Phnom Penh: a sweet way of life trip• 14 May, 2009 • Catégorie: City in sight •
Staying at Phnom Penh is an unforgettable experiment. Cultural inheritance and urban way of life mix together in this engaging town, birthplace of Asian civilization. As proof, once you have been to Cambodia, you can never foret this unconditional smile on Khmers’ face. Each of my stays in Cambodia is a new exploration characterising the gentleness of life of this wonderful country. Here are some addresses and recommendations, which, I hope, will make you to go there.
Day one: awakening of senses
For your first day in Phnom Penh, I recommend you to get to know the city by engrossing yourself into the Central Market. Built in 1937, in an art-deco style, the building kept its prestige, showing us an amazing achitecural shape. Thousands of delightful scents fill the air and arrays show us surprinsing rag bags: fruits and vegetables, fabrics, cookwares, illegal DVDs, everything is alike and we merrily get lost. This is an ideal place to watch inhabitants and their habits, while you are stuned by a frenzy purchase as picturesque as genuine.
Leaving the Central Market, take a tuk-tuk to join the restaurant named Titanic. Except the motorbike, the tuk-tuk is the favorite transport of residents. This little vehicle, often overcrowded, has an urban legend according to which it would be equipped by a GPS system. After an inquiry, I learn those are linked to a central which owns a GPS system.
Another time, another legend, let’s talk about the etymology of the city’s name. “Phnom” means moutain, but it is said that “Penh” comes from the name of a woman, who had discovered bronze statues of Buddha floating in a tree. She hurries up to protect them by building a hillock of stone and clay, on which will be constructed a stûpa (sacred monument which symbolize the essential link between Earth and kingdom of Gods).
But let’s go back to more terrestrial food. The restaurant Titanic offers you a perfect foretaste of Khmer cuisine with a huge range of typical courses. Prices are reasonable, I recommend you the water buffalo meat, an original dish with very low calorie but definitely tasty.
The afternoon is dedicated to enjoy the wonder of senses in a beauty institut with an extraordinary massage: the seeing hands. In this place of voluptuousness, massagers, almost all blind, give you a very unique instant of relaxation. Like a substitute to the look, their hands explore with skill the meridians of human body giving you the most exclusive wellness. From every room, a softened light and some pleasant parfums mix with a gentle and calming music, which will transport you in a wellbeing
At the end of the day, return to the city center in order to discover the Romdeng restaurant. This one, managed by the NGO Friend/Mith Samlanh, offers you a basic local cuisine in a colonial styled house. On the menu list, the most spicy typical Khmer food. The place is also ideal if you want to have a resfreshing break in the magnificent garden with its swimming pool.
Day two: once upon a time the Khmers
To start with a cultural visit you mat start with the Cambodia’s National Museum, one of the most beautiful collection of Khmer’s Art. At the entrance, two lofty gates let you foresee extraordinary patterns, inspired by the Banteay Srei temple. Inside, Cambodia tells you its story through many pieces of art, symbols of the great Angkorian and pre-Angkorian times. Thanks to a young French archeologist, Georges Goslier, you can admire those treasures.
To get over those spiritual food, let’s have an entertaining and greedy break at the Frizz restaurant. There, you will have a Khmer cooking lesson so Cambodian food won’t have any secret for you anymore! On the menu, vegetarian dishes have top billing for a raisonable price.
Before returning to the hotel, you have to stop at the FCC bar, a mythical place where all reporters of the world met while the after Khmers Rouges period. The bar has kept its very unique location. From your table, you can observe the unceasing dance of people in the street and if you are lucky, you can even see the heavy steps of an elephant.
Day three: rural getaway
Why don’t you escape for few hours from this noisy city to join Cambodian countryside. In a landscape dominated by rice fields, the villagers continually rush to their activities. Those country sites, safeguarded from urban chaos, have kept the essence of Khmer’s culture. The Phnom Shisor temple’s ruins spreat all over the site offers you an interesting retrospection of the Angkorian history. Along the water, panoramic view of the Mekong bank, Bassac and Tonlé Sap are just fascinating, and those little padogas all around, invite you to a very unique spiritual call.
Back to Phnom Penh, head toward Sisowath Quay, where you must be quite surprized. Dozens of arrays are in a line on the bank and lots of sellers are cooking… mygale spiders! In fact, it is a local and very popular delicacy, which can be savour at any time of the day (a bit as chips in Occident). I heard spiders are a great source of protein in a country where the heat is continious and the provision of trace element is quite limited.
After this stimulating walk on the border of the Quay, I recommend the Rega Restaurant Guest House, tiny tropical and culinary oasis where the atmosphere is friendly and calm. In this bamboo and rattan setting, Cambodian gouache paintings mix themself with Vietnamise watercolors in a shimmering play of colors. It is served quality cuisine and prices are amazingly low. Try the Amok, a typical Cambodian dish. Most of restaurants have their own personnalized Amok and serve their own version of it. The Amok is a fish-based course, cooked for hours in coconut milk and many herbs. The dish presentation is amazing and original (in a banana tree leaf) and the explosion of flavours enjoys your mouth. Generally, a delightful Angkor beer is joined to this feast. Angkor is a generic name which is used everywhere in Cambodia: it represents the old capital of the Khmer Empire (it is also a part of the Cambodian flag and its symbol all over the world).
In order to extend the night, why don’t you take the opportunity of hearing some great music at the Art Café bar in the midtown. Each night, the owner, a German guykeen of music, organizes auditions and pleasant small concerts despide a tiny room. The decoration is minimalist in order to make space for local artists’ works of art on every walls.
Where to sleep?
The Billabong Hotel
Placed in the heart of Phnom Penh, this charming hotel is ideal for your stay. Real oasis of calm, this hotel offers a whole world of luxury which is quite rare in the city. In a colorful style, the hotel complex participates to giving you a real pleasure. An amazing swimming pool welcomes you for a very resfreshing moment after a long full day.
Located on the Sisowath Quay, the Quay hotel can be dreamed as a white building, in a country where this color never stays for a long time. Lines are straight, lights are solft, no doubt, we are in a design hotel in Phnom Penh. First boutique hotel in Cambodia, the Quay gathers all the rich and young Cambodian crowd and also the intrigued tourists by this unique hotel.
FCC hotel Phnom Penh
In a old colonial villa, the FCC hotel Phnom Penh offers to demanding travellers an exceptional level of comfort. The quality of the hotel’s infrastructure and services make a real oasis of functionality and also a very comfortable place to stay while in town. All rooms are spacious and luminous offer an amazing view toward the Tonle River.
Where to eat?
Near the ferry boat to Siem Reap.
N° 67 Rue 240
N° 21 Rue 278
Rega Restaurant Guest house
N° 8 Rue 75
Tel : +855.23.986.251
Where to have a drink?
Open every day from 7am untill midnight.
Happy Hour from 5PM till 7PM