103

Khmer cuisine at its finest:

Khmer Surin is the place where locals like to bring their out-of-towner friends. Must-orders include the fish amok, a fish curry steamed in a banana leaf cup (tastes kind of like our local otah), and morning glory soup.

#9, Street 57, Sangkat Boeung Keng Kang I, Khan Chamkarmon. Tel: +855 12 887 320

For a Fear Factor feast:

Serving up truly traditional Khmer cuisine, Romdeng is the best place to hit for stir-fired red tree ants with beef or a dish of tarantulas with black pepper and lime sauce.

#74, Street 174. Tel: +855 92 219 565

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Sleep at: Plantation, an urban hotel set in original 1930’s French administrative villa, surrounded by lush gardens and ponds. The pool here is pretty spectacular-the 20m green slate basin just makes you want to plunge in and do a couple of laps.

#28 Street 184. Tel: +855 2321 5151

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Drive to Kep:
On weekends, almost everyone heads to Kep. Just a three-hour drive south from Phnom Penh, it’s like the Hamptons to New Yorkers. Worth a visit is the famous Kep Crab Market where you can see vendors haul in baskets of live crabs to the shore After purchasing your crabs, you can get them to grill, steam, stir-fry or boil them for you. If you’ll like to eat in more civilised settings, there are a slew of seafood restaurants right next to the market. We recommend Kimly Seafood Restaurant for fried crab with lemongrass and chilli. Make a detour to the Kampot Pepper La Plantation, an organic farm that grows the famous Kampot peppers. Get a tour, and then have lunch- the place offers a few dishes like Nom Krouk (rice and coconut pancakes) made with kampot peppers.