Phnom Penh Chic

By Desmond Lim Zhengs & Vincent Sung

Photo by Sung StudioProduction/Coordination by Fluxus Agency

In this bustling city where tuk-tuks outnumber pedestrians and roadside markets are aplenty, the word “chic” doesn’t necessarily come to mind. Devastated by the Khmer Rouge, Phnom Penh has seen a constant rebuilding and preservation over the years. Once nicknamed the “Pearl of Asia”, the French had long influenced this charming city.

Go for the genocide museum, the killing fields and explore the temples, but stay for a luxurious experience. Look beyond the gleaming gold roofs of temples and royal palaces and grandeur historical buildings and you’ll find chic boutique hotels, must-visit shops, restaurants, bars, and art galleries. Tucked behind unsuspicious colonial buildings and quiet lanes, these gems are waiting to be discovered.

Where to stay

The enchanting Raffles Le Royal Hotel is the poster child for French colonial buildings. This luxurious hotel survived the Khmer Rouge and the lazy charm of pre-war days still lingers. Spend the afternoon lounging under the big frangipani trees in the courtyard or better yet, spend the night at the Jacqueline Kennedy suite, where the late former US first lady once stayed in 1967. Raffles 24-hours personalized butler service is the cherry on this 5-star pie.

Raffles Le Royale 92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh, Sangkat Wat Phnom  Phnom Penh, Cambodia Tel +855(0)23 981 888

Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra’s signature MyBed is an attraction on its own. Coupled with the incredible views of the city and with over 200 rooms, Sofitel would be the best bet for high profile vacations. The popular weekly Sunday Champagne Brunch attracts the city’s elite where they converge for foie gras, caviar, and some bubbly Taittinger. Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra: 26 Old August Site, Sothearos Blvd, Sangkat Tonle Bassac, Khan Chamkamorn, Phnom Penh

A rather more intimate option would be The Pavilion boutique hotel. The inconspicuous facade of white high walls captures the laidback, unpretentious vibe that resonates throughout the hotel. The swimming pool serves as the focal point of the lush courtyard once belonged to the King’s mother. While private villas are discreetly tucked away, opt for the private pool room for complete privacy in R&R.

Where to shop

Phnom Penh is not exactly a fashion capital, however, these designer boutiques might just put Phnom Penh on your next shopping destination.

Paris-trained Madagascan fashion designer Eric Raisina’s signature use of texture are translated onto elegant dresses, gowns, and even menswear. His bold use of color reflects his Madagascan heritage. This Cambodian based designer’s Haute Textile boutique is a luxurious experience on its own.

Housed in a colonial property, Ambre is a favorite spot for Cambodian Ladies-who-lunch. This massive store is a one-stop-shop chockfull of dresses, gowns, accessories, menswear and children’s wear. Organized by colors, these Couture-like pieces with ready to wear prices are made locally in the adjacent workshop. Designed by Khmer designer Romyda Keth, who was designed in Paris for years before settling down in Phnom Penh, vibrant colors and a combination of both eastern and western aesthetics are evident throughout the store.

Leave Central Market or the Russian Market to the Hawaiian shirt-wearing tourists, a shopping trip to 240 Street will be even more worthwhile. Fast becoming a little shopping haven, 240 Street is home to many local designers and chic boutiques.

Kashaya Silk is the perfect store for colorful, high-quality silk products. These beautiful scarves, shawls, home décor, accessories, and a small but well-designed clothing line are all housed in a welcoming space. Not a traditional Cambodian silk shop, Kashaya’s luxurious and rich silk are all weaved and designed in Kashaya’s own weaving center outside of Phnom Penh. Using traditional techniques on modern weaving designs, owner Catherine Theron and her 20 plus teams churn out colorful tie-dye, stripes, and ikat patterns regularly.

Kashaya Silk: 55 Eo, Street 240, Chey Chumneas, Daun Penh, Phnom Penh

Located on the same street, Waterlily’s designer Christine Gaultier’s eclectic sense is evident in her designs. Accessories made from non-conventional materials such as plastic spoons, bobbins, and plastic planes are found in her bright and colorful store. Egg dress, frying pan bag, colorful button necklaces and shirt backpacks are proved that no material and creativity go to waste.

