Oct 14 2012
Phnom Penh’s Post Office Square was made famous by the film City of Ghosts, recommended viewing for any visitor to Cambodia on a rainy afternoon when sightseeing is off the agenda. A short detour from riverside and Wat Phnom, the area deserves a visit in person, too. The Post Office, built in 1890 and restored and fully reopened in 2004, fronts a small square on Street 13 (really just a widening of the road) surrounded by other examples of colonial architecture in various states of upkeep. Historically, this area was central to the French Quarter, where the business of administering and financing the territory was conducted.
The Post Office is open 07:30 to 17:00, with a healthy two-hour lunch break from noon. History buffs will appreciate sticking their noses in the hall for the famed olden-day photographs decorating the walls and stamp collectors can make impulse purchases at the philatelic counter.
Just north of this ode to restoration is the decrepit former Police Station, a previously impressive building now slowly rotting. The views from the roadside are evocative, but wander behind to get a bigger picture. Covered volleyball courts have been set up in the grounds, full of excitable sweaty men palming balls over nets. Through the big trees providing shade to past policemen, a satellite dish and a glimpse of a kitchen suggest there’s life in the old building yet.
On the opposite corner of Oknha Santhomok Street, the Seven Bright restaurant occupies the space where Gerard Depardieu served behind his bar in “City of Ghosts”. The building is an odd contrast — the ground floor eatery’s modern decor of slate and minimalist white accessories somewhat clashing with the untouched aging balconies and cornices upstairs. Still, it’s a good enough spot for a cold one while watching the goings on in the square.
For a slightly different view, there’s also a cheap Khmer restaurant on the next corner over, opposite the Artisans d’Angkor wooden floored boutique. Turn down Street 100 in between the two for a feel of the slow-paced, potholed city captured on film which is rapidly disappearing. Without the competitive lit-up beer signs found on most riverside streets, it’s possible to see the old painted shutters and latticework window bars above the washing hung out to dry.
To the south of the square, moving towards Phsar Chas, the Indochina Bank building was carefully restored in 2003 and now houses Van’s Restaurant, also no stranger to French movie stardom. The terrace with views over the square is an excellent location for an evening aperitif. While the a la carte menu can feel pricy compared to other restaurant options, the set lunches are a great way to experience some colonial glamour for yourself.
Seven Bright Restaurant
6, Street 13, Place de la Poste, Phnom Penh
T: (012) 833 555
5, Street 102, Place de la Poste, Phnom Penh
T: (023) 722 067
Take a video tour of the abandoned Police Station by Urban Exploration.
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