Get lost in Phnom Penh's Tonle Bassac

What we say: 3.5 stars

It’s a surprise to find a quiet, low-rise area in the heart of rapidly developing Phnom Penh, but those in the know head for Tonle Bassac whenever they hit the city. Minutes from Independence Monument and a short ride from the Royal Palace and riverside, this small area has all you need for a relaxing stay.

Tonle Bassac -- shhhhh!

Tonle Bassac — shhhhh!

Phnom Penh can be tricky to navigate until you get the landmarks pinpointed, so pay close attention and let’s get that geography sorted. Tonle Bassac is bordered by the three busy boulevards of Sihanouk, Norodom and Sothearos. The Independence Monument sits at the intersection of Norodom Boulevard and Sihanouk Boulevard, with Hun Sen Park (named for the prime minister whose house just happens to be opposite) striking out east towards the river and Nagaworld casino. The area we’re interested in is south of the park and southeast of the Monument.

Much of Tonle Bassac is residential housing down narrow streets. Birdsong and greenery, kids playing ‘throw the flipflop’ in the street and a distinct lack of neon beer signs make for a pleasant change. Go for a wander and you might disorientate yourself enough to find Phnom Penh’s most tucked away restaurant, The Lost Room. Hidden behind black gates decorated with a large key, they serve eclectic plates designed for sharing.

Admirable topiary

Admirable topiary.

Around the outskirts, it’s even easier to locate places to eat, drink and sleep. On Sihanouk Boulevard, Java Cafe and Gallery has been serving up coffee and art to an expat and middle class Khmer crowd for more than a decade. It’s child friendly, with a kids’ menu and playroom to distract the tiddlers while parents get a caffeine fix.

Around the corner on Street 21 you’ll find Sovana Restaurant and its sequel, Sovana Restaurant 2. Unfailingly busy with an impressive amount of staff, this Khmer restaurant is justifiably popular for beef, pork and whole fish, barbecued outside on the pavement. It’s best enjoyed in a group to make the most of the towers of beer and the diverse menu. On the next road over, Restaurant Phsar Kabko provides a daily buffet selection of Khmer dishes and strong coffees.

Kultur Klub

Kultur Klub.

For more familiar food, try the garden hideaway of Botanico Gastrobar on Street 29, serving up tapas, salads and sandwiches in a veritable jungle. Phnom Penh’s favourite salad bar Vego has a new larger location in Street 294, formerly Villa Khmer. Carnivores who think lettuce is for rabbits will prefer the Samba Brazilian Steakhouse — go for the churrascario with a never-ending supply of 15 different cuts of meat delivered to your table and be prepared to roll out of the door.

For evening entertainment, One More Pub is a quiet bar with filling grub served up alongside the landlord’s anecdotes. Meta House, home to the German Cultural Centre, is also guaranteed to have something to interest you, with a regular programme of documentary films, art exhibitions and chilled DJ sets on the rooftop.

Amazing what you find behind a wall

Amazing what you find behind a wall

When you feel the need for bed, there’s easy boutique-hotel living at Monument Hotel, The Willow and Hotel Nine in the streets on the outskirts of Tonle Bassac. Each offer secluded spaces to relax and a leisurely introduction to the city each morning when you step outside. Within the maze of narrow thoroughfares, you’ll find You Khin House, a friendly guesthouse which supports the small NGO school next door.

The only drawback to life in Tonle Bassac is becoming too accustomed to the pace. You may need to remind yourself that there is a bigger, noisier city out there just waiting to be explored!

Botanico Gastrobar
9b Street 29, Sangkat Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh
T: (017) 873 101
www.facebook.com/gastrobarbotanico

Hotel Nine
#48 Street 9, Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh
T: (023) 215 964
www.hotel-nine.com
info@hotel-nine.com

Java Cafe and Gallery
56 Sihanouk Boulevard, Phnom Penh
T: (023) 987 420
javacafeandgallery.com

The Lost Room
48 Street 21, Sangkat Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh
T: (012) 798 530

Monument Hotel
22s Street 29, BKK1, Phnom Penh
T: (023) 634 8008, (023) 221 322
www.monumenthotel.com

One More Pub
16 Street 294, Sangkat Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh
onemorepub.com

Meta House
37 Sothearos Boulevard, Sangkat Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh
T: (023) 224 140
www.meta-house.com

Samba Brazilian Restaurant
64 Sihanouk Boulevard, Phnom Penh
T: 023 222599
samba-asia.com

Sovana Restaurant
2C Street 21, Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh

Vego Salad Bar
?#21B Street 294, Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh

The Willow Boutique Hotel
1 Street 21, Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh
T: (023) 996 256
www.thewillowpp.com

You Khin House
13A Street 830, Sangkat Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh
T: (011) 719 033
www.youkhinhouse.com

Last updated: 19th September, 2014

Last reviewed by:
Abigail has been stoned by villagers in India, become an honorary Kenyan tribeswoman, sweet talked border guards and had close encounters with black mambas. Her motto is: “Live to tell the tale.”

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