Jan 26 2013

A classic big night out in Phnom Penh

Published by at 1:31 pm under Bars & nightlife


There’s nothing I find more satisfying than showing off my chosen city of Phnom Penh to friends from the old country. I get to see my favourite haunts with fresh eyes and revisit the differences which have become commonplace. And I get to answer questions like, “What is a classic Phnom Penh night out?” So, for your interest, inspiration and possible inebriation, here is one big night in the Penh.

Any self-respecting Phnom Penh evening will begin with a combination of sunset and river: a sundowner cocktail sipped at a rooftop bar such as Le Moon, or from the deck of a slowly cruising boat. There’s nothing like winding down before you hit the town. Just be careful – the town can hit back!

It almost looks peaceful from here ...

It almost looks peaceful from here …

When night has truly fallen, it’s time to line the stomach in anticipation of things to come. A Khmer barbecue, with plenty of protein and a paddy field’s worth of rice, does the trick. Beer gardens and busy warehouse-sized restaurants are all over the city, and most have English menus, so you can point and hope and you’re bound to get something tasty. Sovanna Restaurant on Street 21 (opposite The Willow hotel) is popular with Cambodian families, expats and tourists — get yourself on the outside of a few plates of grilled pork and beef with pepper sauce, some stir-fried rice with crab and a jug or four of Angkor beer.

Up next is wherever the party’s happening. Check the free listings magazines, such as The Advisor and WUPP, to see which bands are playing, which cause is holding a fundraiser, or which bar is having a party. Venues like Equinox and Metahouse can usually be relied upon to have live music or DJs at the weekends. There’s also a regular drag show at Blue Chilli where performers manage to be both over- and under-dressed at the same time.

So much city, so little time

So much city, so little time

At some point, usually after midnight, choices will need to be made concerning nightclubs. Khmer nightclubs are loud, pricy and lots of fun for a limited amount of time. Usually it’s after the second playing of double-speed Gangnam Style that I am ready to head for the door. But before that happens, there are light-up dance floors, table service and lots of dry ice. If you’re in a group, you can flash it with a VIP combo of a bottle of whisky and mixers, with your very own ice waiter poised to ensure your drink doesn’t warm up. If the enticingly-named Egypt, K Club or Nova don’t do it for you, then it’s off to Street 51 for the sweaty beats of Heart of Darkness or Pontoon. ‘The Heart’ tends to play Top 40 favourites (ah good, there’s Gangnam Style again) while Pontoon has regular international DJs and a minimal cover charge.

The bar at Pontoon is always bumpin'

The bar at Pontoon is always bumpin’.

Street 51 is also home to some very late night bars — if you just don’t want to go home yet, or have lost all sense of direction and don’t know where your guesthouse is, try out Howies, The Drunken Sponge or Zeppelin Bar. Kicking out time depends on how the staff are feeling, but you might make it through to 05:00. At which point, some bright spark will comment that it’s not long until sunrise, so you might as well head to Paddy Rice on the riverfront, grab a Bloody Mary and pre-order a bacon sandwich for when the kitchen opens at 06:00 …

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