Waterlily: 37 Street 240, Chey Chumneas, Daun Penh, Phnom Penh

Where to dine

Tepui at Chinese House is a must-visit when in Phnom Penh. This Asian-influenced restaurant and bar are housed in a former Cambodian Chinese warehouse. Located near the port and built-in 1903, the warehouse’s many original fixtures are still intact, largely thanks to a former architect owner. Currently housing a bar with an Asian twist on the main floor and a Mediterranean and South American-influenced restaurant on the second floor, the relaxed formal dining experience is enhanced with Tepui’s delicious aubergine-skinned red tuna with escalivada, sea salt, and virgin olive oil and honey & rosemary roasted pork belly with apple tartelette and greens. Sunday brunch in the courtyard offers brunch food in the same accent or head to Street 29 where more conventional breakfast and brunch food is served.

Tepui at Chinese House: Chinese House, 45 Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh

One of the top designed restaurants in Phnom Penh, Miro’s magnificent spiral staircase is a reminiscence of the grand Parisian salons. But the similarity ends there, Miro’s modern nouveau gothic décor with mirrored furniture and church influenced fixtures are contemporarily chic. Chef Samira Lopez serves French fine dining with a touch of lounge food, the lobster and prawn bisque spent 72 hours in the emulsion to produce the perfect fine flavor. Also serving a light 45-minute lunch, afternoon tea and tapas in the evening, there seems to be no excuse why this is not the place to be!

Miro restaurant & lounge: 43 Sihanouk Blvd, Phnom Penh

To feel like being transported to Paris, Le Bouchon Wine Bar does the trick. The entrance might have you mistaken for a Parisian café. The exposed brick and the “U” shaped bar is a mixture of bistro and industrial influences. Family recipes like cheese plates, smoked meat plate, and French desserts are the perfect companions to the excellent range of French wines handpicked by the owners and imported directly from France. This two months old casual wine bar aims to attract anyone who enjoys a glass of wine or two!

Le Bouchon #3 Street 246, Phnom Penh

Where to get pampered

With over 16 years of combined experience, the team at Bodia Spa offers its self-invented spa techniques. Using its own Bodia Nature products, this eco-chic spa is also featured in Conde Nast Traveller’s Hot List Spa 2011. The lotus pond and Cambodian cocoon-like rooms offer a tranquil retreat from the bustling streets while therapists offer numerous treatments such as body massages, wraps, waxing, mani-pedis, and even couple champagne spa packages.

Bodia Spa at National Museum (above U-Care pharmacy)

Where to stimulate your senses

Fancy a dinner on a luxury vintage train carriage or in a cave under a museum? Heritage Adventures are experts in creating one-of-a-kind experiences. See Phnom Penh in a different light with customized cultural, spiritual or expedition tours. From planning camping, boating and biking trips to private luxury dinners, they are the right person for the job. Craft your own experiences and let the experts lead the way.

La Galerie X-EM Design, the only contemporary gallery in Cambodia houses artist EM Ream’s modern and contemporary paintings, furniture and sculptures. Previously based in Paris for 7 years, the Cambodian artist finds inspiration in the history of his native land. Working with polystyrene, ceramic and rattan, his current work portrays victims of the Khmer Rouge. His impressive works had been exhibited in France, Switzerland, and London. Located across the street from a high school to inspire students and expose them to contemporary art, this gallery also hosts exhibitions from around the world.

La Galerie X Em design: 13, Street 178, Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is one undiscovered gem that is fast surpassing many of her regional sister cities. This capital city of Cambodia has the je ne sais quoi to be the next chic Southeast Asian city to visit!

Book hotels in Phnom Penh at the best rates available with this link:

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– Eric Rainisa ‘Haute Texture’: (shops in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh)

– Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra: 26 Old August Site, Sothearos Blvd, Sangkat Tonle Bassac, Khan Chamkamorn, Phnom Penh

– Kashaya Silk: 55 Eo, Street 240, Chey Chumneas, Daun Penh, Phnom Penh

– Tepui at Chinese House: Chinese House, 45 Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh

– Miro restaurant & lounge: 43 Sihanouk Blvd, Phnom Penh

– Ambre: 37 Street 178, Phnom Penh

– Bodia Spa: National Museum (above U-Care pharmacy)

– Waterlily: 37 Street 240, Chey Chumneas, Daun Penh, Phnom Penh

– La Galerie X Em design: 13, Street 178, Phnom Penh

– The Pavilion:

– Le Bouchon #3 Street 246, Phnom Penh