Phnom Penh really is a fantastic city buts lot of travellers will stop here for a few nights, only having time to hit the main tourist attractions such as The Silver Pegoda, The Palace and S-21 Museum before moving on.
As well as needing a stop to re-charge our batteries and stock up on a few essentials, I was particularly interested in exploring Phnom Penh as it is known to have an industrious and developing arts and cultural scene (my line of work). Cambodian arts have a particularly sad history as they were virtually eradicated by the Khmer Rouge. The city has a vey high percentage of people under 30.
I had already read about this project (The Boat) before arriving, which has big plans to turn a 6 storey floating boat into Cambodia’s first multi-disciplinary arts centre. We were lucky enough to meet one of the founders and have a tour of the space. Separate blog soon to follow!
We ended up having nearly a week in the city (waiting for Paddy’s Thai Visa) and we are so glad we did as those few extra days enabled us to escape the main tourist areas and explore the local ex-pat arts scene.
Phnom Penh has a large and very active ex-pat community (especially French). Many of them are here running or working for various NGO’s. Others have come to set up their own hotels and bars while others are artists, writers etc.
The best way to tap into this more local scene is to locate the monthly listings. You can pick up a copy of Asia Life or a Pocket Guide:
Alternatively here are a few places we visited during our time in the city:
Java Arts Cafe, near Independance monument
A great cafe/exhibition space – often filled with expats who go to catch up on email. Make sure you explore upstairs too. They have events running in the evenings.
META House, Sothearos Blvd.
Exhibition space downstairs with a covered but open cinema space, restaurant and bar upstairs. Food is good. They have DJs playing regularly (although it was pretty quiet when we were there) and screen some great independent films and documentaries earlier in the evening.
We went to a live music night on a Friday night at cloud which is a converted house South of the city. Large bar downstairs with a small performance and balcony space on the second floor. We saw 3 local bands who were all at a pretty good amateur level. Got very busy with a mixed international ex-pat crowd from around 10.30pm
Directly on the river front and has a special mention in the Rough Guide so naturally attracts a strong tourist crowd but it has spectacular views from both balconies over the river. Exhibition spaces and an info desk. They often host live music, a good singer songwriter was playing when we went.
Traditional Dance Show at the Museum
Again, naturally a complete tourist trap, but this dance show is fully supported by Cambodian Living Arts and it’s a good thing to go and support. The show is an hour in length and showcases a mix of traditional court and folk Cambodian dances. It’s tastefully done and didn’t feel too chliched or pander too much to the tourist crowd.