I’ve had fairly limited experience going out in Phnom Penh, but here is a list of my favourite bars and places (and why) listed in no particular order…
Vattanac Capital Tower Sky Bar
The Vattanac Capital Tower is eye catching, it’s one of the only tall buildings in Phnom Penh, standing at 37 stories (187.3 metres), it is shaped ‘like a dragons back’ (according to the architects). In other words, it looks pretty at night, it’s sinuous shape lit up in a rainbow ofcolour. The Sky Bar is located in the hotel, the Rosewood Phnom Penh, which occupies the top 14 floors.
The sky bar was a total flop. In a series of unfortunate events, the tuk tuk we caught to the tower was hit by a car (no one was hurt) and when we arrived at this gigantic slug of a building, everything was closed. Despite online claims of the sky bar being open for business, a kind security guard told us to come back in a months time and it might be open then. It was a long walk to another bar. Vattanac Capital’s website has since been updated withthe vague opening time of “August 2017”. It makes it on to my list because of its potential. Just look at that deck!!
La Maison D’ambre Hotel Bar & Restaurant
I had no idea of the name of this bar until about 5 minutes ago when Google solved my mystery.
While forlornly wandering down the street after the Vattanac debacle, we spotted bar leaners at the top of a nearby building! Desperately thirsty, our little group eagerly found a front door at the bottom of the building, going right inside into what looked like an art gallery. Immediate hesitation followed, a dampening of grins. This place looked far too fancy to be wearing flip-flops and bum bags. An attendant approached us, someone squeaked out “sky bar…?”, voice rising tentatively in question. And we were happily directed to an elevator.
This one was a score. The same elegance downstairs was reflected in the decor on the 5th floor bar, with surprisingly funky furnishings also dotted around. The bar had views out to Watt Phnom, which at night is always bathed in soft golden light (dastardly too far away for photos taken with a mere iPhone). Beautiful bar. Beautiful views. Beautiful service (we got free chip things). Expensive beer ($3USD!). We were the only ones in the bar. A hidden gem.
Viva! Mexican Restaurant
Unfortunately, I have no good photos of Viva! Only pictures of drinks. And a google image search brings up a restaurant that looks nothing like what I remember.
Viva! makes it onto this list, not because its anything particularly special, but because we just keep ending up there. It’s in a highly convenient location. Right on the main road running alongside the Riverside (the river is Tonle Sap River and Riverside is the main restaurant and bar area in town). It’s great for people watching. It’s also almost beside the Night Market. The chairs set out on the pavement are big wicker monstrosities with stained red and green cushions. The drinks are cheap, beer is $0.50USD and a cocktail will set you back $1.50USD. The mint leaves in the mojitos are in fact a choking hazard.
Frangipani Living Sky Bar
Sky Bar’s have fantastic views and atmosphere, but they always have a price hike. Frangipani Living Arts Sky Bar is located in a hotel of the same name and is just across the road from Brooklyn Pizza & Bistro (the #1 pizza establishment in Phnom Penh according to Trip Adviser).
Our group were running for the Happy Hour (5.00 p.m. – 7.30 p.m.), but missed it only by a minute. This meant that the margarita I ordered reached the extravagant price of $5.00USD.
Slowly coming out of a pizza haze (or chicken wings haze in my case), it started tooccur to us that this place was really quite nice, quite apart from the views. It was the music that began it. All of the music was remixed slow songs of 90’s pop.
The walk to the bathroom included a stroll past a glimmering foot paddling pool. I don’t even know where all the lighting was coming from, it was just another dreamy background haze, blues and greens and a bright slash of pink from a sky-bar across the road.
GelatoFix & PastaMania
GelatoFix and PastaMania are all one restaurant. It’s right on the riverfront and comes without any associated river smell. Views are great. Prices are average, with beer costing $2.00USD. My favourite part about this place was the ability to order waffle fries to accompany the beer.
We originally came in for gelato and shelter from the afternoon rain storm and ended up leaving hours later. The service is great, the waiters open doors for you and kindly remind you of how many drinks you’ve had.
Le Moon Rooftop Bar
This place was like hitting the jackpot. Last time we visited this building, we got trapped downstairs in the stuffy restaurant, paying sky bar prices, without the sky bar. Completely oblivious to the magical Sky Bar just above.
