Aug 14 2012

Where are they now? Phnom Penh’s Lakeside businesses

Published by at 1:20 pm under Accommodation

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.

You don't know what you've got till it's gone

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

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.

Just missing a lake

Just missing a lake.

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 

Dolce Vita
36 Street 172, Phnom Penh
T: (012) 610065 

Lazy Gekko Cafe
1D Street 258, Phnom Penh
T: 078 786025

Rogue Cambodia
1D Street 258, Phnom Penh 


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3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Where are they now? Phnom Penh’s Lakeside businesses”

  1. […] the demise of Boeung Kak lakeside area, backpackers in Phnom Penh have been searching for a new place to call their own. Many have […]

  2. Mariaon 07 Jun 2014 at 9:44 am


    Dear, I would like to ask u, do u know where we can see beautiful sunset in Phnom penh? Since i come to live here i never see beautiful sunset.
    I looking for ur reply.

    Thanks u

  3. Meryl Highgroundon 24 Jun 2014 at 1:08 pm

    I think a lot of people are suffering a little from rose-tinted nostalgia syndrome here when it comes to the Boeung Kak area of PP.

    I’m sure if you were around at the turn of the millennium your memories of the area would be very different than some posted in this article and the many similar ones online.
    Instead of the laid back backpackers ‘paradise’ it was often portrayed as in LP, Rough Guide etc; the reality was that it was a crime riddled, insanitary cesspit cum rubbish dump from where the stench could cover the entire city in the hot and wet seasons. For many residents of the city, to level the era would have been no big deal had it happened ten years ago. Some of the 5$ a day tourists it attracted didn’t exactly add to the ambience as many seemed to expect 5* services and facilities at 1* prices. Taxis would often refuse to go there especially after dark, nor few expats or tourists from other parts of town ventured there.

    As a visitor to PP from the mid 1990s (I worked there for 5 years 1999-2004 and several shorter stints since then), I certainly spent many hours getting wasted by the lake which had the main advantage of being far from the eyes of the law so a few unmolested joints and hands of poker were a nice break from the routine. It was also a good place for younger expats not too interested in the local hookers to meet western women and younger Cambodian women.

    On the other hand the area attracted some of the worst vermin in Cambodia who found rich pickings there preying on the tourists after the ‘war’ between the police and the dealers turned it into a ‘no go’ zone for the police meant they had pretty much a free run at tourists.
    Muggings and violent crime were commonplace there in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
    When the police finally moved in to enforce law in the area they became worse than the villains. The relief many business owners felt when the former Chief of police ordered his men to move into the area and force out the criminals (including the dealers to the chagrin and dismay of the tokers) was short lived as they began pulling scams of their own, especially drug related scams.

    The fact remains that by the end it had become a major carbuncle on Phnom Penh’s backside which needed serious redevelopment to go hand in hand with Cambodia’s emergence as a real player in the SEAsian tourism route and Cambodia’s development as a serious regional manufacturing centre, albeit not in the cack handed, inhuman way Hun Sen and his cronies did.

    The shame is that the area could potentially have become a money-spinning tourism attracting Khao San Road type centre for Phnom Penh with huge benefits for all, given the careful redevelopment which many tourist groups and NGOs advised. however Hun Sen’s ego had run riot/his patience had run out and the lake and the lake people suffered.