Aug 14 2012
Mention the word ‘lakeside’ to any traveller who visited Phnom Penh before 2009, and they’re likely to get a faraway look in their eyes, accompanied by a smile or a shudder. Famed as a backpacker ghetto, Boeung Kak (Green Lake) is the stuff of myth and legend. There were $2 rooms, suspicious herbs in bowls on bars, rats so large they seemed to have mutated, and glorious sunsets best admired from wooden decks. And ready to pick up the pieces from all-night benders and countless missed buses were some wonderful family-run businesses.
The lake is no more, finally filled in after years of development rumours to make way for some shiny new buildings, which won’t replace the romance of the community spirit and floating guesthouses that came before. The story isn’t over for many residents still fighting for compensation or rehousing, but most tourist businesses have closed down or moved on.
Fortunately for today’s travellers, some of the best-loved Boeung Kak establishments have reinvented themselves at new locations around Phnom Penh. Here’s where you can benefit from those years of experience.
For a glimpse of the lakeside deck vibe, climb the stairs to the top of the Happy 11 Guesthouse where the rooftop bar and restaurant recreates those lazy hammock days. The menu and staff remain the same, honed by years of catering to backpacker whims and requests.
The Drunken Frog, a drinking institution run by the super-friendly but sometimes incomprehensible Martin (it helps if you’re also from Barnsley in Yorkshire), reopened its doors on Street 130 in 2012. Ask for a Godfather cocktail and settle in to enjoy the stories of the self-styled Lakeside Massive who still congregate there.
Street 172’s increased popularity is due in part to the relocation of The Laughing Fatman and Dolce Vita, who have served up meals for countless backpackers craving the home comforts of cheese and chips, or dipping their toes for the first time into Khmer cuisine (okay, we don’t recommend that you actually go paddling in your amok, it’s just a figure of speech).
The Lazy Gekko‘s pub quiz and Sunday roast, both Boeung Kak favourites, are still weekly fixtures in their new spot on Street 258. And just to prove that some things never change, the dog hasn’t got any slimmer either. Rogue Music moved with them, so you can get your fill of their euphemistically titled ‘iPod services’ while stuffing your face with some comfort food.
The slow decimation of the lake and its businesses is a lesson in how not to do development; but travellers can now see a little more of Phnom Penh as they hunt down the surviving best.
Happy 11 Guesthouse
87-89 Street 136, Phnom Penh
T: (012) 999 921 / (088) 777 7421
The Drunken Frog
56 Street 130, Phnom Penh
T: (077) 474292
The Laughing Fatman
43 Street 172, Phnom Penh
T: (012) 765 591
36 Street 172, Phnom Penh
T: (012) 610065
Lazy Gekko Cafe
1D Street 258, Phnom Penh
T: 078 786025
1D Street 258, Phnom Penh
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