Le Moon has fab views across Tonle Sap river as well as views of the Buddhist temple Wat Ounalom, just across the road. The cocktails have the traditional price hike, starting at $5.00USD, but the bonus is, they actually taste good. My mango concoction came with a fresh slice of the fruit, balancing on the tip of the glass. Beer is an eye watering $3.80USD though, not including VAT.
We were so excited to find this place, we abandoned the waiter as he was hastily rearranging the furniture to fit our group. We were all were taking vaguely fuzzy photos and videos of the view, hanging over the bar leaners and the roof fence. The blue backlit tables were a particular hit for photo taking.
Club Love is like any typical club, doof doof music, entrance way up a long flight of stairs and long queues for the bathrooms.
As there is no curfew in Phnom Penh, Club Love stays open until 4.30 a.m. (though I’ve only made it to 2.30 a.m.). Because this is Cambodia, there’s smoking allowed indoors. Also, the club is popular, so people dancing with cigarettes dance in close proximity. As demonstrated in the photo below. See the way that guy is waving his cigarette around? Dangerous.
It’s a great place to go for dancing to pop music and the songs last more than 30 seconds.
I had to wash everything the next morning, including my watch.
Feliz Hostel Cafe & Bar
Feliz Hostel Cafe and Bar is tucked away down a teensy little alleyway that is still somehow a “Street”. It’s in a little tourist area and the alleyway atmosphere is festive and fun.
There were Commune Elections taking place in a few days when we went and I had spent the whole day reading scary news articles and an even scarier email from the NZ Government advising to stay home and avoid crowds for the weekend. This seemed like a solid plan.
The Airhouse dinner changed my mind. It was two simple dishes. One, a pile of plain white rice. The other a clear broth with lumps of bouncy grey…something and vegetables. I remember liking this dish when I first had arrived… No, going into town was just going to have to be risked. The tourist establishments were reportedly safest.
Feliz bar is at the top of a twisty wee staircase under a covered rooftop, cocktails start at $5.00USD. More importantly, the spring rolls were polar opposites to the grey lumps.
The restaurant manager came out and told us some of his life story, detailing his arrival to a still mostly empty city after the Pol Pot regime and describing his first job as a kitchen hand on wages of $50.00USD a month.
Most importantly though, after terrifying myself all day and squeaking at the slightest provocation on the way into town (sure that there would be crowds of violent demonstrators just around the corner), I realised that it was absolutely fine and there was basically no danger. There had been no signs whatsoever of election unrest and it turned out the political party walks through town had occurred much earlier in the day. Come at me lychee martini.
Frangipani Royal Palace Hotel Rooftop Restaurant & Bar
This was my first roof top bar experience, in Phnom Penh. Of course, the sky bar was located in a hotel. As it was the first I had been to, I was appropriately stunned by the views and spent a good 10 minutes taking photos before even looking at the menu (see the Tonle Sap River in the picture below).
There was also a thunder storm coming! Watching it creep over the city from a high vantage point was rather exciting.
Once it hit of course, we had to drag our chairs under the eaves, squeezing in between trees and fairy lights. This time round, it lasted longer than 30 minutes. The pretty views around us slowly being lost to heavy rain and darkness.
Conversation died somewhat for a while because of the rain noise.
This one makes it to the list mainly for first impressions.
Blue Dog! Despite Blue Dog being a hostel, the bar is always full of locals. This adds a sense of exoticness to the whole experience. The atmosphere is completely different than the tourist bars and it’s a nice change. It’s the custom to ‘cheers’ every time someone takes a drink. Obviously, this can be quite dangerous and it’s best to practice taking small, small sips.
As excited as I was about the glow in the dark face paint at Blue Dog, it did end up backfiring later on in the night. There were so very many mischievous comments about chicken pox, that I even got sick of rolling my eyes.
Cocktails are fairly reasonable at $2.50USD, they usually come with a slice of fresh fruit. Beer seems pricey at $1.50USD for a draught in this establishment.
The dance floor is not crammed and there’s plenty of people taking advantage of that with extravagant dance moves. Which are fun to try to copy or just as fun to watch in awe.
Thankfully, the aircon is right above the dance floor and there’s also an industrial fan for extra oomph. Going outside afterwards feels like walking into soup.