Phnom Penh – The Pearl of South East Asia?


Phnom Penh was known as the ‘Pearl of South East Asia’ before a series of conflicts that saw the population and infrastructure decimated.

Prior to the tragic events that virtually gutted the thriving capital of Cambodia, the city of was a scenic and lively population centre, rich with local and imported culture, and boasting an incredible music scene. The booming town and its rapid decline are expertly illustrated in the lauded documentary ‘Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll’.

But a new generation is emerging and it seems determined to revive Cambodia’s reputation as an inspiring source of entertainment. As the city is revived via a construction boom and influx of new businesses, the economy is on the rise and with that comes new restaurants and venues.

Phnom Penh already has a great nightlife but with the arrival of more foreigners expanding the diversity of cuisine and live performance, there’s an encouraging mix of cultures that harks back to the heyday of the ‘Pearl of South East Asia’. In particular, expats’ love of classic Khmer rock n roll has seen a new wave of live bands comprised of local and imported talent.

It’s not rare to see a well-attended event where a band with Australian, American and Khmer band members plays against a backdrop of IMG_0949French Colonial architecture as patrons sip cocktails made by top-class mixologists. It certainly helps when Cambodia offers a relatively high standard of living at a low cost. In fact, it takes a concerted effort to stay at home!

Whether you’re enjoying the latest club tunes at popular cocktail bars in the BKK1 region, including the famous Bassac Lane, or seeing the new wave of heavy rock acts at established live music institutions like Sharky Bar, there’s plenty of musical entertainment on offer. Late at night, the atmosphere can get very lively as venues like Pontoon, Club Love and Epic attract crowds of revellers.

Phnom Penh loved for its reliance on common sense rather than stringent laws, may find its Achilles heel is the same affliction suffered in Australia: a reduction in live music venues due to noise complaints or other restrictions. It appears to be the only caveat on cultural growth. Hopefully, new venues rise to replace the fallen and the city’s entertainment scene continues to foster live and original music.

file0002005996090Regardless of sporadic stalls or surges, Cambodia’s capital is growing rapidly, adding two million residents since 2008. It only takes a quick Tuk Tuk ride from the Toul Tom Poung district known for the Russian Markets, through BKK1’s blocks of world-class restaurants, all the way to the picturesque river district, to see why expats love living in Phnom Penh.

Great food, savvy DJs, entertaining bands and thriving markets are plentiful. Now, if we could just fix the roads…

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