One of my favourite kinds of articles to read in travel magazines is of the ‘my perfect day in [fabulous city]’ variety, providing inspiration on the best places to see, shop, eat and drink in a certain place, so I thought I’d share some Phnom Penh ideas before I leave for sunny Saigon.
Here’s what you could do for the ultimate Phnom Penh day (albeit a very girly one). Let’s also pretend that just for one day there’s no rubbish or beggars on the streets, lecherous sexpats lurking around or aggressive Lexus drivers careening down the wrong side of Norodom Boulevard at 100 kilometres an hour – this is make believe remember!
Rise and shine after an uninterrupted 10 hour sleep. No, make it 12.
Head to buzzing cafe The Shop on boutique lined Street 240, with the best service staff in town and the best chocolate croissants – ever. Order two chocolate croissants and a carrot beetroot ginger juice. Eye off their insanely tempting dessert counter but practice some self-restraint – there’ll be plenty of time for sweet treats later on.
While on Street 240 check out the shops. Hunt for quirky jewellery finds at Water Lily, and peruse the clothes at Bliss, Jasmine and Song in search of something inspiring.
Now duck around to Sihanouk Boulevard to shoe store VNC to find some new footwear to go with the Street 240 purchases. If in luck, there’ll be one of their ‘up to 70% off’ sales on and they magically won’t have sold out of your size in the style you like.
The retail therapy is only just beginning. Now it’s time to visit Ambre, an amazing clothing store featuring the designs of Romyda Keth, Cambodia’s most successful fashion designer. Visit each of the colour themed rooms in the spacious colonial house before trying on some of the creations. Do not leave without a purchase!
By now you’ll be in need of a caffeine hit and some air-con, so relax at the riverfront’s Cafe Fresco with a strong coffee and the day’s newspapers to catch up on what’s going on.
Time for a bit more shopping. See if there are any nice silk bags in Orange River a few doors down, then duck back around the corner to Kravan House to stock up on silk scarves. Around the corner on Sothearos, pick up some secondhand reading material at Bohr’s Books (especially the US$3 photocopied ones) and check out the silver shops for chunky rings, cuffs and earrings.
Finally, it’s lunchtime. Make your way to Metro for some Asian tapas and cool drinks in funky, glass enclosed surrounds. How about the Metro Fries, wok fried squid and chilli salt chicken wings, with a lychee and mint shake? Yum! Use the free wi-fi to catch up on emails, news, Facebook shenanigans and of course, blog subscriptions!
After all that shopping in ‘proper’ shops it’s time to get down and dirty at the Russian Market. Jostle the crowds in the narrow aisles for ts and singlets fresh from Phnom Penh’s garment factories. Some might call these items ‘fallen off the back of a truck’. Pick up some latest release pirated DVDs and CDs, and a few more pieces of silver jewellery. Take some fabric to one of the many tailors to get some clothes copied at bargain prices (my favourite is Asia Tailors, run by a friendly couple). And check out the cute bits and pieces (funky toys, bags, wallets and more) at Too-it Too-it, run by the Friends streetkid charity.
Time for more sustenance. Head back to Street 240 to Chocolate by The Shop, set in a charming French colonial building. Belgian chocolate is for sale here in various guises, from flavoured chocolates (I recently discovered their amazing Kampot pepper variety), to truffles, pralines, brownies, ice-creams and drinks. Select some different chocolates, order a coffee (or a hot chocolate – why not go crazy) and take a seat for a breather and a chocolatey feast.
Venture a few doors down to Spa Bliss for a one hour body massage (it’s called Bliss for a good reason) – an antidote to all that traipsing, bargaining and jaunting all over town.
Now go home to have a much needed shower and get ready for a night out. Wear something from the day’s shopping bounty, perhaps a colourful little Ambre number with some Water Lily accessories or silver finds from the market.
Meet some friends at Chow for happy hour cocktails. Head up to the rooftop terrace for river views and a tropical resort feel.
Now it’s onto dinner at chic La Residence, one of the city’s newer dining options with a Japanese, Michelin star restaurant trained chef at the helm. Indulge in gourmet modern French cuisine and a fine bottle of wine (or two).
One could stay out for more drinking, dancing, or even a spot of karaoke or a 6am trip to Naga Casino (don’t ask!), but for my ultimate day this would be enough. Time to go home to bed for a long, well-deserved sleep.