As promised, here are some things I wish I knew when I first moved to Phnom Penh – those little bits of information that might help save you the time and effort involved in finding things for yourself (and if you’ve already suffered disastrous haircuts, painful pedicures and fruitless searches for obscure groceries you may find this useful!).
- For hair and nail primping head straight to Lucky Salon, above Lucky supermarket on Sihanouk Boulevard. They offer the best manicures and pedicures in town and the most hygienic – how often do you see PP parlours putting their nail equipment in a steriliser? Not often enough, say my friends with the foot fungal infections! And they use OPI brand nailpolish with a huge selection of colours. The haircuts are also excellent – and male friends attest to this as well. I recommend bypassing the local $1-2 haircut joints – while they seem so fun and cheap and cheerful at first, you soon discover they’re just cheap.
- For obscure grocery items look no further than Thai Huot on Monivong Boulevard. It’s here I’ve found filo pastry, harissa paste, arborio rice, chicken stock and lots of great dairy produce – if you need thickened cream or sour cream (and these can be hard to come by in PP) head to the Huot. Added bonus – the alcohol selection is great and slightly cheaper than the selections at Pencil and Lucky. Oh, and there’s lots of chocolate goodness as well.
- Fabric street near O’Russei Market has the largest selection of cotton fabrics for getting shirts, skirts, dresses and more tailor made. It runs the southern length of the market (on the street outside that is) and there’s another street that runs off this with more, which is particularly good for men’s shirt fabrics. Bargaining is essential (but easy) and you can usually get good quality cotton for around US$1.50-2 per metre. There’s lots of crazy, glitzy, slinky, shiny (read: crazy) stuff among the finds, but it’s fun to look at! The 2nd floor of Olympic Market has lots of good fabric too, and it’s undercover and a little more orderly.
- Boom Boom Room on Street 278 is a great way to buy music. While this will sound obvious to PP residents it took me a while to stop buying CDs at Russian Market and instead get with the times and purchase MP3 files at BBR – much cheaper, and they can fit around 9 albums onto one CD which you can then copy onto itunes. Or you can get them to put the music straight onto your ipod. The music selection is updated frequently too.
- And a few favourite food places: The Deli Bakery for bread, The Shop for lunch and dessert (especially dessert – OMG!), Le Duo for pizza (bar the decor!), Pop Cafe for lasagna, Romdeng for Khmer, Boat Noodle for cheap and cheerful Khmer or Thai, Sam Doo for dim sum, Mekong Village for duck pancakes, Sher-e-Punjab for Indian (go for the tandoor offerings), Cafe Fresco for coffee (illy), Garden Center 108 for burgers, shakes and great service, and finally, one of my favourite ‘secret’ places is a little find called ‘Khmer Thai’ – the food is great, the setting is chic, the prices are cheap and for some reason it’s off the expat radar. To find it – head along Mao Tse Tung (inland that is) and turn left just before the wat near Russian Market. Head upstairs to sit on Thai cushions and feast!