Friendly traveller joint
The Willow is a charming and unpretentious spot, offering just a dozen air-con rooms in a large house shaded by a series of tall trees — hence the name — with plenty of quirky design details, original artwork and a stunning ornamental spiral staircase. Located just a short walk from the newly thriving Bassac Lane area, it’s a solid option if you want to spend a little more than a backpacker for a touch of luxury, but still enjoy the vibe of a friendly travellers’ joint.
The house is an older-style building, and although it has been fully renovated it retains some of its original design features. Every single door is different, and magnificent pieces of furniture pop up in all kinds of places. And did we mention the rather enthusiastic wood panelling, which ends up lending a rather special and unusual atmosphere?
Rooms have lovely cool tiles underfoot — some colonial-style patterned ones add to the ambiance — and most are in tiptop condition. Many of the beds are four-poster, with mosquito nets, adding some romance, while the mattresses and bed linen are sumptuous for the pricepoint. Amenities include tea- and coffee-making facilities, wall-mounted flat-screen TVs, drinking water, minibar, safe and free WiFi (which works). Some may find the bathrooms a little lacklustre, but we felt that was a small price to pay.
Grab one of the rooms with balconies if you can; they’re compact but hidden behind trees, and a pleasant vantage point to listen to the hum of popular Sovanna II restaurant just across the road, which barbecues beef, pork and whole fish on the pavement outside — it’s a local-style joint so popular with locals and expats alike. We didn’t find it noisy in our room though.
The downstairs bar and restaurant, with its batik-cushion-clad lounges, is a calm place to relax and savour a good glass of wine, and we were impressed when the friendly staff unaskingly followed us to a new table to turn on the right fan to keep us cool. The vibe here is convivial, with the kind of seating arrangement that is bound to encourage engagement. Or, if you want, you can hide away on a lounge chair near the pool. On our last visit in early 2016 the pool was a little murky, but perhaps we caught them on a bad day.
They host pub quizzes here on Wednesday evenings, and you should note that expats LOVE pub quizzes. It’s how they get to drink and look smart at the same time. That doesn’t otherwise happen often.
Room prices vary a bit as they come in quite a few flavours, but a standard twin or double starts at $52, including breakfast. The deluxe with a courtyard or balcony goes for $73, also including breakfast. Most rooms can take an extra bed ($15 if for someone aged over seven, including breakfast). It’s possibly a little pricey considering the more competitive market these days — we do like for instance the cheaper and well-located The Penh, though there’s no pool — but these kinds of single-house guesthouses with character are becoming thinner on the ground. You’ll also save on tuk tuks if you’re keen on spending a few nights checking out Bassac Lane, as The Willow is within easy walking distance.
Restaurants aside from Sovanna II and the sprinkling along Bassac Lane include Java Cafe, one of Phnom Penh’s smarter cafes (but go down the side and up the stairs to get the best seating), Feel Good Cafe II, a sweet little spot with the best coffee in Phnom Penh, and Ngon Vietnamese restaurant, which has a view of the Independence Monument. We also walked from here to check out the December 2015-opened Tiger’s Eye, just near the White Building.
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 22nd March, 2016.