Phnom Penh—long known as a mere stopover for travelers to ancient Angkor—is now brimming with stylish new hot spots.
Cambodians are re-embracing their culinary traditions—dormant for years following the Khmer Rouge regime—at upscale restaurants including Villa Khmer (No. 21B St. 294; 855/9250-0917; lunch for two $20), where you can sample northern dishes such as green-mango salad with smoked fish. But there’s plenty of creativity in Phnom Penh’s kitchens, too. With its all-white interior, the Blue Pumpkin (No. 245 Sisowath Quay; 855-23/998-153; lunch for two $15) is the ideal escape from the midday heat. Highlights include fish amok pasta, subtly spiced steamed fish in tender ravioli doused with a coconut sauce, along with house-made ice creams such as ginger-black-sesame and honey-star-anise. Meanwhile, expat chefs are adding an international dimension to the food scene. Among them is 28-year-old Londoner Caspar von Hofmannsthal, who serves izakaya-inspired dishes (pumpkin-filled gyoza and sushi rolls with tempura prawns) at Yumi (No. 29A St. 288; 855/9216-3903; dinner for two $34), near frenetic Monivong Boulevard. At Tepui at Chinese House (No. 45 Sisowath Quay; 855-23/991-514; dinner for two $25), Venezuelan chef Gisela Salazar Golding draws diplomats and monied residents with South American dishes such as salpicón de mariscos, cilantro-and-chili-infused seafood. The setting alone—a 1903 mansion decorated with Chinese antiques—is worth the visit.
The city’s best boutiques converge on Street 240 near the Royal Palace. New York–based Elizabeth Kiester, a former Jane magazine editor, brings her breezy cotton tunics, dresses, and bags to the capital with a new branch of Wanderlust (21 St. 240; 855-23/221-982). Stock up on wicker bangles and bright krama (Cambodia’s ubiquitous checked scarves). The voile kaftans and dresses at nearby Bliss (No. 29 St. 240; 855-23/215-754) are a perfect match for the city’s steamy climate, and a 10-room spa specializing in herbal treatments offers a welcome mid-shopping respite. For candy-colored, hand-loomed silks made into quilts, swing by Tendance Khmer (4A St. 278; 855/1258-4661) in the Wat Langka neighborhood. Around the corner is Smateria (No. 8Eo St. 57; 855-23/211-701), an Italian company that creates messenger bags and totes from recycled materials. Artisans d’Angkor (No. 12 St. 13; 855-23/992-409) trains young Khmers in traditional crafts such as stone-carving and silversmithing; the group’s new two-story shop across from the central post office sells pumpkin-shaped bronze boxes and lacquered rice bowls. Cambodia-based designer Eric Raisina (28 Sihanouk Blvd.; 855-23/997-590), a native of Madagascar, opened his namesake boutique in June to showcase his light-as-air cocktail dresses and scarves made with Cambodian silk. Looking to hone your bargaining skills? Stop at the Russian Market (St. 320) on the city’s south side. You’ll find mountains of silk and cotton krama; stall No. 810–811 has stylish clutches and wallets made from Vietnamese rice bags. Also worth a stop: the lively Central Market (St. 53), located in an Art Deco building and filled with goldsmiths and trinket sellers.
Stylish lounges and art galleries are adding a new energy to the city’s nightlife. On Street 240, wine shop Red Apron (Nos. 15-17 St. 240; 855-23/990-951; drinks for two $12) turns into a swank lounge at night, with adventurous wine-food pairings such as South African Pinot with foie gras and lychees. Purple walls and armchairs pay homage to the grape at Le Sauvignon Wine Bar (6B St. 302; 855/1290-5856; drinks for two $7), an intimate spot near the Independence Monument with a cellar of 200 wines. Rooftop bars are popping up all over the city, and the best among them is the riverside Le Moon Terrace Bar (Amanjaya Pancam Hotel, No. 1 Sisowath Quay; 855-23/214-747; drinks for two $12), where a sophisticated set gathers at sundown for gin and tonics and Angkor beer. To get a glimpse of the nascent art scene, head to Meta House Phnom Penh (No. 37 Sothearos Blvd.; 855-10/312-333), a gallery-café-cinema run by a German filmmaker that exhibits regional and international artists, and the cutting-edge jGallery (56 Sihanouk Blvd.; 855-23/997-522), which focuses on the work of emerging Cambodian talent. Don’t miss Meta House’s current show of multimedia work by artists from northern Battambang province, open through September 18.
The December opening of Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra (26 Old August Site, Sothearos Blvd., Sangkat Tonle Bassac; 800/763-4835; doubles from $147)—the first international luxury hotel in more than a decade—signaled a new era for Phnom Penh. All 201 rooms are classically designed (marble-top tables; ceiling fans), while the lobby evokes colonial grandeur with marble floors and an outsize chandelier. On especially warm days, guests can cool off at one of the two large outdoor swimming pools on the 10-acre grounds. Along the city’s riverfront, three-year-old Quay (No. 277 Sisowath Quay; 855-23/224-894; doubles from $85) is a stylish alternative, with its Modernist décor and panoramic views of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers. Guest rooms have Arne Jacobsen Egg chairs and granite-clad bathtubs—be sure to ask for one of eight facing the river. A short stroll away, River 108 (No. 2 St. 108; 855-23/218-785; doubles from $85) is the most recent addition to the city’s burgeoning boutique hotel scene. Silver velvet chaise longues add a glamorous touch to the 12 spacious guest rooms, several of which have private terraces. Coming in December: the Plantation (No. 28 St. 184; doubles from $60, including breakfast), in a colonial-era building behind the Royal Palace.
T+L Tip: U.S. dollars are accepted in Cambodia—make sure you have plenty of singles and no bills bigger than $20. Change is made in riel, though at upscale establishments, you can ask for dollars.
At the Russian Market you can buy almost anything, from 12th-century ceramics (if you’re very lucky) to a bowl of noodles with chiles and frog’s legs. You'll find mountains of silk and cotton krama; stall No. 810-811 has stylish clutches and wallets made from Vietnamese rice bags.
Central Market, Phnom Penh
One of the architectural sights of the city, Central Market has a beautiful 1935 Art Deco dome in what’s known as "colonial yellow," vaguely modeled after one of the temples near Angkor Wat. Inside, a hive of traders peddles jewelry, clothes, flowers, tropical fruits, vegetables, electronic goods, and more.
Blue Pumpkin, Phnom Penh
Tepui at Chinese House
Binky Higgins, Phnom Penh
Formerly WanderlustElizabeth Kiester gave up her high-powered job as the global creative director of LeSportsac to open Wanderlust. Kiester set out to create a fashion line that is democratic in its approach (one size that really fits all), affordable (nothing over $60), and universally appealing, with a Palm Beach–meets-Phuket look. By commissioning almost everything from Cambodian artisans, she has also been helping to revive artistic traditions: a severely handicapped woman weaves $2 bracelets from plastic bottles; kids from an orphanage tie-dye $6 T-shirts; and a local seamstress creates $8 Jackie O.–style head scarves. “I love a global design dialogue,” Kiester says.