A quick work trip last week enabled me to revisit Cambodia, a country I first travelled to almost twelve years ago. It’s changed a lot. The sleepy capital Phnom Penh now boasts soaring skyscrapers and new ones are constantly being built while cars clog the roads which used to be solely the domain of tuk tuks and motor bikes. Some things haven’t changed at all though. The friendly little kids still call out “hello” in English as you pass them by and the food offers interesting flavours and ingredients.
Phnom Penh’s stand out restaurant is Malis which serves Cambodian cuisine in the most gorgeous setting of wide verandahs surrounding flowering frangipani trees. We ate as a large group and ordered food to share which gave us a chance to try some of Cambodia’s most well known traditional dishes. Highlights included takeo sausages which are fat, spicy pork sausages and fish amok, a Cambodian curry sweet with coconut milk and fragrant lemon grass.
Details: Malis, 36 Preah Norodom Blvd, Phnom Penh 12301, Cambodia
Foreign Correspondents Club
On a press trip to Cambodia it seemed only right to go to the Foreign Correspondents Club. I had been there on my last trip to Phnom Penh and it was cool to revisit as a journalist. The wide open balcony looks out over the Mekong river with ceiling fans spinning lazily overhead transporting you back in time. There are burgers, (excellent) fries and other Western food for ex pats craving some food from home but also some interesting Cambodian dishes like this banana blossom salad with pork, fresh herbs and crispy fried shallots.
Essentials: Foreign Correspondents Club, 363 Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Elephant Bar at Raffles
If you want to glam it up for an evening it’s worth checking out the Elephant Bar at Raffles which has recently been revamped. The hotel just oozes history and *the* drink to order is the Femme Fatale which was created by Raffles bar tender for Jackie Kennedy when she stayed there. It features cognac and champagne giving it just the right amount of bitterness. Thanks to my friend Dani for the tip on this one.
Details: Raffles, 92 Rukhak Vithei at Preah Monivong Blvd, Phnom Penh 12302, Cambodia
If you get a chance to eat in a Cambodian home I really recommend it as the food is quite different to the food you get in restaurants. My trip to Cambodia was to visit the Liger Leadership Academy and we got to eat dinner one night cooked by the senior students in their homes. These kids are fantastic cooks and we ate salad with a dish of spicy minced pork with fermented fish called prahok. The idea was that you dipped the salad into the pork, using it as a spoon and cutting through the richness of the pork. It was so delicious and I tried the same dish at Malis but the students’ version was better.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Sofitel which was beautiful as it still retains a sense of place despite being part of a large hotel group. The hotel is set in expansive gardens which offer a welcome reprieve from Phnom Penh’s crowded streets and there is a gorgeous swimming pool. The true test of a hotel is of course the club sandwich and the Sofitel’s version delivered. The bread is a little thin but serving it up bento box style gives lots of room for fillings and, of course, fries.
Essentials: Sofitel, 26 Old August Site Sothearos Boulevard Sangkat Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh.
What to do
- Harrowing but unforgettable, learn about the Khmer Rouge’s reign at S-21 and the Killing Fields memorial.
- The Liger Academy students have created their own bike tour company, Journeys of Change, which takes you through the outlying areas around Phnom Penh. It runs on Saturdays and is a great experience to see another side to the busy city.
- Visit the Royal Palace where Cambodia’s King still lives. It’s $US10 a person and you must have modest clothing on which covers your knees and shoulders.